Big Five Personality Traits: The 5-Factor Model of Personality

big 5 personality

The Big Five Model, also known as the Five-Factor Model, is the most widely accepted personality theory held by psychologists today.

The theory states that personality can be boiled down to five core factors, known by the acronym CANOE or OCEAN.

  1. Conscientiousness – impulsive, disorganized vs. disciplined, careful
  2. Agreeableness – suspicious, uncooperative vs. trusting, helpful
  3. Neuroticism – calm, confident vs. anxious, pessimistic
  4. Openness to Experience – prefers routine, practical vs. imaginative, spontaneous
  5. Extraversion – reserved, thoughtful vs. sociable, fun-loving

The Big Five remain relatively stable throughout most of one’s lifetime. They are influenced significantly by genes and the environment, with an estimated heritability of 50%. They also predict certain important life outcomes such as education and health.

Each trait represents a continuum. Individuals can fall anywhere on the continuum for each trait.

Unlike other trait theories that sort individuals into binary categories (i.e. introvert or extrovert ), the Big Five Model asserts that each personality trait is a spectrum.

Therefore, individuals are ranked on a scale between the two extreme ends of five broad dimensions:

big five personality scale

For instance, when measuring Extraversion, one would not be classified as purely extroverted or introverted, but placed on a scale determining their level of extraversion.

By ranking individuals on each of these traits, it is possible to effectively measure individual differences in personality.


Conscientiousness describes a person’s ability to regulate impulse control in order to engage in goal-directed behaviors (Grohol, 2019). It measures elements such as control, inhibition, and persistence of behavior.

Facets of conscientiousness include the following (John & Srivastava, 1999):

  • Competence
  • Organized
  • Dutifulness
  • Achievement striving
  • Self-disciplined
  • Deliberation

  • Incompetent
  • Disorganized
  • Careless
  • Procrastinates
  • Indiscipline
  • Impulsive

Conscientiousness vs. Lack of Direction

Those who score high on conscientiousness can be described as organized, disciplined, detail-oriented, thoughtful, and careful. They also have good impulse control, which allows them to complete tasks and achieve goals.

Those who score low on conscientiousness may struggle with impulse control, leading to difficulty in completing tasks and fulfilling goals.

They tend to be more disorganized and may dislike too much structure. They may also engage in more impulsive and careless behavior.


Agreeableness refers to how people tend to treat relationships with others. Unlike extraversion which consists of the pursuit of relationships, agreeableness focuses on people’s orientation and interactions with others (Ackerman, 2017).

Facets of agreeableness include the following (John & Srivastava, 1999):

  • Trust (forgiving)
  • Straightforwardness
  • Altruism (enjoys helping)
  • Compliance
  • Modesty
  • Sympathetic
  • Empathy

  • Skeptical
  • Demanding
  • Insults and belittles others
  • Stubborn
  • Show-off
  • Unsympathetic
  • Doesn’t care about how other people feel

Agreeableness vs. Antagonism

Those high in agreeableness can be described as soft-hearted, trusting, and well-liked. They are sensitive to the needs of others and are helpful and cooperative. People regard them as trustworthy and altruistic.

Those low in agreeableness may be perceived as suspicious, manipulative, and uncooperative. They may be antagonistic when interacting with others, making them less likely to be well-liked and trusted.


Extraversion reflects the tendency and intensity to which someone seeks interaction with their environment, particularly socially. It encompasses the comfort and assertiveness levels of people in social situations.

Additionally, it also reflects the sources from which someone draws energy.

Facets of extraversion include the following (John & Srivastava, 1999):

  • Sociable
  • Energized by social interaction
  • Excitement-seeking
  • Enjoys being the center of attention
  • Outgoing

  • Prefers solitude
  • Fatigued by too much social interaction
  • Reflective
  • Dislikes being the center of attention
  • Reserved

Extraversion vs. Introversion

Those high on extraversion are generally assertive, sociable, fun-loving, and outgoing. They thrive in social situations and feel comfortable voicing their opinions. They tend to gain energy and become excited from being around others.

Those who score low in extraversion are often referred to as introverts. These people tend to be more reserved and quieter. They prefer listening to others rather than needing to be heard.

