Five Factor Theory

One of the long held has been to establish a model that can conveniently describe human personality and disorders therein, with the intent to use this model in the remedying of personality disorders and improving general understanding of personality. Currently, a handful of models have risen to prominence, and have thus far stood the test of time. Some models are more generally accepted than others. Support for some models seems to come and go in cycles.

One of the more prominent models in contemporary psychology is what is known as the five-factor model of personality. This theory incorporates five different variables into a conceptual model for describing personality. These five different factors are often referred to as the “Big 5”. The five-factor theory is among the newest models developed for the description of personality, and this model shows promise to be among the most practical and applicable models available in the field of personality psychology.

Thorough critical attention is given to the proposal that the five-factor model is in fact a great theory. As it became evident to many psychologists that, mathematically, combinations of five factors were useful in describing personality, there was a need to clearly define what these factors were. Indeed, this process led to some dissent in the ranks. One dissenter from the five-factor theorists was renowned psychologist H. J. Eysenck. Eysenck felt that, due to overlaps in the five factors and their correlates, in fact a three-factor model was more appropriate and accurate.

His theory is called the PEN model (which stand for psychoticism, extroversion, neuroticism), or sometimes is even shortened to the two factor E-IN model (extroversion-introversion, neuroticism). Many psychologists support Eysenck’s PEN model. However, of the major “factor-analytic models… the Big Five dominates the landscape of current psychological research” (Ewen, 1998, p. 141). Through extensive debating and experimenting, there is currently a general consensus in the realms of scholarly psychology as to the identity of the five factors, and their basic interpretations and values to analysis of personality.

The five factors are extroversion-introversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Extroversion has long been one of the traits that has appeared in factor-analytic models, and is one of the two traits to appear in both the five-factor model and Eysenck’s PEN and E-IN models. Extroversion also is sometimes referred to as social adaptability, though the popularity of this term seems to be waning. Extroversion is defined as a trait characterized by a keen interest in other people and external events, and venturing forth with confidence into the unknown.

Neuroticism is the other trait to play a role in most of the contemporary factor models for personality. In some studies, adjustment is examined as a factor, instead of neuroticism. In this case, higher scores will indicate a positive result, consistent with the other four factors. This is because the term neuroticism has an inherent negative denotation (Bradshaw, 1997). The bases of neuroticism are levels of anxiety and volatility. Within these bounds, neuroticism is a dimension of personality defined by stability and low anxiety at one end as opposed to instability and high anxiety at the other end.

Openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are all terms with which most people outside the realm of psychology are familiar. In general, openness refers to how willing people are to make adjustments in notions and activities in accordance with new ideas or situations. Agreeableness measures how compatible people are with other people, or basically how able they are to get along with others. Conscientiousness refers to how much a person considers others when making decisions. As with the two factors in the big five from Eysenck’s E-IN, these three are also placed on sliding scales.

These three scales, like neuroticism and extroversion, slide between their limits to give a clear picture of personality. The limits of these scales give a clear idea of their applications and are defined as trusting and helpful versus suspicious and uncooperative (agreeableness), hard working and reliable versus lazy and careless (conscientiousness), and nonconformist and creative versus conventional and down-to-earth (openness). Never the less, there are many other theorist who have evaluated the five factor theory in a much boarder aspect.

These researchers began by studying all known personality traits and then factor- analyzing hundreds of measures of these traits in self-report and questionnaire data, peer rating and objective measures from experimental settings in order to find the basic, underlying factors of personality. The big five factors of personality are five broad domains or dimensions of personality which have been scientifically discovered to define human personality at the highest level of the organization. These five over-arching domains have been found to ontain and subsume more or less all known personality traits within their five domains and to represent the basic structure behind all personality traits. They have brought order to the often-bewildering array of specific lower level personality concepts that are constantly being proposed by psychologists, which are often found to be overlapping and confusing. These five factors provide a rich conceptual frame work for integrating all the research findings and theory in personality psychology.

Three sets of researchers have worked independently for decades on this problem and have indentified generally the same Five Factors. They are Goldberg at the Oregon Research Institute, Cattell at the University of Illinois, and Costa and McCrae at the National Institutes of Health. These three sets of researchers used somewhat different methods in finding the five traits, and thus each set of five factors has somewhat different names and definitions. However, all three sets have been found to be highly inter-correlated and factor-analytically aligned.

The Big Five Factors are commonly known as Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, also Known as ocean or canoe. Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. The trait distinguishes imaginative people from down-to-earth conventional people. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people more creative and more aware of their feeling.

They are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs. In addition, people with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interest. They prefer the plain, straight forward and obvious over the complex, ambiguous and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion, regarding these endeavours as abstruse or of no practical use. Close people prefer familiarity over novelty. They are conservative and resistant to change. Conscientiousness is the tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully and aim for achievement.

The trait shows a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behaviour. It influences the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses. Conscientiousness includes the factor known as Need for Achievement or NAch. It is obvious that the benefits of conscientiousness are high. Conscientious individuals avoid trouble and achieve high levels of success through purposeful planning and persistence. They are also positively regarded by others as intelligent and reliable. On the negative side, they can be compulsive perfectionists and workaholics.

Extraversion is characterized by positive emotions, surgency and the tendency to seek out stimulation and the company of others. The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action oriented individuals who are likely to say “I most certainly will! ” or “Come on let’s go! ” to opportunities that will excite them. When placed in groups they are likely the first to talk, and assert themselves, just to draw attention to themselves.

However, Introverts lack the exuberance, energy and activity levels of extraverts. These individuals tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less involved in society. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression. Introverts simply need less stimulation than extraverts and more time alone.  Agreeableness is a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. The trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony.

Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, friendly, generous, helpful and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent and trustworthy. On the other hand, disagreeable individuals place self-interst above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well being and are less likely to extend themselves for other people.

Sometimes their scepticism about others’ motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly and uncooperative. Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety or depression. Emotional instability it is sometime called. Individuals who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood.

These problems in emotional regulation can diminish the ability of a person scoring high on neuroticism to think clearly, make decisions and cope effectively with stress. However, on the other end of the scale, those who score low in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. These individuals tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings. Frequency of positive emotions is a component of the Extraversion domain.

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