The Big Five Personality test
All you need to know about the test
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).
Power to the words
According to the lexical hypothesis, if enough people regularly exhibit a form of behaviour and no term exists in a given language to describe, a term is a natural outcome. The more common the word becomes, the greater the likelihood that a significant difference is summarized in a single word. Two psychologists in the late 1930s, Gordon Allport and Henry Odbert gathered 18,000 personality-describing words from Webster's New International Dictionary. This giant list found the adjectives that described non-physical characteristics, creating 4,500-word bank words/observable traits.
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.
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.
An exotic gathering
A 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 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.
The Big Five Personality Dimensions
The big five personality traits often referred to as OCEAN and sometimes CANOE, so we remember them more easily, are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These five traits represent broad domains of human behaviour and account for differences in both personality and decision making.
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.
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.
Books about the Big Five Theory
If you are interested in gaining a more in-depth understanding of the Big Five Theory and its dimensions, here we offer you a selection of the most relevant and valuable books that explore the subject and can aid you in your endeavour:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Barlow, D. H., Ellard, K. K., Sauer-Zavala, S., Bullis, J. R., & Carl, J. R. (2014). The origins of neuroticism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 481-496.
- 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.