The Big Five: another personality assessment tool to geek out about.

The Big Five: another personality assessment tool to geek out about.

I’m a huge geek when it comes to the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator and the enneagram, and one of my goals for the year was to learn more about another model of understanding personality: the Big Five.

Corporate culture loves MBTI, and spiritual directors love the enneagram, but psychologists have long been squeamish about both, calling them tools for amateurs and laymen. The Big Five is a tool of their own making, and it measures personality across five broad factors. They are:

  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Openness
  • Neuroticism (sometimes reversed and called Emotional Stability)

(These five traits are often referred to using the acronym CANOE or OCEAN, which helps me remember them.)

I just finished reading Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality by Hannah Holmes, which provided a decent introduction to the five-factor model for non-scientists like myself. (It didn’t blow me away, but it was the only book I could find on the subject.)

When I finished Quirk, I took yet another personality test–a five factor assessment, this time.

I have a love/hate relationship with personality tests. I love geeking out over the results, but because I’m a terrible decision maker, making two hundred tiny decisions in a row is torture! And I’m not great at answering these questions correctly about my own personality. (I can’t help it, I’m a nine. And an INFP.)

Nevertheless, I muddled through, and my results strike me as reasonably accurate: I scored low on extraversion, high on agreeableness and openness to experience, and average for conscientiousness and neuroticism.

I’m planning on doing some more reading on the Big Five this year. Do you have any recommendations for books or articles? Send them my way.

(For more info on Myers-Briggs, including a link to a free test, head here. This is my favorite book on MBTI, and this is a readable primer on the enneagram.)

Take the test for the five factor model of personality here.

Have you heard of the Big Five before? How did you come out on the test, and does it strike you as accurate? 

P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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32 comments

    • Anne says:

      No! I’ve searched my email and can’t find it anywhere! (That’s not at all the same as Dressing Your Truth, right? Because I do have that bookmarked to look at soon.)

      • Kait M says:

        Personality by Daniel Nettle is a good book that does a great job discussing the personality types as well as explaining its validity 🙂

  1. Amy says:

    I’ve never heard of it, but I just took it and it seems to be pretty accurate:

    High introversion
    High Agreeableness
    High Conscientious
    Average Neuroticism
    Low Openness to Experience

    I was a little surprised about the last one except I have found even though I like new things, I thrive with routine.

    • Yeah, that was my first thought too! Instead of closed-minded, one can talk about being loyal to things that work. Or a satisficer. Disagreeable could also refer to someone willing to fight for what they think is right. Some people view “disorganized” as more spontaneous. The way this is set up it seems that there’s a right answer that you should want to be.

      • Anne says:

        I know! Who would want to be neurotic? Although Quirk does go to great pains to point out that the reason a plethora of personality types exists is that as a society, all have their usefulness. And that even positive sounding traits like “agreeableness” don’t mean–in the literature–what we expect them to mean.

        • Jennifer H says:

          Exactly.I was high on neuroticism (sp?) and I am just not sure about that. I think I do tend to get easily anxious or overwhelmed by unexpected events, but I have learned how to quickly overcome and adapt, so I don’t think people generally view me as easily upset. Anyway, the other areas seemed pretty accurate to me.

          Also, I retook the Myers Briggs and two of my letters have changed since the last time I took it. I wonder if I have changed or if some of those questions were hard to understand.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Well, of course I had to do the test right away! I scored low on extraversion, high on agreeableness, and average on the other three. None of that surprised me too much, though I thought I’d be a little lower on neuroticism (don’t we all?).

    And that leads me to the names given to the categories. “Low on extraversion” means high on introversion, right? So already they are privileging extraversion as the norm on which one is measured and found high or low. And obviously there’s a problem with choosing a loaded word like “neuroticism” as the name for the fifth category; sure, it’s easier to remember CANOE than CAEOE, but who wants to be seen as high on neuroticism?? It seems to me that all these tests have difficulty with the connotations of the names they use: e.g. Myers-Briggs has “judging-perceiving” which is really vague and has a pejorative element (I don’t want to be seen as “judging” just because I like structure!).

    I think I might just go back to “What Jane Austen character are you”? 😀

  3. Leigh Kramer says:

    The Big Five didn’t ring any bells but then you mentioned OCEAN and that certainly sounds familiar. Maybe from my grad school days or a seminar. I’m not entirely sure. I do know I’ve never taken the test. Love how psychologists demean MBTI and enneagram, as if there isn’t a whole body of research and training behind those theories. 😉

  4. Tim says:

    Interesting test, Anne, and no surprises for me:
    Heavy on the introversion
    Heavy on agreeableness (I like to think I’m agreeable, anyway!)
    More conscientious than not
    More emotionally stable than not
    More open to experience than not

    If someone really wants to know my personality, though, all they need to do is read the description of John Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma:

    Mr. John Knightley was a … gentleman-like, and very clever man; rising in his profession, domestic, and respectable in his private character; but with reserved manners which prevented his being generally pleasing; and capable of being sometimes out of humour. He was not an ill-tempered man, not so often unreasonably cross as to deserve such a reproach; but his temper was not his great perfection; and, … had all the clearness and quickness of mind … and he could sometimes act an ungracious, or say a severe thing.

