A Guideline for Investigators
It is important to be
aware that the personality tests used in the
recruitment and selection process are the intellectual
property of the companies that produce them. As a
result, they may use different terminology to describe
the aspects of personality that they set out to measure.
This usually for reasons of copyright and to
differentiate themselves in a market in which there are
a large number of products that do more or less the same
thing in more or less the same way.
To avoid any bias and to steer clear of any copyright
issues, we will use the definitions placed in the public
domain by the noted psychologist Dr. John A. Johnson of
Pennsylvania State University.
The personality traits used in the 5 factor
model are Extraversion, Agreeableness,
Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness to
It is important to ignore the positive or negative
associations that these words have in everyday language.
For example, Agreeableness is obviously advantageous for
achieving and maintaining popularity. Agreeable people
are better liked than disagreeable people. On the other
hand, agreeableness is not useful in situations that
require tough or totally objective decisions.
Disagreeable people can make excellent scientists,
critics, or soldiers. Remember, none of the five traits
is in themselves positive or negative, they are simply
characteristics that individuals exhibit to a greater or
Each of these 5
personality traits describes, relative to other people,
the frequency or intensity of a person's feelings,
thoughts, or behaviors. Everyone possesses all 5 of
these traits to a greater or lesser degree. For example,
two individuals could be described as 'agreeable'
(agreeable people value getting along with others). But
there could be significant variation in the degree to
which they are both agreeable. In other words, all 5
personality traits exist on a continuum (see diagram)
rather than as attributes that a person does or does not
Openness is often presented as healthier or more mature by
psychologists, who are often themselves open to
experience. However, open and closed styles of thinking
are useful in different environments. The intellectual
style of the open person may serve a professor well, but
research has shown that closed thinking is related to
superior job performance in police work, sales, and a
number of service occupations.
Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the
external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are
full of energy, and often experience positive emotions.
They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented,
individuals who are likely to say "Yes!" or "Let's go!"
to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to
talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to
Introverts lack the exuberance, energy, and activity
levels of extraverts. They tend to be quiet, low-key,
deliberate, and disengaged from the social world. Their
lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as
shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less
stimulation than an extravert and prefers to be alone.
The independence and reserve of the introvert is
sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance. In
reality, an introvert who scores high on the
agreeableness dimension will not seek others out but
will be quite pleasant when approached.
Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern
with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable
individuals value getting along with others. They are
therefore considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and
willing to compromise their interests with others'.
Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human
nature. They believe people are basically honest,
decent, and trustworthy.
Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above
getting along with others. They are generally
unconcerned with others' well-being, and therefore are
unlikely to extend themselves for other people.
Sometimes their skepticism about others' motives causes
them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.
Agreeableness is obviously advantageous for attaining
and maintaining popularity. Agreeable people are better
liked than disagreeable people. On the other hand,
agreeableness is not useful in situations that require
tough or absolute objective decisions. Disagreeable
people can make excellent scientists, critics, or
Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control,
regulate, and direct our impulses. Impulses are not
inherently bad; occasionally time constraints require a
snap decision, and acting on our first impulse can be an
effective response. Also, in times of play rather than
work, acting spontaneously and impulsively can be fun.
Impulsive individuals can be seen by others as colorful,
fun-to-be-with, and zany.
Nonetheless, acting on impulse can lead to trouble in a
number of ways. Some impulses are antisocial.
Uncontrolled antisocial acts not only harm other members
of society, but also can result in retribution toward
the perpetrator of such impulsive acts. Another problem
with impulsive acts is that they often produce immediate
rewards but undesirable, long-term consequences.
Examples include excessive socializing that leads to
being fired from one's job, hurling an insult that
causes the breakup of an important relationship, or
using pleasure-inducing drugs that eventually destroy
Impulsive behavior, even when not seriously destructive,
diminishes a person's effectiveness in significant ways.
Acting impulsively disallows contemplating alternative
courses of action, some of which would have been wiser
than the impulsive choice. Impulsivity also sidetracks
people during projects that require organized sequences
of steps or stages. Accomplishments of an impulsive
person are therefore small, scattered, and inconsistent.
