Big Data Gives the “Big 5” Personality Traits a Makeover

(P)sychologists have worked to develop empirical tests that assess core aspects of personality. The “Big Five” traits (extroversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness) emerged in the 1940s through studies of the English language for descriptive terms. Those categories were validated in the 1990s as a scientifically backed way to evaluate a person’s character.

Through a series of questions, researchers learn whether you are high, low, or in between in each one of those qualities. For example, a person could be low in extraversion, high in conscientiousness and openness, and medium in neuroticism and agreeableness. The combination of where you fall on the spectrum of the five traits provides a window into your general disposition and potentially your future behavior. Different combinations of trait scores could indicate an aptitude for a particular kind of job, the strength of interpersonal relationships and even the likelihood of developing psychological or physical health issues.

In theory, these traits are a continuum with thousands of permutations of scores that make up unique personalities. But new research published in Nature Human Behavior simplifies this classification process by identifying trait scores common to many individuals. The researchers believe these groupings reflect a set of prototypical personality types, which they’ve labeled role model, self-centered, reserved or the rather uninspiring “average.”

“Having this much data, in total more than 1.5 million people from these newly available data sets, we could actually show that in fact there is robust evidence for at least four personality types.”

Interestingly, age and gender were strongly related to several of the types. The “role model” (low in neuroticism and high in openness, agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness) consisted mostly of women over the age of 40 whereas young men were much more likely to be “self-centered” (high extroversion, medium neuroticism, along with low openness, agreeableness, and consciousness). The majority of people, though, landed into the average category, with high neuroticism and extraversion, low openness, and medium agreeableness and conscientiousness.

It may be premature to change your dating profile to announce your new type just yet, though.

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