Home » Psychology » NEO PI-R Explained: Neuroticism vs Extraversion vs Openness vs Agreeableness vs Conscientiousness

NEO PI-R Explained: Neuroticism vs Extraversion vs Openness vs Agreeableness vs Conscientiousness

The NEO PI-R is a personality test that assesses an individual’s personality from a variety of angles, precisely from emotional, interpersonal, experiential, attitudinal, and motivational angles. Though originally only appropriate for adults, modifications in 2010 allowed the test to be used for children as young as 12 years of age. The results of the test provide a detailed personality description that has many uses, from career coaching to psychiatric counseling.

The original test was created in 1978 by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae with three traits: Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), and Openness to Experiences (O). It was named the Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Inventory (NEO-I). In 1985, it was updated to add the traits of Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C) and include six facet sub-scales for only three of the original factors (N, E, & O), being renamed the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI). Then, in 1992, it was updated again to include six facet sub-scales for the remaining factors (A & C) and renamed the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R), which is the subject of this article. In 2005, it was updated again to make it more readable, and that version is called the NEO Personality Inventory-3 (NEO PI-3).

The original traits of this test, N, E, and O, plus the newer traits, C and A, can spell the word “ocean,” and so this test is sometimes called the Ocean Test. It is also called “The Big Five Personality Test.” Let’s examine each of the traits and their six facet sub-scale traits.

Neuroticism: Facets of This Trait

Neuroticism is the trait that measures the tendency of an individual to experience psychological distress and emotional instability. People with high N have large amounts of the below facets in their personalities.

1. Anxiety
People with high levels of neuroticism tend to be more anxious and worried. Their behavior is often driven by the fear of what could go wrong, or what negative possibilities may arise in a given situation. Even when things seem to be going well, they still cannot shake the feeling that something bad could happen. They are less likely to let go of emotions that others might see as irrational or unnecessary. Instead, they allow themselves to become preoccupied with these feelings.

2. Anger / Hostility
Individuals with high neuroticism can also be more irritable and angrier than others. This is another symptom of being more controlled by their feelings than someone with more emotional stability. They may form and hold grudges more easily, or perceive innocent comments as personal attacks. They may also feel that they should respond in kind, and will feel justified in launching even more pointed, direct attacks. Unfortunately, much of this could be a matter of perspective, but they are so highly focused on their own lens that it can be difficult to see outside of themselves.

3. Depression
Highly neurotic people can also swing in the opposite direction, becoming depressed or ill-tempered more easily. If they feel slighted or left out, or if they become overwhelmed by even normal life circumstances, they can become withdrawn and yield to negative emotions. This may not be due to medical depression or any kind of chemical imbalance, and so these bouts of depression tend to be shorter-lived. That being said, the feelings themselves are nonetheless very real, and can range from mild to crippling.

4. Self-Consciousness
Highly neurotic people are keenly aware of their own mental processes and emotional states. They are constantly performing self-assessments to see how they are doing, and if something is out of balance they will become preoccupied with diagnosing the root cause of the problem. Their own inner dialogue can, in some cases, cause them to become distracted or distant in social settings. They do not see this as rude or impolite, but are simply trying to follow a train of thought to the very end. Only once this is done can they feel settled or stable enough to move onto other things.

5. Impulsiveness
Although it may seem like a contradiction, neurotic people can be highly impulsive. While a volatile emotional state may seem to invite stability in most other areas of life, these individuals may make snap decisions as a way to cope with their environment or feelings. They may give way to momentary urges and act in what can seem like reckless ways in order to satisfy or resolve them. In most cases, such decisions are not life-altering or dangerous, but those closest to them should be aware if they have such tendencies.

6. Vulnerability
The sum total of such emotional awareness, anxiety, and self-consciousness can leave neurotic people feeling very vulnerable. They may already feel consumed by their thoughts and feelings, but external stimuli can be equally as threatening – especially if it is perceived as a judgment on their ability to function or interact with others. They may actively avoid social situations or be slow to form friendships due to this fear, so patience and understanding will be key with these individuals.

Extraversion: Facets of This Trait

Extraversion identifies the frequency and intensity of external social stimulation preferred by an individual. People with high E have large amounts of the below facets in their personalities.

1. Warmth
Those with high levels of extraversion have truly never met a stranger. They want to shake as many hands and trade as many smiles as possible during the day, and they are genuinely pleased to meet everyone they come across. They are very quick to make friends and form relationships, and it is very easy for them to find some form of common ground with others. They invest their whole mind and heart into every interaction, and will automatically assume that others do the same.

2. Gregariousness (Talkativeness)
Highly extraverted people always have something to contribute to a discussion. They are the first to raise their hands in a classroom or meeting, and will typically get the first and last word in an argument. They want to make sure their opinion is heard – not necessarily out of a need to be right, but simply because they have so much to say and cannot keep it contained. This can be useful when a strong communicator is needed; such jobs and positions can help them channel their energies toward a constructive purpose.

3. Assertiveness
Extraverted people know what they like or want, and are not shy about asking for it. When opinions or suggestions are solicited from the group, they are quick to speak up and also quick to expect that their input will be taken seriously. This has the potential to lead them to become domineering even in a casual setting, but they typically do not have any kind of hurtful intent behind such expressions. They would simply rather speak their mind than hold back, and they will also value this kind of honesty and forthright communication from others as well.

4. Activity
Extraverted people are always on the move. They do not like being tied down in a stable and quiet environment. They would rather be going somewhere or just doing something that keeps their mind and hands occupied. These individuals love to have full calendars and engage in activities that require lots of hands-on work, and will thrive in environments that require creation, production, or physical work. This can be further channeled into athletic training or some other active hobby, or it may express itself by a full social calendar. Whatever the case, extraverted people always need something to do or someplace to be.

