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In This Article

Table of Contents
  • Overview
  • Conscientiousness
  • Agreeableness
  • Universality

Many contemporary personality psychologists believe that there are five basic dimensions of personality, often referred to as the 'Big 5' personality traits. The five broad personality traits described by the theory are extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

Trait theories of personality have long attempted to pin down exactly how many personality traits exist. Earlier theories have suggested a various number of possible traits, including Gordon Allport's list of 4,000 personality traits, Raymond Cattell's 16 personality factors, and Hans Eysenck's three-factor theory.

However, many researchers felt that Cattell's theory was too complicated and Eysenck's was too limited in scope. As a result, the five-factor theory emerged to describe the essential traits that serve as the building blocks of personality.

What Are the Big Five Dimensions of Personality?

Today, many researchers believe that they are five core personality traits. Evidence of this theory has been growing for many years, beginning with the research of D. W. Fiske (1949) and later expanded upon by other researchers including Norman (1967), Smith (1967), Goldberg (1981), and McCrae & Costa (1987).

The 'big five' are broad categories of personality traits. While there is a significant body of literature supporting this five-factor model of personality, researchers don't always agree on the exact labels for each dimension.

You might find it helpful to use the acronym OCEAN (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) when trying to remember the big five traits. CANOE (for concienciousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion) is another commonly used acronym.

It is important to note that each of the five personality factors represents a range between two extremes. For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.

These five categories are usually described as follows.


This trait features characteristics such as imagination and insight. People who are high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests. They are curious about the world and other people and eager to learn new things and enjoy new experiences.

People who are high in this trait tend to be more adventurous and creative. People low in this trait are often much more traditional and may struggle with abstract thinking.


  • Open to trying new things

  • Focused on tackling new challenges

  • Happy to think about abstract concepts


  • Dislikes change

  • Does not enjoy new things

  • Resists new ideas

  • Not very imaginative

  • Dislikes abstract or theoretical concepts


Standard features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviors. Highly conscientious people tend to be organized and mindful of details. They plan ahead, think about how their behavior affects others, and are mindful of deadlines.


  • Spends time preparing

  • Finishes important tasks right away

  • Pays attention to detail

  • Enjoys having a set schedule


  • Dislikes structure and schedules

  • Makes messes and doesn't take care of things

  • Fails to return things or put them back where they belong

  • Procrastinates important tasks

  • Fails to complete necessary or assigned tasks


Extraversion (or extroversion) is characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness. People who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. Being around other people helps them feel energized and excited.

People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have less energy to expend in social settings. Social events can feel draining and introverts often require a period of solitude and quiet in order to 'recharge.'


  • Enjoys being the center of attention

  • Likes to start conversations

  • Enjoys meeting new people

  • Has a wide social circle of friends and acquaintances

  • Finds it easy to make new friends

  • Feels energized when around other people

  • Say things before thinking about them


  • Prefers solitude

  • Feels exhausted when having to socialize a lot

  • Finds it difficult to start conversations

  • Dislikes making small talk

  • Carefully thinks things through before speaking

  • Dislikes being the center of attention

How Extroversion in Personality Influences Behavior


This personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other prosocial behaviors. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and sometimes even manipulative.


  • Has a great deal of interest in other people

  • Cares about others

  • Feels empathy and concern for other people

  • Enjoys helping and contributing to the happiness of other people

  • Assists others who are in need of help


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  • Takes little interest in others

  • Doesn't care about how other people feel

  • Has little interest in other people's problems

  • Insults and belittles others

  • Manipulates others to get what they want


Neuroticism is a trait characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability. Individuals who are high in this trait tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient.


  • Experiences a lot of stress

  • Worries about many different things

  • Gets upset easily

  • Experiences dramatic shifts in mood

  • Feels anxious

  • Struggles to bounce back after stressful events


  • Emotionally stable

  • Deals well with stress

  • Rarely feels sad or depressed

  • Doesn't worry much

  • Is very relaxed

Are the Big Five Traits Universal?

