How Psychologists Study Personality
A right muddle
For decades, psychologists got into a right muddle when it came to personality research. Everybody had their own idea of what personality was and how to measure it. Some thought it could be boiled down to the way you responded to rewards and punishments; others sought to classify people as thinking, feeling, sensing and intuitive types. And others still, thought it’d be best to show people a picture of an ink blot and categorise them based on how they made sense of the various spots and splatters. See, I told you. A mess.
Fads took off, rubbish ideas stuck around, and eventually many abandoned the whole pursuit. Until some bright sparks got the idea of turning to the dictionary. They figured that personality traits are so important in our daily lives that we simply couldn’t afford not to have words for all the crucial ones. So they scoured it front to back and monitored the way people rated themselves on every single trait adjective in the English language, from apprehensive to fearful, excitable to nervous, happy to jittery.
"The Big Five"
Turns out, many of these traits overlap, and not just semantically either. For example, there is a very clear difference between being sad and being scared, but many people who are frequently sad are also frequently scared. In other words, the traits could be grouped together in ways that are meaningful to what it’s actually like to live with those traits. And from these groupings, five key clusters emerged. We call these “the Big Five” – and your scores on each can tell us quite a lot about who you are and who you’ll grow to be.