The Big Five personality traits and what they mean to psychologists

Psychologists sort human personalities into five traits, each of which you can score high or low on.

At the topmost level, there are two types of people in the world: Those who think personality types can be categorized and those who can't.


Among those in the first group are psychologists who began developing a system for classifying personality traits based on an analysis of language way back in the 1880s. With the advent of larger data sets, in 1978 Paul Costa and Robert McRae published their Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Inventory (NEO-I) that grouped personalities according to three principal traits. In 1985 after further research, they added two more, and published the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI). The groupings constitute the five personality traits psychologists use today, known as “The Big Five." Together, they form the acronym OCEAN.



Each personality trait is characterized by six individual facets.

The assumption has long been that these inventories could be useful in statistical studies, revealing how personality correlates to an individual's behavior and degree of life satisfaction. And this has turned out to be true. Few scientists would assert that personality is the only factor that determines how one lives — situational factors are believed to be just as important — but there are some intriguing correspondences.

If you like, you can take a free online International Personality Item Pool Representation of the NEO PI-R™ (IPIP-NEO) test to find out where you fit into the Big Five inventory. The original version has 300 questions, and there's an abbreviated one with 120.

Here are the five personality traits, their six traits, and some interesting things psychologists have learned about people who score highly on each trait.

Openness to Experience

This one describes people who enjoy the arts and new experiences. The may exhibit these facets:

Fantasy — have a vivid imagination

Aesthetics — believe in the importance of art

Feelings — experience emotions intensely

Actions — prefer variety to routine

Ideas — like complex problems

Values — tend to vote for liberals

Findings

High scorers are creative, into discovering new things, and have a strong internal life characterized by extended musings over concepts and experiences. Low scorers are more conventional, with narrower interests, and are more down to earth.

One study found that these people tend to become leaders, while another discovered you may be able to identify someone open to experience by their positive expressions in selfies.

Conscientiousness

These people are organized, and tend to keep going and going. They're methodical, down to their to-do lists. Their sub-six are:

Competence — complete tasks successfully

Order — like order

Dutifulness — follow the rules

Achievement-striving — work hard

Self-discipline — get chores done right away

Deliberation — avoid mistakes

Findings

Hard-working, dependable, and not afraid of some hard work? You might score highly in conscientiousness. If you go with the flow, make decisions impulsively, and in general like to wing it, odds are you're a low scorer.

Not surprisingly, these are the people who get ahead and often find themselves in leadership positions.

Extraversion

This is about degree of sociability, and one's source of energy and excitement: Is it derived from other people? (This is also sometimes called “surgency," which ruins the OCEAN acronym.)

Warmth — make friends easily

Gregariousness — love large parties

Assertiveness — take charge

Activity — am always busy

Excitement-seeking — love excitement

Positive Emotions — radiate joy

Findings

High scorers people light up around other people. They love the spotlight and are often the life of the party. They may also be thrill-seekers. People who score low in this trait tend to be quieter, more inward, and more deliberate. Being around people is a chore for them.

Extraversion is also a strong indicator of leadership quality, like conscientiousness.

Agreeableness

These people are all about trust, honesty, and getting along with others. They're also tolerant. Their six facets:

Trust — trust others

Compliance — would never cheat on taxes

Altruism — make people feel welcome

Straightforwardness — am easy to satisfy

Modesty — dislike being center of attention

Tender-mindedness — sympathize with the homeless

Findings

People who score highly for agreeableness are honesty, dependable, and generous, looking for the best in others. They're often mild-mannered and consider loyalty an important value. Low scorers have low expectations of others, and may be sneaky as a result: They're generally suspicious of other humans.

Agreeable people folks tend to be happier because they gravitate toward the positive, though they're not as likely to get ahead as some others who are dissatisfied with things as they are and think less of their peers. According to one study, agreeable people are more likely to have a looser walk, too.

Neuroticism

We may not all be psychologists, but we pretty much know what “neurotic" means. These people have these facets to them:

Anxiety — worry about things

Hostility — get angry easily

Depression — often feel blue

Self-consciousness — am easily intimidated

Impulsiveness — eat too much

Vulnerability — panic easily

Findings

Well, obviously, people who score high in neuroticism aren't especially happy. They're vulnerable to frequent strong negative emotions — sadness, anger, fear — and are uncomfortable with themselves. Lower scores for this trait are calm, more stable, and not as likely to react extremely when presented with stressors.

Remember how open-to-experience people looked upbeat in their selfies? These people are the most likely to throw out duck lips.

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Editor's note: This post originally identified the five personality categories as "types" which made them seem more exclusive than they are. "Types" has been changed to "traits" throughout the post.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.