Updated: Oct 31, 2021
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle
Do you want to know yourself better?
Do you want to know why you think, feel and act the way you do?
Do you want to improve yourself and thrive in life?
Do you want to better understand the motivations behind others' thoughts, feelings and actions?
Your personality is a core part of who you are.
It is important for all of us to understand our personality so that we can best make use of our strengths and overcome our weaknesses to improve our lives.
In this article, I introduce you to the world and language of personality. This is the first step to understanding yourself and others, providing you tools to improve your life.
So what is Personality?
According to McAdams and Pals (2006), personality is defined as:
"(a) an individual’s unique variation on the general evolutionary design for human nature, expressed as a developing pattern of (b) dispositional traits, (c) characteristic adaptations, and (d) self-defining life narratives, complexly and differentially situated (e) in culture and social context."
In simple words, personality describes how we generally differ from eachother in terms of our tendencies to think, feel and act that arises from our genetics, our unique personal experiences as well as our cultural and social backgrounds.
Personality psychologists have mostly focused on examining personality traits that are the most widely-recognizable part of personality.
According to Fleeson (2001):
"If the momentary constellation of any person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors make up his or her current state, then traits may be seen as the most common kinds of states that a person experiences across situations and over time"
In short, your personality traits describe the thoughts and behavior that you tend to show in a variety of situations that is relatively stable over time.
The Hierarchy of Personality Traits
Personality traits can be organized into a hierarchy of traits as illustrated below:
First, at the top of the hierarchy, there are two metatraits:
1. Stability (Emotional Stability, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness) reflects one's tendency to maintain stable emotions, social relations and levels of motivations.
2. Plasticity (Extraversion and Openness) refers to one's tendency to explore novelty both behaviorally and cognitively and be flexible in adjusting to change.
Then, located near the top under the metatraits are the five broad domains (called the Big Five) that capture the major components of our personality traits.
The Big Five includes:
- Openness/Intellect (imaginative, intellectual, curious, creative)
- Conscientiousness (organized, industrious, diligent, constrained)
- Extraversion (positive emotions, enthusiastic, sociable, assertive)
- Agreeableness (altruistic, empathetic, cooperative, polite)
- Neuroticism (negative emotions, anxious, vulnerable, irritable)
(You can remember these using the acronym: OCEAN)
Then, subsuming each of the Big Five are two distinct but related aspects.
For example, Industriousness and Orderliness are the two aspects of Conscientiousness.
Industriousness describes the tendency to be hard-working, achievement striving and persistent; while Orderliness describes the tendency to be organized and orderly.
I will delve deeper into each of the Big Five and its aspects in upcoming articles in this series.
Finally, located at the bottom under the aspects are numerous facets. Facets are more specific traits that describe more specific behaviors. For example, dependability or being dependable is a facet of Industriousness aspect of Conscientiousness.
Find Out Your Big Five
I hope now you understand a little bit more about personality traits and have some sense of what your personality profile may be!
Are you curious about what your Big Five personality profile is and where you actually stand on each of the Big Five?
Simply take the online free Big Five Personality Test.
You will get a result showing your score (in percentiles) on each of the Big Five relative to others in the population as shown below.
For example, a score of 95th percentile for Conscientiousness means your level of Conscientiousness is above 95% of people in the population.
Finally, look out for upcoming articles in this series that delves deeper into each of the Big Five and what a high vs low score on each of the Big Five means for your life!
Listen to a Podcast to learn more - I highly recommend this podcast if you want to delve deeper into the sources (including biological bases) and structure of personality with Professor Colin DeYoung.
Find out your Big Five - Take the free Big Five Personality Test to find out where you stand relative to others on each of the Big Five!
Bogg, T., & Roberts, B. W. (2004). Conscientiousness and health-related behaviors: a meta-analysis of the leading behavioral contributors to mortality. Psychological bulletin, 130(6), 887.
DeYoung, C. G., Quilty, L. C., & Peterson, J. B. (2007). Between facets and domains: 10 aspects of the Big Five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(5), 880.
Fleeson, W. (2001). Toward a structure- and process-integrated view of
personality: Traits as density distributions of states. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 80, 1011–1027.
Judge, T. A., Rodell, J. B., Klinger, R. L., Simon, L. S., & Crawford, E. R. (2013). Hierarchical representations of the five-factor model of personality in predicting job performance: integrating three organizing frameworks with two theoretical perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(6), 875.
McAdams, D. P., & Pals, J. L. (2006). A new Big Five: fundamental principles for an integrative science of personality. American Psychologist, 61(3), 204.
Sayehmiri, K., Kareem, K. I., Abdi, K., Dalvand, S., & Gheshlagh, R. G. (2020). The relationship between personality traits and marital satisfaction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC psychology, 8(1), 15.