There are thousands of adjectives in the English language that may be used to refer to personality traits. However, one psychological taxonomy, called the Big Five Personality Factors, designates descriptions into one of five broad categories of trait markers, with each specific trait falling somewhere between two extremes. Oliver John, University of California Berkeley’s Personality Lab director, refers to the Big Five traits by the acronym OCEAN: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Big Five Taxonomy
Oliver John’s development of a general taxonomy of personality traits answered a question that had troubled personality researchers for decades: Which traits were most important to investigate? Based on trends in people’s mental states, behavioral expression and experiences, he and other researching psychologists managed to whittle down the Big Five Model as the generally accepted paradigm for personality analysis. ne 2003 study, led by psychologist Sanjay Srivastava, found that the Big Five traits derived from a variety of developmental influences and were subject to lifelong change -- usually in the direction of greater maturity over time. Other versions of this taxonomy include the Five-Factor Model of Personality and Social Investment Theory.
The openness trait marker categorizes personality qualities that refer to an individual's depth of interests, insights and creativity. Qualities fitting within this category may range anywhere between the extremes of open and closed. Positive examples, falling more toward the open extreme, include creative, philosophical, innovative, introspective, analytical, knowledgeable, perspicacious and studious. Negative examples, falling more toward the closed extreme, include: unintelligent, unimaginative, unsophisticated, incurious, narrow-minded, cynical, one-sided and know-it-all.
Traits in the conscientiousness pertain to the level of care and consideration people put into everyday matters, with descriptions ranging from conscientious to disorganized. Positive examples, falling more toward the conscientious extreme, include thorough, efficient, steady, prompt, responsible, economical, calculable and fastidious. Negative examples, falling more toward the disorganized extreme, include careless, unsystematic, impractical, haphazard, imprudent, negligent, impulsive and indecisive.
The extraversion trait marker categorizes qualities referring to people’s inclinations toward social and asocial behaviors. Relevant descriptions range from those indicating extroversion to those indicating introversion. Traits falling closer to the extroversion extreme include: assertive, talkative, bold, daring, confident, aggressive, gregarious and vivacious. Traits falling closer to the introversion extreme include: shy, reserved, inhibited, unadventurous, inward, detached, taciturn and aloof.
The agreeableness trait marker refers to the quality and spirit of a person’s interpersonal relations. Adjectives in this category may range from agreeable to antagonistic. Positive characteristics, closer to the agreeableness extreme, include sympathetic, trustful, generous, benevolent, cheerful, fair-minded, kind-hearted and judicious. Negative characteristics, closer to the antagonistic extreme, include cold, harsh, rude and selfish, brusque, combative, explosive and fussy.
The neuroticism trait refers to characteristics that captures a person’s degree of emotional stability. Relevant descriptions range from neurotic to emotionally stable. On the positive side, nearer to emotional stability, are imperturbable, undemanding, unexcitable, optimistic, patient, laid-back, trustful and carefree. On the negative side, nearer to neuroticism, are irritable, jealous, insecure, vindictive, hypersensitive, self-conscious, nervous.
- Berkeley Personality Lab; The Big Five Model of Personality Traits; Oliver P. John
- "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology"; Development of Personality in Early and Middle Adulthood: Set Like Plaster or Persistent Change?; Sanjay Srivastava, et al.; 2003
- Emotional Competency; Personality Traits; Leland R. Beaumont
- University of Oregon - The Personality and Social Dynamics Lab; Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors; Sanjay Srivastava
- "Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research"; Oliver P. John, et al.; 2008
- Emotional Competency: Trait Adjectives; Leland R. Beaumont
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images