Human personality types are generally considered to fall into one of five basic categories. These categories are know as the Five Factor Model of Personality, or the ‘Big Five’. While some psychologists disagree, there is strong support for the five factor model.
The Big Five personality model is based on lexical and questionnaire research conducted over many years. The Five Factor Theory is a separate theory that looks to explain how the Big Five factors play a role in our personalities. Instead of naming personality traits, the five factor model groups traits into 5 categories that include both extremes.
Here are the five factors of personality known as the Big Five:
This factor measures how outgoing or introverted an individual is. Characteristics related to energy levels, assertiveness, positivity and the need to stimulate others contribute towards extraversion levels. Extraversion looks at an individual’s relationship with the outside world. People are easily categorized as “extraverts” or “introverts” by examining how they act in social situations. People that smile a lot, like to be the center of attention, meet new people and mix with crowds tend to be largely extraverted. Conversely, individuals that avoid attention, hate public speaking and are quiet around strangers are classified as introverted.
To determine agreeableness, we look at characteristics such as friendliness and compassion, detachment and antagonism. Levels of trust, altruism and cooperation with others also contribute towards agreeableness. Agreeableness affects how we value social harmony; measuring to what extent we seek to cause conflict or resolve friction. People who easily get along with others and are trustworthy and helpful are categorized as “agreeable”. Individuals that place their own desires over others’ tend to be “disagreeable”, showing lack of friendliness and cooperation.
Levels of conscientiousness can be deemed from self-discipline and planning versus carelessness and easy-going personality traits. Other related factors include organization, goal-setting and dependability. Highly conscientious individuals show self-discipline and set out to achieve goals, whereas those that have low conscientiousness levels have poor impulse control and find it difficult to set and complete goals. Research shows that young adults have the highest levels of conscientiousness, with levels later dropping in older adults.
Neuroticism refers to mood and emotion and measures how people experience negative emotions such as anger and sadness and how they display emotional stability and impulse control. People with high levels of neuroticism can be classified as “emotionally reactive”, i.e. they respond strongly to emotions. Emotionally reactive individuals can experience persistent symptoms of stress, anxiety and other psychoses. Emotionally unresponsive people are generally more content, relaxed and stable and less easily affected by negative stimuli. The term “neurotic” can be problematic when it is used interchangeably with the Freudian version, i.e. meaning mental distress. Some psychologists term the Neuroticism factor “Emotional Stability” to avoid this confusion.
Openness is related to how we embrace or repel new experiences and situations. Traits include curiosity, creativity, imagination and intellectual desire. This factor is the most contested and some researchers call it the “Intellect” factor instead due to the link between openness and intellectual curiosity.
The five factor model is so widely accepted and used because of the wealth of quantitative research that backs it up. Due to the broad and comprehensive nature of the categories, some argue that the Big Five cannot be used to successfully explain human behavior, it merely works as a springboard for future research.
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