By Ryan Smith
The Big Five Test is the gold standard in science. It is the most widely used personality test in scientific research and has sometimes been called “the only truly scientific personality test.” Among scientists, the Big Five is generally seen as more accurate and comprehensive than other tests, but the model may also come across as more technical at first glance.
People with high extroversion scores are characterized by high levels of externally-oriented activity. They are energetic, sociable, pleasure-seeking, and talkative, whereas people with lower scores tend to be more reserved, quiet, low-key, and subdued. Introverts also tend to need more time alone to feel at ease.
In the Five Factor model, extroversion is seen as outer-directed activity, and should not be taken to mean “prosocial.” Extroversion does not, for example, describe the extent to which an individual takes a genuine interest in others. Hence, individuals with low extroversion scores should not be seen as asocial or uninterested in others – they simply need less external stimulation and prefer to spend more time alone.
Extroversion is composed of the facets Positive Emotions; Excitement-Seeking; Activity Level; Assertiveness; Gregariousness and Warmth.
- Positive Emotions refer to an individual’s propensity to experience positive emotional states such as laughter, joy, and excitement. High scorers are joyous, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Low scorers are not necessarily unhappy, but they typically experience fewer episodes of emotional elation throughout their lives. Hence, they are not characterized by the same unbridled joy that is typical of those with high scores.
- Excitement-Seeking refers to an individual’s yearning for stimulation and intense thrills. High scorers crave excitement and have a disposition for seeking out intense and varied sources of stimulation. Low scorers have less of a need for thrill-seeking and may thrive in roles that would bore those with higher scores.
- Activity Level refers to an individual’s inclination to stay active at all times. High scorers are busy and entrepreneurial, and will typically be engaged in several different projects all at once. People with lower scores are not necessarily less productive, but prefer to take things at a slower pace, where they are better able to concentrate on each task.
- Assertiveness refers to an individual’s tendency to speak up, affirm themselves, and (attempt to) set the agendas of the people around them. High scorers have an easy time taking charge and speaking their minds. They tend to come across as natural leaders, but may also be seen as forceful and overbearing. Those with lower scores are typically content to stand back and let others take center stage.
- Gregariousness refers to an individual’s desire to be surrounded by many different people all at once. High scorers enjoy social gatherings and get a kick out of interacting with others. Those with lower scores are inclined to feel overwhelmed by grand get-togethers and will often shy away from big social engagements.
- Warmth refers to an individual’s propensity to display positive reactions towards others and the ease with which they form friendships and bonds. High scorers find it easy to make friends and connect with people they do not know well, whereas people with lower scores find it difficult to initiate contact with strangers. This does not mean, however, that low scorers are hostile, so much as they are reticent and subdued when meeting new people.
Agreeableness refers to an individual’s level of niceness and amiability when socializing. High scorers take a genuine interest in others and are mild, kind, and considerate. They are naturally compassionate and thoughtful, and have a tendency to seek cooperation over competition. Those with lower scores can be seen as cynical and self-serving, and are typically less interested in the well-being of others. Agreeable people are therefore usually better liked than disagreeable people. On the other hand, studies have shown that low levels of agreeableness may in fact be advantageous in leadership and management, in legal careers and the military, as well as in some sciences.
Agreeableness is composed of the facets Trust; Earnestness; Altruism; Cooperation-Compliance; Modesty and Sympathy-Compassion.
- Trust refers to an individual’s inclination to perceive others as fundamentally fair and honest. High scorers will typically assume that others are well-intentioned and trustworthy, while low scorers find it natural to think of others as scheming and dishonest. Low scorers can thus be said to be more skeptical and suspicious, while high scorers are more good-hearted and charitable.
- Earnestness denotes an individual’s basic stance towards deceiving others and scheming for personal gain. High scorers are reluctant to connive or manipulate, and can thus be thought of as frank and sincere. Low scorers tend to believe that some degree of manipulation is necessary in life and are thus likely to come across as calculating and shrewd. However, low scorers are not necessarily amoral, so much as they are guarded and restrained when it comes to divulging the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
- Altruism refers to an individual’s level of unselfish concern for others as well as their immediate willingness to help them. High scorers experience caring for others as rewarding and find it natural to offer favors with no strings attached. Low scorers see requests for help as invasive, and are more likely to let their support hinge upon whether they also stand to gain from it themselves.
