One of the most popular personality tests available today is the Five Factor model. This personality measure reduces the human personality to five factors, with other traits fitting within these five factors. It is a highly reliable test, exhibiting consistency in self-descriptions, interviews, observations and in other cultures. The acronym OCEAN is oftentimes used to refer to the test. These personality traits refer to openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, respectively. What follows is a brief overview of each trait.
First, let us begin with a formal definition of the five factor model of personality, with the help of Robert R. McCrae and Oliver P. John from the abstract from their article “An Introduction to the Five-Factor Model and Its Applications”:
“The five-factor model of personality is a hierarchical organization of personality traits in terms of five basic dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. Research using both natural language adjectives and theoretically based personality questionnaires supports the comprehensiveness of the model and its applicability across observers and cultures. This article summarizes the history of the model and its supporting evidence; discusses conceptions of the nature of the factors; and outlines an agenda for theorizing about the origins and operation of the factors. We argue that the model should prove useful both for individual assessment and for the elucidation of a number of topics of interest to personality psychologists.”
Openness to experience – This trait measures inventiveness/curiosity vs. consistency and cautiousness. Those who score high in this trait tend to be open to unusual ideas, curiosity, variety of experience, emotion, art and adventure. It measures creativity, intellectual curiosity, imagination and independence. Those who score low in this tend to prefer strict routine.
Conscientiousness – This personality trait measures efficiency/organization vs. a tendency to be easy-going or careless. It measures dutifulness, self-discipline, competence, goal-directed behavior and thoughtfulness. Its purpose is to measure an individual’s degree of deliberate attention and those who score highly in it usually prefer planned behavior rather than spontaneity, hard work, organization and dependability. Those who score low in this tend to be disorganized, spontaneous and a relaxed approach to life.
Extraversion – this measures how outgoing and energetic an individual is, as opposed to how solitary or reserved they are. Those who score highly on this have high degrees of energy, talkativeness, sociability, stimulation-seeing, assertiveness and positive emotions. Those who score lower on it tend to be introverted, solitary, quiet, and usually prefer smaller groups to larger social situations. Individuals who score highly in both extraversion and openness to experience tend to engage in exciting, risk-taking behavior.
Agreeableness – this trait measures one’s degree of friendliness and compassion vs. coldness or unkindness. Those who score highly in this trait tend to be helpful, trusting, well-tempered and cooperative. Those who score low on this trait tend to be rude and uncooperative.
Neuroticism – sensitivity and nervousness vs. security and confidence. Those who score highly in this trait tend to be predisposed to negative emotions such as vulnerability, depression, anger and anxiety. It is also a measure of impulse-control and emotional stability. Those who score highly tend to be hostile, angry, and impulsive, as well as predisposed to unhappiness and anxiety, whereas those who score low in this trait tend to be even-tempered and calm.
This personality trait is widely regarded as lacking an underlying theory. In other words, it is a purely empirical description which does not attempt to determine the underlying causes of these traits. Keep in mind that these personality traits exist on a continuum, from one extreme to another. These personality traits tend to be stable but some traits tend to increase or decrease slightly over time. Conscientiousness, for example, tends to increase over time.
Not everyone uncritically accepts every element of the five factor model, however. Some argue that there is a great deal of variability of these traits, depending upon the situation one is currently in. Averaging over such situations to find an overarching trait, therefore, may eclipse important personality differences among individuals. Others argue that this personality test is not comprehensive. There are also differences in opinion concerning factor analysis:
“Factor analysis, the statistical method used to identify the dimensional structure of observed variables, lacks a universally recognized basis for choosing among solutions with different numbers of factors. A five-factor solution depends, on some degree, on the interpretation of the analyst. A larger number of factors may, in fact, underlie these five factors; this has led to disputes about the “true” number of factors. Proponents of the five-factor model have responded that although other solutions may be viable in a single dataset, only the five-factor structure consistently replicates across different studies.”