Blogger Widgets Ender-Chan's Thoughts: Disability and the Big Five

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Disability and the Big Five

The Big Five is a personality system created by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae (National Institute of Health), Warren Norman (University of Michigan), and Lewis Goldberg (University of Oregon). Despite some differences, these researchers all concluded that human personality can be boiled down to five traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, that can be remembered by the acronym OCEAN. This system, like MBTI, is a popular one to use in work contexts and is more about discovering useful qualities for productivity than understanding one's baselines with regards to cognition, emotion, and motivation.

Openness is intellectual curiosity and receptiveness to new ideas. Someone with higher levels of openness is more apt to explore different concepts and perspectives than have a one-track mind with regards to forming opinions. For example, a high O person may be more open to the idea of a stair-climbing device than a low O person who may dismiss the technological advancement as "ableist". Generally, high O people are laissez-faire and have a "whatever works" approach while low O people have strict guidelines as to what should or should not be done.

Conscientiousness is the quality of organization and discipline. Someone with higher levels of conscientiousness, regardless of other factors, is likely to try to distribute their energies and plan out the day than just go about things as they happen without much of a plan. High C people are more likely to use planning and schedules to work around--and even with--their disability than low C people who are more likely to just go with the flow.

Extroversion in the Big Five is sociability, which is not to be confused with extroversion in other systems in which extroversion deals with energy or cognition rather than outward presentation. High E people are more likely to actively gather and interact with others while low E people are more content with the company of their own musings. It is common to see high E people at conferences, protests, and interviews while low E people tend towards things like blogging and more one-on-one methods of advocacy and activism.

Agreeableness is tolerance and sensitivity to others' feelings. High A people are more likely to want to sympathize with someone regardless of truth or fairness in the other party's statements. Low A people are more apt to prioritize truth or fairness over sympathy. This factor also affects how one reacts to inconvenient situations and/or disappointment. A high A person is more likely to want to change themselves to fit the situation while a low A person is more likely to want the situation to adjust to them.

Neuroticism is not solely anxiety, but a tendency towards strong emotions. Neuroticism is not a purely negative trait as it can be the catalyst for passion. High N people experience a wide variety of emotions throughout the course of any given day while low N people are more even-keeled with regard to emotions. This trait is not to be confused with bursts of stress or just raw anxiety. This deals more with how anxiety is used and (not) expressed rather than level.

Above, you see my personal Big Five inventory. My percentiles for each category are:

O: 80
C: 35
E: 22
A: 6
N: 96

My highest scoring category is Neuroticism. Being predominantly High N, I am prone to strong emotions, especially anxiety. However, the presence of an anxiety disorder may have inflated my Neuroticism score. Likewise, the presence of autism may have lowered my Extroversion and Agreeableness scores based on how I answered the test. My O score may have been inflated by my giftedness simply because I can understand a wider variety of ideas and how they work in various contexts. Despite all these factors, however, I feel that this is an accurate reflection of the qualities I possess.

Comment Prompts

  • How can personality testing be made more accurate for neurodivergent people? 
  • Can the Big Five personality system be useful in disability activism? Why or why not?
  • Compare and contrast the Big Five with other systems. 

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