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Elizabeth T.07.01.202011 min read

The Science Behind the Big 5 and How It Impacts AI

The Science Behind the Big 5 and How It Impacts AI

Personality is usually defined by the set of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that arise from a person’s biological and environmental state.

While there’s no set definition behind the word “personality”, psychologists define its traits along 5 dimensions: introversion-extroversion (also spelled “extraversion”), agreeableness, openness, consciousness, and neuroticism (i.e. emotional stability).

Personality trait theory has come a long way. In the 1930s, psychologist Gordon Allport used the dictionary to track down over 4000 traits.

He compiled these 4000 traits into 3 categories. Another psychologist reduced the 4000 trait list to 171. Later on a British psychologist, Hans Eysenck used these characteristics to create a 3-dimensional model. The field of psychology felt Eysenck’s model was a bit too limiting while Allport’s list was too hefty. They found a comfortable middle: a five-factor model used to describe different kinds of personality traits: the Big Five.

These Five categories of personality show a range within each. For example, no one is 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. Individuals tend to play somewhere in the middle of the two.

big five of personality


The Big5 or OCEAN Personality Traits


The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were popularized by famed psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. It refers to how we gain or give off energy. It shows how our brains are recharged. Everyone uses some time extraverting or time introverting. It does not refer to a person being shy or super outgoing. A person who prefers external stimuli could be described as an extrovert. Introverts tend to usually more intimate groups with fewer people and whom they are more familiar with.

Extroverts enjoy large social gatherings and gain much mental stimulation through socialization. Introverts are more intrigued with the world of ideas and thus tend to be a bit more cerebral and reflective than extraverts. Since people fall on the spectrum, each individual may exhibit certain introverted or extroverted behaviors at certain times. An ambivert is a term used to describe people who fall in the middle of the spectrum.


This particular trait refers to pro or anti-social behavior. People who are highly agreeable are those that show pro-social behavior. They want to please others, can be described as polite and cooperative, and tend to always look to avoid conflict. For those scoring low on agreeableness are those that tend to be more comfortable with confrontation and focus on their personal outcome from an experience, rather than the group’s. Agreeableness, like other traits, tends to change due to settings and age. As we grow older, people tend to exhibit more agreeable behavior.

The correlation between childhood adversity and agreeableness may be stronger than thought. A recent study published by Frontiers in Psychology highlights the possibility between "adversity” at home during childhood often led to participants scoring lower on agreeableness as adults. The researchers reported that, “...early adversity related to lower levels of agreeableness and engagement and to higher levels of anger/aggression and extrinsic focus”.


This personality trait describes how receptive an individual is to a new idea or experience. Those who have higher levels of openness seek out new experiences, are comfortable with the unfamiliar and curious, and enjoy surprises. A high level of openness is correlated with creativity and active imagination. Those who have low levels of openness enjoy routine and familiar people and places.


This Big Five trait refers to a person’s ability to self-regulate their emotions, their will power, and choices. Conscientious people tend to be organized, self-controlled, reliable, and industrious. Those who score high often exhibit perfectionist behavior and may become a workaholic in their quest for order. Individuals who exhibit low levels tend to be more flexible and spontaneous, but may be perceived as less reliable.

Conscientious individuals tend to be achievers, earning accolades and awards throughout their academic and professional career. This is one trait that is considered a key ingredient to success in all areas of life, personal and professional.


This trait appraises an individual’s emotional stability; it refers to the tendency towards anxiety, depression, or negative thoughts and feelings. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum between low and high neuroticism. Those who are high tend to fall prey to mood disorders, loneliness, and other negative outcomes. Some point out that this kind of behavior may have proven helpful in the days when man had to survive in Savannah.

Paying more attention to potentially negative outcomes may have helped them better plan for survival. Like other traits, this trait can change depending on age and setting, like when having a child or growing older.

The Big 5 in an Interview Setting

How to Spot an Introvert or Extrovert during an Interview


Small talk

Introverts tend to dislike small talk. They’re more attuned with meaningful interactions, so having a prolonged conversation “shooting the breeze” probably won’t happen. They may try to bring up conceptual ideas or small facts about the even the most banal topics. Extroverts may be more open in talking about their “life story”or volunteer discussing how both of your kids go to the same school.

“What do you enjoy to do?”

Though it may be an unofficial question during an in-person or online recruiting session, “what do you enjoy doing?” may be useful in telling an extrovert from an introvert. “When you have free time, what do you enjoy doing?” Extroverts may make mention of hanging out with their friends, attending a sports game with family and friends, or hosting a bar crawl tour on weekends.

They tend to enjoy activities involved with people and activity. Introverts aren’t anti-social, but they do need to catch their breath and reenergize before a bar crawl. This may look like hiking with a best friend, sketching at home, or volunteering at the animal shelter. Activities tend to be a bit more low-key and involve fewer people.

A touch of hyperbole or enthusiasm

In one study at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, researchers found that extroverts answer survey questions more enthusiastically than do introverts. This can skew results. Interestingly it didn’t matter if they were asked to rate traits about themselves, others, the world around them— they simply gave more “extreme responses”. In the study they found extroverts gave an average of about 32 extreme responses while introverts gave an average of 26. So in an interview, if candidates tend to show enthusiasm towards just about everything, you may have an extrovert on your hands.

