Analyzing The Big Five Personality Traits

Characteristics of personality reflect fairly stable differences between individuals when it comes to their motivations.

And while circumstances strongly influence people’s actions, these internal motivations affect what they do in the absence of a powerful situation, as well as influence the kinds of situations individuals lean toward when faced with options about how to proceed.

The Big Five are known as the most validated and robust set of universal personality traits. The traits consist of Conscientiousness, Openness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Agreeableness. They reflect the largest differences between people when it comes to their motivations.

There are, however, a number of differences underlying The Big Five. For example, people high in conscientiousness are labeled as being more consistent when it comes to completing the tasks they take on. In addition, it reflects a tendency to take on new tasks as well as a need for having orderly surroundings. And while these subcomponents are tied together, they are not the same. For example, there are people who strive for the top without needing an orderly environment and vice-versa.

The broader characteristics listed by the Big Five are called traits and the elements making up the traits are known as facets. 

Experts are still trying to pinpoint which facets should be included in each characteristic, but there is visible overlap between the systems they’ve come up with. Below is a list of the characteristics that are part of the NEO-FFI scale created by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae.

Conscientiousness

– reflects the degree to which a person completes the things they set out to do. The key facets include being orderly, a strong desire for goal achievement, and the need to complete tasks.

Agreeableness

– reflects a person’s need to be on good terms with other people. Avoiding conflict and a desire to help others are key here.

Openness to Experience

– reflects a person’s orientation toward new experiences. The trait’s main facets include an interest in aesthetic experiences( e.g. art), an interest in intellectual endeavors, as well as new ideas and ways of approaching life.

Neuroticism

– reflects the way a person reacts to negative experiences. Anxiety, depression (the strength of and crippling self-judgment are the core facets of neuroticism.

Extraversion

– reflects a person’s engagement with social life. Its key facets involve people’s degree of sociability, their general level of positive feeling, and their need for an energetic and fast-paced life.

A research paper by Theo Klimstra, Erik Noftle, Koen Luyckx Luc Goossens, and Richard Robins published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at the change in traits and facets over people’s college years. The experts looked at samples of college students who rated their personality characteristics and also responded to measures of social and academic measures of adjustment to life in college early as well as late in their college years.

The personality measures for this sample were mostly stable. Even though personality does change much over a lifetime, it does change to an extent, but slowly. At the trait level, there was a consistent tendency for people’s conscientiousness to go up during college years while their neuroticism decreased.

The pattern was somehow different when it came to the facet level, however. The facets of being dependable and being orderly were going up withing conscientiousness. Also, while there was not a consistent rise in agreeableness overall, the facets of avoiding conflict and helping other people did go up. In addition, there was a tendency for the facet of Openness to Experience to rise. And lastly, the facet of neuroticism related to depression went down during people’s time in college.

In conclusion

The key takeaway here is that personality characteristics often label traits that are truly broad but the particular level of a trait that a person exhibits may reflect different mixtures of these underlying facets. As a consequence, it is worth learning to understand both the traits and the facets.

For a more in-depth analysis of the Big Five, please see the video below.

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