What is the Big Five Model?

Marlene Garcia

The Big Five Model is a common tool to determine personality traits, often called personality dimensions, used in psychological therapy and to increase self-awareness. The model was developed through questionnaires that use adjectives to rate a person's personality in five categories: emotional stability, openness, extraversion, consciousness, and agreeableness. People answering the questionnaires often rank themselves and others to determine which personality traits are strongest.

Individuals who score low in emotional stability are often high strung, nervous, or moody.
Individuals who score low in emotional stability are often high strung, nervous, or moody.

Studies of the Big Five Model, also referred to as the Five Factor Model, found that personality remains the same over a 45-year period, which begins as a young adult. Some researchers believe personality is solely genetic, while other scientists say it stems from a combination of heredity and environmental influences. Personality traits are thought to be common to people all over the world despite language or cultural differences.

Those who rank high in emotional stability, or neuroticism, commonly deal well with stress and remain calm in a crisis. They may feel secure about their life and deal well with change. People who score low in this trait are often high strung, nervous, or moody. They may be judgmental of others and critical.

In the openness category of the Big Five Model, curiosity, creativity, and imagination are sometimes determined. This trait is also called intellect, and measures a person's willingness to try new things and experiment. Often, those with high scores in this area are quite imaginative and interested in novel ideas. They may be artistic and able to envision new ways to accomplish a routine task.

Extraversion refers to how a person deals with others. Sometimes called a "people person," someone who ranks high in this trait may be energetic, talkative, and fun-loving. He or she may also be assertive in social situations. Low scorers commonly are quiet, and might shun social events in favor of solitary time.

Consciousness tests a person's organizational skills and self-discipline. People with these traits are usually able to set goals and follow a task to its completion. They normally take responsibility seriously and are often good leaders.

The final category tested in the Big Five Model is agreeableness. It measures how trusting and forgiving a person might be. People labeled as agreeable commonly are kind, cooperative, and helpful. They may be described as "warm," and usually are quick to lend a hand where it is needed.

Some psychologists believe the Big Five Model is too limiting to test the wide range of personality in human beings. Factors like sensuality, abilities, and honesty make up the total person, they argue, giving the common test limited use. More extensive personality tests are sometimes used, but the Big Five Model is considered adequate for most therapy and to help a person gain self-knowledge. Human resource managers sometimes use the Big Five Model to determine how well a job candidate will perform in a specific position.

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