The Big Five Personality test

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The Big Five Personality
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The Big Five personality theory

In psychology, the five dimensions (the ‘Big Five’) are commonly used in the research and study of personality. They provide answers to an individual’s abstract reasoning, verbal reasoning and created a slew of other aptitude tests. For several decades, these factors have been used to measure and better understand individual personality differences. However, in psychology, the Big 5 is regarded as the “gold standard” of personality analytics due to its decades-long research. Arguably, it’s considered the only psychometric test to reach somewhat of a scientific consensus, as it also offers a conceptually useful framework for understanding the structure and systems of Axis II personality disorders as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). 

1940s
1940s

A Technological breakthrough

In 1946, psychologist Raymond Cattell leveraged the power of one emerging technology to better cluster Allport and Odbert’s list, the computer. With the technology, Cattell generated 181 clusters of personality traits and asked people which ones they observed in the real world. In the analysis and research, Cattell generated a sixteen-factor framework test that included factors such as intelligence. 

1970s
1970s

Go big or go home

Then in the 1970s, two research teams did a massive survey of thousands of people. These teams were from the National Institutes of Health, led by Paul Costa and Robert R. McCrae, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Oregon, led by Lewis Goldberg and Warren Norman. Their results were in: personality could be described along five dimensions. 

1980s
1980s

An exotic gathering

1981 symposium in Honolulu gathered the world’s most prominent psychologists in the field to examine the personality model proposed. They concluded the Big 5 model was the most robust model of personality and an astute psychometric test. Research reveals that 80% of personality variance can be observed along the Big 5’s dimensions. 

The Big Five Personality Dimensions

The Big Five Personality Test provides a comprehensive assessment of adult personality based on the Five-Factor Model (FFM) personality. The FFM is a taxonomy of personality traits in five broad dimensions: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. It offers a conceptually useful framework for understanding the structure and systems of Axis II personality disorders.

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The Big Five Personality Test
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Openness

Openness to experience is one of the five personality dimensions of the Big Five personality theory. It indicates how open-minded a person is. Openness is that part of everyone’s personality that describes receptiveness to new ideas, different concepts and opinions, change, curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Individuals with a high level of openness have a general appreciation for unusual ideas and art.

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Agreeableness

Agreeableness is one of the five personality dimensions of the Big Five personality theory. A person with a high level of agreeableness in a personality test is usually tolerant, tactful, friendly and warm. They generally have an optimistic view of human nature, get along well with others and for those reasons, make excellent team players. Cooperation is a key characteristic, as one of their main interests is maintaining social harmony.

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Neuroticism - The Big Five Personality Traits, abstract painting of a woman with her face covered in paint
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Neuroticism

Neuroticism is one of the five personality dimensions of the Big Five personality theory. It describes the overall emotional stability of an individual through how they perceive the world. It takes into account how likely a person is to interpret events as threatening or difficult, includes one’s propensity to experience negative emotions and is characterized by frequent mood changes, a tendency to worry, and recurrent sadness.

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Extraversion

Extraversion is one of the five personality dimensions of the Big Five personality theory which characterizes sociable, talkative and assertive individuals. Extraversion is characteristic of exuberant individuals, sociable and energetic, who have no problem getting themselves remarked in a gathering or group of people (social dynamism). They enjoy being with people, participating in social gatherings, and are full of energy.

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The Big Five Personality Test
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Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the five personality dimensions of the Big Five personality theory. Conscientiousness is defined as the propensity to follow socially prescribed norms for impulse control, to be goal-directed, to plan, and to be able to delay gratification. It describes a person’s ability to regulate impulses and measures elements such as control, inhibition, and persistency of behaviour.

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Books about the Big Five Theory

Every type of organization, big and small, leverages the Big 5 to help them understand their students, colleagues, and employees better. “A lot of companies use this (test) for hiring decisions or for allocation of different workers to different types of tasks,” Karen Macours of the Paris School of Economics tells National Press Review (NPR). It simplifies and informs the selection process and any forthcoming interview. Organizations like the World Bank use the online test to ascertain what skills employers are looking for and what kinds of skills the local population has, using it to deduce education and skill level. 

The Big Five Personality Test Details

The five factor test includes a number of different exercises, including the self-reporting questionnaire. 

The test taker is asked to read a number of descriptions or adjectives and then to rate the accuracy of those descriptions pertaining to their own personality on a Likert scale (e.g. 1 – Strongly Disagree to 2 – Strongly Agree).

Unless a time-intensive behavioural observation is performed, psychometric testing provides a view into a person’s personality that would not otherwise be possible. The downside to this kind of test is that is may be manipulated, giving answers that may seem better than others. Of course, psychologists have a term for this, social desirability bias

Results from these psychometric tests are based on comparing them to other humans who have also taken the test. Men are compared with other men’s results; women are compared with other women. 

Users of Psychometric Tests

Every type of organization, big and small, leverages the Big 5 to help them understand their students, colleagues, and employees better. “A lot of companies use this (test) for hiring decisions or for allocation of different workers to different types of tasks,” Karen Macours of the Paris School of Economics tells National Press Review (NPR). It simplifies and informs the selection process and any forthcoming interview. Organizations like the World Bank use the online test to ascertain what skills employers are looking for and what kinds of skills the local population has, using it to deduce education and skill level. 

The Big 5’s origins developed from the massive lexical research program by Allport and Odbert. Their descriptive “theory” was that human beings notice individual personality differences. Since humans notice these differences they would coin a word for those traits. The lexical program simply measured how people use these words to describe one another with ordinary language. The Big 5 questionnaire evolved to be the measurement tool for this scientific theory. The questionnaire is based on these lexical factors. Then, Goldberg recommended assessing personality with short phrases rather than individual trait words. This became the format of items for the Big 5 questionnaire, employing short phrases or sentences to assess an individual’s personality. 

Thankfully, we possess access to this impactful, psychometric test. The five factor test includes a number of different exercises, including the self-reporting questionnaire. 

References
  1. John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 102–138). New York: Guilford Press.
  2. Rachel L.C. Mitchell, Veena Kumari, Hans Eysenck’s interface between the brain and personality: Modern evidence on the cognitive neuroscience of personality, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 103, 2016, Pages 74-81, ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.009.
  3. Barlow, D. H., Ellard, K. K., Sauer-Zavala, S., Bullis, J. R., & Carl, J. R. (2014). The origins of neuroticismPerspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 481-496.
  4. F. Anagnostopoulos & T. Botsev (2016). Exploring the Role of Neuroticism and Insecure Attachment in Health Anxiety, Safety-Seeking Behavior Engagement, and Medical Services Utilization: A Study Based on an Extended Interpersonal Model of Health Anxiety, Behavioural Sciences, Vol. 6, issue 2.
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