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The use of the “Big-Five” approach to personality testing has grown rapidly over the last decade.  Social scientists and human resource professionals have been in a constant search for a parsimonious set of variables that accurately predict patterns of individual behavior.  “By describing the individual’s standing on each of the five factors, we can provide a comprehensive sketch that summarizes his or her emotional, interpersonal, experiential, attitudinal, motivational styles (Costa & McCrae, 1991, p. 14).” 

The Big-5 attempts has been developed after years of testing by factor-analyzing a large number of personality traits.  What has been discovered is that a rather large number of traits factor into five distinct domains.  Within each domain there are sub-factors called facets.  Below is a summary of the Five Factor domains and facets.

The Five Domain Scales

Neuroticism (N)
  1. Although clinicians distinguish among many different kinds of emotional distress, from social phobia to agitated depression to borderline hostility, studies have shown that individuals prone to any one of these emotional states are also likely to experience others.
  2. The general tendency to experience negative affect such as fear, sadness, embarrassment, anger, guilt, and disgust is the core of the N domain.  Perhaps because disruptive emotions interfere with adaptation, men and women high in N are also prone to have irrational ideas, to be less able to control their impulses, and to cope more poorly than others with stress.
  3. Individuals who score low on Neuroticism are emotionally stable.  They are usually calm, even tempered and relaxed, and they are able to face stressful situations without becoming upset or rattled.
  4. The inability to resist impulses and temptations is generally a sign of high N.


High: anxious, moody, irritable, hostile

Low: confident, optimistic,


N1: Anxiety- apprehensive, fearful, prone to worry, nervous, tense, and jittery
N2: Angry Hostility- tendency to experience anger and related states  such as frustration and bitterness
N3: Depression- normal individual differences in the tendency to experience depressive affect.  High scorers are prone to feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness.  They are easily discouraged and often dejected
N4: Self-Consciousness- shame and embarrassment experienced often by high scorers on this facet.  They are uncomfortable around others, sensitive to ridicule, and prone to feeling of inferiority
N5: Impulsiveness- This facet measures the inability to control cravings and urges.  High scores feel desires very strongly and are often unable to resist them.  Those with low scores are more able to resist these temptations and have a higher tolerance for frustration
N6: Vulnerability- Individuals high on this facet feel unable to cope with stress feeling hopeless and uneasy in difficult situations.  Those low on vulnerability perceive themselves as capable of handling themselves in these situations.



Extraversion (E)
  1. Extraverts are, of course, sociable.  In addition to liking people and preferring large groups and gatherings, extraverts are also assertive, active, and talkative.
  2. They like excitement and stimulation and tend to be cheerful in disposition. 
  3. They are upbeat, energetic, and optimistic.
  4. Introverts are reserved rather then unfriendly, independent rather than followers.


High: upbeat, energetic, assertive, active, talkative, friendly

Low: aloof, shy, reserved, interpersonally formal


E1: Warmth- The tendency towards affection and friendliness is characteristic of those high one this facet.  They like people and have a relatively easy time forming close interpersonal attachments.  Low scorers tend to be more formal, distant, and reserved in their relationships with others.
E2: Gregariousness- Preference for the company of others and need for social stimulation.
E3: Assertiveness- Assertive individuals are dominant, forceful, and socially ascendant.  Low scorers prefer to take a less active role in social situations.
E4: Activity- The degree to which the individual exhibits constant action and movement.  Activity is characterized by a fast paced lifestyle rather than one of leisure and relaxation.
E5: Excitement-Seeking- Need to seek excitement, stimulation and thrills.
E6: Positive Emotions- The tendency to experience positive emotions and to be cheerful and optimistic.



Openness (O)
  1. The elements of O are active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, intellectual curiosity, and independence of judgment.
  2. Open individuals are curious about both inner and outer worlds.  They are willing to entertain novel ideas and unconventional values.
  3. They experience both positive and negative emotions more keenly than do closed individuals.
  4. Closed individuals tend to be conventional in behavior and conservative in outlook.  They prefer familiar to the novel, and their emotional responses are somewhat muted.
  5. Openness may sound healthier or more mature to many psychologists, but the value of openness depends on the requirements of the situation.