Introverts often need periods of solitude in order to regain energy as attending social events can be very tiring for them. Of importance to note is that introverts do not necessarily dislike social events, but instead find them tiring.

Openness to Experience

Openness to experience refers to one’s willingness to try new things as well as engage in imaginative and intellectual activities. It includes the ability to “think outside of the box.”

Facets of openness include the following (John & Srivastava, 1999):

  • Curious
  • Imaginative
  • Creative
  • Open to trying new things
  • Unconventional

  • Predictable
  • Not very imaginative
  • Dislikes change
  • Prefer routine
  • Traditional

Openness vs. Closedness to Experience

Those who score high on openness to experience are perceived as creative and artistic. They prefer variety and value independence. They are curious about their surroundings and enjoy traveling and learning new things.

People who score low on openness to experience prefer routine. They are uncomfortable with change and trying new things, so they prefer the familiar over the unknown. As they are practical people, they often find it difficult to think creatively or abstractly.


Neuroticism describes the overall emotional stability of an individual through how they perceive the world. It takes into account how likely a person is to interpret events as threatening or difficult.

It also includes one’s propensity to experience negative emotions.

Facets of neuroticism include the following (John & Srivastava, 1999):

  • Anxious
  • Angry hostility (irritable)
  • Experiences a lot of stress
  • Self-consciousness (shy)
  • Vulnerability
  • Experiences dramatic shifts in mood

  • Doesn”t worry much
  • Calm
  • Emotionally stable
  • Confident
  • Resilient
  • Rarely feels sad or depressed

Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability

Those who score high on neuroticism often feel anxious, insecure and self-pitying. They are often perceived as moody and irritable. They are prone to excessive sadness and low self-esteem.

Those who score low on neuroticism are more likely to calm, secure and self-satisfied. They are less likely to be perceived as anxious or moody. They are more likely to have high self-esteem and remain resilient.

Behavioral Outcomes


In marriages where one partner scores lower than the other on agreeableness, stability, and openness, there is likely to be marital dissatisfaction (Myers, 2011).


Neuroticism seems to be a risk factor for many health problems, including depression, schizophrenia, diabetes, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and heart disease (Lahey, 2009).

People high in neuroticism are particularly vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression. Low agreeableness has also been linked to higher chances of health problems (John & Srivastava, 1999).

There is evidence to suggest that conscientiousness is a protective factor against health diseases. People who score high in conscientiousness have been observed to have better health outcomes and longevity (John & Srivastava, 1999).

Researchers believe that such is due to conscientious people having regular and well-structured lives, as well as the impulse control to follow diets, treatment plans, etc.


A high score on conscientiousness predicts better high school and university grades (Myers, 2011). Contrarily, low agreeableness and low conscientiousness predict juvenile delinquency (John & Srivastava, 1999).


Conscientiousness is the strongest predictor of all five traits for job performance (John & Srivastava, 1999). A high score of conscientiousness has been shown to relate to high work performance across all dimensions.

The other traits have been shown to predict more specific aspects of job performance. For instance, agreeableness and neuroticism predict better performance in jobs where teamwork is involved.

However, agreeableness is negatively related to individual proactivity. Openness to experience is positively related to individual proactivity but negatively related to team efficiency (Neal et al., 2012).

Extraversion is a predictor of leadership, as well as success in sales and management positions (John & Srivastava, 1999).

Media Preference

Manolika (2023) examined how the Big Five personality traits relate to preferences for different genres of movies and books. The study surveyed 386 university students on their Big Five traits and preferences for 21 movie and 27 book types.

Results showed openness to experience predicted liking complex movies like documentaries and unconventional books like philosophy. This aligns with past research showing open people like cognitively challenging art (Swami & Furnham, 2019).

Conscientiousness predicted preferring informational books, while agreeableness predicted conventional genres like family movies and romance books.

Neuroticism only predicted preferring light books, not movies. Extraversion did not predict preferences, contrary to hypotheses.

Overall, the Big Five traits differentially predicted media preferences, suggesting people select entertainment that satisfies psychological needs and reflects aspects of their personalities (Rentfrow et al., 2011).

Open people prefer complex stimulation, conscientious people prefer practical content, agreeable people prefer conventional genres, and neurotic people use light books for mood regulation. Extraversion may relate more to social motivations for media use.

