The Big Five Personality Traits

What are the Big Five Personality Test Traits? — Learn all about the Theory

The Big Five Personality Traits

By Dr. Edwin van Thiel, updated February 11, 2020

Why do people respond differently to the same situations? In contemporary psychology, the Big Five traits of personality are five broad domains which define human personality and account for individual differences. This article tells you more about the Big Five personality theory. After reading it, take our free personality test to determine your own Big Five personality type.

History of Big Five personality theory

Several independent sets of researchers discovered and defined the five broad traits empirical, data-driven research. Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal advanced the initial model, work done at the U.S. Air Force Personnel Laboratory in the late 1950s.1 J.M.

Digman proposed his five factor model of personality in 19902, and Goldberg extended it to the highest level of organizations in 1993.

3 In a personality test, the Five Factor Model or FFM4 and the Global Factors of personality5 may also be used to reference the Big Five traits.

Find out more about you and your strengths.

To the free personality test

Big Five personality traits

Human resources professionals often use the Big Five personality dimensions to help place employees. That is because these dimensions are considered to be the underlying traits that make up an individual’s overall personality.

The Big Five personality traits are:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism


  • Openness — People who to learn new things and enjoy new experiences usually score high in openness. Openness includes traits being insightful and imaginative and having a wide variety of interests.
  • Conscientiousness — People that have a high degree of conscientiousness are reliable and prompt. Traits include being organized, methodic, and thorough.
  • Extraversion — Extraverts get their energy from interacting with others, while introverts get their energy from within themselves. Extraversion includes the traits of energetic, talkative, and assertive.
  • Agreeableness — These individuals are friendly, cooperative, and compassionate. People with low agreeableness may be more distant. Traits include being kind, affectionate, and sympathetic.
  • Neuroticism — Neuroticism is also sometimes called Emotional Stability. This dimension relates to one’s emotional stability and degree of negative emotions. People that score high on neuroticism often experience emotional instability and negative emotions. Traits include being moody and tense.

How to use results from the Big Five personality test

The Big Five personality test gives you more insight into how you react in different situations, which can help you choose an occupation. Career professionals and psychologists use this information in a personality career test for recruitment and candidate assessment.

Find out more about you and your strengths.

Take the free test

Test personality free

To determine your Big Five personality traits, take our free online personality test. It tells you more about yourself and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

This personality test measures the Big Five personality factors developed over several decades by independent groups of researchers.

It is the most scientifically validated and reliable psychological model to test personality. You can also take our career test to test personality.

  • Big Five Assessment: For students, researchers, and practitioners of psychology and related fields, a detailed guide to the various instruments that are used to evaluate the conventional Big Five personality factors. Authors: Boele De Raad & Marco Perugini
  • Personality in Adulthood, Second Edition: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective: This influential work examines how enduring dispositions or traits affect the process of aging and shape each individual’s life course. Authors: Robert R. McCrae & Paul T. Costa Jr.
  • The Five-Factor Model of Personality Across Cultures: The Five-Factor Model Across Cultures was designed to further an understanding of the interrelations between personality and culture by examining the dominant paradigm for personality assessment — the Five-Factor Model or FFM — in a wide variety of cultural contexts. Authors: Robert R. McCrae &‎ Juri Allik

1 Tupes, E.C., Christal, R.E.; «Recurrent Personality Factors Trait Ratings,» Technical Report ASD-TR-61-97, Lackland Air Force Base, TX: Personnel Laboratory, Air Force Systems Command, 1961.
2 Digman, J.M.

, «Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factormodel,» Annual Review of Psychology, 41, 417-440, 1990.
3 Goldberg, L.R., «The structure of phenotypic personality traits,» American Psychologist, 48, 26-34, 1993.
4 Costa, P.T., Jr., McCrae, R.R.

; Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, 1992.
5 Russell, M.T., Karol, D.; 16PF Fifth Edition administrator's manual.» Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality & Ability Testing, 1994.


The Big Five Personality Model

The Big Five Personality Traits

The Big Five (also called Five Factor) model of personality is the most widely accepted personality theory in the scientific community. Although it is not as well understood among laypeople as systems Myers-Briggs personality typing, it is generally believed to be the most scientifically sound way of conceptualizing the differences between people.

The Big Five is so named because the model proposes that human personality can be measured along five major dimensions, each of which is distinct and independent from the others. The Big Five model is also sometimes called OCEAN or CANOE, both acronyms of the five traits.

In the Big Five model, people are understood to have varying levels of key personality factors which drive our thoughts and behavior. Although personality traits cannot specifically predict behavior, differences in the Big Five factors help us to understand why people may react differently, behave differently, and see things differently from others in the same situation.

