You may not be familiar with George A. Miller, but you may be familiar with some of the major ideas he spread to popular culture. He was one of the founders of cognitive psychology and believed the human mind used an information-processing model. He was the propeller in taking psychology from the ivory towers of academics and experts and integrating its learnings for people to learn from. In his 1969 American Psychological Association Presidential Address, he called this “giving psychology away” as part of a public service.

For decades, psychometric tools and assessments required PhDs and psychologists to administer. Companies restricted access to these tools. Though there is a certain wisdom in making sure trained specialists handle the administration and diagnosis of these tools to avoid harm, this limits the public good they can serve. Fortunately times have changed due to technology.

Thanks to the Internet and online testing, individuals and companies now have the power to perform these assessments via a plug-in. Psychological organizations and commercial testing may be seem like a way to control and generate revenue, but standardized testing does have a point. Performing a test under certain conditions and rules gives the chance for clearer results and the ability to compare with other assessment tools. One researcher, Lewis Goldberg, presented an open source repository of personality tools, scales, and technical information so that both the public and other researchers have access to psychological measures. The International Personality Pool (IPIP) gives access to individuals to use public domain commercial psychological tests. The drawback, of course, is that sometimes people don’t have the training to leverage its full capabilities or may be confused by the process or outcome.

The IPIP highlights one of the most common psychological models of psychology, the Big 5 or otherwise known as the Five Factor Model. The model explains that personality can be explained along five dimensions: introversion-extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. We’ve explained extroversion and introversion here. For now, we’re focusing on the next two dimensions: conscientiousness and agreeableness.

What’s Conscientiousness?

This personality trait found in the Five Factor Personality Model examines impulse control. Individuals who are more conscientious on this particular facet of the personality scale are able to control impulse. They’re the classmates who tend to organize their class assignments by color; the co-workers who use a desk calendar in addition to their online calendar and journal calendar. These individuals tend to have a great sense of prioritization and organization. They’re good at analysis in the sense that they know exactly what to analyze and how much time it should take. Others usually call them “detail-oriented”, “prudent”, or “reliable.”.

Employers tend to win a lottery ticket with these kinds of employees. They’re dependable overall and their boss knows they can trust them to do their job. Therefore job success for those scoring high in conscientiousness is a safe bet. With more self-discipline, these people don’t tend to have run-ins with the law. This may derive from their sense of impulse control, but also from their concern with appearances. This does not mean they’re narcissistic. But they generally do make an effort in how they come across to others, by being thoughtful what they wear and organizing their surroundings attractively. In general, a feeling of satisfaction is the result of high conscientiousness.

They are more apt to check “Yes” to these kinds of statements, which are found on the IPIP:

(I) Am always prepared.

Pay attention to details.

Get chores done right away.

Like order.

Follow a schedule.

Am exacting in my work.

Do things according to a plan.

Continue until everything is perfect.

Make plans and stick to them.

Love order and regularity.

Like to tidy up

The 6 Facets of Conscientiousness

This trait can be broken down into 6 different facets, varying the score of a person’s conscientiousness. Again, the rewards of being a highly conscientious person is high. Those who score high usually have an aversion for trouble and tend to achieve high levels of success through purposeful planning and persistence.

Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a description of a person’s ability and confidence to achieve goals. Those with a high self-efficacy tend to be more self-confident in their intelligence (common sense), ambition, and ability to control impulses (self-control). These qualities are key for succeeding. Low scorers in self-efficacy may not feel confident in their ability to get things done, making them less effective in accomplishing tasks, and taking away a sense of agency and control over their own destiny.

Orderliness

Orderliness is characterized by a propensity for order, law, or discipline. People who score high on this facet within conscientiousness are well-organized individuals. They like tidy systems and enjoy living according to routine and schedules. They may be the people who are obsessive about list-making, being punctual, and send out “save the date” invitations 6 months in advance. On the other side of the scale, those who score low on orderliness are those more scattered and disorganized.

Dutifulness

This characteristic describes how likely the person will fulfill an obligation or promise because they said they would. It measures how a person views their sense of duty and obligation. Those with a high score usually see themselves as upholders of a greater moral plan or obligation. Those who do not feel a sense of duty view rules and regulations as stuffy, limiting, frustrating, and confining. They do not like obligation or feeling responsible for a system or task outside of their own will. Low scorers are often perceived as unreliable, irresponsible, or insubordinate.

Achievement-Striving

Individuals who score high on this subset of the Big 5 are known to strive for excellence. They have tremendous ambition to be successful and tend to have lofty goals. With a strong sense of where they want to go in life, they are often described as single-minded. On one extreme, they become overly obsessive with a task or goal. This can lead to severe physical and mental health issues. Those who do not necessarily strive for excellence are content with doing the minimal work. One example could be a university student skipping most of the classes and putting in minimal effort into tests and homework, barely passing.

High achievement-striving: Do more than what's expected of me.

Low achievement-striving: Do just enough work to get by.

 

Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is the ability to persist when a task or routine becomes difficult, uncomfortable, or banal. Those who possess tremendous amounts of self-discipline are those who can begin and finish tasks on track, even with setbacks. Self discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if there is an absence of motivation. It could be argued that it’s more of a logical decision rather than an emotional tendency. Going to the gym daily, eating healthy, and not procrastinating on important tasks are examples of self-discipline. Those with low self-discipline tend to put off finishing tasks when they become challenging or boring; they procrastinate and do not finish projects on time or finish suboptimally. Sadly they often fail the tasks they very much want to complete.