Critical Evaluation

Descriptor Rather Than a Theory

The Big Five was developed to organize personality traits rather than as a comprehensive theory of personality.

Therefore, it is more descriptive than explanatory and does not fully account for differences between individuals (John & Srivastava, 1999). It also does not sufficiently provide a causal reason for human behavior.

Cross-Cultural Validity

Although the Big Five has been tested in many countries and its existence is generally supported by findings (McCrae, 2002), there have been some studies that do not support its model. Most previous studies have tested the presence of the Big Five in urbanized, literate populations.

A study by Gurven et al. (2013) was the first to test the validity of the Big Five model in a largely illiterate, indigenous population in Bolivia. They administered a 44-item Big Five Inventory but found that the participants did not sort the items in consistency with the Big Five traits.

More research on illiterate and non-industrialized populations is needed to clarify such discrepancies.

Gender Differences

Differences in the Big Five personality traits between genders have been observed, but these differences are small compared to differences between individuals within the same gender.

Costa et al. (2001) gathered data from over 23,000 men and women in 26 countries. They found that “gender differences are modest in magnitude, consistent with gender stereotypes, and replicable across cultures” (p. 328).

Women reported themselves to be higher in Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Warmth (a facet of Extraversion), and Openness to Feelings compared to men. Men reported themselves to be higher in Assertiveness (a facet of Extraversion) and Openness to Ideas.

Another interesting finding was that bigger gender differences were reported in Western, industrialized countries. Researchers proposed that the most plausible reason for this finding was attribution processes.

They surmised that actions of women in individualistic countries would be more likely to be attributed to her personality whereas actions of women in collectivistic countries would be more likely to be attributed to their compliance with gender role norms.

Factors that Influence the Big 5

Like with all theories of personality, the Big Five is influenced by both nature and nurture. Twin studies have found that the heritability (the amount of variance that can be attributed to genes) of the Big Five traits is 40-60%.

Jang et al. (1996) conducted a study with 123 pairs of identical twins and 127 pairs of fraternal twins. They estimated the heritability of conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and extraversion to be 44%, 41%, 41%, 61%, and 53%, respectively.

This finding was similar to the findings of another study, where the heritability of conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience and extraversion were estimated to be 49%, 48%, 49%, 48%, and 50%, respectively (Jang et al., 1998).

Such twin studies demonstrate that the Big Five personality traits are significantly influenced by genes and that all five traits are equally heritable. Heritability for males and females does not seem to differ significantly (Leohlin et al., 1998).

Studies from different countries also support the idea of a strong genetic basis for the Big Five personality traits (Riemann et al., 1997; Yamagata et al., 2006).

Roehrick et al. (2023) examined how Big Five traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness) and context relate to smartphone use. The study used surveys, experience sampling, and smartphone sensing to track college students’ personality, context, and hourly smartphone behaviors over one week.

They found extraverts used their phones more frequently once checked, but conscientious people were less likely to use their phone and used them for shorter durations. Smartphones were used in public, with weaker social ties, and during class/work activities. They were used less with close ties. Perceived situations didn’t relate much to use.

Most variability in use was within-person, suggesting context matters more than personality for smartphone behaviors. Comparisons showed context-explained duration of use over traits and demographics, but not frequency.

The key implication is that both personality and context are important to understanding digital behavior. Extraversion and conscientiousness were the most relevant of the Big Five for smartphone use versus non-use and degree of use. Contextual factors like location, social ties, and activities provided additional explanatory power, especially for the duration of smartphone use.

Stability of the Traits

People’s scores of the Big Five remain relatively stable for most of their life with some slight changes from childhood to adulthood. A study by Soto & John (2012) attempted to track the developmental trends of the Big Five traits.

They found that overall agreeableness and conscientiousness increased with age. There was no significant trend for extraversion overall although gregariousness decreased and assertiveness increased.

Openness to experience and neuroticism decreased slightly from adolescence to middle adulthood. The researchers concluded that there were more significant trends in specific facets (i.e. adventurousness and depression) rather than in the Big Five traits overall.

