Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability
Those who score high on neuroticism often feel anxious, insecure and self-pitying. They are often perceived as moody and irritable. They are prone to excessive sadness and low self-esteem.
Those who score low on neuroticism are more likely to calm, secure and self-satisfied. They are less likely to be perceived as anxious or moody. They are more likely to have high self-esteem and remain resilient.
Stability of the Traits
People’s scores of the Big Five remain relatively stable for most of their life with some slight changes from childhood to adulthood. A study by Soto & John (2012) attempted to track the developmental trends of the Big Five traits.
They found that overall agreeableness and conscientiousness increased with age. There was no significant trend for extraversion overall although gregariousness decreased and assertiveness increased.
Openness to experience and neuroticism decreased slightly from adolescence to middle adulthood. The researchers concluded that there were more significant trends in specific facets (i.e. adventurousness and depression) rather than in the Big Five traits overall.
Factors that Influence the Big 5
Like with all theories of personality, the Big Five is influenced by both nature and nurture. Twin studies have found that the heritability (the amount of variance that can be attributed to genes) of the Big Five traits is 40-60%.
Jang et al. (1996) conducted a study with 123 pairs of identical twins and 127 pairs of fraternal twins. They estimated the heritability of conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and extraversion to be 44%, 41%, 41%, 61%, and 53%, respectively.
This finding was similar to the findings of another study, where the heritability of conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience and extraversion were estimated to be 49%, 48%, 49%, 48%, and 50%, respectively (Jang et al., 1998).
Such twin studies demonstrate that the Big Five personality traits are significantly influenced by genes and that all five traits are equally heritable. Heritability for males and females do not seem to differ significantly (Leohlin et al., 1998).
Studies from different countries also support the idea of a strong genetic basis for the Big Five personality traits (Riemann et al., 1997; Yamagata et al., 2006).
Differences in the Big Five personality traits between genders have been observed, but these differences are small compared to differences between individuals within the same gender.
Costa et al. (2001) gathered data from over 23,000 men and women in 26 countries. They found that “gender differences are modest in magnitude, consistent with gender stereotypes, and replicable across cultures” (p. 328).
Women reported themselves to be higher in Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Warmth (a facet of Extraversion), and Openness to Feelings compared to men. Men reported themselves to be higher in Assertiveness (a facet of Extraversion) and Openness to Ideas.
Another interesting finding was that bigger gender differences were reported in Western, industrialized countries. Researchers proposed that the most plausible reason for this finding was attribution processes.
They surmised that actions of women in individualistic countries would be more likely to be attributed to her personality whereas actions of women in collectivistic countries would be more likely to be attributed to their compliance with gender role norms.
In marriages where one partner scores lower than the other on agreeableness, stability, and openness, there is likely to be marital dissatisfaction (Myers, 2011).
Neuroticism seems to be a risk factor for many health problems, including depression, schizophrenia, diabetes, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and heart disease (Lahey, 2009).
People high in neuroticism are particularly vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression. Low agreeableness has also been linked to higher chances of health problems (John & Srivastava, 1999).
There is evidence to suggest that conscientiousness is a protective factor against health diseases. People who score high in conscientiousness have been observed to have better health outcomes and longevity (John & Srivastava, 1999).
Researchers believe that such is due to conscientious people having regular and well-structured lives, as well as the impulse control to follow diets, treatment plans, etc.
A high score on conscientiousness predicts better high school and university grades (Myers, 2011). Contrarily, low agreeableness and low conscientiousness predict juvenile delinquency (John & Srivastava, 1999).
Conscientiousness is the strongest predictor of all five traits for job performance (John & Srivastava, 1999). A high score of conscientiousness has been shown to relate to high work performance across all dimensions.
The other traits have been shown to predict more specific aspects of job performance. For instance, agreeableness and neuroticism predict better performance in jobs where teamwork is involved.
However, agreeableness is negatively related to individual proactivity. Openness to experience is positively related to individual proactivity but negatively related to team efficiency (Neal et al., 2012).
Extraversion is a predictor of leadership, as well as success in sales and management positions (John & Srivastava, 1999).
Limitations of the Big Five
Descriptor Rather Than a Theory
The Big Five was developed to organize personality traits rather than as a comprehensive theory of personality.
Therefore, it is more descriptive than explanatory and does not fully account for differences between individuals (John & Srivastava, 1999). It also does not sufficiently provide a causal reason for human behavior.
Although the Big Five has been tested in many countries and its existence is generally supported by findings (McCrae, 2002), there have been some studies that do not support its model. Most previous studies have tested the presence of the Big Five in urbanized, literate populations.
A study by Gurven et al. (2013) was the first to test the validity of the Big Five model in a largely illiterate, indigenous population in Bolivia. They administered a 44-item Big Five Inventory but found that the participants did not sort the items in consistency with the Big Five traits.
More research on illiterate and non-industrialized populations is needed to clarify such discrepancies.
Is 5 Really the Magic Number?
A common criticism of the Big Five is that each trait is too broad. Although the Big Five is useful in terms of providing a rough overview of personality, more specific traits are required to be of use for predicting outcomes (John & Srivastava, 1999).
There is also an argument from psychologists that more than five traits are required to encompass the entirety of personality.
A new model, HEXACO, was developed by Kibeom Lee and Michael Ashton, and expands upon the Big Five Model. HEXACO retains the original traits from the Big Five Model but contains one additional trait: Honesty-Humility, which they describe as the extent to which one places others’ interests above their own.
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- Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)
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- Personality Theories Book Chapter
- The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology