What Are The Big Five Personality Traits? Big Five Personality Traits In A Nutshell

The Big Five personality traits is a theory describing the traits that serve as the building blocks of personality. The Big Five personality traits is a suggested grouping of personality traits based on psychological trait theory, where five big personality traits are identified in openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism.

Understanding the Big Five personality traits

Several trait theories have been developed over the years as researchers attempted to define the number of personality traits in existence.

Early attempts, such as those made by psychologist Gordon Allport, resulted in a list of 4,504 different traits.

Fellow psychologist Raymond Cattell identified sixteen fundamental components of personality, while British psychologist Hans Eysenck suggested personality was based on just three core dimensions.

Many academics considered Cattell’s theory to be too complicated and Eysenck’s to be too simplistic.

As a result, a theory describing five broad categories of personality traits started to gain popularity.

Essentially, this five-factor theory builds on the work done by Eysenck and multiple researchers in the 1960s and 80s.

Later work by Robert R. McCrae and his peers found that the five personality traits were remarkably consistent across more than 50 different cultures.

Based on these results, most psychologists now believe the traits have biological or evolutionary origins.

The Big Five personality traits

Before we describe each of the personality traits, it’s important to understand that each trait represents a range between two extremes.

For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion.

In actuality, most people will occupy a position somewhere along each continuum.

The Big Five personality traits are:

1 – Openness 

Individuals with high openness are more adventurous and creative

They also tend to have a broader range of interests owing to their willingness to try new things or tackle new challenges. 

Individuals with low openness are considered more traditional

They avoid change and do not enjoy new things.

A lack of imagination also means these people dislike abstract or theoretical concepts.

2 – Conscientiousness

Individuals with high conscientiousness are organized and detail-oriented

They recognize the value in preparation and scheduling and prioritize the completion of important tasks. 

Individuals with low conscientiousness dislike the structure that scheduling brings

They tend to be messy, disorganized, and prone to procrastination.

This means they are less likely to complete important or assigned tasks.

3 – Extraversion

Extraversion is characterized by sociability, talkativeness, and emotional expressiveness

Highly extroverted individuals derive energy from being around other people.

Low extraversion (introversion) is characterized by individuals who derive their energy from solitude

They may feel exhausted when required to socialize for extended periods.

4 – Agreeableness

High agreeableness is primarily associated with cooperative behavior

More specifically, these individuals display trust, altruism, affection, and kindness toward others. 

Low agreeableness, on the other hand, describes individuals who take a more competitive stance

They take little interest in the feelings or problems of others, and in extreme cases may manipulate others to get what they want.

5 – Neuroticism 

Individuals with high neuroticism tend to experience high emotional instability

They experience a lot of stress and get upset easily. Many others struggle to recover after a traumatic event.

Individuals with low neuroticism tend to be more stable and resilient to external events

They are better able to deal with stress and rarely feel sad or depressed.

Big five personality traits examples in business

In this section, we’ll describe some business examples for each of the big five personality traits.

Openness to experience

Those with the openness to experience trait tend to be more adaptable, experience higher job satisfaction, and demonstrate strong leadership skills.

Entrepreneurs are the most open to experience because they are attracted to dynamic environments and the novelty associated with new challenges.

By their very nature, these environments pose problems that require creative solutions, business models, and products.

More broadly speaking, an organizational culture that is open to new experiences will find it much easier to implement and sustain change initiatives.


According to the Essentials of Organizational Behavior: 14th Edition, conscientiousness is the trait that has the most impact on job performance – especially in non-artistic professional contexts.

Consider the long-term viability of a start-up, for example. If the entrepreneur has a low amount of conscientiousness, they are more likely to abandon the project as interest starts to wane.

When obstacles are inevitably encountered, their lack of organization and planning is exposed and they may become impulsive.

Conscientious employees tend to be resilient, orderly, dependable, and embody the most aspects of a strong leader.

But they tend to prioritize work over anything else and can be less adaptable to change.


Extroverts are commonly found in public or customer-facing roles such as sales and marketing.

However, their ability to form close associations with others, work well in teams, and be charming, confident, and charismatic make them an asset to any company. 

Extroverted individuals also have a knack for collaboration that enables them to connect with a diverse range of stakeholders.

What’s more, their natural tendency to take charge, show initiative, and mentor or advise others makes them more likely to end up in leadership positions.


Agreeable employees tend to be polite and compassionate, while those who are less agreeable are more comfortable with conflict.

In truth, organizations need a mixture of both. 

Most leaders are on the disagreeable end of the spectrum.

They must be able to have hard conversations with employees about their performance, salary, and role within their team.

The same can also be said for entrepreneurs who often push the boundaries and are told by others that something cannot (or should not) be done.

In the workplace, employees who are more agreeable are those that comply with rules and regulations without protest.

They are collaborative, cooperative, approachable, and well-liked by others in the organization.


