In the 1970s two research teams led by Paul Costa and Robert R. McCrae of the National Institutes of Health and Warren Norman and Lewis Goldberg of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Oregon, respectively, discovered that most human character traits can be described using five dimensions. Surveys of thousands of people yielded these largely independent traits:

Extroversion: The most broadly defined of the Big Five factors measures cheerfulness, initiative and communicativeness. Those who score high for extroversion are companionable, sociable and able to accomplish what they set out to do. Those with low scores tend to be introverted, reserved and more submissive to authority.

Openness: People with high scores here love novelty and are generally creative. At the other end of the scale are those who are more conventional in their thinking, prefer routines, and have a pronounced sense of right and wrong.

Agreeableness: This trait describes how we deal with others. High values show that someone is friendly, empathetic and warm. Shy, suspicious and egocentric individuals score low on the spectrum.

Conscientiousness: This dimension measures a person’s degree of organization. Those with high scores are motivated, disciplined and trustworthy. Irresponsible and easily distracted people are found at the low end of the scale.

Neuroticism: This scale measures emotional stability. People with high scores are anxious, inhibited, moody and less self-assured. Those at the lower end are calm, confident and contented.

Where are you on the Big Five scale? You can find out by taking a free personality test at