McCrae and his colleagues have also found that the big five traits are also remarkably universal. One study that looked at people from more than 50 different cultures found that the five dimensions could be accurately used to describe personality.

Based on this research, many psychologists now believe that the five personality dimensions are not only universal; they also have biological origins. Psychologist David Buss has proposed that an evolutionary explanation for these five core personality traits, suggesting that these personality traits represent the most important qualities that shape our social landscape.

What Factors Influence the Big Five Traits?

Research suggests that both biological and environmental influences play a role in shaping our personalities. Twin studies suggest that both nature and nurture play a role in the development of each of the five personality factors.

One study of the genetic and environmental underpinnings of the five traits looked at 123 pairs of identical twins and 127 pairs of fraternal twins. The findings suggested that the heritability of each trait was 53 percent for extraversion, 41 percent for agreeableness, 44 percent for conscientiousness, 41 percent for neuroticism, and 61 for openness.

Longitudinal studies also suggest that these big five personality traits tend to be relatively stable over the course of adulthood. One study of working-age adults found that personality tended to be stable over a four-year period and displayed little change as a result of adverse life events.

Studies have shown that maturation may have an impact on the five traits. As people age, they tend to become less extraverted, less neurotic, and less open to experience. Agreeableness and conscientiousness, on the other hand, tend to increase as people grow older.

A Word From Verywell

Always remember that behavior involves an interaction between a person's underlying personality and situational variables. The situation that a person finds himself or herself in plays a major role in how the person reacts. However, in most cases, people offer responses that are consistent with their underlying personality traits.

These dimensions represent broad areas of personality. Research has demonstrated that these groupings of characteristics tend to occur together in many people. For example, individuals who are sociable tend to be talkative. However, these traits do not always occur together. Personality is a complex and varied and each person may display behaviors across several of these dimensions.

  1. Power RA, Pluess M. Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants. Transl Psychiatry. 2015;5:e604.

  2. Jang KL, Livesley WJ, Vernon PA. Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: a twin study. J Pers. 1996;64(3):577-91.

Additional Reading

  • Cobb-Clark, DA & Schurer, S. The stability of big-five personality traits. Economics Letters. 2012; 115(2): 11–15.
  • Lang, KL, Livesley, WJ, & Vemon, PA. Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: A twin study. Journal of Personality. 1996; 64(3): 577–591.
  • Marsh, HW, Nagengast, B, & Morin, AJS. Measurement invariance of big-five factors over the lifespan: ESEM tests of gender, age, plasticity, maturity, and la dolce vita effects. Developmental Psychology. 2013; 49(6): 1194-1218.
  • McCrae, R R, Terracciano, A., and Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project. Universal features of personality traits from the observer's perspective: Data from 50 different cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2005; 88: 547-561.

According to Stephen King, it’s not talent that makes a writer successful. Talent is cheaper than table salt! These “writers’ personality traits” are essential for success in the writing world. If you’re an aspiring writer – or even a published author who wants to stay in the game – you need to make your personality traits work for you.

“Success seems like kind of a fluke to me. It’s not based on merit, since not everyone has the same opportunities. For me, it was just something that happened. I was in the right place at the right time,” wrote Elmore Leonard in Writers Dreaming: 26 Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process. “In 1985 I became an overnight success after 30 years…I didn’t think that I would ever have a best-seller. I never thought that my writing was either good enough or bad enough to make the list.”

Well, there you have it: being in the right place at the right time is one of the most important “personality traits” of writers who are successful. But – without a doubt – luck alone will not make you a published author. You can be in the right place at the right time, but if you have an unpolished, unedited, uninteresting manuscript then it doesn’t matter where you are. You won’t get published. Scroll through through my most important personality traits of successful writers…and then get off the internet and start writing. Because Personality Trait #1 is having the self-discipline and self-motivation to write.


