Overview: Personality traits are defined as habitual patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, with one clinical measure dividing personality into five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion-introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
When describing yourself or another individual, you likely use terms such as “outgoing,” “competitive,” “funny,” “kind,” or “argumentative.” Many of us use descriptive terms like these to convey someone’s personality traits. When taking a trait approach to personality, the underlying assumption is that behaviors are built on relatively stable characteristics — meaning a person is naturally going to act a certain way regardless of the situation at hand. By understanding common personality traits, we can better understand the differences between ourselves and others.
What is a Personality Trait?
Behind the idea of a personality trait is simply personality. But what exactly is a personality? It refers to a person’s patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It’s a blend of a person’s natural dispositions as well as environmental factors and life experiences. There are many different types of personalities — from competitive and anxious to flexible and creative — and while they can change over time, a person’s core characteristics remain relatively steady over a lifetime.
Personality traits represent the characteristics causing someone to behave in a certain way. For psychologists, personality is a core theoretical area of study and is thought to be made up of a person’s broader dispositions. The combination and interaction of many different dispositions form personality traits that are unique for each individual and can be categorized more broadly. Better understanding common personality traits allows psychologists to study and explain how and why certain individuals and groups can work together to drive desired outcomes.
The Most Common Personality Traits
While there are endless characteristics that can combine in a broad spectrum of ways, there are also core classifications of common personality traits.
The “Big 5”
One classification is the “Big 5,” which highlights five core traits driving and influencing human behavior. These classifications of personality encompass the following basic traits:
- Openness to experience
This entails the desire to seek out new and unfamiliar experiences. Those who score high in this trait are curious about the world around them and have an interest in meeting new people. They are eager to learn, try new experiences, and have a broad range of interests.
This trait represents the tendency toward self-discipline and planning over simplicity. When a person tracks high in this trait, they have a high degree of impulse control, are goal-oriented, and tend to be organized. They also effectively plan ahead, think about how their behavior impacts other people, and meet deadlines.
Extraversion refers to a person drawing energy from time spent with others, while introversion entails a person drawing energy from time spent alone. If a person is high in extraversion, they are outgoing and feel excited when connecting in social situations. On the other hand, the tendency toward introversion entails being more reserved and needing to experience solitude and quiet in order to “recharge” after social situations.
This takes shape in how cooperative, polite, and kind a person tends to be. When an individual is high in this trait, they experience trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and are more effective in group cooperation.
Encompassing a person’s emotional stability, neuroticism articulated a person’s tendency toward anxiety and self-doubt. Those who are high in this trait tend to experience mood swings, irritability, and sadness, while those low in this trait are more stable and emotionally resilient.
These five common traits generally remain consistent across one’s lifetime and can even indicate certain behaviors in a given situation.
Self-monitoring personality trait
Beyond the “Big 5” personality traits is self-monitoring. If a person is a high self-monitor, they are skilled at understanding how to control the image they present to others in social situations. This personality trait entails a motivation to change behavior with the intention of swaying the impressions of those around them. This happens through presenting a consistent image of themselves to others regardless of the situation or how they are feeling.
Because self-monitors are sensitive and adapt their expressions depending on the social situation, there is a weaker correlation between their attitudes and behaviors. This impacts the way people behave over time, express how they are feeling, internalize social cues, approach relationships, and make judgements. Additionally, this personality trait can sometimes obscure the authenticity of other characteristics.
While there is no single test or model that can capture the full array of the human personality, there are assessments that can assist in helping someone determine how high or low they are in certain personality traits. Results from tests like these can help illuminate differences between individuals and groups and connect certain traits to desired personal outcomes. In any instance, personality is complex and varied and highly dependent on the individual. Any results should be interpreted with that context in mind.