The Big Five Explained

The Big Five Explained
Return to big-five

The Big Five


The Big Five is a collection of five broad personality traits. These are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN or CANOE). They are the result of over a century of research into personality and the various traits it can be divided into. Thousands of traits have been identified but Big Five narrows it down to OCEAN, allowing researchers, psychologists and hirers to extract information about subjects, clients and potential employees without excessive complexity.

The Five Traits

In Big Five the personality traits are measured on a scale where the individual is higher or lower in each of the OCEAN characteristics. The combination of scores compose the personality and conclusions are drawn. A big difference between Big Five and most other personality models is that there are no types in Big Five. For typology purposes it is worth looking into Global Five as it is similar to Big Five but by separating the traits into dichotomies it allows for the formation of 32 types. Big Five is nonetheless one of the most used personality models and understanding it is beneficial due to the inevitability of encountering it both in one’s private and professional life. When reading about Big Five, keep in mind that the precise definitions of the various traits are still disputed between different experts in Psychology.


Openness or “Openness to experience” is a trait describing how open the individual is to new experiences. This includes their imagination, creativity, appreciation of art and literature, receptivity to new ideas, susceptibility to emotional experiences, intellectual curiosity and willingness to engage in new activities. People with high Openness are going to be more creative, unconventional in their beliefs and prone to use experiences as a way of self-fulfilment. This can be both positive and negative since it allows for a great degree of innovative thinking but it also means that the individual is more prone to drug abuse than someone with low Openness. An individual with low Openness is going to seek self-realization through working hard. They are more pragmatic and may be considered narrow-minded and rigid in their beliefs.


A Conscientious individual is self-disciplined, self-controlled and seeking success by some measure, which can be quantitative or qualitative and internal or external depending on the person. People with high Conscientiousness are often seen as stubborn due to their ability to work no matter the circumstances. They prefer planning ahead rather than being spontaneous which is aligned with their other behavior since they are sacrificing “fun” for the moment for “success” in the future. Those with low Conscientiousness are more spontaneous with worse self-control and discipline. They are more flexible and able to do things on a whim rather than plan ahead.


Extraversion essentially means the creation of energy from external means. Individuals with high Extraversion tend to engage a lot with their environment. They are engaging, energetic and enthusiastic people who enjoy social gatherings and feel at home in the big crowds. Introverted people, on the other hand, are those who engage less socially and may seem shy or antisocial by those with high Extraversion. This is not an accurate representation since they simply need more time for themselves and have lower energy levels than Extraverts. The reserved approach that results from this has nothing to do with antisocial behavior or unfriendliness.


People who are high in Agreeableness are essentially concerned with reaching a state of comfort and harmony in their relationships with others. They tend to be generous, compassionate and willing to compromise their interest to reach this state of calm. Their worldview is very optimistic and even naive in some cases. Disagreeable people place their self-interest above social harmony and are less compassionate, generous and certainly less willing to compromise than Agreeable people. They are more challenging, competitive, perceived as more unfriendly, and a lot more suspicious. If anyone starts an argument for the sake of it, they are probably Disagreeable.


For those who are high in Neuroticism, negative emotions are going to appear often and with great intensity. This trait is commonly referred to as Emotional Instability as those that are Neurotic have less control over their emotions and are less able to successfully deal with stress and other negative stimuli. They are also prone to exaggerate the negatives in all situations, for example seeing only obstacles where someone with lower Neuroticism might see possibilities. Inability to deal with Neuroticism in a constructive way can be obstructive to the individual’s professional and personal life. It fills the individual with instability that interrupts the ability to think clearly and over-time, this affects how well the individual performs, further pushing them into their negative emotions. Individuals with low Neuroticism are emotionally stable, calm and mostly free from negative emotions. While some with low Neuroticism do experience a great deal of positive emotions, this is not always the case, and oftentimes, their emotional reaction can be subdued overall.

Neuroticism is arguably the most influential trait in the wellbeing of the individual and being aware of one’s own Neuroticism can be helpful in taking the necessary steps to handle it. That is best left to professionals or alternatively one can research the methodology and apply it to one’s own life. It is also of great importance to distinguish between Big Five Neuroticism and Freudian Neuroticism (Neurosis) as those do not mean the same thing.

© 2021 PDX. All rights reserved