History and Background

The Big Five model resulted from the contributions of many independent researchers. Gordon Allport and Henry Odbert first formed a list of 4,500 terms relating to personality traits in 1936 (Vinney, 2018). Their work provided the foundation for other psychologists to begin determining the basic dimensions of personality.

In the 1940s, Raymond Cattell and his colleagues used factor analysis (a statistical method) to narrow down Allport’s list to sixteen traits.

However, numerous psychologists examined Cattell’s list and found that it could be further reduced to five traits. Among these psychologists were Donald Fiske, Norman, Smith, Goldberg, and McCrae & Costa (Cherry, 2019).

In particular, Lewis Goldberg advocated heavily for five primary factors of personality (Ackerman, 2017). His work was expanded upon by McCrae & Costa, who confirmed the model’s validity and provided the model used today: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and extraversion.

The model became known as the “Big Five” and has seen received much attention. It has been researched across many populations and cultures and continues to be the most widely accepted theory of personality today.

Each of the Big Five personality traits represents extremely broad categories which cover many personality-related terms. Each trait encompasses a multitude of other facets.

For example, the trait of Extraversion is a category that contains labels such as Gregariousness (sociable), Assertiveness (forceful), Activity (energetic), Excitement-seeking (adventurous), Positive emotions (enthusiastic), and Warmth (outgoing) (John & Srivastava, 1999).

Therefore, the Big Five, while not completely exhaustive, cover virtually all personality-related terms.

Another important aspect of the Big Five Model is its approach to measuring personality. It focuses on conceptualizing traits as a spectrum rather than black-and-white categories (see Figure 1). It recognizes that most individuals are not on the polar ends of the spectrum but rather somewhere in between.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is 5 Really the Magic Number?

A common criticism of the Big Five is that each trait is too broad. Although the Big Five is useful in terms of providing a rough overview of personality, more specific traits are required to be of use for predicting outcomes (John & Srivastava, 1999).

There is also an argument from psychologists that more than five traits are required to encompass the entirety of personality.

A new model, HEXACO, was developed by Kibeom Lee and Michael Ashton, and expands upon the Big Five Model. HEXACO retains the original traits from the Big Five Model but contains one additional trait: Honesty-Humility, which they describe as the extent to which one places others’ interests above their own.

What are the differences between the Big Five and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?

The Big Five personality traits and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are both popular models used to understand personality. However, they differ in several ways.

The Big Five traits represent five broad dimensions of personality. Each trait is measured along a continuum, and individuals can fall anywhere along that spectrum.

In contrast, the MBTI categorizes individuals into one of 16 personality types based on their preferences for four dichotomies: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. This model assumes that people are either one type or another rather than being on a continuum.

Overall, while both models aim to describe and categorize personality, the Big Five is thought to have more empirical research and more scientific support, while the MBTI is more of a theory and often lacks strong empirical evidence.

Is it possible to improve certain Big Five traits through therapy or other interventions?

It can be possible to improve certain Big Five traits through therapy or other interventions.

For example, individuals who score low in conscientiousness may benefit from therapy that focuses on developing planning, organizational, and time-management skills. Those with high neuroticism may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps individuals manage negative thoughts and emotions.

Additionally, therapy such as mindfulness-based interventions may increase scores in traits such as openness and agreeableness. However, the extent to which these interventions can change personality traits long-term is still a topic of debate among psychologists.

Is it possible to have a high score in more than one Big Five trait?

Yes, it is possible to have a high score in more than one Big Five trait. Each trait is independent of the others, meaning that an individual can score high on openness, extraversion, and conscientiousness, for example, all at the same time.

Similarly, an individual can also score low on one trait and high on another. The Big Five traits are measured along a continuum, so individuals can fall anywhere along that spectrum for each trait.

Therefore, it is common for individuals to have a unique combination of high and low scores across the Big Five personality traits.


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big five personality
The Big Five personality traits are five broad dimensions of personality, often remembered with the acronym OCEAN: Openness (to experience), Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (emotional instability).
Big 5 Personality Traits

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Annabelle G.Y. Lim

Psychology Graduate

BA (Hons), Psychology, Harvard University

Annabelle G.Y. Lim is a graduate in psychology from Harvard University. She has served as a research assistant at the Harvard Adolescent Stress & Development Lab.