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. The other four traits include:

  • Extraversion: Extraverted people are high energy, sociable, and good at communication.
  • Agreeableness: Agreeable people have traits such as kindness, trust, and altruism.
  • 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.

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 finds it easy to collaborate with others. Those people who score low for this trait find it difficult to interact well with others, avoids socializing in groups, tends to distrust others, and has poor social skills. Most people fall somewhere between the two extremes.

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 changes in their bodies and stresses in their environment.

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. Some such fields include:

  • Marketing and public relations
  • Human resources
  • Fundraising
  • Certain types of sales
  • Politics
  • Event Management
  • Teaching

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 such fields as:

  • Medicine
  • Military
  • Science
  • Theater or Movie Critic
  • Upper Management
  • Entrepreneurship

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:

It's also a surprising fact that very young children are, in general, more self-centered 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
  • Rathus, PhD, Spencer. Psychology: Concepts and Connections, Brief Version. 8th edition. 2007. Belmont, CA: Thomson, Wadsworth.