Introduction To The Big 5 Personality Traits

the Big Five Personality Traits

The Big 5 (OCEAN) Personality Traits.

If Big 3 recalls a basketball league in the United States, big 4 reminds you of four well-known accounting firms, then this article introduces to you the big 5 personality traits. The big 5 personality traits, often referred to as OCEAN, stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion (or extraversion), Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These five personality traits represent broad domains of human behavior and have been utilized in everyday life to serve both personal and organizational purposes. Today, the OCEAN model is mostly used by the HR department to evaluate potential candidates and marketers who want to understand their audiences and consumers.

The OCEAN model: Historical development

The OCEAN model is known to have taken over a decade to be narrowed down, from 4,500 to just five. Earlier theories suggested different numbers for possible traits, which includes Gordon Allport’s list of 4,500 personality traits in the early 20th century. From this original list, Raymond Cattell’s – a British psychologist – reduced the number of main personality traits down to 171. He eventually shortened his list to just 16 key personality traits. Another British psychologist named Hans Eysenck developed a different theory with just three dimensions, called Introversion / Extroversion, Neuroticism / Emotional Stability and Psychoticism. 

Several researchers felt that Cattell’s theory was complicated, while Eysenck’s was too limited in scope. The five-dimension personality model, therefore, emerged as a result of the search for a common language amongst personality researchers. Tupes and Christal (1961) were the first to propose this five-dimension model, indicating that personality is made up of five broad personality dimensions: extraversion, compatibility, neuroticism, conscientiousness and developmental openness. The completeness of this model comprises essential traits that serve as the foundation of personality science. 

It is important to note that each trait represents a range between two polar ends of the dimension. In other words, you either score high or low in a trait, which go along are appropriately matching behaviors of this trait. Scoring low in agreeableness does not always mean you are a disagreeable person. Instead, you are more likely to be tough-minded and competitive in certain situations. In reality, most people lie somewhere in between the two extremes of each dimension.


  • Openness: 


This trait represents the willingness to be open to new experiences or the comfort around novel discoveries. Openness features characteristics such as imagination, creativity and curiosity. High scorers tend to be highly creative and have a wide range of interests across various aspects. They enjoy discovering complex concepts and prefer incentive practices than traditional ones. They are also comfortable with abstract thinking and very interested in technical know-how. Most of the time, operating principles and structural functions of a mechanism possibly trigger their sense of curiosity.

Those who score low in openness are more resistant to expose to new things. They are more comfortable with familiar and conventional concepts. Technological advancements or modern lifestyle and customs might not be suitable and applicable to this group. Low scorers in this trait prefer practical ideas with facts and evidence than hypothetical or philosophical complications.  

High in Openness

  • Very creative
  • Open to trying new things & changes
  • Comfortable with abstract concepts
  • Adventurous, inventive and curious
Low in Openness

  • Prefer conventional practices
  • Dislike new things & changes
  • Prefer practical & factual concepts
  • Resistant, traditional, cautious


  • Conscientiousness: 


This dimension of the big 5 personality traits represents high levels of determination, self-discipline and thoughtfulness. Conscientious people are careful and organized. They are deadline-lovers and can work well under the pressure of time. They are often mindful of details and more likely to forego immediate gratification, shift their focus and work hard toward the planned goals. From their perspective, the comfortable presence would be sacrificed for the sake of long-term achievement. People who are high in conscientiousness tend to be consistently diligent and ambitious with goal-directed behaviors. 

On the contrary, unconscientious people tend to enjoy the part “play harder” before “work hard”. For low scorers, it is more important to enjoy life at the present than constantly sacrifice it for the future. You might find your friend eating a chocolate cake, despite her well-planned diet list on the table, or notice yourself chilling in a Friday party, despite a pile of unfinished reports due next week. If you find yourself somewhere mentioned above, I guess you would choose to be spontaneous over well-prepared and general statements over specific details.

High in Conscientiousness

  • Detail-oriented
  • Prioritize important tasks
  • prefer deadlines & schedules
Low in Conscientiousness

  • Prefer big-picture key points
  • Procrastinate important tasks.
  • Enjoy spontaneous situations


  • Extraversion


Extraversion, or extroversion, is a state characterized by the orientation of one’s interests and energies toward the outer world rather than the inner world. Scoring high in this trait means you are more likely to be an outgoing and sociable person. If you are “the more, the merrier” type of person, you are able to engage actively with others to earn social interactions and social approvals. You may also find joy and comfortable through expanding the energy externally. 