A hallmark of intelligence, what potentially separates
human beings from earlier life forms, is the ability to
think about future consequences before acting on an
impulse. Intelligent activity involves contemplation of
long-range goals, organizing and planning routes to
these goals, and persisting toward one's goals in the
face of short-lived impulses to the contrary. The idea
that intelligence involves impulse control is nicely
captured by the term prudence, an alternative label for
the Conscientiousness domain. Prudent means both wise
and cautious. Persons who score high on the
Conscientiousness scale are, in fact, perceived by
others as intelligent.
The benefits of high conscientiousness are obvious.
Conscientious individuals avoid trouble and achieve high
levels of success through purposeful planning and
persistence. They are also positively regarded by others
as intelligent and reliable. On the negative side, they
can be compulsive perfectionists and workaholics.
Furthermore, extremely conscientious individuals might
be regarded as stuffy and boring. Unconscientious people
may be criticized for their unreliability, lack of
ambition, and failure to stay within the lines, but they
will experience many short-lived pleasures and they will
never be called stuffy.
Freud originally used the term neurosis to describe a
condition marked by mental distress, emotional
suffering, and an inability to cope effectively with the
normal demands of life. He suggested that everyone shows
some signs of neurosis, but that we differ in our degree
of suffering and our specific symptoms of distress.
Today neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience
Those who score high on Neuroticism may experience
primarily one specific negative feeling such as anxiety,
anger, or depression, but are likely to experience
several of these emotions. People high in neuroticism
are emotionally reactive. They respond emotionally to
events that would not affect most people, and their
reactions tend to be more intense than normal. They are
more likely to interpret ordinary situations as
threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly
difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to
persist for unusually long periods of time, which means
they are often in a bad mood. These problems in
emotional regulation can diminish a neurotic's ability
to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively
At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low
in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less
emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally
stable, and free from persistent negative feelings.
Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low
scorers experience a lot of positive feelings; frequency
of positive emotions is a component of the Extraversion
Openness to experience.
Openness to Experience describes a dimension of
cognitive style that distinguishes imaginative, creative
people from down-to-earth, conventional people. Open
people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art,
and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to
closed people, more aware of their feelings. They tend
to think and act in individualistic and nonconforming
ways. Intellectuals typically score high on Openness to
Experience; consequently, this factor has also been
called Culture or Intellect. Nonetheless, Intellect is
probably best regarded as one aspect of openness to
experience. Scores on Openness to Experience are only
modestly related to years of education and scores on
standard intelligent tests.
Another characteristic of the open cognitive style is a
facility for thinking in symbols and abstractions far
removed from concrete experience. Depending on the
individual's specific intellectual abilities, this
symbolic cognition may take the form of mathematical,
logical, or geometric thinking, artistic and
metaphorical use of language, music composition or
performance, or one of the many visual or performing
arts. People with low scores on openness to experience
tend to have narrow, common interests. They prefer the
plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex,
ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and
sciences with suspicion, regarding these endeavors as
abstruse or of no practical use. Closed people prefer
familiarity over novelty; they are conservative and
resistant to change.
Subordinate Personality Traits or Facets
Each of the big 5 personality traits is made up of 6
facets or sub traits. These can be assessed independently
of the trait that they belong to.
Friendliness. Friendly people genuinely like
other people and openly demonstrate positive
feelings toward others. They make friends quickly
and it is easy for them to form close, intimate
relationships. Low scorers on Friendliness are not
necessarily cold and hostile, but they do not reach
out to others and are perceived as distant and
Gregariousness. Gregarious people find the
company of others pleasantly stimulating and
rewarding. They enjoy the excitement of crowds. Low
scorers tend to feel overwhelmed by, and therefore
actively avoid, large crowds. They do not
necessarily dislike being with people sometimes, but
their need for privacy and time to themselves is
much greater than for individuals who score high on
Assertiveness. High scorers Assertiveness
like to speak out, take charge, and direct the
activities of others. They tend to be leaders in
groups. Low scorers tend not to talk much and let
others control the activities of groups.
