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The Big Five Personality Test, also known as the Five-Factor Model, is a self-report inventory that measures the five personality traits through five broad personality dimensions (so-called traits, IPIP Big-Five Factor Markers, Big Five).
It is one of the most utilized personality models in academic psychology and is deemed the most scientific way of understanding the theory of personality and personality differences.
It is supported by extensive statistical and research data, and it offers a proven method to measure people’s personality differences.
The test is called the Big Five, as it proposes five independent factors or dimensions (traits) that measure human personality.
The combination of these traits gives the popular OCEAN or CANOE acronyms under which the Big Five goes. So, let’s take a look at what these traits are and what they measure.
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The Big Five personality traits that are measured are:
Each of these five broad personality dimensions contains many other sub traits or facets that deliver a more accurate personality description.
The score generally remains stable throughout a person’s lifetime, and they hardly ever change.
Each of the traits represents a continuum that ranges from 0 to 100%, and depending on someone’s personality trait, he/she can fall within the range.
Openness – When we talk about Openness in the Big Five context, we refer to the dimension that involves openness to new experiences, open-minded points of view, accepting new ideas, and insightfulness.
Test-takers can score high, average, and low on the scale, and depending on their personal result, and they can see the level of their open-mindedness and authority-challenging attitudes.
It is related to the interconnection of specific brain regions that allow some people to see patterns and connections where others fail to do so.
Conscientiousness – This trait describes the level of discipline and self-control while pursuing one’s goals. This trait is directly connected to the work of the frontal lobe of the brain, i.e., it regulates the instincts and animal drives in humans.
For instance, the level of its expression in people determines whether someone is more prone to doing an entertaining and fun activity without focusing on consequences, or he/she will choose to do less fun but important tasks.
It mostly reveals the level of responsibility and dedication in an educational or work-related environment.
Extraversion – This trait describes someone’s preference to interact with the outside world, i.e., whether someone gets energized when interacting with other people or by spending time alone.
Taken from a scientific point of view, it is related to dopamine levels in the brain when pursuing a goal or expecting a reward.
The higher the excitement, the higher the dopamine level. Scientific studies have shown that extroverts tend to have an increased dopamine activity compared to introverts.
Agreeableness – It is the trait that involves an innate desire to help others, prioritize others’ needs over oneself, and cooperate rather than compete.
People who have a high agreeableness level show more empathy and tend to be more helpful. This trait is associated with the activity in the superior temporal gyrus, i.e., a brain region that plays a role in recognizing other people’s feelings and language processing.
Neuroticism – It measures how people react to triggers and stressors and how they deal with negative emotions, sadness, guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety. It is often referred to as an alerting trait related to irregularities, dangers, and discrepancies.
Different research associates Neuroticism with specific interconnection among brain regions that process negative emotions or stimuli or altered serotonin activity in the brain.
It also explains why different people react in different ways when faced with danger, fear, or anxiety.
The test consists of 50 to 60 statements (depending on which of the available tests online you are taking) that include a five-point scale that goes from Disagree=1, Neutral=3, and Agree=5.
The results are presented as a percentage point that goes from 0 to 100%, i.e., the results closer to zero are interpreted as low, those near and around 50% are expressed as average scores, while those above 75% are considered high.
Each of the categories is independent and counts only for the given set of traits relevant to the given category. Thus, someone can be high in Neuroticism but low in Extraversion.
To get a full insight into your personality traits, you need to take the test, and after receiving your score, you’ll have an in-depth analysis of your personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
Knowing more about yourself can help you choose a matching job to your personality, strengthen your relationships with other people, and understand your actions more clearly.
A conscientious person will have high scoring in Conscientiousness, for example, is a reliable indicator of diligent work performance and dedication. It also points to higher educational achievements too.
It can help partners understand each other and work more on their weaknesses. It can also point to health issues as well. For instance, those who score high in Neuroticism are likely to suffer from stress-related illnesses such as strokes, heart diseases, migraines, etc.
As we have mentioned above, this personality category reflects abstract, complex, and out of the ordinary ways of seeing and understanding things. It measures if the person is open to accept new concepts and new experiences.
Individuals who score high in Openness are mostly adventurous, creative, and open-minded. They love exploring new ideas and seek new experiences.
On the other hand, individuals who score low are traditional, practical, and stick to predetermined norms, and choose proven methods and familiar paths.
As this category revolves around self-discipline and organization, it points to how individuals exercise control when driven by impulses.
In essence, those who score high are more disciplined, determined, and organized and look for long-term achievement rather than momentous pleasure.
Low scorers, though, are individuals who can easily get distracted, have lower self-control, and be highly impulsive.
Extraversion measures the stimulation level that a person needs to feel energized and fulfilled when socializing with other people.
High scorers seek social recognition, friendships, social engagement, status, power, and admiration to feel satisfied.
Contrary to them, introverts usually keep a low profile, tend to work independently, and don’t find satisfaction in social recognition.
Agreeableness measures how empathetic, considerate, and cooperative people are, so those who score high are people who get satisfaction when helping or taking care of others.
These people tend to be emotional, forgiving, and trusting. On the other end of the scale, low scorers are much more distant, competitive, conflictual, and self-absorbed.
It measures to what extent a person can become troubled when faced with tense emotional triggers.
So, based on how someone interprets a situation, some people can be highly affected by emotional outbursts than others in a similar situation.
Those who score high are easily irritated, self-conscious, anxious, and moody. Low scorers, though, are much calmer, confident, resilient, and likely to cope well in misfortune.
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Unlike many popular personality tests that lack scientific background and validity, the Big Five comes as a result of multiple independent researchers.
The test has been researched across cultures, nationalities, populations, and genders, offering a solid base for validity and reliability. It is broadly used in academic research, particularly in psychological personality research.
However, despite its validity, the test hasn’t been popular outside academic circles. Partially, it is due to the fact that it hasn’t been adequately marketed to the public audience, and partly due to the fact that there are three versions (all valid).
There have been suspected concerns regarding the free online assessments’ credibility. As Olivia Goldhill points out, the tests lack subtleties of the actual psychological test.
The greatest concern is that the tests appear to be sexist, as they deliver different results when done by a man and then, using the same answers, done by a woman.
Namely, the test results do not present an absolute score, but they represent a percentile compared to others within the same gender.
Another point worth mentioning is that online testing doesn’t take into account the context and the environment a person lives in, as psychologists in academic settings do.
Yet, these claims need scientific background and explanation to be taken for granted, as non of the relevant authorities have had their say on these issues.
The research made by McCrae (2002) points to the remarkable universality of personality traits. There have been studies across 50 different cultures that confirm that all five dimensions can be used to describe someone’s personality.
However, the Big Five traits can be affected by environmental, biological, and social influence, so even though research suggests stability and universality, numerous studies, mostly twin studies, point to factors that can alter the development of the five personality traits.
Genetics seems to play a big role as it appears that twins tend to share, roughly speaking, almost 50% of traits from their parents.
Some longitudinal studies have shown that personality traits develop and alter as adolescents mature, but not in a drastic manner.
They tend to be relatively stable during adulthood and then slightly get modified when people get older age.
All of them have the same purpose and describe a personality theory attempting to explain people’s personalities based on five categories.
These broad categories are referred to as broad dimensions of personality, personality traits, the Big Five, or Five Factors. All three models are valid, and all of them are based on the same psychological research.
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