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Five-factor model of personality, in psychology, a model of an individual’s personality that divides it into five traits. Personality traits are understood as patterns of thought, feeling, and behaviour that are relatively enduring across an individual’s life span.

The traits that constitute the five-factor model are extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Extraversion, sometimes referred to as surgency, is indicated by assertive, energetic, and gregarious behaviours. Neuroticism is essentially equivalent to emotional instability and can be seen in irritable and moody behaviours. Openness to experience, sometimes referred to as intellect, indicates an individual’s inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and propensity for intellectually challenging tasks. Agreeableness is indicated in empathic, sympathetic, and kind behaviours. Finally, conscientiousness refers to an individual’s sense of responsibility and duty as well as foresight.

The five-factor model was developed in the 1980s and ’90s largely on the basis of the lexical hypothesis, which suggested that the fundamental traits of human personality have, over time, become encoded in language. According to this hypothesis, the task of the personality psychologist is to cull the essential traits of personality from the thousands of adjectives found in language that distinguish people according to their behavioral dispositions. The lexical hypothesis can be traced to the 1930s, and the advent of multiple-factor analysis (a statistical method for explaining individual differences in a range of observed attributes in terms of differences in a smaller number of unobserved, or latent, attributes) in the same decade provided an empirical method for culling these verbal descriptions. In the second half of the 20th century, personality psychologists in fact relied primarily on factor analysis to discover and validate many of their trait theories. A large number of personality psychologists concluded that the five-factor model represented the most successful outcome of these efforts.