I first encountered the Big 5 personality traits while trying to track down where the idea of temperament came from (besides the ancient greeks). Who, in the modern age, had first tried to take it seriously (if it can be argued that anyone did.) It’s used a lot in business and self-help.
Then they mentioned it in my human development class, and something similar appears as part of the Alternative DSM5 Model of Personality Disorders. Proponents say it is universal, while critics say it’s uselessly obvious. Reliability without validity, like determining sex by shoe size. That is, you’ll have a pretty good correlation, but it won’t tell you much about what it means to be one sex or the other.
I became persuaded by it when I realized how the Big 5 fit between the elements or personality (which I correlated to temperaments in my post The Sorting Hat). It’s like how if you want to make four boxes, you draw five lines between four spaces.
Open Identity Conscienscious Self Direction Extravert Intimacy Agreeable Empathy Neurotic
This ordering makes sense to me. As an NT, Open and Conscienscious have a lot to do with my identity of intelligence and hard work. But people with other temperaments might put Extraversion and Agreeableness around their identity. Or one might rearrange the elements of personality based on how prominent they are. Really, I think Empathy comes before intimacy for me.
If you are a Christian, you might think of Jesus foremost as delivering the sermon on the mount, calming the storm, blessing the children, or washing his disciples feet. I’m afraid I think of him crossing the pharisees. Besides the atonement, of course. But that’s love, something the DSM5 doesn’t really treat in.
This is all very interesting, but what is the clinical relevance? Well, schizophrenia, to bring up what Thomas Szasz calls the psychiatrist’s darling. It had been drummed into me since high school that even though schiz means split, schizophrenia is not “split personality” (or dissociative disorder). Only last semester did I finally understand that it means the personality is itself split, or the parts of it are not coordinated. It is like an orchestra with no conductor. Where is that conductor?
The Alternative Model proposes a trait called Psychoticism (vs. Lucidity). I think this runs orthogonal to Openness (vs. Caution). This is the trait people were getting worked up about a few years ago that conservatives are less intelligent than liberals. (it was a serial correlation. Intelligent people tend to be open, and open people tend to be politically liberal). Looking at it that way, it is easy to see how people who are extreme at either end start to look a little crazy. I guess Openness does describe how one gathers information and integrates it into one’s perceptions.