RSCN4428 WSRecently I re-examined the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. This was in a 2007 online article by psychologist Nathalie Nahai (A Large-Scale Personality Research Method, also published in the 2017 anthology, Know This, edited by John Brockman, published by Harper Perennial and the Edge Foundation).

They aren’t new. The idea began in United States Air Force in the 1950s, then psychologist J.M. Digman proposed the “five factor model” of personality in 1990. Human resource departments in large corporations have been using it for some time now to assess potential employees. The Big Five traits are:

  • openness
  • conscientiousness
  • extroversion
  • agreeableness
  • neuroticism

When I first saw this list, I immediately asked myself – ‘Where are the introverts?’

Well, you might assume that each category includes its opposite. “Openness” would refer to degrees of openness, with closed individuals at one end of a spectrum. Introverts would probably be perceived to be at that end of the extroversion spectrum. But think again.

Psychologist Nahai, writing about the use of Big Five tests in online research, includes this comment:

…..individuals who score highly for extraversion prefer using more positive emotional words (such as “amazing,” “great,” “happy”), whereas those who score higher in neuroticism tend to use first person singulars (such as I, me, mine) with greater frequency.

What? Neuroticism is the opposite of extroversion? Well, I’m never surprised at the strange ways that non-shy people manage to perceive negativity in shyness, but where is the rationale? How do the words ‘amazing, great, happy’ have anything to do with ‘I, me, mine’? And since when do extroverts not talk about themselves? In my experience, self-promotion is their specialty. Introverts, on the other hand, prefer not to talk about themselves.

As for the Big Five, there are many tests deriving from it, one of the most well-known being the 123 Test. I did the 123 test and got the following result:

  • openness – 81 [high]
  • conscientiousness – 48 [middle]
  • extraversion – 18 [low]
  • agreeableness – 2 [very low]
  • natural reactions – 33 [middle]

(In the 123 Test, ‘natural reactions’, for some reason, replace neurotiscism)

The agreeableness score made me smile. If you met me, you’d find I’m a little more agreeable than that. But I must admit that from the time I entered kindergarten in the 1950s, I always felt a deep scepticism about most of the people around me – decade after decade. I still do.

One thing you have to keep in mind here is that this is a self-reporting test.

In the context of applying for a job, which is apparently where the test is most often used, when people respond to “I don’t get along with others”, how many people are going to give themselves a “strongly agree” score? Or, who is going to say they “never, or rarely, complete tasks”? (I have met people working in companies, by the way, who got paid year after year, who rarely completed tasks – none of them were introverts though).

The human race comes instinctively equipped for lying and cheating. Try investigating accidents and injuries for a few years – or as I did for 40 years – and you’ll be in no doubt about that. Any test that doesn’t anticipate lying and evasiveness and doesn’t have a way of correcting for it, should be taken with a grain of salt (Maybe the 123 Test does, but I don’t see it).

Anyway, I’m still puzzled at how the shy introverted person is dealt with in the ‘Big Five’ conception of the world. I’m not sure they are recognized in it at all.

And a new thought – where is autism? Of course, the answer to that is that autism is considered to be a disorder, not a personality trait. But a growing number of people who consider themselves to be on the spectrum believe that autism is a perfectly natural personality trait. I am convinced that it will one day be accepted as one.

If you would like to do the free Big Five test that I did, here it is:

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