Activity Level. Active individuals lead
fast-paced, busy lives. They move about quickly,
energetically, and vigorously, and they are involved
in many activities. People who score low on this
scale follow a slower and more leisurely, relaxed
Excitement-Seeking. High scorers on this
scale are easily bored without high levels of
stimulation. They love bright lights and hustle and
bustle. They are likely to take risks and seek
thrills. Low scorers are overwhelmed by noise and
commotion and are adverse to thrill-seeking.
Cheerfulness. This scale measures positive
mood and feelings, not negative emotions (which are
a part of the Neuroticism domain). Persons who score
high on this scale typically experience a range of
positive feelings, including happiness, enthusiasm,
optimism, and joy. Low scorers are not as prone to
such energetic, high spirits.
Trust. A person with high trust assumes that
most people are fair, honest, and have good
intentions. Persons low in trust may see others as
selfish, devious, and potentially dangerous.
Morality. High scorers on this scale see no
need for pretence or manipulation when dealing with
others and are therefore candid, frank, and sincere.
Low scorers believe that a certain amount of
deception in social relationships is necessary.
People find it relatively easy to relate to the
straightforward high-scorers on this scale. They
generally find it more difficult to relate to the
low-scorers on this scale. It should be made clear
that low scorers are not unprincipled or immoral;
they are simply more guarded and less willing to
openly reveal the whole truth.
Altruism. Altruistic people find helping
other people genuinely rewarding. Consequently, they
are generally willing to assist those who are in
need. Altruistic people find that doing things for
others is a form of self-fulfilment rather than
self-sacrifice. Low scorers on this scale do not
particularly like helping those in need. Requests
for help feel like an imposition rather than an
opportunity for self-fulfilment.
Cooperation. Individuals who score high on
this scale dislike confrontations. They are
perfectly willing to compromise or to deny their own
needs in order to get along with others. Those who
score low on this scale are more likely to
intimidate others to get their way.
Modesty. High scorers on this scale do not
like to claim that they are better than other
people. In some cases this attitude may derive from
low self-confidence or self-esteem. Nonetheless,
some people with high self-esteem find immodesty
unseemly. Those who are willing to describe
themselves as superior tend to be seen as
disagreeably arrogant by other people.
Sympathy. People who score high on this scale
are tender-hearted and compassionate. They feel the
pain of others vicariously and are easily moved to
pity. Low scorers are not affected strongly by human
suffering. They pride themselves on making objective
judgments based on reason. They are more concerned
with truth and impartial justice than with mercy.
Self-Efficacy. Self-Efficacy describes
confidence in one's ability to accomplish things.
High scorers believe they have the intelligence
(common sense), drive, and self-control necessary
for achieving success. Low scorers do not feel
effective, and may have a sense that they are not in
control of their lives.
Orderliness. Persons with high scores on
orderliness are well-organized. They like to live
according to routines and schedules. They keep lists
and make plans. Low scorers tend to be disorganized
Dutifulness. This scale reflects the strength
of a person's sense of duty and obligation. Those
who score high on this scale have a strong sense of
moral obligation. Low scorers find contracts, rules,
and regulations overly confining. They are likely to
be seen as unreliable or even irresponsible.
Achievement-Striving. Individuals who score
high on this scale strive hard to achieve
excellence. Their drive to be recognized as
successful keeps them on track toward their lofty
goals. They often have a strong sense of direction
in life, but extremely high scores may be too
single-minded and obsessed with their work. Low
scorers are content to get by with a minimal amount
of work, and might be seen by others as lazy.
Self-Discipline. Self-discipline-what many
people call will-power-refers to the ability to
persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they
are completed. People who possess high
self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to
begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions.
Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and
show poor follow-through, often failing to complete
tasks-even tasks they want very much to complete.
Cautiousness. Cautiousness describes the
disposition to think through possibilities before
acting. High scorers on the Cautiousness scale take
their time when making decisions. Low scorers often
say or do first thing that comes to mind without
deliberating alternatives and the probable
consequences of those alternatives.
