Big Five Personality Traits

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas109

Concept description

Wikipedia (reference below) describes the Big Five personality traits as “a model based on common language descriptors of personality” and notes that it is also known as the five factor model, or FFM, where the “five factors have been defined as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, often represented by the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE” and that beneath each proposed global factor, there are a number of correlated and more specific primary factors.

NOTE: For other personality-related frameworks, see Haidt’s 6 Innate Moral Foundations and Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI).

Wikipedia elaborates on the Big Five Personality Traits as follows.

“The five factors are:

  • Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. …
  • Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as stubbornness and obsession. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.
  • Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness. High extraversion is often perceived as attention-seeking, and domineering. Low extraversion causes a reserved, reflective personality, which can be perceived as aloof or self-absorbed.
  • Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naïve or submissive. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentativeness or untrustworthiness.
  • Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”. A high need for stability manifests itself as a stable and calm personality, but can be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned. A low need for stability causes a reactive and excitable personality, often very dynamic individuals, but they can be perceived as unstable or insecure.”
Online tests

There are many tests available online. These typically take 15-30 minutes to answer up to 100 questions and then provide a partial report at no charge and a full report for a fee, typically $5 – $10. Examples include:

An example of one page of a full report is:

The Big Five Aspects Scale

DeYoung, Quilty, and Peterson (2007, reference below) have elaborated 10 aspects of the big five:

  • Agreeableness
    • Compassion (the tendency to empathically experience the emotion of others)
    • Politeness (the proclivity to abide by interpersonal norms)
  • Conscientiousness
    • Industriousness (the ability to engage in sustained, goal-directed effort)
    • Orderliness (the tendency to schedule, organize and systematize)
  • Extraversion
    • Enthusiasm (spontaneous joy and engagement)
    • Assertiveness (social dominance, often verbal in nature)
  • Neuroticism
    • Withdrawal (the tendency to avoid in the face of uncertainty
    • Volatility (the tendency to become irritable and upset when things go wrong)
  • Openness to Experience
    • Openness (creativity and aesthetic sensitivity)
    • Intellect (interest in abstract concepts and ideas)

Jordan Peterson, Daniel Higgins, and Robert Pihl (2017) draw on this work to create a website called Understanding Myself that includes a 20-minute online test ($9.99 US) that compares the test-taker’s results with the general population for each of the big five traits and the ten aspects at

The website provides a 6,000-word response interpreting the results for each test taker. Here is an example of an interpretation for two of the aspects:

Compassion: Moderately Low

“You are moderately low in compassion, which is one aspect of Agreeableness. Your score puts you at the 36th percentile for compassion. If you were one of 100 people in a room, you would be less compassionate than 63 of them and more compassionate than 36 of them.

“Less compassionate people are not primarily oriented towards the problems of other people or other living things. They are less swayed by cuteness. They are willing to make other people experience negative emotion by engaging in conflict and competition. They like to win, and are less concerned about helping other people. They make sure their own needs and interests are attended to, and are less likely to sacrifice for the sake of other people. This can make them appear harsh and unsympathetic. People might turn to them for the truth, but not for a soft, patient, eternally-listening ear. They are not markedly empathetic and caring. However, because they are not primarily other-oriented, they can often negotiate effectively on their own behalf, and are likely to get at least what they deserve (for their hard work, for example). In consequence, they are unlikely to harbor feelings of resentment or hidden anger.

“Those who are liberal, politically, score somewhat higher in compassion than conservatives.

“Women are also higher in compassion than men. The mean percentile for women in a general population (women and men) is 61. For men it is 39.”

Intellect: High

“Note: Do not confuse the personality aspect of Intellect with IQ. Intellect is a measure of interest in abstract ideas, essentially, while IQ is a measure of processing speed, verbal ability, working memory, and problem solving capacity, and is better measured with a formal IQ test. It is perfectly possible to have a high IQ and a low score on the personality trait of Intellect (or the reverse).

“You are high in intellect, which is one aspect of openness to experience. Your score puts you at the 78th percentile for intellect. If you were one of 100 people in a room, you would be higher in intellect than 78 of them and lower in intellect than 21 of them.

“People high in intellect are quite interested in ideas and abstract concepts. They enjoy being confronted with novel information, even when it is complex. They are substantially more curious and exploratory than average, and frequently like to tackle and solve problems. They will actively engage in and seek out and initiate issue-oriented discussions, and are likely to read, think about and want to discuss idea-centered books (most frequently non-fiction). They are generally articulate and can formulate ideas clearly and quickly (particularly if average or higher in extraversion). They have a wide vocabulary, and actively enjoy learning new things. People high in intellect will often find and generate novel, creative concepts and voluntarily search for and adapt well to new experience and situations.

“People high in intellect find complex, rapidly changing occupations to their liking and will generally do well at them (particularly if they are also high in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism). However, they are substantially less well-suited to stable, straightforward and more traditional occupations, where the rules don’t change, and will experience frequent periods of boredom and frustration in such positions.

“Liberals are higher in intellect than conservatives (although the biggest difference between the two is openness to experience at the trait level).

“Women are lower than men in intellect (although not in IQ). This is probably a difference in interest: people high in intellect, compared to openness, are more likely to prefer the sciences to the arts. The mean percentile for women in a general population (women and men) is 45. For men it is 55.”


Wikipedia, Big Five personality traits, at, accessed 30 December 2017.

DeYoung, C.G., Quilty, L.C. & Peterson, J.B. (2007), Between facets and domains -10 aspects of the Big Five, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 880-896, available at, accessed 30 December 2017., at, accessed 30 December 2017.

Atlas topic, subject and course

Recognizing Values (core topic) in Leadership Skills and Atlas109.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 1 January 2018.

Image: From big think at, accessed 30 December 2017.