The five factor model (FFM) was reached independently by several different psychologists over a number of years. Many psychologists believe that the total number of personality traits can be reduced to five factors, and that all of the other traits fit within each of the five factors. A factor is a larger category that encompasses many smaller personality traits.
Since the five-factor model was developed independently by a number of psychologists, the names of each of the five factors, and what each factor measures, differ according to theorist. The acronym OCEAN is often used to recall the five factors, and comes from Paul Costa’s and Robert McCrae’s conceptualization: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Costa and McCrae's version is most certainly the most popular, and is the one called to mind by most psychologists when discussing the FFM.
The first evidence for the five factor model occurred in 1949 when D.W. Fiske was unable to find support for Catell’s 16 factors, but instead found support for five factors. An explosion of research in the 1980’s and 1990’s offered a great amount of support for the five factor model. The five factor personality traits show consistency in interviews, self-descriptions and observations. Additionally, the five factor structure shows consistency across a wide range of participants of different ages and of different cultures.
Openness to Experience
Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). This trait includes appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity, preferences for novelty, and variety. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Those who score high in openness to experience would prefer novelty, while those who score low would prefer routine.
Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). This trait refers to one's tendency toward self-discipline, dutifulness, and achievement. Individuals high in Conscientiousness prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior, and are often organized and dependable. Individuals who score low in Conscientiousness take a more relaxed approach, are spontaneous, and may be disorganized.
Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). An individual who scores high on Extraversion is characterized by high energy, positive emotions, talkativeness, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others. Those who score low on extraversion prefer solitude and/or smaller groups, enjoy quiet, prefer activities alone, and avoid large social situations.
Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). This trait measures one's tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one's trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not (Figure 1).
Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). High Neuroticism is characterized by the tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control a person may have.
It is important to keep in mind that each of the five factors represents a range of possible personality types. For example, an individual is typically somewhere in between the two extremes of "extraverted" and "introverted", not necessarily one or the other. Most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.