5 factor personality model

five-factor model of personality | psychology

Related Topics:
personality trait theory

See all related content →

five-factor model of personality, in psychology, a model of an individual’s personality that divides it into five traits. Personality traits are understood as patterns of thought, feeling, and behaviour that are relatively enduring across an individual’s life span.

The traits that constitute the five-factor model are extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Extraversion, sometimes referred to as surgency, is indicated by assertive, energetic, and gregarious behaviours. Neuroticism is essentially equivalent to emotional instability and can be seen in irritable and moody behaviours. Openness to experience, sometimes referred to as intellect, indicates an individual’s inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and propensity for intellectually challenging tasks. Agreeableness is indicated in empathic, sympathetic, and kind behaviours. Finally, conscientiousness refers to an individual’s sense of responsibility and duty as well as foresight.

The five-factor model was developed in the 1980s and ’90s largely on the basis of the lexical hypothesis, which suggested that the fundamental traits of human personality have, over time, become encoded in language. According to this hypothesis, the task of the personality psychologist is to cull the essential traits of personality from the thousands of adjectives found in language that distinguish people according to their behavioral dispositions. The lexical hypothesis can be traced to the 1930s, and the advent of multiple-factor analysis (a statistical method for explaining individual differences in a range of observed attributes in terms of differences in a smaller number of unobserved, or latent, attributes) in the same decade provided an empirical method for culling these verbal descriptions. In the second half of the 20th century, personality psychologists in fact relied primarily on factor analysis to discover and validate many of their trait theories. A large number of personality psychologists concluded that the five-factor model represented the most successful outcome of these efforts.

Three lines of research have provided support for the validity of the five-factor model. First and foremost, the five factors have consistently emerged from factor analyses conducted on numerous data sets composed of descriptive trait terms from a number of languages, including English, Chinese, and German. Second, twin and adoption studies have revealed a substantial genetic component to the five factors. Third, the five factors have been applied across the human life span. For instance, studies have shown that children use the five factors when freely describing themselves and others, and parents’ natural-language descriptions of their children can be classified according to the five factors. Individuals’ relative standings on the five factors have also been shown to be fairly stable across much of the adult life span. More-recent efforts have sought to explicitly treat the five factors as temperaments that are present from birth, thus placing the five-factor model squarely in a developmental context.

Despite all of its success, the five-factor model has been roundly criticized by a number of scholars. One issue concerns the absence of a comprehensive theory. The lexical hypothesis, while intriguing and rational, is regarded by some scholars as far too narrow to qualify as a theory of personality. A related issue concerns the generic nature of the factors, which are allegedly too broad to provide a sufficiently rich understanding of human personality. Critics have also raised important methodological concerns, which have revolved around the use of factor analysis as the primary tool of discovery and validation for the five-factor method. Finally, disagreements among trait theorists have also been prominent in the literature. Some researchers have argued that three traits are sufficient: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism (marked by egocentric, cold, and impulsive behaviours). Others have argued that a larger number of traits are needed to provide a comprehensive taxonomy.

The five-factor model will nonetheless likely continue into the foreseeable future as a popular trait model of human personality. The five factors have proved extremely useful to researchers and practitioners in a variety of areas, such as the social, clinical, and industrial-organizational domains. The model has unquestionably generated a great deal of research and discussion, and it has played an important role in revitalizing the discipline of personality psychology.

Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Subscribe Now

James W. Grice

Five-Factor Model of Personality - Psychology


The five-factor model of personality (FFM) is a set of five broad trait dimensions or domains, often referred to as the “Big Five”: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism (sometimes named by its polar opposite, Emotional Stability), and Openness to Experience (sometimes named Intellect). Highly extraverted individuals are assertive and sociable, rather than quiet and reserved. Agreeable individuals are cooperative and polite, rather than antagonistic and rude. Conscientious individuals are task focused and orderly, rather than distractible and disorganized. Neurotic individuals are prone to experiencing negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and irritation, rather than being emotionally resilient. Finally, highly open individuals have a broad rather than narrow range of interests, are sensitive rather than indifferent to art and beauty, and prefer novelty to routine. The Big Five/FFM was developed to represent as much of the variability in individuals’ personalities as possible, using only a small set of trait dimensions. Many personality psychologists agree that its five domains capture the most important, basic individual differences in personality traits and that many alternative trait models can be conceptualized in terms of the Big Five/FFM structure. The goal of this article is to reference, organize, and comment on a variety of classic and contemporary papers related to the Big Five/FFM. This article begins with papers that introduce the Big Five/FFM structure, approach it from different theoretical perspectives, and consider possible objections to it (General Overviews, Theoretical Perspectives, and Critiques). Next, it discusses papers providing evidence for the Big Five/FFM as a model of basic trait structure (Big Five/FFM Structure). Third, the article considers hierarchical trait models that propose even broader personality dimensions “above” the Big Five, or more-specific traits “beneath” the Big Five (Big Five/FFM in Hierarchical Context). Fourth, it references a series of handbook chapters that each considers an individual Big Five domain in depth (Individual Domains). Fifth, it references several widely used Big Five/FFM measures as well as papers examining the accuracy of Big Five self-reports and observer-reports (Measurement). Sixth, the article discusses the biological and social origins of the Big Five (Biological and Social Bases). Seventh, the article considers stability and change in the Big Five across the life span as well as the developmental mechanisms underlying stability and change (Development). Finally, this article cites evidence that the Big Five influences a variety of important behaviors and life outcomes, from political attitudes to psychopathology (Predicting Behaviors and Life Outcomes).

