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Department of Psychology


See the BBC website for more details

What makes you who you are? For thousands of years, philosophers have speculated about the fundamental characteristics that make each person unique. In the last few decades, psychologists have converged on the ‘Big Five’ dimensions of personality (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) that can be used to characterise all individuals. Indeed, just as we think about objects in terms of three dimensions (length, width, and height), the ‘Big Five’ dimensions have enabled psychologists to frame human personality in terms of five basic dimensions.

Extensive research has shown that most of the individual differences described in the literature on personality can be represented in terms of scores on these five basic dimensions, that individual differences on these dimensions are evident in parents’ descriptions of children as young as pre-schoolers, and that there is considered stability over time in individual personality. Research is beginning to suggest that personality is related to many different aspects of our lives, from occupational success to relationship satisfaction to physical health.

One of the aims of this project is to further examine the links between personality and important life experiences. Indeed, this research will help researchers determine whether there are connections between the ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions and early childhood experiences, current occupational circumstances, life aspirations, and psychological and physical health. More specifically, the information obtained from this project will help scientists determine whether children who have experienced early experiences of parental divorce or stress are more likely to have particular personality profiles. It will also allow researchers to explore the extent to which individuals with particular personality characteristics choose certain types of jobs or hobbies, and whether certain personalities are more prone than others to have successful (or unsuccessful) long term-relationships.

We see this project as providing a firm foundation on which future research can develop and test hypothesis about the nature of personality—the factors that contribute to personality development as well as the ways in which personality affects important areas of people’s lives.