An Introduction to the Big Five Personality Traits
The Big Five Personality Traits theory is, perhaps, the most famous of the trait theories of personality. Gordon Allport first recorded 18,000 words in the English language that referred to personality characteristics. Raymond Cattell proposed sixteen personality traits, using a factor analysis. Hans Eysenck developed Cattell's work further in his theory of personality, which proposes three character traits... And then along came the Big Five.
The Five Factors
McCrae and Costa (1985, 1987, 1990) suggest the big five personality traits are:
- O - Openness
- C - Conscientiousness
- E - Extroversion
- A - Agreeableness
- N - Neuroticism
These five factors can be measured by the Neuroticism, Extroversion, and Openness Personality Inventory (NEO-PI), which consists of 181 items that attempt to evaluate an individual based on the five measurable traits. An example NEO-PI statement is, 'I really like most people I meet', to which a respondent answers agree or disagree.
Experimental Evidence for the Big Five Personality Traits
Soldz and Vaillant (1999) conducted a longitudinal study over the course of 45 years. With a sample of 163 male participants, the researchers found that neuroticism, extroversion, and openness were positively correlated over the course of the study, and that the traits remained relatively stable. A key assumption of trait theories is that traits remain fairly consistent throughout life and across situations - they are something intrinsically held by an individual and not context-dependent.
Silverthorne (2000) used the big five personality traits model as the basis for a study on effective leaders. The cross-cultural study studied leadership qualities in participants from America, Thailand and China. Across the three groups, the researchers found that leaders were emotionally stable, relatively extroverted, relatively open to experience, agreeable and conscientious. In the researchers' comparison between effective and ineffective leaders, the former all recorded low neuroticism scores, whereas the latter reported high neuroticism.