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It is believed that understanding human behavior is important in day-to-day interactions as well as directing, analyzing, and evaluating human performance (Engler, 2008). Therefore, it is important to characterize human personalities so that one can define and explain individual differences and then find out who, where, when and how is suitable to fulfill a particular task. Consequently, many psychologists have tried to characterize personalities using various models so that they can give a comprehensive understanding of human behavior and the Big Five factors personality model is one of them (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2010).

This paper gives a critical analysis and evaluation of the Big Five factors personality model, which explains the core human personalities. This model divides human traits into five key factors. The five factors include openness, conscientiousness, introversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. They are denoted by the acronym OCEAN. These factors are crucial in differentiating various human characters (Day & Antonakis, 2011). The Big Five factors personality model gives a broad summary of critical personality building blocks including the clear analysis of mental development process and validates the changing personality tendencies. Hence, the Big Five factors personality model is important in dealing with people and therefore defining and accounting for their individual personality differences, changing situations and surroundings (Engler, 2008; Bernstein, 2010).

Overview of the Big Five Factors

The Big Five factors outline the broad differences in people’s personalities by stating how various groups of people feel, think, and act consistently. The factors characterize the people’s thoughts patterns, feelings and actions (John et al., 2010).   

Firstly, one of the Big Five Personality Factors is openness that involves the appreciation of emotions, explorations, uncommon thoughts, inquisitiveness, imagination, and various experiences (Bernstein, 2010). This trait distinguishes imaginative individuals from other groups of people. Open people are generally willing to expose themselves to new experiences; they are intelligently curious, sensitive and appreciative of various arts and beauty. Open individuals are usually very creative and conscious of their own feelings and in most cases embrace unconventional principles and have less traditional interests. Open people prefer plainness, straightforwardness, and clear ideas rather than ambiguous, complex and elusive thoughts. They are flexible, refined and original.

Secondly, conscientiousness exemplifies people that demonstrate predisposition for planning, self-discipline, responsibility, dutifulness, neatness, and orderliness. The conscientious individuals are performance oriented and usually aim at achieving the expectations imposed by external environment (Engler, 2008).  They tend to plan every action rather than act spontaneously.

Thirdly, extroversion characterizes people who are sociable, outgoing, and self-assured. Extroverts have positive emotions, and seek motivation and other people’s company in most instances.  They engage themselves so much in external realm; in addition, extroverts prefer staying with people as they are always full of energy. They are often enthusiastic and excited about directing actions in sensational situations; therefore, extroverts may look like action oriented persons. When they are in a group, they tend to be very talkative, assertive and draw much attention to themselves. On the other hand, introverts are the opposite of extroverts and are not sociable. Introverts are generally quiet, discreet, and deliberate, have less concern for publicity, and prefer to spend their more time alone.

The fourth factor is agreeable personality that characterizes people who are warm, compassionate, considerate and cooperative. They are not suspicious and show less antagonism towards others. Agreeable people seek for general harmony by reflecting on individual differences and greatly value friendly relationships (Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi, 2009). This group of people are approachable, understanding, generous, and willing to compromise their self-interests for the sake of others. They are primarily optimistic, truthful, decent and honorable. In contrast, disagreeable people put their interest ahead of others. They are rude, hostile, unconcerned, and independent and their skepticism about others makes them distrustful, unfriendly and uncooperative (Bernstein, 2010).

The fifth personality factor is neuroticism that describes emotionally unstable people. These people are guilt-ridden, temperamental and often have self-doubts. They are not self-confident, and are not in harmony with others. Neurotic individuals are emotionally hypersensitive and susceptible to stress. They can easily take ordinary circumstances as intimidating, and inconsequential frustration as a point of hopelessness (Regoli et al., 2009). 

