What Are The  Big Five Personality Traits?

One of the most fascinating aspects of psychology is understanding all the individual thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behaviour that make us human. Of course we are all unique and shaped by our experiences and backgrounds, but many psychologists now believe that we are also born with innate personality traits.

These traits have been broadly divided into five categories: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Some psychologists have identified many more, but there is a loose consensus among contemporary researchers around the ‘big five’ that are most universal.

This is partly due to the need to simplify the complex and varied human condition for the purposes of scientific and sociological study. Ultimately, it is likely that most of us don’t fit neatly into any one of these categories, but are somewhere on a sliding scale between traits. Nonetheless, here’s a look in some more detail at each trait. 


People who demonstrate traits of extraversion enjoy being around people and are usually outgoing. They are comfortable talking to new people and mix with others easily, drawing energy and excitement from social situations. They are happy to be in the spotlight although they may sometimes speak without thinking first.

At the other end of the spectrum, people who score low for extraversion find social situations draining and generally prefer their own company. They rarely seek attention and do not enjoy making casual chat with strangers. 


Openness refers to how curious and ready to learn about new things a person is. It is linked with imagination and creativity, so a person who scores highly for openness may read widely and take an interest in many subjects. They may enjoy visiting new places and learning new skills, and have a natural capacity for abstract thinking. 

On the other hand, people who score low for this trait prefer to stick to a routine and are rather literal minded.


People who score highly for conscientiousness tend to be well motivated and organised individuals. They have good powers of concentration and an eye for detail. This personality trait is also associated with strong impulse control and well regulated emotions, so setbacks, disappointments, and stressful situations are taken in their stride.

A low score for this trait indicates that a person may be more emotion driven which can lead to poor organisational skills. They may be easily distracted and can have trouble meeting deadlines.


This trait is related to how cooperative and caring a person is towards others. People who score highly for agreeableness tend to have high levels of empathy towards others and enjoy helping and caring for people. They are seen as kind and genuine, and are willing to put others’ needs before their own.

Those who score low for agreeableness may be self-centred or manipulative, are slow to trust others or do not care how they make other people feel. 


People with neurotic tendencies are regarded as emotionally unstable and they may find it difficult to bounce back from stressful situations. They can be prone to mood swings and may often feel anxious or depressed due to a sensitive nature.

People who score low on this trait are generally cheerful and resilient, and do not get easily upset. Therefore they handle stressful situations well and are not prone to anxiety or depression. 

What is the purpose of examining personality traits?

Understanding personality traits can help us to understand our own behaviour better, and be more aware of our strengths and weaknesses. This can even help when you are deciding what career path to follow, or whether a particular relationship is right for you. 

Studying personality traits is also useful for therapists, counsellors, teachers, or anyone who wishes to work as a professional in the field of psychology or psychiatry. 

Most people will have a mixture of positive and negative traits that can be graded on a sliding scale.

Some researchers believe that the traits are largely innate and change little over a lifetime. Others believe that some traits, such as extraversion and openness to experience become weaker as we age, while other traits such as empathy and kindness become stronger.

It may also be possible to work on improving any negative traits that are impacting your career or relationships. Sometimes, simply having the insight and self-awareness to recognise a personal weakness can be all the change that is needed. 

The question of how far our personal experiences and upbringing shape our personalities is another question that has long occupied psychologists and is referred to as the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate.

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