The Big Five Personality Traits (OCEAN Model of Personality) Explained

The Big Five Personality Traits

Many psychologists used factor analysis to reduce the number of primary dimensions of personality known as the Big Five Personality Traits or Model, or the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality. The names of the Big Five form a good acronym to remember them as OCEAN or CANOE. Thus, it is also known as the OCEAN model of personality.

The big five personality traits are:

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism or Emotional Instability

Describing the big five factors:


Extroversion refers to the main direction of a person’s energies, towards the outer world of material objects and other people. The key features of extrovert people are:

  • Warmth
  • Gregariousness
  • Assertiveness
  • Activity
  • Excitement seeking
  • Positive emotion

Extroverts are the people who show themselves as talkative, frank, open, adventurous, sociable, assertive, gregarious, highly active and have good skills in using humor. They like excitement and stimulation, tending to be energetic and optimistic. Extroversion is indicated by affirmative answers to questions like “Do you like to have many social engagements?” and “Would you consider yourself as a happy-go-lucky individual?”

Introversion is just the opposite of extroversion. Introversion refers to the inner world of one’s own thoughts and feelings. People who score at the lower end of the extroversion scale are introverts. Introverts tend to be described as solitary, quiet, having low energy, reserved, cautious, serious, and timid.


People who score high on agreeableness are described as good-natured, not jealous, mild, gentle, cooperative, altruistic, sympathetic, straightforward, warm, and considerate. Other people can trust them. The key features are:

  • Trust
  • Straight-forwardness
  • Altruism
  • Compliance
  • Modesty
  • Tenderness

People who score low on agreeableness are irritable, jealous, suspicious, unsympathetic, negativistic, cold, disagreeable, and antagonistic.


People with high conscientiousness are tidy, responsible, scrupulous, and preserving. The individuals have organizing qualities, are dependable, competent responsible, persistent, and reasonable. The key features are:

  • Competence
  • Order
  • Dutifulness
  • Achievement striving
  • Self-discipline
  • Deliberation

Conscientious people are likely to get things done, exhibit highly ethical behavior, and have a high level of aspiration. They show themselves as dutiful, achievement striving, and self-disciplined. People who score low are described as disorganized, careless, inefficient, and undependable. They are unscrupulous, fickle, easily distracted, and unreliable.

Neuroticism or Emotional Instability

People who score high on the neuroticism scale are basically anxious, nervous, insecure, and depressed. They have negative emotions like anger, guilt, disgust, and hostility and can not control emotions, impulses and have a fluctuating mood. The key features are:

  • Anxiety
  • Angry hostility
  • Depression
  • Self-consciousness
  • Impulsivity
  • Vulnerability

Emotionally unstable people are concerned about personal adequacy, prone to irrational ideas, and less able to cope with stress. They are likely to say “yes” to questions like “Do you feel just miserable for no good reason at all?” or “Do you often feel discouraged?” People at the other end of the emotional instability spectrum are emotionally stable. At this end of the spectrum, people are calm, self-satisfied, comfortable with themselves, confident, secure, poised, and composed.

Openness To Experience

People who score high on this dimension are curious about unfamiliar surroundings and are likely to go exploring to gain knowledge and understanding about their unfamiliar environments. Key features are:

  • Fantasy (active fantasy life)
  • Aesthetics (artistic interests)
  • Feelings (emotionally open)
  • Ideas (intellectual)
  • Values (unconventional)

Openness people are artistically sensitive, intellectual, creative, polished, refined, and imaginative. They are highly introspective and report well. People who score low are described as artistically insensitive, unreflective, narrow, crude, simple, direct, performing a routine, and not intellectually oriented.

Application of Big Five Personality Model

Many psychologists consider the Big five model as the most important development in recent personality research. Studies have shown that these traits appear in individuals of different races, languages, and cultures. The Big five model was also found to be related to organizational areas. It is extensively used in personnel selection, job performance, and training.

Gregory Hurtz and John Donovan’s (2000) study found out conscientiousness had the highest correlation across occupation with job performance criteria (r=0.14), which was moderate but stable across studies. The result showed that conscientiousness predicted job performance for all occupation groups including architects, engineers, accountants, lawyers, managers, police, skilled, semi-skilled, etc. Those people who were high in conscientiousness were found to be careful, organized, hardworking, dependable, and highly motivated for success in most of the jobs.

Likewise, being emotionally stable, calm, secure, well adjusted, and low in anxiety has a consistent impact on job performance. Agreeableness was found to be an important factor in those jobs that require interpersonal interactions. Being likable, cooperative, and good-natured has a small consistent impact on performance. Extroversion is found to be highly predicted in managerial jobs and influencing sales. Lastly, openness to experience appeared to be effective in training purposes and customer services. These people because of their varied intellectual and exploratory nature can be influencing in guiding and instructing purposes.

These results show that the Big Five dimensions of personality are highly related to predicting job performance.

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