29 October 2012

The Big Five

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 2:19 pm

Who are you? Here’s a quick-and-dirty “Big Five” personality inventory that will answer your question:

Big Five Personality Test

Though I’ve not read the primary sources, it’s my understanding that the Five Factor Model has received stronger empirical support than alternative formulations. The Big Five are conveniently summarized as the acronym OCEAN:

Last week when I completed the questionnaire I discovered that I’m extremely open and extremely disagreeable. I disagree with that assessment, but I’ll keep an open mind about it.

[Cartoon cribbed from the Beings Akin blog, Definitions page.]



  1. I’m curious what you make of this…

    When I take a personality test (and especially one related to either the “big five” or Myers-Briggs characteristics), I have a lot of trouble answering the questions, because I seem to have different traits in different situations.

    For example, I am shy to an almost debilitating degree, and I’m very nervous, reserved and quiet in new situations or when I’m among strangers. But when I’m with people I know well, I’m talkative, expressive, and relatively relaxed (though I almost always feel I’ve embarrassed myself in some way in almost every interaction), and I very often end up in a leadership position if I’ve been with a company for a while.

    Another example is conscientiousness. I am careless and absent-minded about a lot of day-to-day things. I forget appointments if I haven’t set an alert. I drive somewhere else besides my destination because I’m thinking about something else. I leave keys, tools, and other objects around and forget where I’ve left them. I forget to call people back. Etc., etc. But when it comes to projects – whether it’s code, fiction, or handiwork – I’m much more meticulous and perfectionist.


    Comment by Asher Kay — 29 October 2012 @ 8:44 pm

  2. I’m not totally sold on the self-report personality inventories, in part for the reason you identify, Asher — person x situation interactions. A good questionnaire would take these variations into account; e.g., by asking whether you feel comfortable among strangers, then asking a separate question about whether you are gregarious among friends. More reliable results would be obtained by putting people in particular situations to see how they react. Still, these variations by situation would wind up getting averaged across situations, which results in important loss of information. No doubt there are researchers pulling apart the surveys to look at item-specific results more precisely. There’s also evidence suggesting that others who know us well are better judges of our character than we are ourselves. People may like to think of themselves in ways that aren’t all that accurate.

    On a thread last month I quoted Henry James: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” This sense of character as a persistent subjective essence seems suspect nowadays. I wonder whether situations can be categorized along the same 5 dimensions as personalities. E.g., an assembly line is a situation low in openness and high in conscientiousness; a combat zone is high in neuroticism. I.e., to invert James, incident often determines character.

    Personality research was out of favor when I was in grad school, largely because the dominant paradigms emphasized environmental impacts on human thought and behavior. Personality has seen a revival as psych research has consistently demonstrated the importance of genetics across a wide range of characteristics. About 50% of the variation in Big Five personality scores can be attributed statistically to heritability, even with the gross clumping of responses across situations. Our daughter compared her personality inventory results to Anne’s and mine and found that she roughly split the difference between her parents on most of the factors.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 October 2012 @ 10:43 pm

  3. Amusingly, daughter K, who writes, fiction, subjects her characters to these online personality inventories; i.e., she answers the questions as if she were the character. Her instrument of choice is the Myers-Briggs, perhaps because the constructs are more interior: ways of thinking, perceiving, feeling, etc. Four of the Big Five factors address characteristic ways of interacting with the world (openness, conscientiousness) and with people (extraversion, agreeableness).


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 October 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  4. I’ve previously mentioned that lately I prefer engaging strangers in conversation than talking with friends and family. I wonder if this is an interaction effect across two factors: extraversion x openness to the unfamiliar. Per Asher’s self-report he manifests the opposite interaction effect, being more talkative with familiar people and in unfamiliar situations.


    Comment by ktismatics — 31 October 2012 @ 7:49 am

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