Personality Assessment – The Five Factor Model

This paper examines and summarises the big five-factor model, a tool used for studying personality.

One of the long-held goals of psychology has been to establish a model that can conveniently describe human personality, with the intent to use this model in improving the general understanding of personality.

Currently, a handful of models have risen to prominence, and have thus far stood the test of time.

One of the more prominent models in contemporary psychology is what is known as the Five Factor Model of personality (Digman, 1990). This model “dominates the landscape of current psychological research” (Ewen, 1998, p. 141).

This theory incorporates five different variables into a conceptual model for describing personality. These five different factors are often referred to as the “Big 5”. (Ewen, 1998, p. 140).

About the Big 5 model:

Costa and McCrae’s OCEAN model is known by its acronym for the five factors: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (emotional stability).

This naming of factors has the advantage of making them memorable to newcomers (through the acronym OCEAN).

The Big 5 descriptions are very useful in assessing potential employees. The descriptive nature of the big five offers exactly what employers need when choosing between similar applications and resumes (Burger, 1997, pp. 194-206).

The Five Factor Model is among the newest models developed for the description of personality, and this model is the most practical and applicable model available in the field of personality psychology.

Thorough critical attention is given to the proposal that the Five Factor Model is in fact a great theory. As it became evident to many psychologists that, mathematically, combinations of five factors were useful in describing personality, there was a need to clearly define what these factors were.

Through extensive debating and experimenting, there is currently a general consensus in the realms of scholarly psychology as to the identity of the five factors, and their basic interpretations and values to analysis of personality.

With the five factors placed on sliding scales, it becomes only an exercise in persistence (through experimentation, survey, and interview) to associate various human characteristics with one or more of the five factors. The factors are described below.

  • Openness Scale: The Openness dimension contrasts the ‘open’ person who is generally more willing to entertain novel ideas and unconventional values, with that the ‘closed’ person who tends to be conventional in behaviour and conservative in outlook.
  • Conscientiousness Scale:¬†The major aspects of the Conscientiousness factor include accomplishment, scrupulousness, and responsibility. People who score high on this trait are described as well-organised, planful, careful, and thorough. Individuals who score low tend to be disorganised, careless, inefficient, and undependable.
  • Extraversion Scale: People who score high on this trait are described as talkative, sociable, having high energy, and assertive. Individuals who score low on this trait are described as quiet, solitary, shy, and reserved.
  • Agreeableness Scale: People who score high are described as warm-hearted, kind, trusting, and compassionate. People who score low are described as antagonistic, suspicious, and unsympathetic.
  • Neuroticism (Emotional Stability): People who score high on this trait are described as calm, even-tempered, self-satisfied, and comfortable with themselves. Individuals who score low are described as emotional, anxious and self-conscious


A truly great theory of personality must transcend culture and situation.

It appears that the Five Factor Model holds very well across cultural and linguistic lines. Digman¬†(1990) gives three examples of other cultures (and languages) in which the five factor theory has held up nicely. His three studies took place in Japan, the Philippines, and Germany, and in all three cases, a five factor solution was clearly evident at the end of testing (Digman, 1990). On the subject of the ability of the Five Factor Model to cross cultural and linguistic barriers, Digman (1990) writes, “something quite fundamental is involved here. Is this the way people everywhere construe personality, regardless of language or culture?” (p. 434).

References and Further Reading

Burger, J. M. (1997). Personality (4th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Digman, J. M. (1990). Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model. Annual Review of Psychology, 41, 417-440.
Ewen, R. B. (1998). Personality: A topical approach. Mahweh, NJ: Erlbaum.
Langston, C. A., & Sykes, W. E. (1997). Beliefs and the big five. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 142-165.
McAdams, D. P. (1992). The five factor model in personality: A critical appraisal. Journal of Personality, 60, 329-361.
Pervin, L. A. (1989). Personality: Theory and research (5th ed.). New York: Wiley.
Revelle, W. (1995). Personality processes. Annual Review of Psychology, 46, 295-328.
Saucier, G. (1992). Benchmarks: Integrating affective and interpersonal circles with the big-five personality factors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1025-1035.
Saucier, G., & Goldberg, L. R. (1996). The language of personality: Lexical perspectives on the five-factor model. In J. S. Wiggins (Ed.), The five-factor model of personality: Theoretical perspectives (pp. 21-50). New York: Guilford.
Zuckerman, M. (1991). Psychobiology of personality. New York: Cambridge University Press.