What Are Personality Traits? - Characteristics, Definition & Five Big Traits

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  • 0:01 Big Five Personality Model
  • 1:43 Big Five Personality Traits
  • 3:16 Measuring Personality Traits
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
In this lesson, you will learn about personality traits, including the most widely accepted model of classifying personality traits, the Big Five factors. Following the lesson, you will have the opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Big Five Personality Model

Attempting to understand and classify what makes people who they are has been a longstanding challenge in the world of personality psychology. Numerous theories and models have been developed over the years to better understand aspects of human personality. Most trait theory models attempt to accurately describe aspects of personality.

The focus of this lesson is on the Big Five personality traits. In psychology, the 'Big Five' is a term used to describe the five broad traits of human personality. In current practice, it is sometimes used interchangeably with the term 'five-factor model.'

Each of the traits, or factors, identified as the Big Five are independent of each other and account for the infinite number of unique aspects that comprise human personality. Understanding each of the Big Five factors will help you better grasp the concept of personality traits.

The Big Five personality traits are:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

An easy way to remember the Big Five is to remember the word 'OCEAN.' The first letter of each trait creates the word ocean.

The Big Five traits have been subjected to rigorous testing over the past several decades. The research continues to support the notion that we all possess each of the five personality characteristics to some degree. And even though we share only five common personality traits, the possible combinations, or personality types, are endless when you consider the varying degrees of each trait. For example, not all of us are equally agreeable or neurotic.

Big Five Personality Traits

Now that we have identified each of the Big Five personality traits, let's take a look at each one individually.

Openness refers to traits, such as how inclined someone is to conform to societal or cultural norms, how concretely or abstractly someone thinks about things, and how open or resistant someone is to change. A person who is a creative thinker and always looking for ways to do things better would likely score high on measures of openness.

Conscientiousness has to do with a person's degree of organization, level of discipline, and how prone he or she is to taking risks. The college student who never misses a class and has a 4.0 GPA would probably prove to have a high degree of conscientiousness as measured on a personality assessment.

Extraversion is a personality characteristic that describes things like how social a person is or how warm and loving they tend to be. Extraverts are people who would typically prefer to go out to a party with lots of friends, as opposed to stay in and watch a movie with one or two friends.

Agreeableness takes into account how kind, dependable, and cooperative a person is. People who score high on scales of agreeableness are typically more interested in doing things for the common good, as opposed to fulfilling their own self-interests.

Neuroticism is a personality characteristic that describes how nervous or anxious a person tends to be, as well as the degree of self-confidence and self-contentment he or she possesses. Individuals who score high on levels of neuroticism will often be preoccupied with the 'what ifs' of life. They tend to be worrisome and preoccupied with things that might not be within their control.

Measuring Personality Traits

You might be wondering, 'How do we know how neurotic or how agreeable someone is?' As you read through the definitions of each of the Big Five traits, you likely had thoughts about how you or someone you know fits into each category.

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