- Cooperation-Compliance refers to an individual’s tendency to avoid confrontation, and the ease with which they yield to others. High scorers seek compromise or set aside their own needs with the aim of avoiding conflict. Low scorers are more confrontational and can be thought of as more willing to use pressure or intimidation to get what they want.
- Modesty denotes an individual’s inclination to present themselves in a humble and unassuming manner. High scorers are uncomfortable professing that they are superior to others (regardless of whether that is actually the case) and may come across as self-effacing. Low scorers find it easy to profess their superiority and may sometimes be perceived as arrogant and authoritative. It should be noted that humility does not reflect an individual’s self-confidence or actual level of competence relative to others, but rather measures their inclination towards portraying themselves as diffident or superior.
- Sympathy-Compassion refers to an individual’s inclination to feel sympathy and compassion in their dealings with others. High scorers are empathetic and refrain from judging others harshly. Those with lower scores have a more detached stance and typically think of themselves as more logical and discerning than most. Low scorers can thus be perceived as cynical while high scorers may come across as too kind-hearted for their own good.
Conscientiousness denotes the degree to which an individual organizes their pursuits. High scorers are characterized by orderliness, planning, and control. They have a tendency to steer clear of danger and risk, and their successes in life are often related to their knack for perseverance and planning. People with lower scores are more inclined to “let tomorrow take care of itself,” and can thus be thought of as more spontaneous and impulsive. The advantages of high conscientiousness with regard to work and education are therefore obvious but, on the other hand, very high levels of conscientiousness may also predispose a person for perfectionism and/or workaholism.
Conscientiousness is composed of the facets Self-Assurance; Orderliness; Dutifulness; Achievement-Striving; Self-Discipline and Prudence.
- Self-Assurance refers to an individual’s sense of competence in pursuing their goals. High scorers naturally trust in their skills and competence, as well as their ability to maintain the focus and self-control needed to complete their tasks. Conversely, those with lower scores are liable to experience a lack of agency and often doubt their own ability to finish the tasks and goals that are set before them satisfactorily.
- Orderliness denotes a person’s tendency to strive for order and control in their lives. High scorers are well-organized and naturally inclined to apply system and structure to their pursuits. Low scorers are more inclined to improvise their way through life and prefer to switch back and forth between different tasks and endeavors, in accordance with what makes the most sense to them at any given moment.
- Dutifulness refers to an individual’s propensity to regard tasks and obligations as binding. High scorers are committed to fulfilling their promises and duties, even when it is inopportune for them to do so. Low scorers are liable to find rules and regulations confining, and thus to view the obligations that are set before them as suggestive rather than mandatory.
- Achievement-Striving refers to a person’s level of ambition and willingness to make sacrifices in the pursuit of success. High scorers are goal-oriented and purposeful, but those with extremely high scores may also be perceived as overly focused on work and compulsive in their need to succeed. Low scorers are more laid-back with regard to their goals, and more inclined to approach their workloads in a way that allows them to “get by” without overexerting themselves.
- Self-Discipline denotes an individual’s willingness to tolerate difficulties and boredom in the name of completing their tasks. High-scorers are driven and persistent, while those with lower scores can be seen as less tenacious and more inclined to procrastinate. It should be noted that a low score on self-discipline does not necessarily denote an inability to complete a task, so much as it attests to a lack of desire to do so.
- Prudence refers to an individual’s tendency to act only on the basis of thorough prior considerations. High scorers are cautious and deliberate, and thus inclined to mull over every option and implication in their heads before moving to act. Low scorers are more spontaneous and less inclined to worry about making wrong decisions off the cuff.
Openness refers to an individual’s appetite for new and unconventional ideas, values, viewpoints, and experiences. High scorers are imaginative and original, whereas those with lower scores are more traditional and down to earth. In the cosmopolitan cultures of Western cities, the traits associated with high openness are often idealized, whereas a low-openness outlook on life is framed as less desirable. However, studies have shown that both high and low levels of openness may be beneficial, depending on the task. High levels of openness may be advantageous in creative pursuits and research, while lower levels of openness tend to be beneficial in accounting, police work, and sales.
Openness is composed of the facets Fantasy; Aesthetic Interest; Emotional Orientation; Experimentation; Intellectualism and Diversity-Tolerance.
- Fantasy refers to an individual’s propensity to perceive their surroundings through a lens of vivid mental associations. High scorers are imaginative and easily bored by the mundane world. They thus tend to abstract away from it through daydreams and elaborate mental imagery, whereas those with lower scores are more inclined to focus on the facts and things that actually exist around them.