Cautiousness

The ability to think through the permutations before taking action is practicing the skill of cautiousness. Those with this disposition of thinking through the consequences before acting take their time in making decisions. According to the personality assessment, DISC Model of Human Behavior, cautious individuals are reserved and task-oriented. We may know cautious individuals in our lives; we may use words like calculating, competent, contemplative, and careful to describe them. When making a decision, they go into “analysis mode”, trying to weigh the pros and cons beforehand. They become analytical and measured in their decision making.

The low scorers in this area often do or say whatever comes to mind without properly thinking of the consequences. They may not try to find alternatives to a solution, but rather accept the choices already in front of them.

Like any other trait in the Five Factor model, the trait has a few downsides. Like extraversion, there is such a thing as being “too much”. For those who score incredibly high in this category, perfectionism becomes a plague. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorders tend to exhibit a level of conscientiousness. Additionally, decision paralysis may be another consequence of high impulse control; individuals that are too obsessive on creating an optimal outcome may take too long to make a decision, causing frustration and increased anxiety.

 

How does someone increase their conscientiousness?

Though there may be some genetic root for this trait, along with others in the Big Five, there is an environmental aspect to it. Most research concludes that those individuals raised by warm and loving parents have a higher likelihood to be conscientious. Those who were raised with more distant and emotionally cold caregivers tend to score lower.

In general, personality traits are relatively stable over time. With conscientiousness, it may change slightly. This trait tends to decrease in adolescence; young adults with fluctuations hormones (biology) or peer pressure (social) may not be able to control their impulses as fully as mature adults. Conscientiousness has a tendency to increase as a person grows older. Some people may wish to change this part of their personality, wishing to be more organized or be recognized as reliable work colleague. Deliberately changing this personality aspect may be a challenge for some. Fortunately for them there is evidence that some change can occur. Though the personality trait itself may not be possible to change, the behaviors associated with it can be modified. Much like the kids who used to be the wall flower grew up and learned to be the social butterfly, a person can teach themselves more conscientious behaviors.

 

What’s Agreeableness?

Agreeable individuals take a rather maternal and a more cooperative approach to situations. They care deeply about people, more so than themselves. They are far more likely to consider and incorporate the feelings of others in decisions. Those who score low in agreeableness are deemed “competitive”. Those who are considered “competitive” are usually more brusque, independent, and have fewer hang ups in confronting other people. Individuals who are competitive tend to stand up for themselves; on the opposite end of the spectrum, a person scoring high in agreeableness avoids confrontation at all costs.

According to the IPIP, there are in fact 6 facets within the trait of Agreeableness. It’s important to note that these facets may be independent from each other, but do correlate to some degree. The IPIP lists these as the 6 aspects within Agreeableness.

Trust

Those who score high in trust tend to believe in the best of others. In general, they believe people have good intentions, believe in treating others fairly and that they’ll receive the same treatment. They’re able to walk through life trusting others. For those who score low in this area, trust does not come lightly. They’re the individuals who are more prone to detect potential dangers and are more worried about being taken advantage of.

Morality

It’s important to note this subcategory has nothing to do with being good or evil. Rather it points to a person's tendency and comfort in using manipulative tactics for their goals. People who score low on morality are more comfortable in using manipulation rather than being candid and sincere. They may be called the “passive aggressive” types or they may be the persons who quietly—and inadvertently—suggest a resolution rather than state it outright to a group. Those who score high in Morality tend to be the people who value being direct and frank. Individuals with low Morality may believe there’s a certain pretense needed when conducting conversations or relationships. Morality points to an aspect of degree of comfort a person feels in a given situation. Morality can be witness in different cultural aspects. For example, in certain Asian cultures a person lectures not the person who made the mistake—but the person’s colleagues. It’s a less direct way to scold. On the other hand, Swiss Germans are more comfortable with outright stating someone made a mistake; in the United States gaining praise is a common demonstration while in Japan overt praise may be an embarrassing show.

Altruism

The general desire to help people and the attitude towards helping others. Someone who is high on altruism finds it rewarding to help people and gain personal satisfaction. For someone who scores low may still be helpful but looks at it as an imposition or inconvenience.

Cooperation

People who are high on cooperation do not like confrontation. They are less concerned with their own needs, but rather the needs of the others. Those who score low, tend to look out for their own needs vigorously. Cooperation is a facet that tends to be associated with the typical trait of “agreeableness”.

Modesty

How willing someone is to claim or believe they are superior to other people. Modest people do not like appearing or acting like they’re better. The reasons for low modesty may be low self-confidence or low self-esteem. Like other traits, it’s not purely one-dimensional; it could be an interplay of other reasons. Simply because someone has high modesty does not mean they have high self-confidence.

Sympathy

Individuals who score high on this scale are compassionate and empathetic, connecting with human suffering. Those who score low possess less empathy and less of an ability to connect with other people’s experience. They may be more objective. Some may see justice versus mercy. Those who are high in sympathy may lean towards “mercy" while those low in sympathy may tend to view “justice” as a greater priority.

 

Allowing more people to delve deeper into the 6 facets behind conscientiousness and agreeableness creates a special opportunity for individuals. Psychologists like George A. Miller made psychology--- and the help it brings-- accessible. For decades, psychometric tools and assessments were a closed resource, only permissible to those with the “right” credentials. Thanks to a new attitude towards self-improvement, self-learning, and unprecedented access to information, we’re able to gain insight how our personalities affect our work lives. Though there is a certain wisdom in having a trained specialist to oversee psychometric tests evaluating for agreeableness and conscientiousness, technologies like AI create incredible insights into personality and support better decision making.

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Elizabeth T.

Written by Elizabeth T.

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