The big 5 personality model (five-factor model) is an incredible way to understand yourself. The model was created as a way to describe personalities. It was built using personality survey data, using statistics researchers were able to understand different descriptive terms that applied to the same person.
The Lexical Hypothesis
The big 5 is based off an idea called the lexical hypothesis, a popular idea in psychology and psychometrics. The model is based off of two axioms:
- Personality characteristics that are important to a group of people will become a part of that group’s language.
- The more important personality characteristics are likely to become encoded into their language as a single word
The first states that those personality characteristics that are important to a group of people will eventually become a part of that group’s language. The second follows from the first, stating that more important personality characteristics are more likely to be encoded into language as a single word.
The most important contributor to the lexical hypothesis was Warren Norman. He created the model that the big 5 was based off of. He built upon the work of his predecessors, removing words no longer in use and adding new words from the 1961 edition of Webster’s International Dictionary. Warren Norman created a list of 40,000 terms that could possibly be used to describe human traits and narrowed them down. He removed terms that were purely physical, obsolete, obscure, and non-descriptive.
This allowed him to narrow the list of 40,000 down to 2,797 trait-descriptive terms. These terms served as the basis for the creation of the big 5 personality model.
The Big 5 Personality Model
Lewis Goldberg was the psychologist created the Big 5. He narrowed down a list of 16 factors to 5 primary personality characteristics. These can be conveniently remembered as OCEAN.
- Openness (to experience)
Openness, originality, open-mindedness.
People higher in trait openness tend to be more creative and intellectually curious. They are also open to a variety of different experiences. They are more likely to hold contrarian beliefs and be more creative than closed people.
Conscientiousness, control, constraint.
People higher in trait conscientiousness tend to have a high level of self-discipline. They are goal-oriented and are careful and diligant in their efforts to achieve their goals. They are dependable and tend to prefer planned rather than spontaneous activity.
Extraversion, Energy, Enthusiasm
The main distinction between extraversion and introversion was defined by Carl Jung: Extraversion is “an attitude type characterized by concentration of interest on the external object” whereas introversion is an “attitude-type characterized by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents”
People higher in trait extraversion are more outgoing and social. They are energized by other people and take pleasure from large social gatherings, and tend to work well in groups.
Agreeableness, Altruism, Affection (II)
People higher in trait agreeableness are empathetic and altruistic. People perceive them as kind, warm, and considerate. The simplest way to think of agreeableness is friendliness and cooperativeness. If someone is low in agreeableness they tend to exhibit selfish behavior and a lack of remorse and empathy.
Neuroticism, Negative Affectivity, Nervousness (IV)
People high in trait neuroticism are more prone to feeling negative emotion. Neurotic people are prone to mood disorders, and tend to feel lonely and more self-conscious than low neuroticism people. Interestingly, they often have difficulty delaying gratification and controlling urges.
Why Is The Big 5 Important?
The big 5 is the best way of understanding your personality in relation to other people. Tests of big 5 personality will usually display the percentile of each trait. This allows you to judge yourself against the wider population.
Obviously these results should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless it is extremely important to know if you are above or below the average for these 5 characteristics and by how much.
It’s important to remember that these 5 characteristics are on a spectrum. For example, people usually aren’t extremely introverted or extremely extroverted. They are usually somewhere between these two extremes.
Personality is also hard to measure because our personalities depend so much on our environment. If someone is going through a tough period in their life they may be more neurotic and introverted. If someone just received a promotion at work they are likely to be more extroverted and less neurotic.
Your personality will also likely change as you age. Never view your personality as a completely fixed phenomena.