Personality is a common word that we use everyday, but what is it exactly? Simply put, personality indicates important and stable aspects of behavior that can be observed and measured in various ways. Many different theories have been developed to describe and explain the concept of personality, but almost all the theorists agree that personality concerns virtually every aspects of a person, thus it influences his/her physical, mental, emotional, and social life.

Sensation-seeking

Let’s make an example to understand how pervasive personality is. Some psychologists theorized the existence of the sensation-seeking trait, which represents people’s tendency to look for exciting, thrilling, brand-new, and often dangerous experiences. A typical sensation-seeker will dedicate a great amount of time doing exciting activities, structuring his/her social world to maximize the opportu
nities to have extreme experiences, for example going out with other sensation-seekers and avoiding slow-paced people. In the sensation-seeker brain, thrilling activities will be associated to positive experiences that makes him/her to feel pleasure, motivating the sensation-seeker to have other similar experiences. If the preferred activity is, for instance, the parkour, the sensation-seeker will train his/herself to reach better performances, modifying his/her body accordingly, and even increasing the likelihood to which he/she gets hurt performing dangerous tricks.

The Big Five

However, sensation-seeking is only one of the personality traits that have been proposed by scholars. A good portion of the psychological literature had been trying to find out the structure of personality, that is to identify a bunch of personality traits that can account for differences among people in terms of thoughts and behaviors. A plenty of studies that began in the 40s and are still continuing states that there are five major personality traits that are very stable over time and can be found universally irrespectively to factors such as gender, age, and culture. These traits are commonly known as Big Five and they are Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, alias OCEAN.

The Big Five and The Simpsons

The Big Five traits can be found in each person to different extent and even in fiction characters. Let’s explain the meaning of each trait, showing the most prototypical characters taken from the very famous TV show “The Simpsons”.

People characterized by high openness are very curious, imaginative, artistic, liberal, emphatic and novelty-seeking, whereas people with low openness prefer to be concrete, traditional, down-to-earth, and conservative. The numerous adventures of Homer and Bart Simpson, along with their (silly?) curiosity for everything, are evidence of their high openness, which is counterbalanced by the extreme conservative and dogmatic spirit of the principal Seymour Skinner.

Conscientiousness refers to the control on one’s own behavior towards goals: some people (high conscientiousness) are more organized, scrupulous, careful, self-disciplined and ambitious than others (low conscientiousness) who have a hard time keeping to a schedule, untidy, lazy, and weak-willed. Lisa Simpson is for sure the most conscientious person in Springfield, whereas the boozer Barney Gumble is exactly the opposite.

Very extraverted people love interactions with others, they are sociable, warm, active, and fun-loving, whereas low extraverted people prefer few close friends and they appreciate time spent alone. Bart Simpson is one of the most extraverted character of the TV series because of his energy and social skills, features that are completely opposed to the shyness and discretion of Waylon Smithers.

People characterized by high agreeableness tend to be trusting, generous, forgiving, and honest like Ned Flanders, whereas low agreeable people are generally selfish, suspicious, manipulative, and cold-blooded like Mr. Burns.

Finally, highly neurotic people tend to experience various forms of emotional distress, are anxious, gloomy, irritable, and often impulsive. This seems the description of Bart’s friend Milhouse Van Houten, who is very fragile and has troublesome urges. Conversely, people with low neuroticism are calm, emotionally stable, confident, and resilient such as Reverend Lovejoy.

Obviously, personality is a very complicated phenomenon, a combination of different levels of the Big Five and other traits that makes each individual a unique person, but this is another story...