All of us are fascinated by personality differences. But most of us have trouble putting our thoughts into words. To do a better job we need a system for putting together our observations, starting with an assessment of personality traits. To help us organize this information psychologists have identified five major categories of traits which they call the Big Five: Extraversion (the tendency to enthusiastically reach out to others); Agreeableness (the tendency to be altruistic, cooperative and good-natured); Conscientiousness (the tendency to tenaciously pursue goals and to control impulses); Neuroticism (the tendency to have negative emotions, particularly in reaction to perceived social threats); and Openness (the tendency to be imaginative and to enjoy novelty and variety). In my new book, "Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality," I use the Big Five as the starting point of a practical system for understanding the people in your life. The slide show gives examples of people who rank high or low on a particular trait, which will make the range in each category more memorable:
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