The Big Five (whose name was chosen to emphasise their broadness) are the most widely used dimensions or groupings of characteristics in the field of personality psychology (John and Srivastava 1999).

The five traits are:

  • Neuroticism - tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression
  • Extraversion - engaging in a breadth of activities (as opposed to depth) and deriving energy from engagement with the outside world
  • Openness to experience - intellectual curiosity, openness to emotion, sensitivity to beauty, willingness to try new things
  • Agreeableness - concern for social harmony and experiencing value from getting along with others
  • Conscientiousness - tendency to display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations

The Big Five traits were not derived from an underlying personality theory, but from analyses of the English language terms people used to describe themselves and others in the 1930s (see John and Srivastava 1999, Almlund et al 2011 for a detailed discussion). The Big Five traits have been widely applied in different contexts and their validity confirmed across studies.

Measurement tool

Researchers intending to measure personality traits using the Big Five framework have many options to choose from. Many use relatively short surveys focusing on an accessible, short-sentence question structure, e.g. The Big Five Inventory (BFI) and the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP).

  • More info on BFI can be found here 
  • More info on IPIP can be found here 

Considerably longer and more informative measures have also been developed. For example, the Big Five Aspect Scales (BFAS) consist of 100 items and measures two "aspects" of each of the Big Five.

  • More info on BFAS can be found here 

Measures such as the 240-item NEO-PI-R offer researchers even more granularity and precision. The NEO-PI-R measures six dimensions of each of the Big Five traits, but is not an open resource.

  • More info on NEO-PI-R can be found here

References in literature 

Almlund, M., Duckworth, A. L., Heckman, J. J., & Kautz, T. D. (2011). Personality Psychology and Economics. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, w16822.

Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann Jr, W. B. (2003). A Very Brief Measure of the Big-Five Personality Domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37(6), 504-528.

John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big Five Trait Taxonomy: History, Measurement, and Theoretical Perspectives. Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, 2, 102-138.

Kyllonen, P., Walters, A. M., & Kaufman, J. C. (2005). Noncognitive Constructs and their Assessment in Graduate Education: A Review. Educational Assessment, 10(3), 153-184.

Rammstedt, B., & John, O. P. (2007). Measuring Personality in One Minute or Less: A 10-item Short Version of the Big Five Inventory in English and German. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(1), 203-212.