Personality psychology is concerned with three main areas:

  1. The self – the personality as an integrated whole
  2. The human nature – what do humans have in common
  3. Individual differences – what makes humans differ from each other

 

This article focusses on the third item.

The background of the model

Over time, an important objective for psychology has been to establish a model or method that is suitable for describing the human personality and identifying mental illness with the purpose of applying this model to relieve these and to obtain better insight into the nature of the personality.

Throughout the years, many models have asserted themselves – some in academia, others in the world of business. Some of the model are more accepted than others and have, until now, passed the trial of time. But this will change as ‘fashion movements’ also exist within psychology.

One of the more prominent models within contemporary psychology is known as the Five-factor model (FFM) or The Big Five.

The reason for there being two names is that there are actually two models or approaches – both with five basic personality traits.

The approach of the Big Five model to the structure of the personality consists of registering correlations between the adjectives that laypeople ascribe to themselves and each other. This follows the notion that when a personality trait is important in order to explain and understand people’s behaviour, the terms for this trait will become embedded in the language with which we describe each other (the lexical approach).

A psychometrically founded trait theoretical tradition has existed in parallel, resulting in FFM. The focus has been on constructing personality tests. At the same time, the people behind FFM has also been interested in uncovering the biological foundation of the personality.

With the FFM, the five personality traits are: (listed according to the order in which they were ‘found’)

  • Neuroticism
  • Extraversion
  • Openness to experience
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

It is also known as the OCEAN model: (listed here in an order that is easy to recall)

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

With the BigFive, the order is different and determined by the importance of the traits.

With the FFM, each trait is divided into six underlying facets – whereas all facets of the BigFive are featured in more or less all main areas.

Why is the model so recognised?

Why have the FFM/BigFive become so recognised by the scientific community after so many different other models have been suggested and studied? Some of the reasons follow below:

Reliability
Coefficient alfa statistics around 0.80 to 0.95 for the FFM.

This high reliability level allows for a consistent assessment tool which is attractive when development and high quality are appreciated.

Validity
The FFM has demonstrated its ability to predict future performances.

Studies carried out by Barrick and Mount (1991) show how the FFM has properties for creating coherence to a wide selection of jobs.

This is in contrast with a widespread model; the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) whose validity has been challenged and weakened during the past decade. (McCrae and Costa, 1989)

Accepted frame of reference
The FFM is a generally accepted frame of reference.

The FFM is applicable across nationality, religion and language.

Descriptive qualities
The model has provided new knowledge and new tools for a more accurate description of the personality.