Diving into the OCEAN
of Personality Traits

While creating and sustaining positive behavior change isn’t easy for anyone, it seems to be harder for some people than for others. Identifying their Enneagram type helps my clients hone in on their strengths and weaknesses and develop an awareness of the kinds of roadblocks they’re likely to face in the work we do together. But it would be even more helpful to be able to determine at the outset how open someone really is to change. Simply asking the question, which seems like an obvious solution, isn’t the answer since the basis of many personality traits resides in the unconscious (therefore outside conscious awareness).

Well, it appears there actually is an instrument that offers some clues about a person’s receptivity to behavior change.

In the fledgling field of the neuroscience of personality, the system that has been given the most scrutiny is what is referred to as The Big Five or The Five-Factor model of personality—aka OCEAN. OCEAN is an acronym for the five factors the test measures, which are:

The Five-Factor model doesn’t account for all aspects of temperament or personality, but it’s quite comprehensive, and numerous longitudinal studies have confirmed its validity as well as its predictive ability. As a result of being the personality model most used by psychologists, it has been the target of research in areas such as creativity, leadership skills, and the use of technology and even social media. Researches are also working on correlating variation in the volume of different brain regions to the five factors.

[You can take the test here.]

Each of the five factors is divided into two aspects, which are further divided into facets (individual personality traits) that correlate to one or, in some cases, both aspects.

Openness to Experience

If you score high in Openness to Experience, you probably have a vivid imagination, like to try new things, love learning, enjoy the arts, and prefer variety over routine. Openness includes the aspects of intellect and openness. Some traits related to intellect and openness are:

  • Imagination
  • Insight
  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Perception
  • Wide variety of interests
  • Quickness
  • Ingenuity
  • Excitement-seeking
  • Fantasy
  • Reflection

If you score high in conscientiousness, you’re probably able to delay gratification. It’s also likely you can plan and organize effectively, work within the rules, and tend not to procrastinate or be impulsive. Conscientiousness includes the aspects of industriousness and orderliness. Some traits related to industriousness and orderliness are:

  • Persistence
  • Puposefulness
  • Self-discipline
  • Perfectionism
  • Consistency
  • Predictability
  • Resourcefulness
  • Dutifulness
  • Deliberation
  • Efficiency
  • Competence
  • Planning

If you score high in extraversion, you are likely to seek opportunities for social interaction, are comfortable with others, enjoy being the center of attention, and prefer action to contemplation. However, what separates extraverts from introverts, brain-wise, is their responsiveness to rewards. Extraversion includes the aspects of enthusiasm and assertiveness. Some traits related to enthusiasm and assertiveness are:

  • Gregariousness
  • Confidence
  • Cheerfulness
  • Warmth
  • Sociability
  • Positive emotions
  • Leadership
  • Provocativeness
  • Friendliness
  • Talkativeness
  • Excitement-seeking
  • Poise

If you score high in agreeableness, you’re probably respected and well-liked, are cooperative and sensitive to the needs of others, and generally get along with people. Agreeableness includes the aspects of compassion and politeness. Some traits related to compassion and politeness are:

  • Trust
  • Modesty
  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Pleasantness
  • Moderation
  • Kindness
  • Loyalty
  • Cheerfulness
  • Cooperation
  • Consideration

If you score high in neuroticism, you may lack self-confidence, cope poorly with stress, focus more on negative emotions than positive ones, and have a tendency to worry or ruminate about your experiences. Neuroticism includes the aspects of volatility and withdrawal. Some traits related to volatility and withdrawal are:

  • Pessimism
  • Moodiness
  • Immoderation
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Timidity
  • Wariness
  • Insecurity
  • Self-consciousness
  • Instability
  • Over-sensitivity

How do you think high and low scores in the five-factor test might either support or impede behavior change? Within the five factor aspects (OCEAN), which individual traits do you think would exert the greatest effect on attempts at behavior change?

Next time, I’ll fill in another piece of the puzzle, one that is less widely known than the Big Five. It’s referred to as the Big (sometimes Huge) Two because its two factors are meta-factors that include the Big Five factors and provide us with that shortcut to determining an individual’s inherent capacity for succeeding with behavior change strategies.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. This is fascinating. I have made major changes in myself the last few years, and I love looking at traits that have helped or needed to be worked through.

    Quick, off the top of my head responses to your questions.

    How do you think high and low scores in the five-factor test might either support or impede behavior change?

    Openness – Enjoy and look for new things, which is crucial to change
    Extroversion – Support through exposure to more people and ideas that are different from your own
    Agreeableness – Hmmmmmm. My immediate response is a drag on change as I see items that would support and ones that restrict. Patience is important in change, but humility can keep you from having the assertiveness to change.
    Consciousnesses – Very important to change. Change is difficult, and you must have persistence etc. so rally stick with the new behavior.
    Neuroticism – High levels will impede and eventually shut down change.

    Within the five factor aspects (OCEAN), which individual traits do you think would exert the greatest effect on attempts at behavior change?

    Openness is crucial, as is low neuroticism

    Now my turn to ask a question. Do you feel over time we change in these factors, lor do we not express them because some fears are holding us back? For example, I an now very extroverted, especially according to this definition. However, at one time I was a long way from being extroverted.

    If you’re interested, here are my test results:

    Extraversion 91st percentile
    Agreeableness 87
    Consciousness 69
    Neuroticism 3
    Openness 98

    • Hi Don! I hope you are well.

      I think your assessment of the five factors regarding change is good. Openness is indeed crucial. I’d add that extraverts’ greater sensitivity to rewards also helps facilitate change.

      It seems that the five factors are tendencies (aspects of temperament, much like Enneagram characteristics), so they are go-to responses but not permanently fixed. Interestingly, it was believed for quite a while that Openness to Experience was the most fixed/least changeable factor, but more current research reveals we can increase our openness–which is great news. I think that for various reasons most people become less open, not more, as they grow older, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

      You’ll like the next post (January 17th). Let me know what you think about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *