The “big five” are broad categories of personality traits. While there is a significant body of literature supporting this five-factor model of personality, researchers don’t always agree on the exact labels for each dimension.

What Are the Big Five Dimensions of Personality?

It is important to note that each of the five personality factors represents a range between two extremes. For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.

1. Openness

This trait features characteristics such as imagination and insight. People who are high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests. They are curious about the world and other people and eager to learn new things and enjoy new experiences.

People who are high in this trait tend to be more adventurous and creative. People low in this trait are often much more traditional and may struggle with abstract thinking.

Very creative
Open to trying new things
Focused on tackling new challenges
Happy to think about abstract concepts

Dislikes change
Does not enjoy new things
Resists new ideas
Not very imaginative
Dislikes abstract or theoretical concepts

2. Conscientiousness

Standard features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviours. Highly conscientious people tend to be organised and mindful of details. They plan ahead, think about how their behaviour affects others, and are mindful of deadlines.

Spends time preparing
Finishes important tasks right away
Pays attention to detail
Enjoys having a set schedule

Dislikes structure and schedules
Makes messes and doesn’t take care of things
Fails to return things or put them back where they belong
Procrastinates important tasks
Fails to complete necessary or assigned tasks

3. Extraversion

Extraversion (or extroversion) is characterised by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness. People who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. Being around other people helps them feel energised and excited.

People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have less energy to expend in social settings. Social events can feel draining and introverts often require a period of solitude and quiet in order to “recharge.”

Enjoys being the center of attention
Enjoys meeting new people
Has a wide social circle of friends and acquaintances
Finds it easy to make new friends
Feels energised when around other people

Prefers solitude
Feels exhausted when having to socialise a lot
Finds it difficult to start conversations
Dislikes making small talk
Carefully thinks things through before speaking
Dislikes being the center of attention

4. Agreeableness

People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and sometimes even manipulative.

Feels empathy and concern for other people
Enjoys helping and contributing to the happiness of other people
Cares about others
Assists others who are in need of help

Takes little interest in others
Doesn’t care about how other people feel
Has little interest in other people’s problems
Insults and belittles others
Manipulates others to get what they want

5. Neuroticism

Neuroticism is a trait characterised by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability. Individuals who are high in this trait tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilent.

Experiences a lot of stress
Worries about many different things
Gets upset easily
Experiences shifts in mood
Feels anxious
Struggles to bounce back after stressful events

Emotionally stable
Deals well with stress
Rarely feels sad or depressed
Doesn’t worry much
Is very relaxed

Are the Big Five Traits Universal?

Research suggests that both biological and environmental influences play a role in shaping our personalities. Twin studies suggest that both nature and nurture play a role in the development of each of the five personality traits.

Researchers that looked at people from more than 50 different cultures found that the five dimensions could be accurately used to describe personality.

Studies have also shown that maturation may have an impact on the five personality traits. As people age, they tend to become less extraverted, less neurotic, and less open to the experience. Agreeableness and conscientiousness, on the other hand, tend to increase as people grow older.

Always remember that behaviour involves an interaction between a person’s underlying personality and situational variables. The situation that a person finds himself or herself plays a major role in how the person reacts. However, in most cases, people offer responses that are consistent with their underlying personality traits.