Personality is the collection of characteristic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are associated with a person. Personality traits are characteristic behaviors and feelings that are consistent and long lasting.

Ancient Greek Ideas

The ancient Greeks believed that people’s personalities depended on the kind of humor, or fluid, most prevalent in their bodies. The ancient Greeks identified four humors—blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile—and categorized people’s personalities to correspond as follows:

  • Sanguine: Blood. Cheerful and passionate.
  • Phlegmatic: Phlegm. Dull and unemotional.
  • Melancholic: Black bile. Unhappy and depressed.
  • Choleric: Yellow bile. Angry and hot-tempered.

The Greek theory of personality remained influential well into the eighteenth century.

Cattell’s Sixteen Traits

Like the ancient Greeks, modern researchers believe in the existence of a few basic personality traits. Combinations of these basic traits, they believe, form other traits. Psychologist Raymond Cattell used a statistical procedure called factor analysis to identify basic personality traits from a very long list of English words that identified traits. Factor analysis allowed Cattell to cluster these traits into groups according to their similarities. He found that personality is made up of sixteen basic dimensions.

The Big Five Traits

Other researchers have since clustered personality traits into even fewer categories. Today, many psychologists believe that all personality traits derive from five basic personality traits, which are commonly referred to as the Big Five:

  1. Neuroticism
  2. Extraversion
  3. Openness to experience
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Conscientiousness

The Big Five traits remain quite stable over the life span, particularly after the age of thirty. Although researchers identified the Big Five traits by using a list of English words, these traits seem to be applicable in many countries.

Criticisms of the Big Five Model

Critics of the Big Five have various arguments against the model:

  • Some critics think that more than five traits are needed to account for the wide personality differences among people.
  • Other critics argue that five traits are too many. For example, they point out that openness correlates positively with extraversion. These critics argue that just three traits— neuroticism, extraversion, and agreeableness—should be enough to fully describe personality.
  • Still other critics argue that the Big Five are somewhat arbitrary because they depend on the words used in the statistical analysis that produced them. A different list of words may have yielded different basic traits.
  • Some psychologists have questioned the research supporting the stability of the Big Five traits across cultures. They argue that the research could be biased because the use of Western tests is more likely to uncover cultural similarities than differences.

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