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The Big 5 Personality Traits: How Do You Rank?

16 March 2022

From horoscopes to palm reading, we look for ways to explain why we are the way we are, as a way to help us better navigate life. The field of psychology is no exception to this tendency, as for thousands of years those researching the mind have attempted to better understand what make up the different types of personalities we exhibit.

Throughout history, there have been many ways of approaching the question of personality. Nature versus nurture, free will versus predestination, action versus reaction - these are all debates that have cropped up time and time again in psychology and philosophy’s struggle to make sense of ourselves. In fact, the earliest personality tests date back over 300 years, all the way back to the seventeenth century. 

Many different theories of personality have come and gone throughout the thousands of years of study it has undergone, but currently, the field of psychology has developed several metrics that reliably reflect a person’s overall personality. These five metrics are known as “the big 5” in personality science, and are used to paint a fleshed-out image of the different dimensions of an individual's character and behavioural traits.

Each of the five dimensions can be thought of as a spectrum between two poles - for instance, “extraversion” refers to the spectrum between extraversion and introversion. For each individual, a picture of their character is formed by locating where they lie on each of the five spectrums.

1. Openness

Openness is the trait by which researchers measure characteristics such as insight, curiosity, and imagination. Individuals with a high degree of openness tend to have a broad set of interests and are more open to change and growth than the rest of their counterparts.

People with a high score of openness like to explore the world around them, and are eager to come into contact with new people and experiences. People who score low on this trait, in contrast, tend to be more conservative and traditional in their ways.

Openness is also correlated with a strong ability to think abstractly, and these individuals are happy to spend their time pondering theoretical concepts. If you find yourself leaning more towards curiosity and creativity, you most likely score highly in openness, whereas homebirds and traditionalists would rank low on this trait.

2. Conscientiousness  

Conscientiousness refers to behaviours that encompass consideration, impulse control, and goal-oriented actions. Individuals that score highly in conscientiousness are those who tend to be highly organised and enjoy working within defined structures.

These individuals like to spend time going over details and planning in advance, and are not ones to leave anything to chance.

If you find yourself prone to procrastination, and hate being told what to do - there’s a good chance you score on the low side for this particular trait!

3. Extraversion  

Extraversion refers to the degree to which a person is sociable, excitable, talkative, and assertive. These individuals are highly emotionally expressive and love to share what’s on their mind. People who rank highly in extraversion are often natural entertainers who find themselves acting as the centre of attention. If people describe you as the life and soul of a party, it’s likely you score highly in extraversion!

While more extraverted people find themselves energised and invigorated by the company of others, those who lean more towards introversion may find themselves feeling drained by these same environments. People who score low on extraversion prefer peace and solitude, and tend to avoid superficial interactions and look for any opportunity to avoid making small talk!

4. Agreeableness   

The agreeableness trait gauges attributes such as altruism, generosity, empathy, affection, and kindness. These are traits that researchers refer to as “prosocial behaviours”, and are, in essence, what we would think of as just being nice. People who score highly in this attribute are more cooperative and caring towards those around them, and display a great deal of interest in helping other people.

Those who score low on agreeableness, on the other hand, tend to display more competitiveness than others, and are more willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. In its extremity, low agreeableness may even manifest as Machiavellianism, characterised by a willingness to manipulate others to get what they want.

5. Neuroticism  

Neuroticism is an attribute characterised by moodiness, melancholia, sadness, and emotional instability. Those who find themselves frequently affected by mood swings or bouts of sadness would typically score highly in neuroticism.

Those who score low on neuroticism tend to be good at handling stress and are less susceptible to sadness and panic. They are emotionally stable, relaxed, and rarely find themselves feeling inexplicably low or nervous. Low neuroticism is highly correlated with strong emotional resilience!

So, how do you line up in terms of these five traits - do you find yourself mostly balanced, or do you lie on the more extreme ends of the spectrum? Everyone is different but these five key traits can be an invaluable tool to help us look inward and understand ourselves and those around us.