A Look Into Personality and The Big Five Personality Traits


1. The five-factor model of personality

In the 1980s, the five-factor model of personality began to gain interest. All factors showed to have convergent validity across psychological instruments and observers (McCrae & John, 1992). Therefore, it seems that the five-factor model is essentially correct in its representation of personality traits.

All personality traits within this model represent a continuum, meaning that people can score from 0 to 100 on one of the personality normal distributiondimensions. Most people lie somewhere in the middle of the scale, and large deviations from this norm represent what we consider personality disorders (read more here). This is a so-called normal distribution 

One of the great advantages of having a common model of personality traits is that it provides a common language for psychologists from different traditions and a framework for organizing research. The factors are: 1. extraversion, 2. agreeableness, 3. conscientiousness, 4. neuroticism, and 5. openness to experience.

The reputable personality test NEO-PI-R is based on this theoretical framework. The model has five personality clusters. These clusters are based on a factor-analysis. By conducting a factor-analysis, you take every possible personality trait and then you find out which ones overlap with each other. A lot of personality traits overlap, and for this reason, McCrae & John (1992) came up with only five very general traits.

2. The big five personality traits

  • Extraversion: People high in extraversion are outgoing and they enjoy socializing. They are assertive and get easily excited. They find it easy to express their emotions.
  • Agreeableness: People high in agreeableness are full of trust, and they show kindness. They are altruistic and prosocial.
  • Conscientiousness: People high in conscientiousness tend to meet right on time. They are thoughtful and have self-control. They are organized and detail-oriented.
  • Neuroticism: People high in neuroticism tend to worry, get anxious and sad. They experience emotional instability and irritability.
  • Openness to experience: People who score high in openness to experience tend to philosophize and attend cultural activities. They are full of imagination and insight.

3. Does personality change?

Evidence suggests that personality traits and people’s behavior are rather stable across time (McCrae & John, 1992), however, people’s behavior is also influenced by situational factors, which has been shown in many psychological experiments.

The concept of deindividuation illustrates this, which is the tendency for people to lose self-awareness when they are in groups or some social situations. For example, people may forget all about their own standards because they try to live up to the norm of the group.

So, people’s behavior may change in some social situations, but to say that their personality also changes can be discussed. As the following study illustrates, personality traits are rather stable across time, at least in adulthood and old age.

4. Personality stability

Roberts & Del Vecchio (2000) examined a number of longitudinal studies to find out how consistent personality is. They found that trait stability increased from a correlation .31 in childhood to .54 during the college years, to .64 at age 30, and then it reached a plateau around .74 between the from age 50 until the age of 70.

What we can infer from these results is that personality seems to stabilize with increasing age. This fact does not surprise many because as our brain matures so does our personality. At the age of 30, one would have gone through the search for identity according to the identity theory of Erikson. At the age of 30, one should have achieved an identity.

5. Can personality predict life satisfaction?

An interesting study found that personality traits were predictive of life satisfaction, happiness, and positive affect. Neuroticism was the strongest and most negative predictor of life satisfaction, happiness, and especially negative emotions. High extraversion and agreeableness were, not suprisingly, predictors of life satisfaction (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998).

Image: Stella Belikiewicz