Big Five Theory

Big Five Theory

Author: Erick Taggart

This lesson will define the five factor model and identify the five universal dimensions of personality.

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Hello, class. So today we're going to be talking about one particular model in trait theory of personality, and that's the Big Five, or the five factor model of personality. Now remember, a personality trait is a basic, stable, and consistent quality that people show over time and in different kinds of situations. It's an enduring quality. And they're also the sort of building blocks of a person's sense of self, or who they are.

So originally in trait theory, Gordon Allport was one of the first major figures, and he identified a list of over 4,500 different traits. So you could imagine while he was classifying them in different ways, it's a bit difficult to keep track of.

Later on, another psychologist named Raymond Cattell identified 16 factors. And he did it by removing some of those uncommon traits from Allport's list, and also combining related ones. And he led to the creation of the 16 personality factor questionnaire, or the 16 PF, which is a very commonly used personality test.

But the most widely accepted of the trait theories, especially today, is the Big Five. And this was a theory that was first developed by Costa and McCrae in 1992, but it's been developed upon by other personality theorists over time. And the idea in this is to try to identify the basic important dimensions of personality. And they do this by putting traits within a certain scale from low to high. So they identify what would be the high point and the low point within a certain area of personality, and then there are related traits that go along with whatever level you might display.

They're not necessarily a good side or a bad side to the Big Five scales, but it is important to know that there are definitely some aspects that are a bit more favorable than others. So let's take a look at those five.

So the five dimensions of this model, which we refer to as OCEAN, for taking all the letters, or if you reorganize it, you might call it CANOE, are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Now let's go through each one and describe what they are.

So openness to experience is how intellectually curious a person might be, or how appreciative they are of art, emotions, or fantasies, as well as how adventurous a person might be, how outgoing in terms of experiences. Now, on the low side of openness, a person might be very down to earth, very routine, or very conventional. So they tend to do things in a standard kind of way. Someone very high in openness to experience might be very creative, or imaginative, or prefer new experiences. These are people like thrill seekers.

Conscientiousness refers to how organized or disciplined someone might be, as well as help methodical they are when they want to go through things in a very specific kind of way, how responsible they are, and how achieving they might be. So, how driven they are to succeed. On the low side to conscientiousness, we've got people that are very disorganized, careless, or easygoing, very relaxed. On the high end, these are people that are very efficient, well organized, and hard working. An example of this might be a perfectionist, someone high in conscientiousness.

Extroversion refers to how socially outgoing a person might be, as well as how expressive and talkative a person is. So on the low end of extroversion, a person might be very quiet reserved, or passive. So they tend to sit back, and they tend not to express themselves very much.

And someone high in extroversion is very outgoing, very talkative, energetic, and affectionate. This is important-- this is socially outgoing, as opposed to be outgoing in experiences and openness. For example, someone high in extraversion would be the social butterfly or the life of the party.

Agreeableness refers to how friendly and accepting, how kind and caring, a person might be. So how positive they are towards other people. On the low end is somebody who's very cold, very withdrawn, as well as being suspicious, critical, or antagonistic towards other people. So not just necessarily withdrawing from them, but actively opposing them.

Someone high in agreeableness is very trusting and very compassionate, and also very cooperative. They like to work with people. And an example of this might be a person who tries to sacrifice themselves, or their lives, for good causes.

Finally, neuroticism refers to how emotionally stable a person is, and how likely you are to experience negative or unpleasant emotions. On the low end, a person who is low in neuroticism is very calm, very secure, and very confident, as well as being very even-tempered. So they generally stay the same in terms of emotions.

Whereas somebody high in neuroticism is very sensitive to comments, or to emotions. They're very self-conscious, temperamental, as well as being nervous and irritable. So they can be really high in terms of those negative emotions. An easy way of imagining this is a person like Woody Allen-- someone who's very neurotic, is what we refer to as very sort of nervous and constantly worried about other people's opinions.

Terms to Know

Softhearted, trusting, and helpful


Organized, careful, and disciplined.


Sociable, fun-loving, and affectionate

Five Factor Model of Personality(or Big Five Theory)

Based on collection of researchers data on hundreds of personality descriptions Most can be grouped into five main categories:

Neuroticism/Emotional stability

Calm, secure, self-satisfied

Openness to Experience

Imaginative, likes variety, and independent