The Theories Present in the Model

The Big Five Factors Personality theory is compatible with a good number of theories. For instance, it relates to Freud’s psychoanalytical theory that focuses on the internal forces of an individual. The Freudian theory states that anxiety occurs when an ego is threatened and gets out of control. On the other hand, one’s ego deals with a problem by developing strategies and defense mechanisms. This relates positively to the description of personality in the Big Five Factors Personality Model. This helps in explaining the five personality factors by giving an account of why a particular group demonstrates a certain behavior (Engler, 2008).

In addition, Abraham Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs relates directly to the Big Five personality theory (Coon & Mitterer, 2008). Maslow’s theory explains the relationship between needs and their hierarchy in shaping human personality. The needs are arranged according to priority from the most essential ones to self-actualization point that involves luxury. The needs are therefore satisfied according to the order of priority with the primary ones being satisfied first. Thus, the theory helps in describing motivational elements for a given personality factor and explains why people display a particular behavior, for example, at workplaces (Collins, 2008). 

In addition, Bandura’s theory of social learning is also one of the theories which are compatible with the Big Five personality theory (Coon & Mitterer, 2008). Albert Bandura’s theory discloses the way the individual interacts in a given environment and views of self-efficiency interrelation that explain personality. This theory suggests that individuals observe their own behavior and evaluate its efficacy. Hence, self-efficacy defines how one should effectively deal with a given situation.

The Major Contributors to the Model

Gordon Allport is one of the major contributors to the Big Five personality model. In 1936, he defined various kinds of personalities which he referred to as dispositions. He argued that traits had actual physical position in the nervous system and thus, consistency of the behavior depended on the existence of traits. In addition, dissimilar stimuli can arouse the trait and therefore, according to Allport, certain trait can be used to describe individual’s behavior (Bernstein, 2010). The central traits are the elementary constituents of an individual’s personality and the secondary characteristics are marginal. He further stated that cardinal traits are those that are powerfully recognized. Hence, traits are components of personality that initiate and direct one’s behavior in a unique manner.

In addition, other contributors to the Big Five personality theory are Ernest Tupes and Raymond Cristal, who provided the basis for the Big Five personality factors in the late 1950s. They advanced the research that had been done by the US Air Force Personnel Laboratory. The two scholars developed comprehensive, empirical research findings that identified the traits and classified them into various categories (Engler, 2008).

Significant contributions to the model were made by Raymond Cattell. His findings structurally divided the personality traits by identifying primary and secondary factors that define personality structure. The primary factors consist of 16 personality factors and the secondary structure made of five personality factors. Cattell developed the major personality factors analysis of an individual and various groups of people. Cattell used complex statistical analysis and primary correlations of traits and described them using simple language. Hence, Cattell provided the mental building blocks for the Big Five Personality Factors (Bernstein, 2010).

Goldberg developed the Big Five personality factors using lexical hypothesis. In 1990 he singled out the Big Five traits from a cluster of traits he had been analyzing from the previous personality traits researchers. He analyzed different group of traits, found the correlations, and came up with the five trait factors: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. He used factor analysis in identifying the relationships between the various traits scores.  The five personality dimensions are quite strong across the various cultures (Boyle, Matthews, & Saklofske, 2008). 

McCrae and Costa in 1993 further developed the Big Five Personality Model by primarily showing the supposed dissimilarity in personality schemes. To further this they created an integrated model that effectively incorporated other personality schemes and invented the acronym OCEAN for the five factors. In addition, their model formed the basis for personal traits measurement scale denoted as NEO-Personality Inventory (NEO-PIR) (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).

The Methods of Inquiry Used in the Model

The method of inquiry used by the Big Five personality model involves conducting self-analysis by filling in questionnaires that describe various traits (Boyle et al., 2008).McCrae and Costa developed questionnaires that generally describe the standard personality. In these questionnaires different traits converge around the Big Five factors based on correlation measures (Sigelman & Rider, 2011).  Goldberg’s questionnaires as well as NEO-Personality Inventory (NEO-PIR) questionnaires designed by McCrae and Costa are used to measure one’s personality traits. The Goldberg questionnaires use lexical hypothesis approach which emphasizes that individual difference is noticeable and socially appropriate. On the other hand, McCrae and Costa questionnaire uses the renowned FFM theoretical context, according to which traits are located in a comprehensive model of environmental and genetic context (Engler, 2008).

