Big Five Personality Test: What does it say about you?

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Big Five Personality Test: What does it say about you?

Who are you really? What makes you special, what distinguishes you from others? And if there are ways to find out - how can you benefit from this knowledge? Will it help you live a better life? Personality tests are designed to show us where our strengths and weaknesses lie and how we can develop. The Big Five personality test is one of the most commonly administered personality tests today. The test describes personality on the basis of five central characteristics, the so-called OCEAN formula. How meaningful is it - and how can it help you realise yourself and fulfil your potential? Find out here.

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What are the "Big Five"?

The Big Five are basic your personality traitswhich are more or less pronounced in every human being. They represent something like a basic inventory of human ways of experiencing and reacting. Here is a brief overview in keywords:

O - Openness; the willingness to open up to new information and experiences, tolerance and curiosity;
C - Conscientiousness; the tendency to proceed systematically and according to plan, an eye for detail and a love of order, reliability and consistency, the need for predictability;
E - Extraversion; the tendency to be sociable, talkative, and generally more outwardly oriented; the opposite represents introversion - the tendency to withdraw into oneself or to live in a relatively narrow circle of friends and acquaintances.
A - Agreeableness; good ability in dealing with others, friendliness and diplomacy, seeking closeness with others;
N - Neuroticism; a tendency toward anxiousness, rumination, and problem-focused thinking with increased susceptibility to stress. Neuroticism is a factor of psychological instability; psychologically stable individuals usually have a low neuroticism factor.

The OCEAN formula

At first glance, these characteristics seem arbitrary and also a little sobering. Only these five characteristics are supposed to make up a person? Aren't there many more personality traits that need to be taken into account? Or can you really reduce a person to these five traits?

To do this, one must know: The OCEAN formula (also known as the CANOE formula) is actually an intermediate result in a long process of scientific theorizing. In this process, research groups summarized the multitude of traits that can be summed up under the term "personality" into groups of similar or related traits, which in turn were further reduced. This left these five traits as the core inventory of personality. With them, one may not be able to form a complete personality description. But they do cover a large part of what constitutes human behavior and experience. The five traits of the OCEAN formula comprise more characteristics than just one: each one represents complex action and reaction tendencies with many facets.

How did the Big Five personality test come about?

The concepts that led to the Big Five personality model date back to the 1920s. Psychologists and researchers such as C.G. Jung or H.J. Eysenck, G.W. Allport, R.B. Cattell and many others contributed terms, theories and models to describe personality in the first half of the last century. Subsequent researchers took them up and developed them further in a professional discussion that continues to this day. Numerous scientific studies were (and still are) conducted and published on this topic, with five personality traits increasingly becoming the focus of research groups over the course of time.

The term "Big Five" was first introduced in 1981 by the American psychologist Lewis R. Goldberg to express that these five characteristics have general validity for all people. The Big Five personality model has since been tested and refined in many tests and studies. In the process, psychological research groups developed various test procedures that differ in the number of questions and traits covered. Thus the NEO-PI-R test by Paul T. Costa and Robert R. McCrae, 240 questions, while their shortened test version NEO-FFI (NEO Five Factor Inventory) only needs 60 questions. Other versions, such as the B5T (Big Five Test) by L. Satow (2012), integrate additional questions to obtain information about strong basic motives - for example, the desire for power, recognition or security. Thus, the Big Five personality model became the basis for a large number of test inventories, some of which focus on very different questions.

What can a Big 5 test do?

In its simplest form, a Big Five personality test shows how strongly or weakly each of the five personality traits is expressed in a test person. With its help, fundamental dimensions of human experience and behavior can be measured and correlated with other characteristics - for example, job satisfaction or the frequency of certain illnesses. In this way, the Big Five personality test not only provides an individual personality description. It also allows assessments of how comfortable a particular person feels in specific work environments or what types of risky behavior he or she should watch out for, and much more.

Important to know: Each of the five traits represents a continuum where the test-taker falls somewhere between a high score (very strongly expressed) or a low score (very weakly expressed). For example, one may be very extroverted and agreeable, but at the same time not very conscientious. Or very conscientious, moderately extroverted and hardly neurotic. All possible combinations can occur. They allow conclusions to be drawn about how a person behaves, reacts and feels under certain conditions or how they get along with other people.

How does the Big 5 personality test work?

The test result comes from a self-description with the help of standardized questionnaires (inventories). During the test, subjects can either agree or disagree with various statements about themselves. All answers taken together allow an assessment of how strongly each of the five OCEAN factors is pronounced in the test person. For example, a statement might read, "I like to travel and learn about foreign cultures." This question targets the "openness" factor. Another question aimed at the "Agreeableness" factor might read, "I love animated conversations with other people." Choices to tick would then be something like "completely agree", "tend to agree", "tend not to agree" or "not at all agree". Some tests also work with more than four possible answers.

Each answer results in a certain number of points. The scores are then added together for each of the five factors. The result shows for each OCEAN characteristic whether it is weak, average, above average or even strong in the test person.

Can you cheat on the personality test?

Of course, it is possible to answer questions misleadingly when describing yourself. The temptation is strong to answer yes to a question like "I love to do my job conscientiously and flawlessly" in an employment test, even if the opposite is true. Who wants to admit that in front of others? Some test inventories incorporate specific test questions to assess whether or not a respondent is answering questions truthfully. If the answers indicate a high probability of deception, the test result is not very meaningful - except as far as the intention to deceive is concerned.

