Trait Assessment Testing: Fundamental Attribution Error & OCEAN

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  • 1:10 Fundamental Attribution Error
  • 2:45 Openness
  • 3:33 Conscientiousness
  • 4:22 Extraversion
  • 5:15 Agreeableness
  • 6:30 Neuroticism
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ellie Green

Ellie holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.

Do you know what 'OCEAN' stands for when it comes to personality assessment? This lesson includes the breakdown of all the traits used to assess personality. Which ones apply to you? Are you nervous and neurotic or open to new experiences and optimistic? Find out what this all means.

We're going to talk about trait assessment testing and what this basically is, is just models of testing personality, figuring out personality traits. And you probably do this all the time in your life whenever you're describing somebody, like a friend. You might say some physical traits but mostly what you're going to do is talk about personality traits. And even really generic descriptions like 'she's nice,' 'she's fine' - those are personality assessments in very small, small ways. And so this might seem like something that's pretty natural, and it is. And it's also subjective, so like, your awful ex is probably now someone else's loving boyfriend, and that's fine.

But what we tend to assume about other people's personalities and their personality traits is that their actions are directly indicative of their personality, and this something that's called the fundamental attribution error. What it basically says is that we're more likely to describe our own behavior as being related to something about the situation. So if you trip over a rock, you're not going to say that you're inherently clumsy, you're just going to say that the rock was in your way. But we don't give other people the same license. If we saw someone else trip on a rock, that's all the information you have about them, and so you're just going to say that they're clumsy.

So you can see that our own natural ways of describing people and ways of assessing them aren't probably the best ways for psychologists to do this. You want a more scientific, better way of talking and thinking about personality. So what a group of psychologists did was they took a look at a bunch of personality tests that had been administered over the years, and what they realized was that there were actually five traits that seemed to kind of pop out of all of these tests and seemed to be the most valid. So the answers would tend to be consistent, basically.

The traits that they found were, there's five of them, and they conveniently can be arranged into an acronym of O-C-E-A-N. And what these are, are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. And we're going to go through all of these, but remember they make O-C-E-A-N, so as I talk about them you can file them away in that little acronym as a good way to remember them.

And I think a good way to go through this to just look at a person in a situation and how each of these traits would make them act.

So we're going to talk about our friend Tori, and she decides to go to a party at her friend Stacy's house. And she's kind of apprehensive about it, a little bit, because she doesn't really know everybody there. She knows Stacy (she used to live with Stacy) and now Stacy is living in a new place, has new friends. She's a little apprehensive, but she is really curious about meeting new people.

On the openness scale, she's moderately open because she's curious about it, but she's not like, 'oh yeah, for sure this will be great.' And in general, open people are really curious about the world and they seek adventure, they want new experiences, they want new ideas. And Tori is midway on this.

The next trait: conscientiousness. When Tori gets to the party, she's doing okay, she's meeting people, things are fine. She looks at her phone and she sees that she has a missed call from her mom, which you never really want to see that when you're out. But she goes outside and calls her back. And what her mom tells her that she was supposed to stay home and look after their new dog, and she didn't. There's not enough time to get back there already so she stays at the party and her mom is okay with this, but this demonstrates that Tori has low conscientiousness, because what conscientious people do is they plan ahead and they have self-discipline and they wouldn't forget about promising that they would do a chore.

So let's say she's dealt with this situation, she doesn't feel that great about it, but she goes back into the party and she really is great at talking to people. She's just charming the pants off everyone at the party. They really like her. Even though she doesn't know them that well, she can get past this and just do it. And what this demonstrates is that she has really high extraversion, because what extraverted people do is they have tons of energy, and they get energy from being around people. They really like it. If someone were not extraverted, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're shy, like an introvert isn't a shy person, but they're someone for whom being around people is extra effort. They don't get energy from it, it's draining, but they can still do it. But Tori, she loves it. She gets energy from it, it's great, she's having a great time. She's highly extraverted.

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