What if you score low in extraversion trait? The answer is you are likely to be more introverted than extroverted. Congratulations, introverts! Welcome to this extroverted world! Introverts often conserve their energy in social situations. They tend to gain energy by self-reflecting and listening to their inner world of subjective experiences. Instead of focusing on the outer world, they shift it inward and expand it internally.

High in Extraversion

  • More likely to start conversations
  • Easy-going and easy-to-blend-in
  • Seek social interactions
Low in Extraversion

  • Carefully think through before speaking
  • Being picky (jobs, relationships, etc.)
  • Prioritized individuality and subjective experiences


  • Agreeableness


Agreeableness describes the tendency of an individual to act in a cooperative, unselfish and loyal manner. This trait is characterized by the degree of trust, kindness, compassion and co-operation. People who are high in agreeableness are more cooperative, supportive and friendly to others. Conflicts and arguments or any other forms of debates are not a good friend of an agreeable person. Instead, they constantly seek situations where they can support and assist others that are in need of help. 

If you happen to score low in this trait, do not get disappointed by the antonym name: disagreeable. I would prefer saying competitive and tough-minded. This group of people are more willing to confront challenges and arguments, sometimes they become very tough-minded and would be antagonistic if needed to protect their self-benefits. Low scorers ponder self-benefits before compromising or assisting others, which is a good thing, especially in this highly exploitative working environment. 

High in agreeableness

  • Tend to compromise
  • Avoid conflicts and arguments
  • Put others’ needs ahead 
  • Enjoy assisting others 
Low in agreeableness

  • Consider self-benefits before compromising
  • Being antagonistic and argumentative
  • Prioritize individual needs
  • Prefer competitiveness


  • Neuroticism


Neuroticism is a trait characterized by a person’s tendency to experience negative emotions, including fearfulness, self-doubts, insecurity and emotional instability. While everyone experiences these emotions from times to times, some people are more prone to them than others. Mood swings, emotional instability and self-doubts are distinct manifestations of this dimension. Scoring high in this trait means you are more prone to the mentioned manifestations.

depiction of a neurotic person

By contrast, low scorers in neuroticism means you are more emotionally stable and bounce back from stressful situations quickly. Unlike the high-scorer group, high scorers have the ability to shift from reacting to gaining full control of a situation. This possibly the reason they are relatively calmer and strong-minded in challenging circumstances. 

High in neuroticism

  • Experience mood swings 
  • React to a situation with fearfulness and insecurities
  • Struggles to bounce back after stressful events
Low in neuroticism

  • Emotionally resilient
  • Tend to shift from reacting to taking control of the situation
  • Think forward and move on quickly

You might want to take the test here

How the Model is Used Today

If you already took the test and got your results, you are one step ahead of HR practitioners and marketers. The big 5 OCEAN model is used not only for individual purposes to discover one’s identity but also for organizational purposes. In large organizations, the HR department utilizes the OCEAN framework to evaluate and select appropriate candidates for the position. Candidates are put in a specific context and asked various questions relating to the OCEAN framework. For official full-time employees, the OCEAN model might be used as foundational outcomes to build teams that have similar or cross-matching personality traits. For individual purposes, the HR director might provide an employee with a summary of his / her results. Feedback and advice on how to communicate effectively with others will be provided to the employee accordingly based on the test results. 

Besides, marketers also frequently use this OCEAN framework as a crucial part to understand their audiences and consumers. Based on the commonalities within the personality profiles, marketers are able to know some typical characteristics of their target group. Combined with demographic segmentation and other important factors such as social status and genders, the complete version of different consumer profiles will be created. Marketers can now identify targeted shoppers, consumer segmentation to better match with the company’s strategy or its brand image.


  1. Gordon Allport’s work on 4,500 personality traits
  2. Raymond Cattell’s 16 personality factors
  3. Hans Eysenck’s three-dimension theory
  4. Personality and big five-factor models of personality, March 2018: Page 3, 4
  5. The Big Five Personality Traits
  6. The Big Five OCEAN Personality Types: Introduction and Discussions
  7. The Big 5 OCEAN Traits Explained – Personality Quizzes
  8. Extraversion vs Introversion
  9. Definition of Agreeableness


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