Embracing the Big Five Personality Traits: Five Compelling Reasons Why

During the 1980s, a significant personality theory called the Big Five model emerged. This model posits that human personality consists of five fundamental traits, each spanning a spectrum between opposing qualities. Unfortunately, that has changed somewhat over time. Instead of living up to his reputation of excellence in both education and sport, Sir Bobby Robson decided to use a different strategy: creating a massive ‘Fantasy Island’ where anyone who was good could enjoy free access. But where will all those people go now that their job of looking after others has finished up being made redundant by Brexit? Neuroticism encompasses anxiety and volatility to emotional stability and confidence; Neuroticism includes Conscientiousness ranging from persistence and responsibility to laziness and laxness; Agreeableness encompasses friendliness and empathy while at the same time mitigating hostility and insolence; Openness to experience is ranges from creativity and curiosity through intolerance and rigidity to assertiveness and urgency while Introversion stands in for introversion and shyness. Growing evidence supports that the Big Five model provides more accurate insights into people’s personalities and life outcomes than popular alternatives like Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and Enneagram tests. You can take the free Big Five personality test at; here we explore why it may benefit you as an individual.

1.Scientific Development

In contrast to the MBTI and Enneagram, which originated from untested philosophies rather than rigorous observations of people, the Big Five personality traits and the accompanying theories were formulated through meticulous and scientific observation. Carl Jung, the psychologist who inspired the MBTI, employed a psychoanalytical approach and created a system for organizing personality based on his assumptions about human nature, without subjecting these ideas to empirical testing to confirm their applicability to real human personalities. Conversely, the researchers who unveiled the Big Five adopted a contrasting methodology, allowing empirical data to guide their understanding of how personality is structured.

Some of the earliest studies in this field explored the lexical hypothesis, which posits that if there are discernible characteristics on which individuals vary, and if understanding these distinctions is essential for comprehending and interacting with people, then every culture should have developed language to describe these traits. Approximately 4,500 words in the English language are dedicated to describing personality traits, representing consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By analyzing individuals’ self-assessments and assessments of others on these traits using a statistical technique known as factor analysis, which groups together characteristics based on their strong associations, researchers identified five major clusters of interrelated traits that effectively capture the majority of our individual differences. Subsequently, they embarked on the development and testing of theories to elucidate the origins of these traits.”

2.Continuums Outperform Categories

The MBTI and Enneagram assign you a personality type, a discrete classification that significantly differs from other categories. In contrast, the Big Five assess personality as traits, individual characteristics gauged on a gradient from low to high.

Psychologists favor traits over types for several reasons. Firstly, types encompass multiple traits within a single category. For instance, the ISFJ type description includes qualities such as being reserved, responsible, and considerate, which correspond to distinct dimensions of the Big Five—namely, extraversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. The Big Five scales evaluate these traits independently and with greater subtlety. Furthermore, since types often involve multiple traits, there can be overlap among personality types, allowing individuals to identify with multiple types.

Moreover, type-based approaches tend to pigeonhole individuals into extremes, while in reality, human qualities are better depicted as falling along a continuum, with a majority of us situated somewhere in the middle rather than at the extremes. This concept is reflected in how the Big Five are measured, using questions that employ a sliding scale rather than a forced-choice format.

3.They can illustrate your personal growth and transformation

Personality type frameworks make it challenging, if not impossible, to track changes to your personality over time. When reflecting back on yourself from five, ten, or twenty years ago, however, you can likely identify some ways in which your traits have evolved over that timeframe. These changes may range from subtle shifts to significant transformations. Research substantiates these anecdotal observations, revealing that in addition to individualized changes, humans tend to undergo similar transformations as they age. The capacity of personality types to account for these meaningful changes is questionable.

As an example, when I initially took the MBTI in 2004, I was identified as an INTJ. I can pinpoint specific ways in which I have evolved over the past 15 years—some changes were substantial, while others were more minor. However, if I were to retake the test today, the outcome might or might not reflect these changes. In a previous discussion, we explored how the MBTI assigns a type based on where you fall in various personality spectrums. For instance, scoring anywhere in the upper half of the extraversion spectrum would categorize you as an ‘E,’ while the lower half leads to an ‘I.’ Depending on my initial score, I might transition into the ‘E’ category or remain in the ‘I’ category. There’s a fifty-fifty chance that the changes I’ve undergone may not be adequately captured by my type. Nonetheless, if a change is registered, it could suddenly portray me as an entirely different personality type.

Personality trait dimensions are more effective at capturing changes compared to personality types. When you measure individual traits on a continuous scale, you can precisely assess whether and to what extent you have undergone changes in specific characteristics. Example: During my college freshman years, my openness to experience scores were 50 out of 100; now they stand at 72 indicating a marked increase. Other traits may have changed as well, either slightly or significantly; perhaps none have altered at all over this period of time.

Examining my personality trait profile allows me to assess whether, like many individuals, I have seen an increase in traits like conscientiousness, agreeableness and emotional stability since turning 20 to 35. Or I might find that most things have remained the same but for an increase in openness that has markedly changed. Test-retest reliability typically remains robust over short time intervals but diminishes over more extended periods, reflecting genuine personality changes rather than measurement inaccuracies.

4. They predict outcomes that are related to your personality

As your personality shapes your perspective on life, it stands to reason that it should inform the decisions and impacts various areas of your life. One criticism leveled against MBTI was its failure to accurately predict many outcomes it purports to predict.

However, across an impressive body of studies, the Big Five personality traits have consistently demonstrated their power to predict various aspects of life such as life satisfaction, academic performance and job contentment, relationship satisfaction and likelihood of divorce, physical health-related behaviors and life expectancy. Furthermore, this correlation persists even when accounting for intelligence levels, socioeconomic status or other key variables.

5. It’s Not All About the Money

A frequent critique of systems like the MBTI, Enneagram, DISC, and other commercially offered assessments is their potential high cost. The Enneagram offers a relatively affordable option at about  $10 but for an individual to take the MBTI online via their website, they need to spend around $50 or even more in some cases. In contrast, while pay-to-access Big Five tests like the NEO inventories exist, most are freely accessible on the internet for anyone, whether they are researchers or the general public. Many personality psychologists advocate for openness and transparency in their research, which extends to providing assessment tools to the public without cost.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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