Lots of different areas of study appropriate common-language terms as jargon words with a specific meaning in the context of that particular field, but the names of the Big 5 personality traits have always bothered me. They appear to be rather prejudicial.

For example, scoring high on Agreeableness sounds like it should be a good thing to an uninformed person. But from a psychological perspective, highly agreeable people often allow themselves to be taken advantage of, and tend to be emotional doormats.

Openness is another one that is confusing. Nobody wants to believe they are closed-minded. But in reality, a person who scores low in Openness is consistent, cautious, and deliberate in their actions, which is not a bad thing at all in many circumstances.

Language has a tendency to bias our thinking in certain ways, and one would think this would be more of a problem in psychology than in other sciences. Other sciences either borrow obscure words from other languages or they make up new ones to avoid terms that are culturally or linguistically loaded.

Since there is a growing body of evidence that the Big 5 are more innate than learned, and since each dimension is a scale on which either extreme is considered a bad thing, it would seem to me that we'd want to use less partisan names for those traits.

Why aren't the descriptors more neutral in tone?


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