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The Big Five Theory and Happiness

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3113 words Published: 27th Oct 2021

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Personality is an important aspect of psychology, ranging from certain personality types and behaviours to a single trait. A trait is described as an aspect of personality that is used to categorise people according to their particular characteristics (Burger, 1997), these characteristics can be integrated in the big five.

It should be considered that the theory behind the big five was developed by William Sheldon (1950, cited in Child, 1950, p.1)'s typology of personality using somotypes. This theory assumed that personalities developed from different individuals with different types of physiques.

Jung (1972) on the other hand, used the categorisation of people through their primary models of psychological functioning. Although, this theory was further developed by Gordon Allport (1937)'s classification of personality traits as Allport was more concerned with neither somotypes nor one's model of psychological functioning. He countered the theory created by Sheldon (1950, cited in Child, 1950, p.1) and focused on the individual differences of others as well as the context of the present rather than an individual's history through lexicosemantic processes in order to understand one's personality.

During a psychological study, Allport and Odbert (1936) expanded their list of terms through the identification of traits, and identified 4,500 personality traits through list of 18,000 terms that was described as "a semantic nightmare" (cited in Allport, 1937, p. 353-354).

Thus, Allport and Odbert (1936) founded the psycholexical approach to personality as they hypothesised that most relevant personality characteristics can be encoded in language.The traits were classified into three groups: cardinal traits, central traits and secondary traits. The cardinal traits describe one's most dominant characteristics, these traits shape an individual's behaviour.

Furthermore, the central traits depict the general traits that have been found within every individual to a certain degree. Moreover, secondary traits are exhibited under certain circumstances.

These include personal traits that may only be noticed by those closest to the individual such as family or close friends. However, while Sheldon (1950, cited in Child, 1950, p.1)'s theory was overtaken by Allport's (1937) lexical studies, it is important to consider that the last category of traits in Allport's (1937) theory included physical characteristics as well as terms that were of doubtful relevance to the comprehension of personality.

It should also be considered that Mischel (1968, cited in Eysenck & Eysenck, 1980, p.191) conceptualised the person-situation debate, in which Mischel questioned whether the person or a situation is more influential in determining one's behaviour. However, this was debunked by Eysenck et al (1980) as they established that situations may become factors that influence an individual's behaviour.

Cattell (1943) continued the development of the big five through a multivariate 'factor analysis' by reducing the original 4,500 traits into 12 personality factors. These factors were also included in his 16 personality factor questionnaire, also called 16F (Cattell, Eber & Tatsuoka, 1970). Cattell's (1943) variables were reduced even further by Fiske (1949), as he made much more simplified descriptions using 22 of Cattell's variables. These factors were extracted from peer-assessments, self-ratings, and ratings by psychological stage members. However, Fiske (1949) found that he could not replicate the findings of Cattell's (1943) research after re-analysing the list of 4,500 traits.

Tupes and Christal (1961) found "five relatively strong and recurrent factors" (cited in Tupes and Christal, 1961, p.37). These factors included: Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and intellect. Thus, these factors later became "The Big Five" (Goldberg, 1981).

Furthermore, Eysenck (1971) first developed a two factor model but then founded a three-factor model as opposed to the five-factors which established the "Eysenck Personality Questionnaire" (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1975). Their structure of personality consisted of three categories. The supertrait which was defined as clusters of personality traits that subsumed under their core traits, the personality traits, of which were a cluster of specific responses to stimuli as well as the habitual responses which were depicted as ways that individuals usually behave in situations.

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The big five also originated from the lexical hypothesis as its framework focuses on the descriptors used in any language system to capture the major dimensions of individual differences. The big five model of personality is considered a result of statistical research as it came after Cattell's (1943) initial lexical personality method and after Norman's (1967) list of 1431 major descriptors. It offers a descriptive rather than a causal class-action of individual differences.

As mentioned before, the big five model consists of five major personality traits/factors in its taxonomy.

The first is neuroticism which can be described as the tendency to exhibit negative emotions. Neurotic individuals can be characterised by their tendency to experience anxiety, as opposed to low neuroticism where individuals are described as emotionally stable.

The second dimension is extraversion, this is defined by the characteristics of assertiveness within an individual whilst the third dimension is openness to experience. This is depicted as individuals that engage in intellectual activities and is derived from the ideas of Coan (1974).

Examples of individuals with a high score in this dimension may include poets and artists. The fourth factor, agreeableness is the extent to which one exhibits sociability or modest behaviour.

The last factor is conscientiousness, which is associated with responsibility and self discipline. Originally, the Eysenckian idea of psychoticism was shown through low scores of agreeableness and conscientiousness, but high scores in openness to experience (Goldberg, 1982; McCrae & Costa, 1987). However, Eysenck et al (1985) also conceptualised agreeableness as a combination of low psychoticism, low neuroticism and high extraversion rather than its own dimension of personality.


The International Personality Item Pool (IPIP-50), a 50 item questionnaire, was established within a personality item-writing project organised by Hofstee and his colleagues as well as students of the University of Groningen, situated in The Netherlands (Hendriks, 1997; Hendriks, Hofstee, & de Raad, 2002).