    Yep, that’s how I score (except perhaps being slightly more agreeable than he … very slightly) in the Jane Austen personality profile!

    Tim

    • Bonnie-Jean says:

      Love it that I’m not the only one who reads Austen and identifies which character would best describe me! I go one step further though and and also have a character that I wish I was more like. I always love reading your comments here Tim. Do you have a blog?

      • Tim says:

        Thanks, Bonnie-Jean. I think I’d rather be Henry Tilney than John Knightley, but I’ll take what I can get.

        I do blog. Just click on my name above and you’ll go directly to it,

    • Tim says:

      When I took the MBTI the administrator provided specialized insights for what it meant for someone in my field. It wasn’t mere psycho-babble, but real life application based on several years the administrator spent working in and studying my profession in particular. So that was not only cool but very helpful. (Here’s my post on trial court judges and Myers-Briggs.)

      Cheers,
      Tim

    • Anne says:

      I wrote about it here, but basically it’s hugely helpful for me in giving myself grace, structuring my days in a way that sets me up for success, and being alert to the things that tend to trip me up. And then when it comes to my relationships with others, understanding personality stuff has been a huge empathy booster for me and makes me very aware of where I tend to shine and where I tend to fall short in my relationships with others, and that helps me be a better wife/friend/parent/neighbor. In a nutshell. 🙂

  5. Ana says:

    Low on extraversion, high on EVERY OTHER ONE. But there were so many disparate parts of each of the “big five”, and when looking at the results I was super-high on some parts, and extremely low on others…it seemed very simplistic to lump all those together and average them out. And yes, I agree with those above that a lot of these terms used in this and other tests are not neutral terms. “neurotic”, “judging”—these are generally considered negative in our culture (and yes, I scored high on both!)

  6. MJ says:

    I have heard of this before but I’ve never taken the test or read much about it (until now).

    I’m:

    Low on extraversion (0 is pretty low, right?)
    Low on agreeableness
    High on conscientiousness
    High on neuroticism (98!!!)
    Low on openness

    This surprises me NOT AT ALL. It just sort of reinforces things that I already knew about myself, not all of which are flattering 😉

  7. Angie says:

    Okay, this is probably a ridiculous question, but

    “but because I’m a terrible decision maker, making two hundred tiny decisions in a row is torture! And I’m not great at answering these questions correctly about my own personality.”

    does this indicate P rather than J in Myer-Briggs? I also took the big five quiz, and found it shockingly accurate for myself.

  8. Bonnie-Jean says:

    Thanks Anne. Until I read about the personality assessment tools on your blog, I’d only thought they were something used in the corporate world (which I’m not involved in) and so thought they had no relevance to me. I’ve since done the MBTI and just now The Big 5 and found them really helpful in understanding myself better. I’m still working through how to then apply what I’ve learnt about myself to the way I organise my days and to my relationships but I’ve found it almost freeing to be able to say ‘this is who I am & let’s take it from there’!

  9. I too love/hate them. I’ve gotten really into Strengths Finder and I really like that. I think sometimes my struggle with MBTI is that there is often a some type bashing and that frustrates me. Have you done the Strengths Finder?

  10. Betsy says:

    Really interesting overview of the tests, Anne. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the comments as well. I’m a Myers-Briggs fan, have taken it 3 times in 20 years and come out an ENTJ each time.

    I agree with what others have said that some of the terms, like “disagreeable, closed minded, and neurotic definitely have negative connotations. I’m headed now to take the test and find out just how neurotic I am! 🙂

  11. Jessica says:

    Ahhhh, this is interesting. I’ve been diving into the Enneagram for a while now and really feel like it’s the first personality test I’ve taken that really helps me think through myself and my strengths and weaknesses – and how I interact with my husband – with a lot of clarity. I’ll give this a try too 🙂

  12. Denise says:

    Average Extrovert
    Average Agreeableness
    Low Conscientiousness
    Low Neuroticism
    Average on Open to Experience

    So, I could, really, I just can’t work up enough energy to care? I think my test results reflect me certainly, but they’re also tilted by the fact that I just can’t work up allot of energy right now to care about my main “job”, housework. I don’t live in a hovel, I promise, I just don’t care RIGHT NOW. I am genuinely not a worried person though. I can occisionally drive my hubby nuts. I just have to work off of his Neuroticism and Conscientiousness (he tends to have an average to high level of both) and move on.

  13. Liz says:

    I’m high on extraversion,
    have average agreeableness (really low modesty!!),
    am averagely conscientious (even though my grade-school report cards always said I was a ‘conscientious and diligent student.’),
    low on neuroticism (although the anger is solidly average),
    and am highly open to experience. I liked this test, although (with no modesty) I’d really like to consider myself agreeable! I liked that the test was not at all wordy.
    Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Anne! I like your blog a lot. Maybe I’ll become a regular to your conversations, beyond complaining about my 6am morning visitors!

    • Anne says:

      One of the most frustrating things about the test–to me–is that words like “agreeable” don’t mean what I expect them to mean in this setting.

      Thanks for sharing your results! And by all means, stop on back by anytime. 🙂

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