The "Big Five" Personality Traits. Who's in Your Family?

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Philosophers and people in general have been interested in personality characteristics for many centuries. Over the past 30 years, psychologists have been able to arrive at a consensus regarding the main personality variables seen in most people. Factor analytic studies have led to a wide spread consensus around the belief that there are five broad dimensions of personality. The so-called “Big Five” personality traits include:

  1. Openness to experience
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion
  4. Agreeableness towards others
  5. Emotional stability

People who are “open to experience” are more intellectually oriented, curious, and exploratory in nature. People low on this dimension tend to be more conservative and less likely to engage in novel experiences and entertain new ideas.

People who are “conscientious” are more likely to be systematic, methodical, disciplined and achievement oriented. People low on this dimension tend to be more creative and spontaneous in orientation.

Extroverted people gravitate towards others and show a great deal of positive socially oriented energy. People low on this dimension, more specifically introverts, are more likely to appreciate being alone and tend to dislike crowds.

“Agreeable” individuals tend to value getting along with and pleasing others. They tend to be more positive and cooperative in orientation. Persons low on this dimension tend to be more suspicious and antagonistic. They are not as concerned about what others think of them.

“Neuroticism”, the last of the big five, refers to how emotionally reactive a person is. People high on this trait tend to fluctuate easily between feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety, and jealousy. People low on this dimension tend to be more stoic or less emotionally reactive.

Knowing your personality tendencies and those of your family members can aid mutual understanding, help predict potential conflicts, and lead to solutions in conflictual situations that do not involve assigning blame to one person or another.

For instance, a spouse who is less open to experience and more introverted is less likely to be interested in travel. For the partner on the opposite end of these traits who loves travelling, it can sometimes be difficult to avoid being critical and judgmental.

Similarly, your "conscientious" and "agreeable" sibling may not appreciate your desire to show up at church in shorts and a tee-shirt returning dirty looks to people who don't approve of them. If you also disapprove of the behaviour, your sibling may feel that you care more about making others happy and following arbitrary rules than accepting him or her.

Understanding personality differences can help us learn to accept each other for who we are.

You can read more about the "Big Five" Personality Traits here.

Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.