- Aesthetic Interest refers to an individual’s inclination to appreciate the experience of beauty in their lives. High scorers are easily engrossed in experiences they find beautiful, and will thus devote more time and effort to seeking them out. Those with lower scores are less immediately affected by the aesthetic, and will thus spend less of their time and resources in the pursuit of it.
- Emotional Orientation denotes an individual’s degree of preoccupation with the emotional lives of themselves and others. High scorers regard feelings as a central part of human existence, and thus dedicate much of their time to emotions. Those with lower scores are less immersed in the emotional domain, and thus liable to regard feelings as inconvenient or irrational occurrences that should not be allowed to dominate.
- Experimentation refers to an individual’s eagerness to try new things. High scorers have a yearning for novelty and are easily bored by routine. Low scorers are more comfortable in familiar environments and tend to be skeptical of novelties and fads that are not immediately useful.
- Intellectualism refers to an individual’s degree of interest in abstract ideas. High scorers are fond of toying with ideas, and are often particularly thrilled when they come across new and unconventional strands of thought which they have not encountered before. Low scorers are indifferent to high-flying theoretical pursuits and tend to be more interested in facts and things than in theories or ideas. It should be noted that intellectualism does not say anything about an individual’s aptitude for intellectual pursuits, but only denotes their preferred degree of engagement with abstractions.
- Diversity-Tolerance refers to an individual’s inclination to accommodate the unconventional lifestyles and beliefs of others, as well as to deviate from traditional norms and values themselves. High scorers are accepting of differing values and ways of living, even when such practices and beliefs are opposed to their own. Those with lower scores have greater respect for tradition, and typically see greater merit in the stability and sense of belonging that a shared set of values can create.
Neuroticism denotes an individual’s tendency to experience gloomy and negative states of mind. High scorers have low thresholds for when their negative emotional reactions are triggered and are thus easily susceptible to experiencing more anger, stress, and depression. Since their defenses are easily activated, neurotic people are also inclined to experience ambiguous or unclear situations as threatening. Low scorers are less likely to be knocked out by adversity and exhibit greater calm and serenity when faced with bad news. Being low in neuroticism may thus be perceived as desirable but, on the other hand, extremely low levels of neuroticism may also predispose a person for being too carefree and liable to underestimate potential threats in their environment.
Neuroticism is composed of the facets Anxiety; Irritability; Immoderation; Self-Consciousness; Depressivity and Vulnerability.
- Anxiety refers to the ease with which an individual can be made to feel unsafe and start to worry. High scorers are quick to regard novel and unfamiliar situations as dangerous, and hence to react with fear. Low scorers approach potentially threatening situations in a calm and relaxed manner, and are not inclined to agonize over the potential problems an unexpected turn of events might imply.
- Irritability refers to an individual’s tendency to become angry and hostile when met with adversity. High scorers are prone to feel slighted and react with resentment when confronted with bad news, whereas those with lower scores are less prone to anger and tend to be less severe in their outlook on life.
- Immoderation denotes the ease with which an individual yields to temptations and urges. High scorers feel they must struggle to control their urges and resist short-term pleasures like candy, alcohol, and cigarettes. Those with lower scores tend to find it easier to cope with delayed gratification, and are thus less prone to give in to temptation.
- Self-Consciousness refers to an individual’s propensity to experience embarrassment and shame. High scorers are easily embarrassed and can quickly be made to feel uneasy or awkward around others. Low scorers are less prone to feeling uncomfortable or to let inhibition get the better of them, and are thus generally less affected by rejection and ridicule.
- Depressivity denotes an individual’s inclination to experience low moods, despondency, and despair. High scorers can easily be beset by hopelessness and feel that they lack the energy and drive to manage their daily activities, whereas people with lower scores are disinclined to experience sadness or low moods. It should be noted that depressivity does not measure an individual’s propensity towards joy and enthusiasm (since these fall under extroversion) but rather measures the absence or presence of sadness in a person’s emotional life.
- Vulnerability refers to an individual’s inclination to be overwhelmed by uncertainty and to feel powerless under pressure. High scorers are easily stressed and may benefit greatly from peer support and predictable working conditions. Low scorers are characterized by resilience and find it easy to keep cool and stay focused in the face of difficult or demanding situations.