One of the most important elements of personality theory is that people possess specific personality traits. Traits such as sociable, depressed, cautious, and talkative represent clusters of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that allow us to identify, differentiate, and understand people.
The most widely respected model of personality traits is the five-factor model (FFM). Several decades ago, personality experts identified more than 17,000 words in Roget’s thesaurus and Webster’s dictionary that describe an individual’s personality. These words were aggregated into 171 clusters and then further reduced to five abstract personality dimensions. Using more sophisticated techniques, recent investigations identified the same five personality dimensions. Analyses of trait words in several other languages have produced strikingly similar results, although they also lend support for the notion of six or possibly seven dimensions of personality. Generally, though, the five-factor model is fairly robust across cultures.
Five-factor model (FFM): The five abstract dimensions representing most personality traits: conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness, and extroversion represented by the handy acronyms CANOE or OCEAN.
Conscientiousness characterizes people who are careful, dependable, and self-disciplined. Some scholars argue that this dimension also includes the will to achieve. People with low conscientiousness tend to be careless, less thorough, more disorganized, and irresponsible. Common features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. Those high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details.
This dimension includes the traits of being courteous, good-natured, empathic, and caring. Some scholars prefer the label “friendly compliance” for this dimension, with its opposite being “hostile noncompliance.” People with low agreeableness tend to be uncooperative, short-tempered, and irritable. This personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other pro-social behaviors.
Neuroticism characterizes people with high levels of anxiety, hostility, depression, and self-consciousness. In contrast, people with low neuroticism (high emotional stability) are poised, secure, and calm. Individuals high in this trait tend to experience emotional instability, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, and sadness.
Openness to experience
This dimension is the most complex and has the least agreement among scholars. It generally refers to the extent to which people are imaginative, creative, curious, and aesthetically sensitive. Those who score low on this dimension tend to be more resistant to change, less open to new ideas, and more conventional and fixed in their ways. This trait features characteristics such as imagination and insight, and those high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests.
Extroversion characterizes people who are outgoing, talkative, sociable, and assertive. The opposite is introversion, which characterizes those who are quiet, shy, and cautious. Extroverts get their energy from the outer world (people and things around them), whereas introverts get their energy from the internal world, such as personal reflection on concepts and ideas. Introverts do not necessarily lack social skills. Rather, they are more inclined to direct their interests to ideas than to social events. Introverts feel quite comfortable being alone, whereas extroverts do not. This trait includes characteristics such as excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness and high amounts of emotional expressiveness.