5. Excitement-seeking
Extraverted people gain energy from being with others or simply being in a new and exciting environment. A quiet night at home would sound miserable to someone like this; they would rather be out all night, even if there is no set plan. They will call up their friends and family to see what they are doing, or may even strike out on their own and form friendships with whomever they meet at their destination. They always have the pulse on what parties, concerts, or gatherings are happening throughout the week, and can be counted on to find – and create – a fun and engaging atmosphere.

6. Positive Emotions
Extraverted people also tend to focus only on positive emotions. They have a sunny outlook on life at all times and refuse to see the worst in people or assume the worst in a given situation. They are positive and optimistic, always seeing the glass as half full. Because of this, they are not affected by bad news or setbacks, and will usually be the first to offer a viable alternative. This does not mean that they are insensitive to the feelings of others; instead, they just want to redirect the sadness and anxiety of those around them toward happier possibilities.

Openness to Experience: Facets of This Trait

Openness to Experience refers to actively trying to have experiences because of an appreciation of the experience itself. People with high O have large amounts of the below facets in their personalities.

1. Openness to Fantasy
One way that individuals with high levels of openness express this trait is their preference for fantasy. They can easily escape in any form of fiction – books, movies, video games, or any world of artistic and creative expression. They are not bound by the physical world, but will instead look to the possibilities of their imaginations. They can sometimes get greater enjoyment or satisfaction from these experiences for the simple reason that they can allow their minds to run free and set aside the cares and worries of the day for a brief period.

2. Openness to Aesthetics
Open individuals also perceive and process aesthetics and beauty in different ways than others. They can become lost in beautiful scenery or spend hours looking at each piece of art in a gallery, appreciating each color, line, shape, and form. They find merit in artistic expression, and will even fill their own lives with things that they find beautiful and attractive. Form takes precedence over function in most cases, and if they have particular tastes, then they will stop everything until everything “looks just right.”

3. Openness to Feelings
Highly open people will be quick to validate their own feelings, and even quicker to validate the feelings of others. They believe that life should be lived and experienced to the fullest and that their emotional investment is of paramount importance. They will never dismiss what they believe to be a genuine expression of thought or feeling, and are typically very perceptive of the motives and deeper meaning behind even a simple word or action.

4. Openness to Actions
Open people tend to have free spirits, and will not hold back if they feel they must take a particular course of action. Because they seek out enjoyment and beauty in the world around them, they feel that it would be wrong to turn down a potentially positive experience because it is unfamiliar or untried. They will try new flavors when offered, they will be the first to tackle new assignments, and they will also be the first to introduce themselves to new friends.

5. Openness to Ideas
Even beyond any actions they take, individuals with high levels of openness are also open to new thoughts and ideas. Because they find value in the new, they refuse to shut someone down when they ask for ideas or open the discussion to brainstorming. They acknowledge and appreciate what others bring to the table, and are more than willing to change their own thought processes at the suggestion of others.

6. Openness to Values
Open people are quick to acknowledge that beauty and merit can be perceived and appreciated in different ways, and so will be equally as quick to argue that the value they or others place on something is subjective. They will not condemn the thoughts or feelings of others as less worthy than their own, and will invite others to “speak their own truth.” They feel that everyone’s opinion is valid and on an equitable footing, and will be angry at the thought of being dismissive or exclusive. They feel that there is room for everyone’s opinion, values, or lifestyle.

Agreeableness: Facets of This Trait

Agreeableness refers to someone’s preference for a type of social interaction, along a spectrum ranging from compassionate to antagonistic. People with high A have large amounts of the below facets in their personalities.

1. Trust
One way that highly agreeable people form tight bonds is an almost automatic trust in everyone around them. They see no reason not to take someone at their word, and will place their utmost confidence even in total strangers. They never think that someone could have ulterior motives behind their words or actions. This can, unfortunately, get them into trouble or allow someone to take advantage of them, but even if this happens, they will seek to justify why they behaved the way that they did.

2. Straightforwardness
In a similar way, an agreeable person will “practice what they preach” and be totally honest and straightforward with those around them. If they feel a certain way about something, they will always tell you exactly how they feel. Because they believe that their friends, family, and coworkers are honest and truthful, they would feel like they were betraying others if they were not also completely truthful. This may lead them to miss certain social cues or speak in untactful ways, but they prefer to be completely honest rather than rely on politeness or convention.

3. Altruism
Agreeable people are also extremely generous and selfless. They will constantly seek ways to help those around them, and will not live their lives for selfish goals or ambitions. If they have an excess of any kind, or are able to produce something that can be of benefit to others, they will freely and happily give it away. They would rather it cause joy or happiness in others than have that pleasure hoarded for themselves. They are excellent volunteers and are usually the first to sign up when extra work is needed if they feel that they can make someone’s day better or easier.

4. Compliance
Agreeable people never want to make waves, and will follow most rules blindly and without question. They believe that systems are in place for a reason, and do not believe that ignoring them is an acceptable course of action. They are eager to please, and will follow directions to the letter in order to gain someone’s trust. They also will not try to use the system for their own benefit, and may even follow the rules to their own detriment. They see this as another form of honesty and integrity, and expect those around them to do the same.

5. Modesty
Agreeable people will not seek out the spotlight or draw attention to themselves. This expression of modesty will come out in their words, their actions, their habits, and even their attire. They would not feel that they need to make such bold statements, but instead, want everything to be taken at face value. