Personality: The Big 5

Hello! My name is Dr. Rob Austin McKee, professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership, here with MGT.EDU, the open access business school. In this video, we will be discussing personality, specifically the Big 5 constructs of Extroversion, Introversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, Emotional Stability, and Neuroticism. We will provide some definitions as well as some examples and discuss the practical importance of these concepts. Si hablas español, tenemos una versión en español de este video disponible en el canal de YouTube MGT.EDU. A transcript of this video is available on my website,

So, what is personality? I mean, we take the little online personality quizzes that tell us which Game of Thrones characters we are, or which Harry Potter characters, or the colors of our auras or whatever. Or maybe we are asked to take a personality inventory for some class we take or as part of the interview process when we are applying for a job. But, what’s the point of these quizzes and inventories? What are they trying to tell us? What is personality?

Well, broadly, personality represents our relatively stable patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. In other words, personality is one of the primary reasons why we are the way we are and do the things we do. Personality is multidimensional, meaning there are different parts of it. We call these parts traits. It’s a matter of debate how many traits there are, how stable they are over time or across cultures, and how best to measure them. As such, there are various frameworks you can adopt to examine personality.

For instance, the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, has four dimensions, each with two types. If you consider all the possible combinations, it will classify you as one of 16 personality types. You have probably heard of the types even if you haven’t heard of the test itself. If you’ve ever been on Tinder or any of the other dating apps, you have undoubtedly seen people post the 4-letter MBTI personality types in their descriptions, something like, “I’m an INTJ and I’d really like to meet an ESFP. Lol.” The MBTI is fun but not necessarily meaningful for a lot of reasons that are probably beyond the scope of this video. So, in short, we generally don’t prefer it. The more commonly accepted personality inventory is the Big 5. It’s called the Big 5 because it measures five dimensions. We are going to talk through those dimensions one at a time as presented by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae in the 1980s and 1990s.

We’ll start with extroversion and introversion, which you’ve probably already heard of. Now, extroversion and introversion are two sides of a single trait or dimension. This dimension is best understood as a spectrum, with most people falling somewhere between the two endpoints of extreme extroversion and extreme introversion. Extroversion is the tendency to be warm, gregarious, assertive, active, positive, and to seek excitement, while introversion is the tendency to be quieter and more introspective and reserved, but not necessarily unfriendly or cold. Extroverts may navigate social hierarchies better and perform better than introverts in certain jobs that require a lot of person-to-person interaction like sales. Conversely, they may perform worse in jobs that require low levels of social interaction. Although extroverts may perform better in interviews because they are more comfortable interacting with new people, they should not necessarily be considered better employees. Rather, as we have already stated, they may perform better in certain roles relative to introverts but perform worse in other roles. Importantly, just because you identify as one or the other does not preclude you from succeeding in a job that requires characteristics normally associated with the other.

Let’s now turn to agreeableness. Agreeableness refers to the degree to which someone is trustful, straightforward, altruistic, compliant, modest, and tender-minded. I’m not entirely sure what the researchers meant by that last phrase, but it’s the term they used. Basically, agreeableness is being nice and compassionate rather than unpleasant and antagonistic. Agreeableness is generally an excellent trait to possess because we like agreeable people. Being nice usually will help you in all aspects of your life.

Next, we’ll examine conscientiousness, another good trait to possess. First, let me say that conscientiousness is the trickiest trait to remember and the one you’re most likely to mess up on an exam. A lot of people think it has to do with one’s conscience, the inner voice guiding people in determining morally good behaviors from morally bad ones, or even consciousness, being awake and aware. However, conscientiousness is associated with being competent, orderly, dutiful, achievement-striving, self-disciplined, and deliberative. Basically, it describes someone who gets things done the right way. Someone low on conscientiousness might be described as lazy, disorganized, and unreliable. Conscientiousness is the personality trait most highly associated with job performance across a variety of occupations.

Now we’ll discuss openness to experience. It refers to the degree to which someone is imaginative, creative, intellectual, curious, has an appreciation and sensitivity to beauty, feels deeply, and seeks out the unfamiliar. As such, people who are open to experience are better at adapting to change but may become bored or impatient with routine. Openness to experience usually declines over our lifetimes. Also, openness is the single trait that most readily distinguishes people who are politically liberal or progressive from those who are politically conservative. Progressives are more open to trying new things to see if they are better than our current systems or policies, while conservatives are more inclined to maintain the status quo based on the contention that our current systems and policies, although perhaps not perfect, are functioning well enough and we are just as likely to make them better as to make them worse. Believe it or not, we benefit by having both perspectives present in our governmental and organizational bodies because, ideally, that would lead to general stability with incremental improvements.

Finally, let’s discuss emotional stability and neuroticism. Like extroversion and introversion, emotional stability and neuroticism are two sides of the same coin. Emotional stability refers to the degree to which someone is calm, cool, and collected, while neuroticism is the degree to which someone is anxious, hostile, depressed, self-conscious, impulsive, and vulnerable. Obviously, emotional stability is preferred to neuroticism, and neurotic people may experience more work-related problems compared to their emotionally stable counterparts, including lower job satisfaction, higher stress, and fewer professional relationships.

If you’re looking for an easy way to remember these 5 traits, the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE might help you. In both cases, the E is extroversion and the N is neuroticism. I think you can figure out the other letters.

If you have taken or someday take a personality inventory, please be careful how you interpret the results. Most online personality tests are not good for anything beyond entertainment. If you want some useful insights into your personality, make sure you take a valid and reliable inventory like the Big 5. Even then, there are a lot of fraudulent versions of the Big 5 floating around on the internet. Also, please don’t take your test results as a prescription for how you must act. In other words, don’t let the test results limit you. If the test shows that you are introverted but you really want a job in sales, go for it. I believe that you can learn to emulate extroverted behaviors. But be aware that the job may be more stressful for you than for your naturally extroverted counterparts.

Thanks for watching. I hope you found this video informative and at least mildly entertaining. If so, smash that like and subscribe to the channel. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, or you just want to say hi, please leave us a comment below. Again, my name is Dr. Rob Austin McKee with MGT.EDU. See you nerds in the next video!