What’s the Introvert/Extrovert’s Superpower at Work?

Introverted employees

These candidates can bring plenty of thought and leadership to any organization. Some of their strongest strengths derive from their ability to mindfully observe. Details and new approaches can be picked up by an introvert, in ways that a person may not have thought of before.

Additionally, they don’t seem to be impressed with extrinsic rewards. They tend to value the inward world, so once they’re committed to your company or cause, they’re less likely to be swayed by a paycheck at another company whose mission they don’t resonate with. As observers, they think before they act, and plot a few steps on how to reach a goal. This may incline them to be self-starters.

Extroverted employees

Extroverts are driven by social interaction and extrinsic motivation, more or less. They enjoy team settings and enjoy when there’s plenty of activity and exchange. Because they’re more social, they may be more comfortable in taking leadership roles, and communicating information, and could be excellent at networking.

Customer-facing positions could be a position that extroverts thrive in; they have the dynamic to work with customers and relay needs and concerns to their internal teammates. An action-oriented extrovert may make a perfect pairing when an introvert plans their moves.

For recruiters, learning about what each introvert or extrovert brings to the table is powerful.

Why is Learning Personality Useful in the Workplace?

Personality psychologists attempt to determine how our personality develops and how it affects how we live our lives, including our workplace. According to a study done by Bloomberg, we spend more than half our lives at work, surrounded by people we may or may not know too well. Somehow we’re supposed to work with them, despite age, ethnic, and socio-economic background.

That’s why personality research is so interesting to several organizations, like McKinsey & Company, the CIA, and the Department of State to name a few. According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 13% of US employers utilize personality assessments; 10,000 employees, 2,500 colleges, and 200 federal agencies use the well-known Myers-Briggs test. In fact the Myers-Briggs test alone generates $20 million per year. Employers use this test and several others like it as a means to find the best talent.

Screening, interviewing, and onboarding applicants is an arduous journey. It takes time, resources, and is pretty pricey if the employee-employer fit isn’t there. In general, employers don’t have that much information on an applicant.

That’s why there’s so many stories about potential employers poking around and finding an applicant’s social media page—only to be horrified. This kind of “research" is not truly telling about whether a person would make a good hiring manager or a tax lawyer; it borders on the illegal. But the reason why is that employers need more information.

Sometimes that means assessing existing employees and labeling a few admired traits and writing down, “we want a clone of Jack or Jane”. Or they examine teams to find out what’s the missing piece, to know what kinds of strengths could be an added benefit to reach a team goal. That’s why personality tests are becoming a wide-spread tool for the recruitment process.

In online recruiting, the Big Five personality traits are the most recognized personality model. Some personality tests are more controversial, like the Myer's-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which some academics purport as being as reliable as a tarot card reading.

The Wall Street Journal wrote “Academic studies have concluded that individual personality traits have at most a small connection with performance.” However the Big 5 is widely regarded as the closest model that incorporates the dimensions of detectable human behavior. The assessments may vary in their degree to predict job performance, but they also begin a conversation.

Assessment tools may be a great conversation for recruiters, for team building, for annual reviews and other job-related performance measures. It can be a conversation starter for those who need to figure out what helps them work better, more effectively, or more intelligently.

Goldman Sach’s Global Head of Recruiting is pro-assessment; in telling Reuters, Matt Jahansouz highlights the changing workplace dynamic, "We're shifting from a world where you just used to look at a GPA and resume and walk out with a feeling about an individual that you might want to hire.

We can now capture characteristics and data that might not be as obvious to make smarter hiring decisions.” It should be clear that these kind of tools are not used to base hiring decisions, but usually tend to act as a team building or training programs for managers.

What Does Personality and AI have to do with each other?

Artificial intelligence has the capability to map out thousands of data points quickly. This means understanding and learning about multiple candidates' resumes and personality can coincide. In fact, it can help learn more about your internal team and map out what strengths could be a value-add during recruitment.

For example, Retorio learned from a customer that they used Retorio’s AI and Big 5 combination to create in-house team building.

They not only used the tool to find and qualify potential employees, but they found it useful to create dynamic teams. These kinds of assessments can also be part of the people-centric model of a candidate's experience. Assessments can be part of the career and skill development of employees, another value-add from their employers. AI-powered assessments distribute this kind of value easily to employees.

With HR professionals understanding candidates at a more human level, they'll be able to understand integral needs, desires, and goals. That could make huge waves in terms of tailoring employee training to teaching employees in a manner they can access and enjoy. Introverts could use more breaks to journal and reflect on a particular workshop; extroverts could really enjoy group mentoring sessions with a facilitator.

The possibilities are endless---if hiring managers gain these valuable learnings. With AI online recruiting, candidates gain bespoke experience in showcasing how they uniquely contribute to a company's team and bottom line. For talent professionals, understanding a person's personality is the next phase in developing a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Because what is more inclusive and welcoming than a workplace that sees people for who they are rather than a set of bullet points on a resume? Personality may have 5 dimensions, but the impact and extent of a well-informed hiring manager are boundless.

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