The Big Five personality traits (Five-factor Model)

Cite this article as: Praveen Shrestha, "The Big Five personality traits (Five-factor Model)," in Psychestudy, November 17, 2017,

A remarkably strong consensus of what traits are basic has emerged over the last 20 years. Five super ordinate factors have emerged and are referred to as the Big Five Model of Personality or the Big Five Personality traits or the Five-Factor Model. Numerous amounts of research have been carried out to determine the basic personality traits. And the big five factor is supported by most of them.

The earliest evidence supporting the 5-factor model was published in 1949 by Fiske. Massive amount of researches were conducted and combined in the 1980s and 90s to support the 5-factor model. However, as with all theories, not everyone agrees with the naming of the 5 traits hundred percent. The five super traits are generally described as follows, as developed by Costa and McCrae in 1985 along with test tool.

  • Openness to Experience (Closed to Experiences)
  • Conscientiousness (Lack of Conscientiousness)
  • Extraversion (Introversion)
  • Agreeableness (Disagreeableness)
  • Neuroticism (Emotional Stability)

The Big Five Factors Model of Personality

Fantasy Competence Warmth/Love Trust Competence
Aesthetics Order Gregariousness/social Straightforwardness Order
Feelings Dutifulness Assertiveness/bold Altruism/humanity Dutifulness
Actions Achievement Striving Activity Compliance/obedience Achievement Striving
Ideas Self Discipline Excitement seeking Modesty Self Discipline
Values Deliberation Positive emotion Tendermindedness Deliberation

It is important to keep in mind that each of the big five traits represent a range between two extreme personality traits. For instance, neuroticism signifies a continuum between extreme neuroticism and extreme emotional stability. Similarly, what these five traits suggest is that most people fall under one of these categories. An average person lies somewhere between the two polar ends of each dimension.

Openness to Experience

Openness suggests characteristics that include having broad range of interests and willing to try out even most unusual ideas. They are intellectually curious, sensitive to beauty, and tend to hold unconventional beliefs.

On the other hand, people with low score on openness tend to be more straightforward and prefer familiarity rather than novelty. They are rather conservative with no desire of changing.

For Example:

If a person is open to traveling new places spontaneously, he can be considered open to new experiences. Reverse, the person doesn’t allow himself to experience new things, and would rather occupy himself with the every day schedule.


People with higher score on conscientiousness tend to be self disciplined, dutiful and prefer planned behavior to a spontaneous one.

Lack of conscientiousness refers to a personality trait exactly in contrast. They refer to opposite kinds of behaviors.

For Example:

If a person is highly self disciplined, say he always does his chores done right away, he can be called conscientious. Reverse, the person always procrastinates and tend to make a mess of things.


People with high score on extraversion gain energy when exposed to the external world. They tend to be action-oriented, enthusiastic, visible to people, and are capable of asserting themselves.

People low on the trait is classified as Introverts, who tend to be exactly opposite to extraverts. They tend to be low-key, less involved in the social world, and like to keep to themselves.

For Example:

A person with extraversion characteristics loves going out and is generally life of the parties. Reverse, Introverts have lower energy levels when it comes to social engagement, and they would rather lock themselves in a room in the midst of pile of books.


People with high score on this trait are trustworthy, helpful, kind, considerate, generous and do not hesitate to compromise their interests with others.

Self interest is the key for people with low interest on agreeableness. Those with high disagreeableness are not willing to compromise their interests with others and can be considered unfriendly.

For Example:

A person who is agreeable doesn’t mind taking time out for other people. If a person takes time out of his busy schedule at work to meet a friend for lunch, he is agreeable. Reverse, such kind of people are not interested in other people’s problems, they might even seem insulting because of their self interest. A classic example would be Sherlock Holmes.


The tendency to experience anger, depression, anxiety and other forms of negative emotions are seen in people with high score on neuroticism. It is also called emotional instability. It is similar to being neurotic in the Freudian sense. But, keep in mind that it doesn’t provide an identical meaning.

The opposite polar dimension of neuroticism is emotional stability. People low on neuroticism is seen to have contrast characteristics that make them calm, stable (emotionally) and free from negative feelings.

For Example:

If a person easily loses his temper when he doesn’t get his order in time or there is too much sugar in his coffee, such people have high score on neuroticism. Reverse, such people are emotionally stable and rarely feel sad. If a person can handle criticisms and gloomy environments calmly, such people receive low score on neuroticism.

Big Five Factors Model of Personality Research

Studies have found that the big 5 factors theory of personality is universal. Research conducted from above 50 different cultures showed that these five dimensions of personality could be used to describe personality traits of people in general, regardless of their upbringing environment.

Large numbers of psychologists now believe that not only these dimensions common universally, but they also share biological origins.

The way a person behaves is influenced by underlying personality traits and the situation he/she is in. Even though situational variables play a major role in a person’s behavior, in most cases, responses are directly dependent on underlying personal traits.

Another fundamental aspect to keep informed about these personality traits is that there is a good chance these personality traits might not occur together. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see a single person show combination of variety of these personality traits categorized in different dimensions.

Critical Evaluation

Like every theory that has ever been established, the big five models of personality has also received quite a few criticisms.


One of the most popular arguments have been regarding the mass it can be accounted for. These 5 traits only account for 56% of the normal personality trait sphere, and that is even without considering the abnormal personality trait sphere.


Also, the big five traits are only based on data-driven investigation and is not theory driven. Even though genotypic temperament trait dimensions might be similar across different cultures, the socio-cultural environment and the conditioning leads to difference in the phenotypic personal traits, which is not explained by the Big Five Model.


Being limited is one of the major criticisms received by the Big Five Model. The model traits cover the external characteristics of an individual which readily observed, but it fails to cover the personal or privately held characteristics that are more dependent on situations.

Cite this article as: Praveen Shrestha, "The Big Five personality traits (Five-factor Model)," in Psychestudy, November 17, 2017,