One should ask oneself whether it is really purposeful to describe oneself inaccurately in a recruitment test. If the test person overemphasizes qualities that are generally considered desirable, this can backfire if, for example, a completely different personality profile is required. Or if one pretends to be a sociable, communicative and sociable person and later feels uncomfortable both in a team and in constant customer contact. And even if you only take the Big Five Test for yourself, you still want accurate feedback. Anything else would be a waste of time and self-deception.

Where and how is the Big Five Test used?

Companies and recruitment agencies use the Big Five Test to create applicant profiles. In addition, of course, it is still used in psychological research to expand our knowledge of the psychology of personality and its many effects. Individuals use personality tests like the Big Five Test, the DISG, MBTI, or Insights to learn more about themselves. Where are my strengths, where are my weaknesses - and what can I do to get ahead in life? If these questions are answered reliably, personality tests facilitate career planning and the personal development and development. That is why they also play a major role in coaching when it comes to developing and promoting individual potential.

How accurately can the test describe me?

A personality is not like a cupboard with different compartments where everything is kept in order and separated from each other. The OCEAN factors are intrinsically complex and interconnected in many ways. In addition, people show different sides of themselves in different environments and situations. In the private circle of family or friends, one is not a completely different person than in the workplace. But there are very different demands, relationships and conditions that you encounter there. So we will make use of our abilities to different degrees at different times. Our ability to communicate, to feel comfortable with others, to absorb new things, to be thorough and conscientious and so on.

Apart from these situational dynamics, the Big Five Test primarily attempts to capture relatively permanent features of personality. Long-term studies were able to show that the test scores of young people often changed little over the course of their lives. Only for the traits openness and agreeableness did the researchers show a tendency to increase - the older they get, the better many people learn to relate to others.

What about personality development?

The interaction between heredity and environmental factors also plays a central role in personality development. Research groups have been able to demonstrate in twin studies, among other things, that around 40 to 60 percent of the expression of the Big Five personality traits can be traced back to genetic factors. In other words, we are given basic orientations and reaction patterns as an inherited trait in life. Developmental psychologists refer to this as the "nature and nurture" interrelationship: we receive the foundations of our personality traits as a biological inheritance (nature), but they must be nurtured and nourished (nurture) in order to emerge and develop.

So it's quite possible that there are potentials slumbering in us that the Big Five Test doesn't reveal - simply because we haven't had the opportunity to make use of them yet. So it can certainly depict basic strengths and weaknesses. However, it does not allow us to make any statements about the extent to which we can develop beyond this framework.

DISG® vs. Big Five
Personality test models in comparison


focuses on four predominant types of behaviour
different behavioural characteristics in different situations
the world's leading tool for optimizing communication and interpersonal relationships
shows the influence of personality on behaviour
easy to use and remember

Big Five

also known as the OCEAN or five-factor model
measures the 5 main dimensions of personality: openness to experience, extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and neuroticism
the world's most famous personality test
difficult practical application due to individual expressions on scales instead of types
Neuroticism as a trait has negative social connotations and, depending on the outcome, often leads to post-test dissatisfaction

Are there alternatives to the Big Five test?

The psychological testing landscape is tremendously diverse. By no means all test procedures deal with personality. Variables such as intelligence, orientation, motivation, depressiveness, insecurity in social contacts and much more can now also be reliably tested. In the field of personality tests, there are also many others that can often be used online for free:

  • DISG (in English DISC);
  • Insights Discovery;
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI);
  • Gallup Strengths Finder;
  • Enneagram;
  • Profiles according to Reiss;
  • the Bochum Inventory for Job-Related Personality Assessment (BIP)
  • and many more.

So the question is not whether there are alternatives, but which test best measures what you want to learn about yourself. It probably makes the least sense to randomly try one personality test after another. That way, you'll just collect a bunch of unrelated statements about yourself that will, at best, confuse you and, at worst, make you feel like you're a chaotic mess of conflicting impulses and talents. This is of no use to anyone - especially as many psychological tests often only reveal potential and possibilities when you talk to a competent coach or psychologist.

If you want to develop further, you should take your time - also with regard to psychological diagnostics. Every test measures something different or is based on different psychological models and assumptions. If you want to get to know yourself better, it's a good idea to build a solid foundation first, and then work out more specific questions from there.

Start now with your individual personality development

The DISG test you free of charge on our homepagegives you such a basic orientation. Instead of five traits like the Big Five Test, it relies on four - Dominance, Initiative, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. It takes a similar approach to the Big Five test, but defines a slightly different spectrum of personality traits.

The advantage of the DISG model is that it allows you to reliably assess not only yourself, but also others - simply based on their self-expressions and behaviors. If you learn to assess yourself and others with the help of the DISG model, you can quickly find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie, what you need to pay attention to in dealing with others and how you can convince people by addressing them in the right way.

This is a good introduction to working with and on yourself, as it considers from the outset how different personality styles harmonise with each other or how problems arise when different personalities clash. This way you can give yourself the basic tools to learn more about yourself and become more aware of your reactions and behaviors.

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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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