The Goldberg model is circular and shows that many elements have none zero correlations on two factors, while in the FFM traits are classified from low-level features that combine to form higher levels. The questionnaires comprise adjectives and sentences that describe various traits. The proponents of the use of questionnaires in assessing personality claim that questionnaires give an important projective testing.  The current questionnaire consists of 243 items that can be filled in by an individual in approximately 45 minutes. The individual carries out self-assessment based on particular items, thereby individual traits of a person are identified (Boyle et al., 2008). 

Overview of Strengths and Weaknesses of the Model

The Big Five personality model has strengths such as its ability to define personality. It clearly helps in giving cross-cultural analysis since it agrees with most cultures. In addition, it can be used to identify personal traits of both adults and children, even those children who are not at school.

The Big Five personality model is consistent with many other theories. For example, the model corresponds with other analytical methods and complement them naturally. In addition, the model acts as a bridge between other psychological theories such as Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, Bandura’s social learning theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory (Coon & Mitterer, 2008).  The correlations between the Big Five personality model and the various elements of the aforementioned theories give the model a wide application range (Lussier & Achua, 2009). Hence, the compatibility of the model with other theories gives it wide relevance to various fields (Nevid, 2008).

However, the lack of explanation of why the various traits in the model develop limits the model (Lussier & Achua, 2009). In addition, the Big Five model fails to clarify why some traits are temporary while others are long lasting; this is another demerit of the model. Even though the model tries to provide thorough and taxonomical analysis of personality, it fails to give the causes for some correlations (Day & Antonakis, 2011). For instance, some relations are rather counterintuitive hence making extrapolation using common sense difficult. Studies showed that traits such as optimism and ambitiousness have low correlation with conscientiousness (Engler, 2008).

One of the shortcomings of the model is its failure to correspond to the definition of a universal theory that can be widely applied. The Big Five model cannot be utilized for tasks other than specifying traits (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). Even though the model provides a good description and basis for psychology concepts, it fails to give an integrated psychological picture. The theory lacks originality since it is quite different from other factor models such as Cattell’s model or Eysenck’s model. The Big Five personality theory is quite independent of key psychological theories (Bernstein, 2010). Therefore, it fails to predict one’s behavior in certain situations, because the model functions at general analysis level rather than examining specific situations. Thus, it may not be effective in foreseeing one’s behavior (Coon & Mitterer, 2008).

In summary, the Big Five personality model gives a good general analysis of personality.  It provides a good measurement for cross-cultural reproduction, and empirical validity for many basic psychological findings. The Big Five personality model serves as a basis for other findings. Scholars such as Gordon Allport and Raymond Cattell laid down the foundations of the Big Five factors personality model. The two theorists gave the ground for factor analysis used in the model. Goldberg actually developed the model using lexical hypothesis approach.McCrae and Costa contributed to further development of the model by making it more integrated with other personality schemes. In addition, they advanced the measurement tools by introducing NEO-Personality Inventory that has been instrumental in analyzing one’s personality.

Even though the Big Five personality model has strengths, there are some drawbacks that limit its application. This is because the model is too general and cannot give specific situational analysis including prediction of various traits. The model theory lack originality and there are inaccuracies related to the five factors variables hence limiting the application of the theory.


In conclusion, it should be stated that the Big Five factors personality model is quite enlightening since it can be used to explain psychoanalytic personality approaches.  The model classifies various personality traits into simple, understandable categories. Though the model is not conclusive in explaining personality traits, it provides a good starting point. Therefore, the main challenge for personality psychologists is developing a model that captures all personality concepts and giving precise explanations for the findings. It is therefore recommended that this model be further advanced by exploring new scales, methods, and new personality conceptions that can describe a given personality accurately rather than giving a generalized statement. This involves establishing valid constructs that can effectively identify various personality differences.

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