Personality Factors – Importance of the Big 5

In the world of personality assessment there are numerous tools that are used to measure and understand personality. A trait approach to personality has been in existence since the early 1900’s, and it has been the aim of many researchers to identify which are the most useful underlying factors to consider – with numerous studies dedicated to this topic.

Many of the largest and most reliable studies have indicated that the “Big Five” personality factors, namely Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism are the most valid and reliable factors with considerable research to support them.

Personality Assessment History

In one early study conducted at the United States Air Force, eight intercorrelation matrices were obtained and factor analysed on 35 personality traits among eight samples with over 1800 candidates in total. The matrices were selected in such a way that differences due to the traits would be minimised, while differences in the types of subjects, raters and situations would be maximised. The trait variables entered into the analyses were from those developed by Cattell (1947), a leader in personality research.

Five strong and recurrent factors emerged from the analysis, which at the time were referred to as Surgency (Extraversion), Agreeableness, Dependability (Conscientiousness), Emotional Stability (Neuroticism) and Culture (somewhat similar to Openness), described as follows:

Surgency (Extraversion): traits include talkativeness, assertiveness, sociability and cheerfulness. Has a negative loading (.3 or greater) for mildness, conventionality and calmness.

Agreeableness: defined by good-natured, emotionally mature, cooperativeness, adaptability. Loaded negatively on assertiveness.

Dependability (Conscientiousness): defined by orderliness, responsibility. Most definers of Surgency loaded negatively on this factor.

Emotional Stability (Neuroticism): loaded highest by not neurotic, placid, poised and calm. Kindliness has a significant negative loading.

Culture (Openness): primarily imaginative, independent-minded, energetic.

The five factors emerged in all eight analyses, with differences in samples, situations, raters and other variables having little effect on the factor structure. The five factors were also found to be independent from each other.

Modern Personality Assessment

One modern, cost-effective tool for measuring the Big 5 is the OCEAN Occupational Personality Assessment.