6 Personality Traits of Published Authors and Working Writers

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” ~ Stephen King.

The good news is that many of the “personality traits” of successful writers can be learned by regular people like you and me. You don’t have to be Stephen King (or JK Rowling, or Isaac Asimov, or Ernest Hemingway, or…well, you get the picture) to make money writing.

1. Successful writers set and stick to a schedule

A writing schedule isn’t exactly a personality trait – but self-discipline is. Since writers who work from home can’t be supervised or constantly watched, they need to be comfortable with setting – and sticking to – their writing schedule. Successful authors have to know how to set and meet their own self-imposed deadlines and writing goals, or they won’t earn a living as a freelance magazine writer or published novelist.

Do you want to be a writer? Learn how to push yourself to be just slightly more productive than you were yesterday.

2. Productive writers have introverted personality traits

Successful, prolific writers need to be happy without someone working next to them in the adjoining cubicle. One of the key personality traits of a writer is the ability to not just set and achieve goals (self-discipline, which is the first trait of successful writers), but to happily work in isolation and solitude. Talking to colleagues by the water cooler or on the Facebook writers forum is a low priority for introverted writers. Some successful writers avoid social media altogether – and they’re often more introverted than most people.

Published book authors, novelists, and freelance can tackle tough writing assignments – or break into tight writing markets – without supervision from an editor or publisher. Freelancers must be able to stay self-disciplined to achieve their writing goals, and ignore the distractions of surfing the internet, reading forums, cleaning the house, watching tv “for research purposes.”

Are you energized by being alone or with a group of people? Introverts prefer to work alone, while extroverts enjoy the company and energy of others. Take my quick little Test for Introverted Personality Traits if you aren’t sure whether you’re introverted or extroverted.

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If you have extroverted personality traits and you want to be a writer, read 7 Ways for Extroverts to Increase Their Writing Productivity.

3. Bestselling writers know how to market and promote their books

Authors don’t have the luxury of waiting for their books to sell themselves, nor can they wait to be told how to market and help promote their books. Freelance magazine writers are in the same boat: they have to generate ideas, tackle writing assignments, find experts to interview, keep drumming up business, and sell their work.

To earn a living as a freelance writer, successful writers must always be searching for new ideas, possible markets, and clients. They need to know how to promote themselves without being shy or fearful of attention.

4. Successful freelance writers can handle administrative tasks

When I first started freelancing in 2008, I didn’t realize how important administrative skills are to a professional writer! Knowing how to be professional and businesslike may not be a personality trait, but writers have to learn the business of writing if they want to be successful.

Freelance writers have to track queries and book proposals, follow up with editors, send professional invoices, keep track of their checks received and expenditures, and save all their receipts and write-offs. Professional writers may also do their own taxes, maintain lists of experts, and be adept at handling scanning/photocopying/software equipment.

5. Successful writers maintain a professional image

If “entrepreneurial” isn’t a personality trait of all writers, it should be! Developing a professional image is part of learning how to run a successful writing business.

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Freelance writers must submit their assignments on time, follow up when they say they’re going to, and treat editors, experts, readers, and fellow writers with respect. Writers may have once had the image of being disorganized or disheveled – the creative spirit at work – but not anymore. Now, successful writers are businesspeople and entrepreneurs.

6. Successful writers don’t procrastinate

Waiting until the night to write your essay or research an assignment may have got you through college, but it won’t get you far in the freelance writing business. Editing and revising is the name of the game – and it should the first personality trait of writers who succeed. Working writers don’t need reminders, prompts to find great sources, or reminders to send in invoices. Successful writers know what their job is – even if it’s not a paid writing assignment, even if it’s “just” to send out four queries today – and they take care of business.

“Writing is a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” ~ John Green.

What do you think about these “essential personality traits of writers”? Am I right, or am I right? 🙂


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