The Big Five personality traits model, also known as the Five-Factor Model, is the most widely accepted personality theory used by psychologists today. The theory states that personality can be boiled down to just five core factors, known by the acronym OCEAN or CANOE:
Rather than categorising personalities into limiting “types” as some personality models do, classifying people as either extravert or introvert, or sensing or intuitive, the big five model considers personality traits as falling somewhere along a spectrum with opposite extreme traits at either end. For instance, Extraversion at one end and Introversion at the opposite end, and individuals being ranked somewhere between these two extremes. This allows for more nuance which is much more informative in the real world.
The five factors are:
- Extraversion – extravert at one end and introvert at the other
- Agreeableness – agreeable at one end and disagreeable at the other
- Contentiousness – contentious at one end and disorganised at the other
- Neuroticism – nervous/highly strung at one end and calm/emotionally stable at the other
- Openness – open minded to new experiences at one one and closed minded at the other
Here are the type of questions that are used in the test to determine your personality type;
|1||Am the life of the party||E|
|2||Feel little concern for others.||A|
|3||Am always prepared.||C|
|4||Get stressed out easily||N|
|5||Have a rich vocabulary||O|
|6||Don’t talk a lot||E|
|7||Am interested in people.||A|
|8||Leave my belongings around||C|
|9||Am relaxed most of the time||N|
|10||Have difficulty understanding abstract ideas.||O|
|11||Feel comfortable around people.||E|
|13||Pay attention to details.||C|
|14||Worry about things.||N|
|15||Have a vivid imagination||O|
|16||Keep in the background.||E|
|17||Sympathize with others’ feelings||A|
|18||Make a mess of things.||C|
|19||Seldom feel blue.||N|
|20||Am not interested in abstract ideas.||O|
|22||Am not interested in other people’s problems.||A|
|23||Get chores done right away||C|
|24||Am easily disturbed.||N|
|25||Have excellent ideas.||O|
|26||Have little to say.||E|
|27||Have a soft heart||A|
|28||Often forget to put things back in their proper place||C|
|29||Get upset easily.||N|
|30||Do not have a good imagination.||O|
|31||Talk to a lot of different people at parties||E|
|32||Am not really interested in others.||A|
|34||Change my mood a lot.||N|
|35||Am quick to understand things||O|
|36||Don’t like to draw attention to myself.||E|
|37||Take time out for others.||A|
|38||Shirk my duties||C|
|39||Have frequent mood swings||N|
|40||Use difficult words||O|
|41||Don’t mind being the center of attention||E|
|42||Feel others’ emotions||A|
|43||Follow a schedule||C|
|44||Get irritated easily.||N|
|45||Spend time reflecting on things.||O|
|46||Am quiet around strangers||E|
|47||Make people feel at ease.||A|
|48||Am exacting in my work.||C|
|49||Often feel blue||N|
|50||Am full of ideas||O|
Nature versus nurture
So where do personality traits come from? Are we born with them or are they a result of social conditioning and upbringing? Well, researchers suggest that your personality is influenced roughly 50% by nature and 50% by nurture. You are born with your personality traits built into your DNA, but society has a role in influencing you and how you act in the world.
For example, you can become more or less agreeable depending how your experiences influence your thought processes. If you are raised in a loving, supportive family, you are more likely to be more agreeable than if you were raised in a dysfunctional, neglectful family, even if your nature is to be a very agreeable person to begin with.
You can, through training and education, expand your degree of competency in each of the areas of personality, to become more extravert or more conscientious for example, but that gets more and more difficult the further away you move from your starting point, and you can’t move that far no matter how much you try, you can’t be an extreme extravert if you start off as an extreme introvert, for example.
It’s not even clear if being more extravert or more conscientious, or less neurotic, is even beneficial. The reason people are distributed at different positions along each of the 5 spectrum’s is because there is some evolutionary benefit for humanity to have such a distribution among the human race. In some instances it may be beneficial to be more introvert than extravert; keeping in the background rather than being center of attention, or being more neurotic than not; more fearful than foolhardy, or more disagreeable than agreeable; as in the case of wage negotiations. You are where you are, and should learn to make the best of your unique configuration and use it to benefit yourself and those around you.
Personality traits in the real world
Let’s look at how personality traits play out in the real world.
According to research, liberal-minded people tend to be high in openness and low in contentiousness.
This would explain why liberals tend to be open, creative people, who are great at coming up with innovative ideas and often make good entrepreneurs. But because they are not very contentious, they are not particularly well organised and don’t tend to like following processes and procedures. This means they are not well suited to being managers of systems and businesses, or being productive or following through on their ideas.
Conservative minded people tend to be high in contentiousness and low in openness.
This means they are productive and well organised, making them good managers. They like structure and are keen to follow the rules and see value in processes and procedures, in fact they are good at formulating them as well as following them.
Conservative types are not good at dealing with change and disruption. Because they are low in openness they don’t tend to be particularly creative or artistic.
Although there is a great deal of political friction between liberal and conservative-minded people, they are well suited to working together because they bring different strengths to the table and help cover each other’s weaknesses.
It’s important to realise that liberals and conservatives don’t think the same, they have different values that play into how they think and behave. In fact they perceive the world around them and the things that happen in it, very differently. The world manifests itself differently to each of them.
But both sides need one another. If all people were conservative-minded, society would become stagnant and lack beauty, creativity and innovation. We’d be heading down one direction without the imagination to find new, better ways of doing things, particularly if the environment shifted, which it has a tendency to do. If all people were liberally-minded, they would end up going off at tangents, nothing would get done productively, or be as organised or consistent or have the structure needed for an advanced society.
Society functions best in tension between liberals and conservative traits. The conflict between the two positions push and pushes society to dynamically shift to match the environment and challenges that we face.
The fact that we all possess different proportions of these big five personality traits, makes us unique and able to provide something different to everyone else. We need to learn to appreciate our difference, because without them, we are limiting our chances of survival in the future. We don’t have to see eye to eye, but we do have to start listening to one another and appreciating one another’s points of view.