Life Skills

The Big Five Model of Personality

  • Aug 25, 2023
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The Big Five Model of Personality

The Five Factor model of personality, commonly referred to as the Big Five, stands as the most widely embraced personality theory within the scientific community. Although not as prevalent in the general public’s awareness as systems like the Myers-Briggs typology, it is broadly recognized as the most empirically robust framework for effectively depicting individual differences and characterizing people’s personalities. The Big Five personality test is readily accessible for free at The significance of the Big 5 personality traits cannot be underestimated, as research has demonstrated their ability to predict a diverse array of life outcomes. These outcomes span from work performance and leadership approaches to metrics such as political inclination, relationship quality, and overall life contentment.

Dubbed the Big Five due to its proposition that human personality can be evaluated across five distinct and autonomous dimensions, this model is also known as OCEAN or CANOE, representing the initials of its constituent traits.

The Big Five framework envisions individuals as possessing varying degrees of core personality factors that influence their thoughts and behaviors. While these traits may not anticipate precise behaviors, differences in the Big Five traits offer insights into why individuals might respond, act, and perceive situations in distinct ways, even when faced with similar circumstances.

In contrast to personality models based on types like the Myers-Briggs or Type A/Type B categorizations, which provide clearly defined groups, the Big Five operates on a trait-based approach. While type models are easily graspable, they lack empirical robustness as individuals rarely neatly fit into predetermined categories. The Big Five employs a spectrum-based strategy to portray individuals in terms of traits, making it a more valid and evidence-supported method for comprehending personality.


Diverging from the inclination to openly share thoughts and emotions, Openness within the Big Five primarily pertains to Openness to Experience, signifying a willingness to embrace novel ideas. Previously referred to as “Intellect” by certain researchers, this label has largely been discarded due to its implication that high Openness equates to higher intelligence, which is not necessarily accurate. Openness assesses an individual’s inclination for abstract thinking. Those high in Openness tend to be creative, daring, and intellectually inquisitive. They find pleasure in exploring new concepts and embarking on novel ventures. Conversely, individuals low in Openness tend to be pragmatic, conventional, and focused on the concrete. They typically shy away from the unknown and adhere to established norms. In terms of brain activity, Openness appears linked to the extent of connectivity among specific brain regions. Those with high Openness often exhibit more connections between disparate areas of the brain, potentially explaining their ability to make connections that might elude others.


Conscientiousness gauges one’s level of goal-oriented behavior and perseverance. Individuals with high Conscientiousness are systematic and resolute, capable of deferring immediate gratification for long-term achievements. On the other hand, those with low Conscientiousness display impulsivity and vulnerability to distractions. Neurologically, Conscientiousness corresponds with the engagement of the frontal lobe. This area serves as the brain’s “executive” center, overseeing and regulating impulsive tendencies arising from other brain regions. For example, when faced with a tempting piece of cake, the frontal lobe intervenes, reminding us of health and dietary goals. Individuals with high Conscientiousness are more likely to employ this brain region to manage impulses and remain on track.


Extraversion characterizes an individual’s inclination to seek external stimulation, particularly in terms of social interactions. Extroverts actively engage with others, aiming for companionship, admiration, authority, status, excitement, and romantic connections. In contrast, introverts conserve energy and invest less effort in obtaining these social rewards. From a neurological perspective, Extraversion appears connected to dopamine activity. Dopamine acts as the brain’s “reward” neurotransmitter, motivating our pursuit of objectives. Extroverts usually exhibit higher dopamine activity, rendering them more receptive to potential rewards. Introverts, with lower dopamine activity, are less motivated to chase after rewards.


Agreeableness reflects how much an individual prioritizes others’ needs over their own. Those with high Agreeableness demonstrate significant empathy and find fulfillment in aiding and caring for others. Individuals low in Agreeableness experience reduced empathy and prioritize their personal concerns. In the brain, heightened Agreeableness correlates with heightened activity in the superior temporal gyrus, responsible for processing language and recognizing emotions in others.


Neuroticism delineates an individual’s predisposition to react to stressors with negative emotions such as fear, sadness, anxiety, guilt, and shame. This trait functions like an alarm system, where negative emotions indicate potential issues. Fear, for instance, alerts us to danger, while guilt signifies a misstep. Nevertheless, not everyone responds identically to the same situation. Individuals high in Neuroticism tend to react with intense negative emotions, while those low in Neuroticism tend to bounce back from misfortune more easily. From a neurological angle, Neuroticism seems linked to several brain regions associated with processing negative stimuli and regulating negative emotions. Research suggests a correlation between high Neuroticism and altered serotonin processing in the brain.

Understanding Personality through the Big Five Traits

Individuals are typically described in terms of possessing high, moderate, or low levels of each of the five personality factors. Because these factors are independent of one another, an individual might exhibit high Extraversion and low Agreeableness, for instance. To form a comprehensive profile using the Big Five framework, one must assess their standing on each of the five dimensions. This evaluation can be accomplished through a Big Five personality test.

Historical Origins of the Big Five

The roots of the Big Five model can be traced back to the lexical hypothesis, which posits that we can establish a classification of individual differences by analyzing the language used to describe one another. Early researchers compiled a lexicon of personality trait descriptors, including terms like “friendly,” “helpful,” “aggressive,” and “creative.” These descriptors were then grouped based on shared characteristics. For instance, a person labeled as friendly might also be seen as sociable, talkative, and outgoing. Researchers consistently found that trait-related adjectives clustered into five groups, aligning with the Big Five traits. Currently, the Big Five model serves as the foundation for contemporary personality research, shedding light on various aspects ranging from the heritability of personality to correlations between personality traits and income.

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