For centuries, people have wondered about the nature of personality. What are the traits that make you distinctly you? It was not until the 1980s, however, that the statistical methods were advanced enough to answer this question in a data-driven way. During this period, several sets of researchers - most notably the two American psychologists Paul Costa and Robert McCrae - began crunching enormous amounts of data, with a method called factor analysis.
Simply put, factor analysis helps to identify underlying patterns in the data. Costa and McCrae applied the method to a type of data that had been used already the 1930s to map personality: The words we use to describe people. Interestingly, certain adjectives tended to go together. For instance, someone described as “outgoing” was often also described as “dominant”, but there was no correlation with e.g. being described as “creative”. A pattern started to appear.
The analyses consistently showed that personality could be described as five broad, independent factors. These were:
- Openness: An individual’s preference for trying out new things and seeking out new experiences and influences. Appreciation for art, emotion, and unusual ideas.
- Conscientiousness: The tendency to be disciplined, goal-oriented, and care deeply about performing well. An inclination to do what one has promised, and also to be orderly and structured.
- Extraversion: The preference for the company of others. The propensity to be social, talkative, energetic, confident, and positive.
- Agreeableness: The tendency to care about other people’s well-being, strive for consensus, and be mild and diplomatic in relation to other people.
- Emotional stability (originally called neuroticism): The tendency to be calm, easy-going, and resilient in the face of difficulty or problems, as opposed to being easily annoyed, worried, and depressed.
This set of broad traits came to be called the Five Factor Model, or the Big Five. The model has since been verified in a large number of countries, cultures, and settings. Studies have also shown that the five traits tend to be relatively stable over the lifespan. All in all, the Five Factor Model is widely considered the most valid and evidence-based model of personality.
A distinguishing feature of the Five Factor model is that it is dimensional. This means that you can have more or less of these five traits, and that the most common case is for people to be somewhere in the middle. For instance, most people tend to be moderately extraverted: They like to spend time with other people, but also like to be alone from time to time. This sets the Big Five apart from many less research-based models, where personality is often described in terms of more static “types”.
Moreover, the Big Five model has turned out to be very useful in predicting numerous life outcomes - not least, work performance. The factor that has proven to be the most important is conscientiousness. In most job roles, in most types of settings, it seems to be a significant advantage to be goal-oriented, diligent, and disciplined. For specific types of roles, other factors have also turned out to be important. For instance, extraversion and emotional stability have both been shown to predict success in leadership roles. Openness is related to e.g. training proficiency, and agreeableness correlates with performance in many service roles.
Overview of the sub-factors included in Alva's personality test:
Goal-striving is the action-oriented aspect of Conscientiousness. How hard do you work to achieve your goals? The scale goes from Easy-going to Industrious. People who are Easy-going are more inclined to lower their ambitions than to get out of their way to reach goals. People who are Industrious work hard to reach their goals, completes tasks and gets started easily.
Carefulness is the decision-making aspect of Conscientiousness. To what extent do you feel the need to get things right? The scale goes from Spontaneous to Careful. People who are Spontaneous are happy to make decisions and act on impulse. People who are Careful put a lot of deliberation and preparation on decisions.
Orderliness is a narrow trait within Conscientiousness. How important is it for you to keep things in order? The scale goes from Messy to Organized. People who are Messy prefer unstructured approaches while people who are Organized like order and structure.
Openness to experience:
Curiosity covers the rational, intellectual aspect of Openness. How interested are you in theoretical or philosophical discussions, for example? The scale goes from Down-to-earth to Curious. People who are Down-to-earth are generally not interested in abstract topics while people who are Curious enjoy intellectual challenges and theoretical discussions.
Aesthetic orientation covers the emotional aspect of Openness. How interested are you in experiences of beauty and being swept away by the moment? The scale goes from Concrete to Artistic. People who are Concrete perceive the world without beautifying or fantasizing. People who are Artistic appreciate beauty, in everyday life as well as in art, music poetry or literature.
Change orientation is a narrow facet in the Openness factor, covering the attitude toward change. How much do you need variety? The scale goes from Conservative to Change oriented. People who are Conservative appreciate familiar environments and settings and like to follow established methods. People who are Change oriented have a strong need for variation and like to try new things and change settings.
Assertiveness is a facet that concerns your 'weight' when interacting with others. To what extent are you the person who leads conversations or group activities? The scale goes from Accommodative to Assertive. People who are Accommodative let others take the lead and keep their opinions to themselves. People who are Assertive take charge and make their opinions heard.
Sociability concerns your need for social interaction with others. How much do you enjoy spending time among other people? The scale goes from Solitary to Sociable. People who are Solitary like to be alone and can be perceived as quiet or socially withdrawn. People who are Sociable like to be among other people and can be perceived as socially outgoing.
Energy level is a narrow facet in Extraversion. It covers your activity level and intensity in interaction with others. The scale goes from Low-key to Energetic. People who are Low-key like low-energy environments and can give a restrained appearance. People who are Energetic enjoy high-energy environments and give an active and lively appearance.
Compassion is the emotional aspect of Agreeableness. To what extent do you feel sympathy and empathy for other people? The scale goes from Indifferent to Soft-hearted. People who are Indifferent are generally unaffected by other people's negative experiences. People who are Soft-hearted care about the wellbeing of others and typically want to care for and help other people.
Politeness is the rational aspect of Agreeableness. To what extent do you act in a polite and well-mannered way? The scale goes from Forthright to Polite. People who are Forthright question others and are accustomed to conflicts and arguments. People who are Polite typically avoid to offend others and stay out of conflicts.
Trust is a narrow facet within Agreeableness. To what extent do you trust the intentions of others? The scale goes from Sceptical to Trusting. People who are Sceptical are typically wary of other people while people who are Trusting believe in the good intentions and truthfulness of others.
Optimism concerns how you deal with setbacks and failure. The scale goes from Heavy hearted to Carefree. People who are Heavy hearted are inclined to negative thoughts and emotions. People who are Carefree get past setbacks easily and stays optimistic.
Stability concerns how even and steady your temper is. The scale goes from Hot-tempered to Even-tempered. People who are Hot-tempered experience emotions intensively and get angry when provoked. People who are Even-tempered rarely get annoyed or upset.
Stress tolerance concerns how you experience stress. The scale goes from Anxious to Composed. People who are Anxious worry about things that have happened or might happen in the future. People who are Composed rarely experiences feelings of worry or stress.