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Big Five 2.0

Having made such assessments, you may find that your ideas about each category are still fuzzy. To sharpen your appraisal of a person’s profile of traits, it helps to move from a holistic impression to a more meticulous examination. To do this, you need to learn more about the details of the Big Five.

Paul Costa and Robert McCrae have done the most to clarify these details. Working together at the National Institutes of Health in the 1980s, they developed a questionnaire called the NEO PI-R, which uses phrases rather than adjectives.12 The big advantage of using phrases is that you can design them to eliminate some of the ambiguity that is inherent in single words. For example, in place of the word insecure, a component of Neuroticism, Costa and McCrae use phrases that spell out certain aspects, such as “In dealing with people, I always dread making a social blunder” and “I often feel helpless and want someone else to solve my problems.”13

Another reason for the popularity of the NEO PI-R is that it sharpens the assessment of each of the Big Five by subdividing them into six components, called facets. This ensures a more complete evaluation and helps focus attention on specific individual differences. Consider, for example, these phrases that assess facets of Extraversion:

  • I find it easy to smile and be outgoing with strangers. (Warmth/Friendliness)
  • I enjoy parties with lots of people. (Gregariousness)
  • I am dominant, forceful, and assertive. (Assertiveness)
  • My life is fast-paced. (Activity)
  • I love the excitement of roller coasters. (Excitement-Seeking)
  • I am a cheerful, high-spirited person. (Positive Emotions/Cheerfulness)

The advantage of using these facets is that it may help you make distinctions that you might have glossed over. For example, many people with an average E score are not average across the board. Some may be somewhat higher on warmth, gregariousness, and positive emotions than on assertiveness, activity, and excitement-seeking; others may have a different balance. The same is true for the other tendencies. In each case, you should pay particular attention to facets that stand out as clearly higher or lower than average. Because the whole point of the exercise is to compare people with each other, you’re really looking for these distinguishing characteristics. You may also take note of particular situations in which these distinguishing characteristics are expressed.

To get a feel for the facets of the Big Five, I encourage you to take a free computer-based personality test that resembles the proprietary one devised by Costa and McCrea, at www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/j/5/j5j/IPIP/ipipneo120.htm. Developed by a group of distinguished personality researchers14 and overseen by John A. Johnson15 at Pennsylvania State University, it uses different names for some of the facets but covers similar ground. This free test, called the IPIP, can be taken anonymously in about 20 minutes. If you take it, you will receive an automated email report that shows your relative rankings on the Big Five and its facets by comparing your scores with those of the hundreds of thousands of other people who have already taken it.

To gain more experience with the facets of the Big Five (Table 1.2), you may also use the online questionnaire to assess the familiar person (P) I asked you to select in the Preface. Doing this will sharpen your view of P and help persuade you of the usefulness of this approach. As you become more familiar with the Big Five, the aim is to learn to do some rough scoring in your head (high, medium, or low) without having to rely on a questionnaire.

TABLE 1.2 Facets of the Big Five*


Warmth/Friendliness (makes friends easily)

Gregariousness (likes the company of others)

Assertiveness (likes to take charge)

Activity (likes to be busy)

Excitement-Seeking (likes thrills)

Positive Emotions/Cheerfulness (is prone to feel happy)


Trust (assumes people have good intentions)

Straightforwardness/Morality (is candid, avoids deception)

Altruism (finds helping others rewarding, is not exploitative)

Compliance/Cooperation (prefers compromise to opposition)

Modesty (is not boastful)

Tender-Mindedness/Sympathy (is kind, compassionate)


Competence/Self-Efficacy (can accomplish things)

Order/Orderliness (is well organized, makes plans)

Dutifulness (is highly reliable)

Achievement-Striving (works to achieve excellence)

Self-Discipline (has willpower)

Deliberation/Cautiousness (takes time making decisions)


Anxiety (is prone to fearfulness)

Angry Hostility (is prone to feel resentful)

Depression (is prone to feel discouraged, pessimistic)

Self-Consciousness (is shy because of fear of rejection)

Impulsiveness/Immoderation (has difficulty resisting urges)

Vulnerability (loses poise under pressure)


Fantasy/Imagination (tries to create a more interesting world)

Aesthetics/Artistic Interests (loves beauty in art and nature)

Feelings/Emotionality (is aware of own feelings)

Actions/Adventurousness (is eager to try new activities)

Ideas/Intellect (likes to play with ideas)

Values/Liberalism (is ready to challenge convention)

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