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The Five-Factor Model of Dispositional Traits: Definition & Summary

The Five-Factor Model of Dispositional Traits: Definition & Summary
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  • 0:02 Five-Factor Model
  • 2:27 Five-Factor & Aging
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we will examine the five-factor model, including a look at each of the five factors and where the model came from. In addition, we will learn how a person's five personality factors will change over a lifetime.

Five-Factor Model

Psychology has long struggled for a way to explain people in a comprehensible way. Early attempts looked at individuals with some kind of mental health issue without trying to create a broader understanding. Some researchers overcame this by introducing personality traits, which are distinct and recurrent behavioral, emotional, and cognitive factors. Working with this idea, there was a progressive expansion of personality traits, with as few as sixteen to sometimes over a hundred. But can you imagine trying to describe someone with over 100 different terms? I'd get lost!

In 1961, Tupes and Christal performed what is called a factor analysis, which is a statistical procedure that looks to see if there are trends or common groupings in personality traits. Tupes and Christal's findings were astounding in that there weren't sixteen, thirty-two, or a hundred personality traits. There were just five. The five-factor model, as it came to be known, is a personality trait set consisting of: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. An easy mnemonic device is that the first letter of the five factors spells out ocean.

Most of these are obvious, but we will go over them quickly. Remember, a person can be high or low in these traits. A higher version of the trait indicates more of the definition, while a lowered version means less of or a reversal of.

  • Openness to experience is willingness to try new things and a curious nature.
  • Conscientiousness is self-discipline, self-control, and reflectivity.
  • Extraversion is high levels of engagement in the outside world.
  • Agreeableness is harmoniousness and ability to get along with others.
  • Neuroticism is emotional instability and tolerance of stress.

How accurate is this model? Cross-cultural studies and various other personality studies have validated these five factors. Most of the Western world and a large part of the Eastern support these five factors to some degree. The most divergent from these were from some Asian cultures in which openness to experience was found to be consistently low or unvaried.

Five-Factor and Aging

When we examine aging, we are terrible judges of our own changes. Every day you're slightly different than the day before. These cumulative changes are impossible for you to notice because you live them. But the question I pose to you is, 'Are the cumulative changes resulting from experience sufficient to change your personality?'

To determine this, we need a longitudinal study where a sample of the population is studied at intervals to examine the effects of development. With this kind of study, we have a group of people and check in with them every couple of weeks, months, or years. This allows researchers to determine if there have been any significant changes that have occurred.

Back to the posed question of whether we change or not, the answer is, 'It depends.' One of the largest analyses of multiple articles, which compiled information on over 50,000 participants, found that there is a minor amount of variability over a lifetime. Not a great deal but some.

Extraversion was sometimes split into two groups: sociability and social dominance. Sociability was found to be stable across the life, with increases in adolescence and the early 20s and a decline in the 50s. This is likely due to the demands placed on the individuals at these ages. Everyone knows college kids have to interact with more people than the average worker at a company. You also may have been more sociable when you were younger, or you may have noticed yourself becoming less so as you age. It just gets harder to walk up to people.

And when leaving a company or preparing for retirement, as many do in their 50s, an individual may begin to withdraw from social connections. You can think of Mr. Smith leaving the company, which is where all his friends work. It isn't like he's going to invite them over because they're just work friends.

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