Anxiety. The "fight-or-flight" system of the
brain of anxious individuals is too easily and too
often engaged. Therefore, people who are high in
anxiety often feel like something dangerous is about
to happen. They may be afraid of specific situations
or be just generally fearful. They feel tense,
jittery, and nervous. Persons low in Anxiety are
generally calm and fearless.
Anger. Persons who score high in Anger feel
enraged when things do not go their way. They are
sensitive about being treated fairly and feel
resentful and bitter when they feel they are being
cheated. This scale measures the tendency to feel
angry; whether or not the person expresses annoyance
and hostility depends on the individual's level on
Agreeableness. Low scorers do not get angry often or
Depression. This scale measures the tendency
to feel sad, dejected, and discouraged. High scorers
lack energy and have difficult initiating
activities. Low scorers tend to be free from these
individuals are sensitive about what others think of
them. Their concern about rejection and ridicule
cause them to feel shy and uncomfortable abound
others. They are easily embarrassed and often feel
ashamed. Their fears that others will criticize or
make fun of them are exaggerated and unrealistic,
but their awkwardness and discomfort may make these
fears a self-fulfilling prophecy. Low scorers, in
contrast, do not suffer from the mistaken impression
that everyone is watching and judging them. They do
not feel nervous in social situations.
Immoderation. Immoderate individuals feel
strong cravings and urges that they have difficulty
resisting. They tend to be oriented toward
short-term pleasures and rewards rather than long-
term consequences. Low scorers do not experience
strong, irresistible cravings and consequently do
not find themselves tempted to overindulge.
Vulnerability. High scorers on Vulnerability
experience panic, confusion, and helplessness when
under pressure or stress. Low scorers feel more
poised, confident, and clear-thinking when stressed.
imagination. To imaginative individuals, the
real world is often too plain and ordinary. High
scorers on this scale use fantasy as a way of
creating a richer, more interesting world. Low
scorers are on this scale are more oriented to facts
Artistic Interests. High scorers on this
scale love beauty, both in art and in nature. They
become easily involved and absorbed in artistic and
natural events. They are not necessarily
artistically trained or talented, although many will
be. The defining features of this scale are interest
in, and appreciation of natural and artificial
beauty. Low scorers lack aesthetic sensitivity and
interest in the arts.
Emotionality. Persons high on Emotionality
have good access to and awareness of their own
feelings. Low scorers are less aware of their
feelings and tend not to express their emotions
Adventurousness. High scorers on
adventurousness are eager to try new activities,
travel to foreign lands, and experience different
things. They find familiarity and routine boring,
and will take a new route home just because it is
different. Low scorers tend to feel uncomfortable
with change and prefer familiar routines.
Intellect. Intellect and artistic interests
are the two most important, central aspects of
openness to experience. High scorers on Intellect
love to play with ideas. They are open-minded to new
and unusual ideas, and like to debate intellectual
issues. They enjoy riddles, puzzles, and brain
teasers. Low scorers on Intellect prefer dealing
with people or things rather than ideas. They regard
intellectual exercises as a waste of time. Intellect
should not be equated with intelligence. Intellect
is an intellectual style, not an intellectual
ability, although high scorers on Intellect score
slightly higher than low-Intellect individuals on
standardized intelligence tests.
Liberalism. Psychological liberalism refers
to a readiness to challenge authority, convention,
and traditional values. In its most extreme form,
psychological liberalism can even represent outright
hostility toward rules, sympathy for law-breakers,
and love of ambiguity, chaos, and disorder.
Psychological conservatives prefer the security and
stability brought by conformity to tradition.
Psychological liberalism and conservatism are not
identical to political affiliation, but certainly
incline individuals toward certain political
It is possible,
although unusual, to score high in one or more facets of
a personality trait and low in other facets of the same
trait. For example, you could score highly in
Imagination, Artistic Interests, Emotionality and
Adventurousness, but score low in Intellect and