General Overviews

These papers introduce the Big Five/five-factor model of personality (FFM) structure. Goldberg 1993 focuses on its historical development. McCrae and John 1992 considers its possible theoretical and practical applications. John, et al. 2008 reviews a variety of research, including studies connecting the Big Five with important behaviors and life outcomes. The Great Ideas in Personality website briefly reviews the Big Five/FFM and provides links to other relevant online resources.

  • Goldberg, Lewis R. 1993. The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist 48.1: 26–34.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.48.1.26

    This article reviews the history of the Big Five/FFM structure, from the preliminary lexical work in Galton 1884 (cited under Early Lexical Research) to the emergence of a consensus among personality psychologists more than a century later.

  • Great Ideas in Personality: Five-Factor Model.

    This web page briefly reviews the Big Five/FFM structure, summarizes its relations to other personality models, and provides links to relevant online resources.

  • John, Oliver P., Laura P. Naumann, and Christopher J. Soto. 2008. Paradigm shift to the integrative Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In Handbook of personality: Theory and research. 3d ed. Edited by Oliver P. John, Richard W. Robins, and Lawrence A. Pervin, 114–158. New York: Guilford.

    This chapter provides a broad overview of the Big Five/FFM structure. It summarizes the history of the model, reviews research on the lifespan development and predictive validity of the Big Five, and discusses a variety of conceptual and measurement issues.

  • McCrae, Robert R., and Oliver P. John. 1992. An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality 60. 2: 175–215.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1992.tb00970.x

    This article reviews the history of the Big Five/FFM structure, objections to it, conceptualizations of the five domains, and possible theoretical and practical applications.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

The Big Five: What qualities really define our character

April 8 Likbez A life

One of the few psychological concepts whose personality tests can be trusted.

What is the essence of the "Big Five"

"Big Five" is a model for assessing individual differences in human personality on five indicators. These include extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. These characteristics, to varying degrees, may or may not be inherent in any personality, and they can also be measured. However, they do not affect each other and are not interconnected in any way. nine0003

The first such classifications were developed in ancient times - for example, Hippocrates' theory of temperament. Later, the Carl Jung model, socionics and typology Myers-Briggs (MBTI) appeared.

These concepts have always been very popular, as they have been used by scientists to explain why people behave differently and how it affects their lives. They tried to answer questions about what qualities a leader should have, what makes some people psychologically more stable, or how temperament affects physical health. nine0003

However, today the five-factor model, or the “Big Five”, is still considered to be the most complete and accurate description of human character.

It was created by two groups of American psychologists in the 1970s. They interviewed thousands of people and came to the conclusion that it is possible to determine a person's temperament using the indicators listed above.

To understand how these qualities are developed in each individual, psychologists have developed special tests. They don't have right or wrong answers. The participant is asked to compare his character with the descriptions of the personality or answer how close the presented statements are to him. nine0003

Based on this, it turns out how strongly each of the qualities of the big five is developed in a person. You can take these tests too - here are the short and long questionnaires.

What is included in the "Big Five"

1. Extraversion

In fact, extraversion is not only sociability. This indicator reflects how sociable a person is, cheerful, proactive, independent. Is he able to finish what he started and is he ready for adventure. In general, this characteristic indicates how active an individual lives. nine0003

People with low extraversion tend to be introverted and more inclined to obey authority. They may also have problems with abstract thinking. Those who score high are sociable, assertive and tend to become leaders more often.

At the same time, extroverts and introverts in their pure form practically do not exist. The scores of the vast majority of people on the test will fall somewhere in between these extremes—this is commonly referred to as ambivalence.

2. Openness

This characteristic shows how open a person is to new experiences, and it can also serve as a measure of creativity. People with a low level of openness are usually more committed to traditions, they clearly distinguish between “right” and “wrong” for themselves, they tolerate the routine more easily or even prefer it. Those who are very open, on the contrary, do not accept monotony, are more curious, and they like to invent new ways to solve problems.

3. Goodwill

This sign shows how we treat other people, how much we trust them, how often we show sensitivity and warmth - a kind of measure of good nature. The most benevolent people are more likely to adhere to religious beliefs. They try to avoid conflict and help others. Those who are shy, suspicious, or self-centered tend to score low in this category. nine0003

4. Conscientiousness

This parameter helps to understand how organized a person is. A high level of conscientiousness is observed in those who are motivated, disciplined, productive, responsible. These people love order in everything. They usually plan ahead and take care not to break the promise. Therefore, they are more likely to be trusted. Low scores in this category go to irresponsible and easily distracted individuals.

Also, a study by Finnish psychologists showed that people with low scores in this category have a 14% higher mortality rate. As scientists say, the reason for this is the inability to control oneself and the general irresponsibility. They push a person onto the path of self-destruction. nine0003

5. Neuroticism

This indicator measures a person's emotional stability. A high level of neuroticism is observed in anxious, inhibited, moody or insecure people. They react more strongly to failures and life shocks, often suffer from low self-esteem. Those who score low in this category are calm, satisfied with life, and self-confident.

What are the advantages of the "Big Five"

Reliability and accuracy

The main advantage of the "Big Five" is that it is better than all personality typologies formulated from a methodological point of view. And also confirmed experimentally. nine0003

The researchers emphasize that the characteristics of the "Big Five" are formulated most accurately and clearly, and they can be fixed by repeated tests. Such reliability of results, for example, cannot be achieved using the well-known Myers-Briggs typology (MBTI).


The "Big Five" demonstrates that attempts to create some kind of classification of human characters or personality types are most likely futile. Especially if in them any trait of temperament can take only one of two positions. nine0003

In addition, the behavior of each individual may differ within one of the characteristics. For example, he can be sociable but not very assertive, although both of these qualities are related to extraversion. Some questionnaires take this into account and break down the characteristics into smaller components.

We also need to understand that sometimes we can consciously and not really change our behavior depending on the circumstances or environment - for example, we communicate differently in different companies. nine0003

Practical benefits

The Big Five can be useful both for ordinary people and for researchers of the human psyche. First, it helps to better understand yourself and characterize your personality. The second is interested in how our temperament can be associated with physical health, financial well-being, social and professional success.

So, psychologists say that there is a strong relationship between what results a person receives on a five-factor scale, and his sense of self. nine0003

For example, we can already say with great certainty that people with high extraversion feel more prosperous. And those who are emotionally less stable are also less productive. True, all these data only show a statistical pattern.

The other side of research within the "Big Five" considers the question of what factors influence the formation of personality. So, Canadian scientists analyzed the test data of several hundred pairs of twins and came to the conclusion that our character is equally shaped by heredity and the environment. nine0003

Also, working with the indicators of the "Big Five" helped to understand how the character of people changes over time. So, with age, we basically become less sociable, less likely to want to change something. But at the same time we become more good-natured and more stable emotionally.

Find out more 👧👩👵🏻

  • Why do people become more conservative with age

Despite its popularity, the Big Five is not the only measure of character. For example, there is the six-factor model of personality, also known as HEXACO. In it, in addition to the five traits, the parameter of honesty - modesty is added: how much a person is ready to promote his selfish goals.

Some psychologists have criticized the Big Five for not doing enough theory and blindly following the data. There is also evidence that outside of industrialized Western countries, the Big Five questionnaires are less reliable. nine0003

Nevertheless, this concept remains dominant and has been shown to be effective in 56 different cultures. Therefore, the Big Five is a reliable and effective tool for understanding our minds.

Read also 🧐

  • What is the difference between morality, morality and hypocrisy
  • What is social intelligence and why it is worth developing it
  • How learned helplessness spoils life and how to deal with it

The Big Five - a five-factor model of personality and the online 5PFQ test

I like to exercise

I completely agree

Partially agree

Not sure

Partially disagree

Completely disagree

People consider me a sympathetic and friendly person

I completely agree

Partially agree

Not sure

Partially disagree

Completely disagree

I value cleanliness and order in everything and do not allow myself to be sloppy

I completely agree

Partially agree

Not sure

Partially disagree

Completely disagree

Potential troubles and little things in life do not bother me, I am not worried that something might happen

I completely agree

Partially agree

Not sure

Partially disagree

Completely disagree

Often something new makes me irritated rather than interested

I completely agree

Partially agree

Not sure

Partially disagree

Completely disagree nine0003

I am a calm person and do not like to fuss.

Learn more