This research project included the lexical hypothesis, which was described as the conception that most the important individual differences between each individual can be encoded in natural language (Goldberg, 1981). To generate the personality descriptive items, the Groningen group amassed into three teams between them to follow the guidelines that were recorded by Hofstee (Hofstee et al, 2002).

The first source of the IPIP was derived from the AB5C model of personality (Hofstee, de Raad, & Goldberg, 1992), which organised adjectives from pairs of the original Big-Five personality factors that described the traits.

The teams drafted items individually before they were assessed by the whole team in order to determine whether these items were consistent with ten guidelines that were provided and accurately incorporated a facet of the AB5C model of personality. This process produced 909 items in total.

The second source of the item content was a list consisting of 1,557 personality-descriptive verbs (de Raad, Mulder, Kloosterman & Hofstee, 1988). The new list sampled the production of 136 items such as "insulting" and "cheerful". Subsequently, a list of 266 items were recorded for the content of "intellect". The personality item pool soon became an international measure of personality once the 1,311 items created by the teams were translated into American-English. Only the items that had English and German translations remained in the final draft of the item list.Therefore, the final pool of the 914 items concluded the establishment of the International Personality Item Pool.

Upon using the International Personality Item Pool, I found that there were certain areas that seemed debatable. For example, although I was roughly aware of the questionnaire's intention, it was still difficult to interpret some of the statements used, such as to "have a soft heart." Thus, elements of contextual language may be needed in order to achieve a clear answer as a lack of clarity in the questions can impact the scores obtained.

Furthermore, while I acknowledge the fact that I can relate my results to my personality, it is still difficult to determine where I can truly learn more about my personality as I only acquired a raw score for every factor (not including neuroticism due to ethical considerations). Therefore, it is difficult to claim that my experience of the IPIP is reflective of my personality due to the fact that the results of the class were not standardised.

Similarly, this could potentially show that the IPIP can be problematic when used cross culturally due to the language used. However, due to the fact that it is a recognised measure of personality, it should not have any problems when used cross culturally. One of its advantages is that it does prove as a simple method to understanding and evaluating an individual's personality, particularly if it is used internationally. The more it is used internationally, the more the IPIP becomes a normalised measure of personality as it gains familiarity around different cultures.

Additionally, the IPIP is in the form of a self-report study. I believe that self report methods are useful in terms of gathering information about a participant's emotions and cognition without the interference of an interviewer or experimenter. Thus, social desirability is eliminated.

Furthermore, the IPIP uses phrases to depict a short scenario or emotion that a participant might experience which is an advantage as participants would not have to physically experience those emotions, causing them less stress and this would also be preferable should the researcher want to include scenarios and gain information about an individual's cognitive processes without needing to observe their behaviour. However, an advantage of a self report method is that the only individual capable of accurately discussing and assessing their own personality is themselves.


The big five can be valid in terms of happiness as those with higher scores of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and are more emotionally stable experience a higher level of satisfaction in life as there are more positive affects than negative (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998; Steel, Schmidt & Shultz, 2008). This shows that the big five is relevant in terms of happiness and can be measured by subjective well-being.

Similarly, highly neurotic people have the tendency to experience more chronic negative affect (Bolger & Schilling, 1991) and have especially intense reactions to negative events (Gross, Sutton, & Ketelaar, 1998). These findings are consistent as Luhmann & Eid (2009) also found a change in life satisfaction in highly neurotic individuals, thus we should consider that slightly neurotic individuals would experience less chronic negative affect. Therefore, direct effects of personality traits on both positive and negative affect may enable us to develop an understanding of why extraverted and emotionally stable individuals generally experience greater well-being.

Furthermore, subjective well-being may influence personality traits as an individual may lead a life with high levels of positive affect and satisfaction in life and due to the fact that a good mood generally leads to sociable behaviour (Fredrickson, 1998), this behaviour may be integrated into their self concept and other psychological systems. Thus, there may be an increase in certain traits such as extraversion, agreeableness and openness to explore.

On the other hand, there may also be an inverse effect. As previously mentioned, if one integrates a positive behaviour due to the increase of certain traits, it could also mean that an individual may internalise unpleasant affects and a pattern of socially withdrawn, cautious behaviour rather than sociable. These types of behaviour are often accompanied with negative moods, and would be shown as an increase in neuroticism and a decrease in extraversion, agreeableness and openness to experience.

The results of additional research conducted by Soto (2015) indicate that individuals with emotionally stable, conscientious, extraverted, and agreeable personalities tend to become happier over time and also implies that individuals with higher primary levels of well-being tend to become more emotionally stable, conscientious, agreeable, and introverted (less extroverted). Soto's (2015) research therefore develops the idea that the big five can be applicable to the happiness and well being of individuals.

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In conclusion, the big five was a product of the lexical hypothesis, developed by Allport (1937) and developed by many more psychological researchers. It became a measure of one's individual differences as well as their personality traits through a scale. Individuals that wish to obtain their scores for the big five can undergo the IPIP as long as their scores are standardised. Additionally, the big five can be applied to an individual's life through happiness and well being. Research has indicated that a specific level of certain traits such as a high level of extroversion can determine whether an individual is more likely to become happier over time.


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