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The Big 5 Personality Factors


Human beings experience numerous situations in our daily lives. Each of us also have our own distinct way to respond to people, events and situations. Psychologists define this collection of traits as personality. Personality refers to a collection of uniquely individual traits that mark an individual’s behavior across situations over a period of time. The word personality comes from the Latin word “persona” which is a term for the masks used by actors in the Roman theater to act out the character they were playing.

Thus, the essence of personality lies in people’s characteristic traits of emotion and action.


Following are the major characteristics of personality:

  1. Personality is unique to individuals. Each of us have our own unique combination of traits.

  2. Personality traits are relatively stable over time. This means that the core aspect of personality do not change with time.

  3. Base level traits of personality may alter with major life events and experiences.

  4. Personality includes both physical and psychological components.


Psychologists and researchers have been trying to study personality and its constituent parts for decades. Some psychologists focus on the broader categories of personality that people belong to while others believe that personality is made of singular traits coming together to form a greater whole. According to these two points of view, personality theories can be divided into two categories.

I. Type Approaches

The Type approaches attempt to comprehend personality by studying certain broad patterns in the observable behavior of people. According to these patterns, people are classified into their personality types. These personality “types” are nothing but compartments that consist of specific patterns of behavior expressed by the people belonging to that category. An example of the type approach theory to study personality is the body time division given by Sheldon (which is no longer accepted as a theory or categorization of personality).

Sheldon divides people into Endomorphs, Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs. He states that endomorphs are soft, fat and round. They are usually of the relaxed and sociable type. Mesomorphs are people with a strong, rectangular body built. They are usually strong and competitive. Ectomorphs are thin, lanky and fragile. They are said to belong to the brainy, shy and artistic type.

Another such classification was made by Friedman and Rosenman based on the types of disorders that people are susceptible to.

However, a lot of modern psychologists reject type approaches as being very rigid and inflexible. These approaches divide people into watertight compartments and do not allow room for gray areas. This is a point of concern since most personality factors are fluid and alter with time.

Psychological Tip for Real: In a nutshell, categorizing a person by old folk methods or yesteryear conventional generalizations won't be a fair thing to do!

II. Trait Approaches

Trait approaches come as a counter-theory to the type approaches. Trait approaches focus on the specific individual psychological traits. Rather than creating compartments like the type theory did, the trait theory talks about the level or intensity of traits along a scale. These traits vary in stable and consistent ways across individuals.

For example, “assertiveness” is a singular trait. Trait theories say that rather than a division where traits are completely present or absent, a division of less or more is more advisable. Here, a person could be more assertive or less assertive.

Trait theorists believe that traits can be measured on a scale. A lot of psychologists today believe in trait theories because they feel that such trait ratings make more sense than compartments.

Following are a few classic trait theories:

  1. Allport’s Trait Theory: Gordon Allport studied the personality descriptors in the English language and divided them into Cardinal, Central and Secondary traits.

  2. Raymond Cattell Personality Factors: Raymond Cattell used the statistical technique of factor analysis to come up with a division of traits into ‘source traits’ and ‘surface traits’. According to him, each person is made of 16 basic source traits. Surface traits later develop as a combination of these source traits. The very popular 16 Personality Factor test, used a lot for professional and scientific uses these days, was created by Cattell based on this theory.

  3. Eyesenck’s Personality Theory: H. J. Eyesenck proposed that personality can be understood in terms of related but opposing dimensions. Each dimension constitutes various sub-traits within itself. The dimensions are - Neuroticism vs Emotional Stability; Intraversion vs Extraversion and Psychoticism vs Sociability.

In recent years, a theme of interactional approaches has surfaced. This approach combines the positive characteristics of type and trait approaches. One such theory is the Big 5 Factor Theory.


Paul Costa and Robert McCrae have examined all possible personality traits to filter out the basic yet most important 5 personality traits that individuals have. Like trait theories, these approaches vary on a scale as well and can be studied on a scale. This technique also made use of the factor analysis method to study personality indicators and summarize the best traits that can be used as personality descriptors.

Following are the five major factors used as personality descriptors:

OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE - The personality trait includes characteristics like insight, imagination and curiosity. People who are high on this scale have a broad range of interests. They are curious about the world and the things that are happening around them. They are always eager to learn and try out new things. Conversely, people who are low on this factor are rigid, conventional and low on creative thinking. They also dislike change and are not very imaginative.

CONSCIENTIOUSNESS - Conscientiousness is a trait that includes high impulse control, good decision making and a tendency to engage in goal-attaining behaviors. People who are high on conscientiousness show persistence in their behavior and are set on their ethical codes and ways in which they wish to realize their goals. Control and inhibition are also important components of conscientiousness. People who are low on conscientiousness are deemed incompetent, unorganized, undisciplined and impulsive.

EXTRAVERSION - Extraversion is a trait owing to which one becomes social, interactive and open to relations and communications. It relates to concepts of how social situations make people happy and if people pull their happiness out of being with other people in social situations. People who are core extroverts seek excitement and social bonding, are highly sociable and enjoy being the center of attention. People who are not high on extraversion prefer solitude and experience fatigue when they are amongst larger crowds for a long period of time. They are reserved and reflective towards their own self.

AGREEABLENESS - Agreeableness is a trait that is very appreciated in both personal and professional settings. Those high on agreeableness can be described as people who are soft-hearted, warm, trusting and well liked. They are sensitive to the needs of others. They go out of their way to help people when they can and are always kind and considerate. They also possess the traits of cooperation and altruism. On the other hand, non-agreeable people may often be perceived as suspicious, manipulative, evil and cold-hearted. They are less-likely to be perceived as reliable and trustworthy.

NEUROTICISM - Neuroticism is a trait that is used to measure the overall emotional stability and how well they perceive the world and situations around them. Neuroticism is measured on how well a person functions as a part of the society and how he/she/they emotionally contribute to their own well-being as well as the well-being of others. This measure also includes how well people can deal with negativity and cope with the problems in life.

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People’s scores on the Big 5 Personality Test are relatively stable and constant throughout their lives. However, core experiences in one’s childhood and later adulthood might bring about changes in these factors. Theorists believe that both nature (hereditary) and nurture (environmental) factors affect an individual’s personality traits.


All of these 5 basic personality traits play an important role in employee attitude formation and selection. Organizations prefer employees who are high on conscientiousness and agreeableness so that they can uphold the values of the company and work on creating a brand reputation.

Openness to experiences is also labeled as a positive trait in workplaces where venturing into new ideas and drawing inspiration from unusual places can get you recognition and success.

Thus, the Big 5 Personality Factor Theory is an interesting approach to understand core traits of personality that hold importance in modern work culture.

Psychological Tip for Real: One must focus on improving one’s personality traits as skills for a growing and effective work life!

  1. Openness to Experiences: One with skills of insight, imagination and curiosity are often expected by employers as they add value to planning and innovative thinking processes. Employees should not shy away from being curious or inquisitive. Queer thoughts may result into innovative ideas that could be productive and life changing!

  2. Conscientiousness: In order to hone this skill, one can concentrate on goal mapping, time management while playing fair and ethical alongside being empathetic with others. Being clear what is the objective per individual stage in order to accomplish the goal.

  3. Agreeableness: Being soft-hearted, warm, trusting makes you a well liked person. One must be approachable where your peers can find comfort in sharing their secrets or difficulties at work. One could be a receptive listener not for the sake but by way of helping others in real life situations.


Hope you found this article helpful. If you or your organization is interested to learn more about such attributes and behavioral skills at the workplace, feel free to get in touch with us at RGB Training Services!


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