Agreeableness in the Big 5 Theory of Personality

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Agreeableness is one of the five basic elements, or traits, of personality according to the "Big Five" theory of personality. "Agreeable" is a technical term used by personality psychologists in this context, and it is used to describe the level of friendliness, kindness, cooperativeness, and politeness a person reliably displays. It's one of the five traits that make up the Big Five personality inventory— and while the inventory is not without its critics, it's often held up as the gold standard of personality measure. The other four traits include:

  • Extraversion: Extraverted people are high energy, sociable, and good at communication.
  • Conscientiousness: Conscientious traits include strong impulse control, focus on goals, reliability, and punctuality.
  • Neuroticism: Neurotic individuals are emotional, anxious, moody, and irritable.
  • Openness: Imagination, insight, and multiple interests are all part of this personality trait.

Agreeableness tends to increase gradually until adulthood. It's natural for kids and teens to go through periods of low agreeableness, such as during puberty. Even then, though, some tweens will be more agreeable than others when dealing with the challenges in their environment.

What Does Agreeableness Look Like?

Agreeableness includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other prosocial behaviors. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and sometimes even manipulative.

High Agreeableness

  • Have a great deal of interest in other people

  • Care about others

  • Feel empathy and concern for other people

  • Enjoy helping and contributing to the happiness of other people

  • Assist others who are in need of help

  • Tend to have a wide circle of friends

Low Agreeableness

  • Take little interest in others and other people's problems

  • Don't care much about how other people feel

  • Insult and belittle others

  • May manipulate others to get what they want

  • May have trouble keeping their cool in an aggravating situation

A person who has strong leanings toward being agreeable is very people-oriented. He or she will have excellent social skills, enjoy group interactions, shows affection easily, and find it easy to collaborate with others. Those people who score low for this trait generally find it difficult to interact well with others, avoid socializing in groups, tend to distrust others, and have poor social skills. Most people fall somewhere between the two extremes.

Is It Good to Be Agreeable?

Of course, it is always a plus to have the capacity to collaborate, socialize, and build positive relationships with others. And "agreeable" people are likely to do well in fields in which these skills are important.

Agreeableness, however, can have its drawbacks. Agreeable people, for example, may find it very difficult to work alone, analyze the validity of arguments, make difficult decisions, or give bad news. As a result, a low level of agreeableness may make it easier to succeed in some fields

High Agreeableness Careers

  • Marketing and public relations

  • Human resources

  • Fundraising

  • Sales

  • Politics

  • Event management

  • Teaching

Low Agreeableness Careers

  • Medicine

  • Military

  • Science

  • Upper management

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Arts criticism

Can People Become More or Less Agreeable?

The degree to which a person presents particular traits does depend upon innate personality, but it also depends a great deal upon circumstances. Even the most agreeable person may become less agreeable when faced with direct competition for critical resources or important opportunities. On the other hand, research suggests that it is possible to increase agreeableness through:

  • Exposure to positive role models who demonstrate highly agreeable qualities
  • Being in situations where agreeableness is important (such as in a job which involves collaboration)
  • Easy access to opportunities to behave in an altruistic manner

It may not be surprising that very young children are, in general, more self-centered and less agreeable than adults. It may be that adults' experience with the ups and downs of life make them more empathetic to others' pain. It may also be that ethical or religious education has a significant impact on agreeableness. A third explanation may be that we learn, over time, that most people are more likely to accede to our requests if we first build a trusting relationship.

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Article Sources

  • Association for Psychological Science. The Power of Agreeableness. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-power-of-agreeableness

  • Rathus, PhD, Spencer. Psychology: Concepts and Connections, Brief Version. 8th edition. 2007. Belmont, CA: Thomson, Wadsworth.