The Big Five is a trait model of personality, rather than a type model. Most popular ways of describing personality talk about personality types, such as Type A or Type B personalities, or Myers & Briggs' INFPs and ESTJs.

Although type models are easy to understand, they are not scientifically sound, as people don't neatly sort into categories.

The Big Five describes people in terms of traits on a spectrum, and as such, is a much more valid and evidence-based means of understanding personality.

In the Big Five model, the five dimensions of personality are:


Not to be confused with one's tendency to be open and disclose their thoughts and feelings, Openness in the context of the Big Five refers more specifically to Openness to Experience, or openness to considering new ideas. This trait has also been called «Intellect» by some researchers, but this terminology has been largely abandoned because it implies that people high in Openness are more intelligent, which is not necessarily true.

Openness describes a person's tendency to think abstractly. Those who are high in Openness tend to be creative, adventurous, and intellectual. They enjoy playing with ideas and discovering novel experiences. Those who are low in Openness tend to be practical, traditional, and focused on the concrete. They tend to avoid the unknown and follow traditional ways.

In the brain, Openness seems to be related to the degree to which certain brain regions are interconnected. Those high in Openness seem to have more connection between disparate brain regions, which may explain why they are more ly to see connections where others do not.


Conscientiousness describes a person's level of goal orientation and persistence. Those who are high in Conscientiousness are organized and determined, and are able to forego immediate gratification for the sake of long-term achievement. Those who are low in this trait are impulsive and easily sidetracked.

In the brain, Conscientiousness is associated with frontal lobe activity. The frontal lobe can be thought of as the «executive brain,» moderating and regulating the more animal and instinctual impulses from other areas of the brain.

For example, while we might instinctually want to eat a piece of cake that's in front of us, the frontal lobe steps in and says «no, that's not healthy, and it doesn't fit in with our diet goals.

» People who are high in Conscientiousness are more ly to use this brain region to control their impulses and keep themselves on track.


Extraversion describes a person’s inclination to seek stimulation from the outside world, especially in the form of attention from other people. Extraverts engage actively with others to earn friendship, admiration, power, status, excitement, and romance. Introverts, on the other hand, conserve their energy, and do not work as hard to earn these social rewards.

In the brain, Extraversion seems to be related to dopamine activity. Dopamine can be thought of as the «reward» neurotransmitter, and is the main chemical associated with our instinct to pursue a goal.

The classic example is a rat in a maze, whose brain pumps out dopamine as he frantically seeks the cheese. Extraverts tend to have more dopamine activity, indicating that they are more responsive to the potential for a reward.

Introverts have less dopamine activity, and so are less ly to put themselves out to chase down rewards.


Agreeableness describes the extent to which a person prioritizes the needs of others over their own needs. People who are high in Agreeableness experience a great deal of empathy and tend to get pleasure serving and taking care of others. People who are low in Agreeableness tend to experience less empathy and put their own concerns ahead of others. 

In the brain, high Agreeableness has been associated with increased activity in the superior temporal gyrus, a region responsible for language processing and the recognition of emotions in others. 


Neuroticism describes a person's tendency to respond to stressors with negative emotions, including fear, sadness, anxiety, guilt, and shame. 

This trait can be thought of as an alarm system. People experience negative emotions as a sign that something is wrong in the world. Fear is a response to danger, guilt a response to having done something wrong.

 However, not everyone has the same reaction to a given situation. High Neuroticism scorers are more ly to react to a situation with strong negative emotions.

Low Neuroticism scorers are more ly to brush off their misfortune and move on.

In the brain, Neuroticism appears to relate to the interconnection of several regions, including regions involved in processing negative stimuli (such as angry faces or aggressive dogs) and dealing with negative emotions. One study found an association between high Neuroticism and altered serotonin processing in the brain. 

How the Big Five Traits Describe Personality

Individuals are typically described in terms of having high, average, or low levels of the five personality factors. Each factor is independent from the others, so someone might be high in Extraversion and low in Agreeableness.

To gain a full picture of an individual using the Big Five model, it's necessary to know how they measure up on each of the five dimensions.

You can measure your own levels of the Big Five personality traits with a Big Five personality test.

History of the Big Five

The Big Five model has its roots in a theory called the lexical hypothesis—the idea that we can create a sort of taxonomy of individual differences by examining the language we use to describe each other.

Early researchers took an inventory of words that describe personality traits, such as «friendly,» «helpful,» «aggressive,» and «creative.» They then attempted to organize these words into related clusters. For instance, a person who's described as friendly is also ly to be described as gregarious, talkative, and outgoing.

Researchers consistently found that trait-related adjectives tended to cluster into five groups, corresponding to the five traits in the Big Five.

Today, the Big Five model is the basis of most modern personality research, and as such has been used to illuminate everything from how much of our personality is inherited to which personality factors correlate with income. 


Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are

Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research


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