5.3 General Psychology: Do you know the five basic personality traits?

5.3 Describe the five basic personality traits

Five Basic Personality Traits

The five basic personality traits that will be discussed in this chapter are:

  • Openness (O)
  • Conscientiousness (C)
  • Extraversion (E)
  • Agreeableness (A)
  • Neuroticism (N)


These traits were proposed by Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (1987). The five traits are also sometimes called the Big Five. The first letters of the big five spell out the word OCEAN.



Extraversion which is also called extroversion includes qualities like sociability, excitement seeking, energy and positive emotions. Extraverts like being with other people and they like to talk when they are in a group of people. They like people to notice them and they like to assert themselves. Extraverts seem to gain energy when they associate with others.


Introverts on the other hand do not have as much energy as extroverts and are not as active as extraverts. Introverts are quiet, passive and not extremely social. Introverts seem to get energy when they do things alone such as reading a book or watching television. Introverts also seem to get exhausted when they engage in social activities.



Neuroticism is also sometimes called emotional instability and it is the tendency to experience unpleasant emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression easily. Neurotic people respond emotionally to events that would not affect many people. In addition, the way they react is stronger than normal and their negative emotional reactions last for very long periods of time therefore they are usually in a bad mood. Neurotics will also see ordinary situations as threatening and small frustrations as very big problems. They will therefore not be able to cope well with stress and will not be able to think clearly.


The oppposite of neuroticism is emotional stability. These people get less easily upset and are not very emotionally reactive. They are calm and do not have lasting negative feelings.



This means paying attention to details, being thorough, precise, meticulous and careful. During job interviews for example, employers check whether the people being interviewed are neatly dressed, have combed their hair and polished their shoes. These are some of the ways the employers can tell if the interviewee is conscientious or not. Conscientiousness is a tendency to have planned rather than spontaneous behaviour, be self disciplined and aim for achievement.


Conscientiousness is basically the way people control, regulate and direct their urges. There are advantages of being conscientiousness for example, conscientious individuals avoid trouble and become successful because they plan and are persistent. Other people also see them as intelligent and reliable. However, conscientiousness people can be workaholic and always want everything to be perfect. Some people may also think conscientious people are boring.


Unconscientious people are the opposite of conscientious people. They tend to be unreliable and they are not ambitious. However, unconscientious people are never called boring by other people and they sometimes have a lot of fun.



This is a tendency to be compassionate and co-operative. It means not being suspicious or hostile to others. Agreeable people tend to be optimistic. They believe people are generally honest, decent and trustworthy. Agreeable people also believe it is important to be able to get along with others therefore they are friendly, helpful, generous, considerate and willing to meet other people’s interests halfway.


On the other hand, disagreeable people are more interested in achieving their own interests than getting along with other people. They do not care about other people and their doubts about other peoples’ intentions make them suspicious, uncooperative and unfriendly.


People usually like agreeable people more than disagreeable ones therefore agreeable people tend to be more popular. However, agreeableness is not useful in situations where one has to be tough for example, disagreeable people are better soldiers than agreeable people.



Openness includes appreciation for art, emotion, adventures, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity and a variety of experiences. Openness differentiates creative, imaginative people from common people because open people are intellectually curious, sensitive to beauty and they appreciate art. Open people are also more aware of their feelings therefore they have unusual and unique ideas.


On the other hand, people who are not open have narrow, ordinary interests and they like plain, obvious and straightforward things. They do not value art and they prefer familiar things rather than new ones. They also like old-fashioned things and do not like to see changes occurring.


Application of information on personality types and temperaments

The information on personality types and temperaments tells us that different people have different personality traits and we should learn to appreciate the different personality traits. For example, parents, teachers and guardians should give extraverts tasks where they can use up their energy and they should encourage introverts to join in more social activities. Introverts should also be praised when they show an interest in these social activities.


Adults and children who are neurotic need to be guided and counselled on how to control their anger and anxiety. Those around them should also avoid annoying them intentionally or arousing feelings of anger in them.


Children should be encouraged to be conscientious and praised for displaying conscientiousness. They should be told of the advantages of being conscientious for example that conscientious individuals are usually able to finish their tasks on time, tend to be successful and other people think they are intelligent and reliable. Children should also be told that being conscientious will make them more dependable as adults. Children who are unconscientious should therefore be given advice on how they can become conscientious.


Since people generally like agreeable people more than disagreeable ones, children should be encouraged to develop traits of agreeable people. They should be taught the importance of being helpful, friendly and considerate. However, they should also be warned that they should not always believe that all people are honest, decent and trustworthy. In addition, they should be informed that in some situations, it is better to be seen as disagreeable for example when one is the boss and has to ensure that his or her juniors do their work.


Some children will show openness while others will not. When dealing with children who show openness, it is important to allow them to develop their creativity. These children should therefore be given opportunities to be creative for example by being provided with many learning materials that they can use to come up with new inventions. Children who are not open should not be forced to accept too many new ideas at once as this may make them withdrawn and fearful. When working with such children, it is important to introduce new ideas or changes one at a time so they can be used to them rather than forcing very many ideas on them at once.


We should therefore encourage adults and children to develop good, positive, socially acceptable and appropriate traits.


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