Trait theories of personality have long attempted to pin down exactly how many different personality traits exist.
Earlier theories have suggested a various number of possible traits, including Gordon Allport’s list of 4,000 personality traits, Raymond Cattell’s 16 personality factors and Hans Eysenck’s three-factor theory.
However, many researchers felt that Cattell’s theory was too complicated and Eysenck’s was too limited in scope. As a result, the five-factor theory emerged to describe the essential traits that serve as the building blocks of personality.
What Are the Big Five Dimensions of Personality?
Today, many researchers believe that they are five core personality traits. Evidence of this theory has been growing over the past 50 years, beginning with the research of D. W. Fiske (1949) and later expanded upon by other researchers including Norman (1967), Smith (1967), Goldberg (1981), and McCrae & Costa (1987).
The “big five” are broad categories of personality traits. While there is a significant body of literature supporting this five-factor model of personality, researchers don’t always agree on the exact labels for each dimension.
However, these five categories are usually described as follows:
Extroversion is characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness and high amounts of emotional expressiveness. People who are high in extroversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations.
People who are low in extroversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.
This personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection and other prosocial behaviors. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.
Standard features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. Those high on conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details.
Neuroticism is a trait characterized by sadness, moodiness and emotional instability. Individuals who are high in this trait tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, moodiness, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient.
This trait features characteristics such as imagination and insight, and those high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests.
People who are high in this trait tend to be more adventurous and creative. People low in this trait are often much more traditional and may struggle with abstract thinking.
It is important to note that each of the five personality factors represents a range between two extremes. For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.