Neuroticism in the workplace relates to one’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety.

Frontline employees and middle management may be more neurotic than senior managers and executives who need only answer to themselves.

Entrepreneurs may also be low in neuroticism because the role of starting a new company requires exceptional self-confidence and risk tolerance.

Nevertheless, neuroticism can be associated with employee burnout since these individuals find it more difficult to manage their emotions.

Conversely, those who are less neurotic tend to be more emotionally resilient and can handle stressful work situations.

Big Five Personality Traits vs. Myers-Briggs

Key takeaways

  • The Big Five personality traits is a theory describing the traits that serve as the building blocks of personality. The theory is based on the work of multiple psychologists during the middle of the 20th century. 
  • The Big Five personality traits lie along a continuum of two extremes. Most individuals exhibit varying degrees of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
  • The Big Five personality traits were found to be common to more than 50 different cultures. Based on this revelation, the traits are thought to have evolutionary origins.

Key Highlights

  • Definition of Big Five Personality Traits: The Big Five personality traits theory identifies five major dimensions of personality: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These traits are considered fundamental building blocks of human personality.
  • Historical Context: The development of the Big Five personality traits theory emerged as a response to previous theories that either had too many complex traits or were too simplistic. This theory gained popularity in the 1960s and 1980s based on the work of researchers like Hans Eysenck and Robert R. McCrae.
  • Cultural Universality: Research has shown that the Big Five traits are consistent across more than 50 different cultures. This suggests that these traits have biological or evolutionary origins, as they are present across diverse societies.
  • Trait Continuums: Each of the Big Five personality traits represents a continuum between two extremes. For example, individuals can fall anywhere along the continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion.
  • Openness: High openness individuals are adventurous, creative, and open to new experiences. Low openness individuals are more traditional, avoid change, and dislike abstract concepts.
  • Conscientiousness: High conscientiousness individuals are organized, detail-oriented, and prioritize tasks. Low conscientiousness individuals are disorganized, may procrastinate, and struggle with completing tasks.
  • Extraversion: Extraversion is characterized by sociability and deriving energy from social interactions. Introversion involves gaining energy from solitude and can lead to exhaustion during extended socialization.
  • Agreeableness: High agreeableness individuals are cooperative, kind, and considerate. Low agreeableness individuals may be competitive and less empathetic towards others.
  • Neuroticism: High neuroticism individuals experience emotional instability, stress, and are easily upset. Low neuroticism individuals are more emotionally stable and resilient to external stressors.
  • Application in Business: The Big Five traits have implications for various aspects of business:
    • Openness: Those open to experience tend to adapt well, show leadership skills, and drive innovation. Entrepreneurs often exhibit high openness.
    • Conscientiousness: High conscientiousness is linked to strong job performance and leadership qualities. However, it might lead to less adaptability.
    • Extraversion: Extroverted individuals excel in customer-facing roles, teamwork, and leadership positions.
    • Agreeableness: Agreeable employees are cooperative and well-liked, while some level of disagreeableness can be necessary for leadership roles.
    • Neuroticism: Neuroticism influences stress coping abilities, with high neuroticism possibly leading to burnout.
  • Comparison with Myers-Briggs: The Big Five traits differ from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which categorizes personalities into distinct types based on preferences in four dichotomies. The Big Five, on the other hand, measures personality on continuous dimensions.
  • Universal and Evolutionary Origins: The widespread presence of the Big Five traits across cultures suggests that these traits are deeply rooted in human biology and evolution.

Psychology Concepts

Two-Factor Theory

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Lightning Decision Jam

The theory was developed by psychologist Edwin Locke who also has a background in motivation and leadership research. Locke’s goal-setting theory of motivation provides a framework for setting effective and motivating goals. Locke was able to demonstrate that goal setting was linked to performance.

SOAR Analysis

A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

Hoffman Process

The Hoffman Process was developed by American psychotherapist Bob Hoffman in 1967. The Hoffman Process is a tool used to help individuals identify negative behaviors and moods developed unconsciously during childhood. Hoffman recognized that during childhood, we imitate our parents to win their love and receive attention. Specifically, we embody aspects of their moods, attitudes, belief systems, spoken expressions, and even gestures. But if we grow up feeling unloved by our parents, we may later develop behaviors and moods that hinder our ability to show affection toward others.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

fixed mindset believes their intelligence and talents are fixed traits that cannot be developed. The two mindsets were developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck while studying human motivation. Both mindsets are comprised of conscious and subconscious thought patterns established at a very young age. In adult life, they have profound implications for personal and professional success. Individuals with a growth mindset devote more time and effort to achieving difficult goals and by extension, are less concerned with the opinions or abilities of others. Individuals with a fixed mindset are sensitive to criticism and may be preoccupied with proving their talents to others.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger

Read Next: HeuristicsBiases.

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