The 5-Factor Model of Personality

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that the 5-factor model of personality was the result of independent research conducted by several different researchers? Learn about the 5 factors of personality, how they are structured, and more.

What Is the 5-Factor Model?

The 5-factor model of personality is the theory that there are 5 variables or factors that can be used to describe the human personality. These 5 factors are collectively referred to as the Big 5 factors. The Big 5 are:

Extraversion, includes traits such as talkative, assertive, and outgoing

Agreeableness, includes traits such as forgiving, generous and appreciative

Conscientiousness, includes traits such as organized, responsible, and reliable

Neuroticism, includes traits such as anxious, tense, and touchy

Openness, includes traits such as having wide interests, curiosity, and insightfulness

The structure of the Big 5 was developed from statistical analyses that examined which traits are more likely to occur at the same time in a person. The relationship between the traits in each of the 5 factors is not absolute, and exceptions to the proposed relationships can occur. For example, forgiving and generous are two traits associated with agreeableness. However, they do not always go hand in hand.

We can imagine someone who is very generous but not very forgiving. You know, the type that is kind to everyone they meet but they don't believe in second chances. However, research suggests that the majority of people who are generous are also forgiving and vice versa, hence the two traits being linked together under agreeableness.


The 5-factor model was first developed by psychologists Raymond Christal and Ernest Tupes in the 1960s. Christal and Tupes identified 5 dimensions of personality after conducting a research program that was used to measure personality characteristics of Air Force pilots to help with pilot selection. Christal and Tupes are referred to as the 'true fathers of personality' by several researchers due to their early work.

After Christal and Tupes's work fell out of favor, the 5-factor model of personality did not pick up again until the late 1980s when it was rediscovered by John Digman. Several other researchers, such as Lewis Goldberg, Robert McCrae and Oliver John, have since done further work on the 5-factor model. Though these researchers may have called the 5 factors by different names and used different methods, they all essentially managed to identify the same underlying 5 factors.


A self-report questionnaire must be completed in order to measure a person's level of the Big 5 traits. There are several different questionnaires available for this purpose that can be completed either online or using paper and pencil. Questionnaires that are commonly used to assess Big 5 traits include the Big Five Inventory, International Personality Item Pool, and the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised.

No matter what questionnaire you use, most consist of a list of similar statements that have to be rated based on how much you agree or disagree with that statement on a 5-point scale. For example, one statement might be 'I am interested in people,' which you would rate either a 1 (strongly disagree), 2 (moderately disagree), 3 (neither agree nor disagree), 4 (moderately agree), or 5 (strongly agree). The points for each of the statements are tallied based on which of the five traits the statement falls under. This is how you get your score for each of the five traits.

Each of the Big 5 scores is usually measured as a percentile that describes how much of each factor a person's personality possesses relative to other people. For example, if a person has an openness score in the 70th percentile, it means that the person has a greater level of openness than 70% of the population.

Here is an example of what a person
sample profile

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