High: curious, imaginative, idealistic, original, enthusiastic

Low: conservative, cautious, mild


O1: Fantasy- Openness to fantasy involves and active imagination and its uses in creativity.  Daydreams and fantasy create interest and escape.
O2: Aesthetics- High scorers on this facet have a deep appreciation for art and beauty and are emotionally moved by them.
O3: Feelings- Involved receptivity to one’s own feelings and emotions.  High scores experience deeper and more differentiated emotional states and believe that emotions are an important part of life (no Vulcans here)
O4: Actions- Willing to try different activities and approaches to things.  Seek novelty and variety.
O5: Ideas- Pursuit of intellectual ideas for their own sake.  Intellectual curiosity and a willingness to entertain new and controversial ideas and theories.
O6: Values- Readiness to re-examine social values, political, and religious values.  Closed individuals tend to accept authority and honor tradition (dogmatic).



Agreeableness (A)
  1. Agreeableness is primarily a dimension of interpersonal tendencies.
  2. The agreeable person in fundamental altruistic.
  3. They are sympathetic to others and eager to help them.
  4. Disagreeable or antagonistic people are egocentric, skeptical of others’ intentions, and competitive rather than cooperative


High: altruistic, trusting, soft-hearted, sympathetic, warm, generous

Low: suspicious, pessimistic, hard-hearted, demanding, assertive, impatient


A1: Trust- A disposition to believe that others are honest and well-intentioned.  Low scores tend to be cynical.
A2: Straightforwardness- High scorers are frank and sincere, while low scorers are willing to manipulate through flattery, craftiness, or deception.
A3: Altruism- Manifested in an active concern for the welfare of others.  Low scorers are more self-centered and reluctant to get involved in the problems of others.
A4: Compliance- This facet concerns one’s typical response to conflict.  High scorers tend to use withdrawal and smoothing techniques, while low scorers are more likely to be aggressive and assertive.
A5: Modesty- Humble and self-effacing although not necessarily lacking in self-esteem.  Low scorers believe they are superior and may be considered arrogant by others.
A6: Tender-Mindedness- Attitudes of sympathy and concern for others.  Low scores are more apt to make decisions based on “cold logic” rather than on appeals to pity.



Conscientiousness (C)
  1. Relates to the control of impulses.
  2. Self controlled in terms of active planning, organizing and carrying out tasks.
  3. The conscientious individual is purposeful, strong willed, and determined.
  4. High C is associated with academic and occupational achievement. 
  5. Can lead to annoying fastidiousness, compulsive neatness, or workaholic behavior.


High: efficient, thorough, resourceful, organized, ambitious, industrious, enterprising

Low: careless, lazy, impulsive, impatient, immature, moody, hasty


C1: Competence- refers to a sense that one is capable (self-efficacy). 
C2: Order- High scorers are neat, tidy, and well organized.  Carried to an extreme, high Order can contribute to a Compulsive Personality Disorder (Monk)
C3: Dutifulness- High scores adhere to their ethical principles and moral obligations.
C4: Achievement Striving- High scorers have high aspiration levels and work hard to achieve their goals.  They are ambitious and have purposefulness to their actions.
C5: Self-Discipline- The ability to begin task and carry though to completion despite boredom and distraction
C6: Deliberation- The tendency to think carefully before acting.  High scorers are cautious and deliberate, while low scores are more spontaneous and hasty and able to make quick decisions.

Personality traits represent preferences and tendencies rather than exact predictors of behavior.  Since motivation is a complex interaction of the person and his or her environment, traits present only one part of the total picture.  The Big 5 characterizes two important aspects of individual and interpersonal behavior: Motivation and Emotional Intelligence.  For more on Emotional Intelligence see: Affective Motivation and Emotional Intelligence.

While a number of studies report a correlation between Conscientiousness and job performance, we must be careful not to drawn the conclusion that all high C’s will exhibit high job performance.  Job performance is a complex variable with many potential variables.  In most organizations complete agreement as to what specific behaviors constitute good job performance does not exist.  You will have far better success in predicting specific objective job behaviors than the highly subjective variable of job performance.  Additionally, performance is a function of at least three other variables besides motivation (i.e., Skills, Role Perception and Resources), so that predictions of job behavior and performance using only a motivation based variables are likely to be inaccurate.  See Employee Behavior and Performance

Major Source

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. 1991. Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R) and NEO Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc