Gain Some Self-Insight With The Big 5 Personality Test
By Danni Peck
Updated February 10, 2020
Reviewer Nicole Gaines, LPC
Psychologists are fascinated with discovering what it is that makes us respond differently to different situations. What sets us apart from one another? What makes us all unique? Our unique personalities determine the way that we respond to situations. So how do we define personality? Weinberg & Gold (1999) defined personality as "the characteristics or blend of characteristics that make a person unique." It is accepted that our personality is determined by a combination of biology and early life experiences. Many theories of personality have been proposed, and a great deal of research has been conducted. The big 5 theory is the most widely accepted and used personality theory today, and it has led to a widely used psychology personality test.
History Of The Big 5 Personality Test
A large amount of research led to the development of the big 5 personality traits test. The big 5 traits originally came from two research teams in the 1970s that took different routes but arrived at the same conclusion: there are 5 broad dimensions of personality. These two research teams were Costa & McCrae, and Norman & Goldberg. They arrived at this discovery after asking hundreds of questions to thousands of individuals across different cultures and analyzing the results. In time the theory led to the big 5 personality test to allow individuals to learn more about their personality.
Traits Of The Big 5 Personality Test
The traits of the big 5 personality test are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (also known as OCEAN). Each of the 5 traits represents a range of two extremes, and most people lie somewhere between the two polar ends of each dimension. A person's traits can change at any point in their life rather than being fixed. The 5 traits are described in more detail in the following paragraphs.
People who score highly on openness are those who enjoy new experiences and learning new things. These people are often imaginative and insightful and have a large number of interests. They can think in abstract, complex ways and are prone to associative thinking. High openness scorers are more likely to be politically liberal and spend their free time participating in a large number of cultural and artistic activities. They often have a higher IQ and are drawn towards scientific and artistic careers. People who are high in openness are typical:
- Artistically inclined
- Open to trying new things
People who are low in openness are likely to be much more traditional and often struggle with abstract thinking. Low openness scorers typically:
- Dislike change
- Resist new ideas
- Do not enjoy new things
- Dislike abstract concepts
- Are not very imaginative or creative
Those who score highly on conscientiousness are usually very thoughtful and display goal-orientated behaviors. They are reliable, methodical, organized and thorough. They can forego immediate gratification for the sake of long-term achievement and show self-discipline and control to pursue their goals. They are usually successful in their careers and are less likely to develop all kinds of addictions. High conscientiousness scorers typically:
- Spend time preparing
- Show high attention to detail
- Enjoy having a set schedule
- Complete important tasks as soon as possible
- Work hard
- Can be depended upon
Those who are low in conscientiousness tend to:
- Be more spontaneous
- Dislike sticking to strict structures and schedules
- Be messy and not take care of things
- Procrastinate rather than completing important tasks right away
- Fail to meet deadlines or complete tasks
Extroverts are sociable, talkative, assertive and energetic. They thrive off interacting with others and seek stimulation from the outside world. They are outgoing and gain energy from social situations. They actively engage with other people in an attempt to gain friendship, romance, admiration, status, power, and excitement. People who rate high in extraversion generally:
- Love to be the center of attention
- Enjoy meeting new people
- Like to start new conversations
- Have many friends
- Find it easy to make new friends
- Speak before thinking things through
- Feel energized when they are around other people
Those who score low on extroversion (introverts) are often more reserved and independent. They do not require the same admiration or recognition from others as extroverts do. They are less interested in money and status and are more likely to lead a life which is personally pleasing to them instead of one that gains attention from others. Introverts are reserved, deliberate, quiet and independent. They tend to:
- Prefer to be alone
- Find excessive socializing exhausting
- Find it difficult to start conversations
- Dislike small talk
- Think things through before they speak
- Dislike being the center of attention
Those with high agreeableness tend to be kind, friendly, affectionate and sympathetic. They put the needs of others before their own and cooperate with others rather than competing. They are sensitive and compassionate and get pleasure out of helping and taking care of others. People high in this trait are more likely to maintain friendships and less likely to fall out with people. They are more likely to be forgiving and see the best in people. People who score highly in agreeableness usually:
- Show interest in other people
- Care about others
- Show empathy and concern for other people
- Enjoy helping and contributing to the happiness of others
Those who are low in agreeableness tend to be competitive and even manipulative towards others, rather than being cooperative. They tend to:
- Show little interest in people
- Show little concern towards how other people feel
- Have little interest in other people's problems
- Insult and belittle other people
Neuroticism refers to a person's emotional stability and degree of negative emotions. Those with high neuroticism experience a lot of negative emotions and often experience emotional instability. They are often moody and tense and experience a great deal of anxiety, irritability, sadness, fear, guilt and mood swings. High scorers have emotional systems that are on high alert and react more strongly to situations that have the potential to provoke negative emotions.
They are more likely to doubt themselves and their abilities and feel personally responsible for their bad luck. There are positives to neuroticism - it pushes people to be more realistic about the problems and limitations in the world. Evidence suggests that neuroticism pushes people to achieve more by increasing motivation. Individuals who are high in neuroticism generally:
- Experience high-stress levels
- Tend to worry
- Get upset easily
- Experience anxiety
- Experience dramatic shifts in mood
Individuals who score low in neuroticism tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient. They tend to:
- Be emotionally stable
- Cope well with stress
- Find in easy to relax
- Not worry too much
- Rarely feel sad or depressed
How does the projective personality test work?
The test is available to take online for free on many websites, for anyone who is interested in gaining some insight into themselves. Follow this link to one such website: https://www.truity.com/test/big-five-personality-test. The test asks you to honestly rate how well different statements describe you on a five-point scale. There is also a section which asks you to rate how much different words relate to your personality. At the end of the test, you receive your results as percentages for each trait.
Are the big 5 traits universal?
As mentioned above, the origins of the test came from research across several different cultures. Since the development of the test, McCrae and his colleagues have further investigated whether the traits are consistent across cultures. One study looked at people from more than 50 different cultures and found that the 5 dimensions could accurately determine personality, showing that the test is remarkably universal.
What factors influence the big 5 traits?
Research suggests that the degree to which a person possesses each trait is influenced by a combination of biological and environmental influences. Twin studies have been used to investigate this. The heritability varies for each of the 5 traits. However, studies suggest that it is between 41%-61% for every trait. However, as mentioned above, our traits can change throughout our lives, although they remain relatively stable during adulthood.
Personality traits and mental illness
Psychological disorders are often associated with maladaptive extremes of the big 5 traits. For example, those who are extremely conscientious are more likely to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), while low conscientiousness can be a predictor of drug addiction. Low extroversion can predict avoidant and schizoid personality disorders, and low agreeableness relates to psychopathic behavior and paranoid personality disorder. High openness is related to schizophrenia. High neuroticism predicts depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders.
Of course, this isn't to say that anybody who scores particularly high or low on these traits has a mental illness. However, if you feel that you are suffering from any of the issues mentioned above, the big 5 personality test could help to give you some insight. If you feel that you would benefit from counseling, professional help is easily available. Better help aims to provide counseling for people suffering from a wide range of psychological disorders and other issues even if they may struggle to find the time and money. A licensed therapist provides counseling via a computer, tablet or phone making help easy, affordable and discreet to access. Take the first step here: https://www.betterhelp.com/start/.
After years of research into personality, the big 5 personality theory is the most widely accept and used personality theory amongst psychologists today. The degree to which we possess each trait is determined by a combination of biological and environmental factors and can change throughout our lives. The big 5 personality test based on this theory allows individuals to gain some insight into themselves and can also be a predictor of psychological disorders. However more specific tests of mental illness are available, and conclusions about mental health should not be made based on the results of the test.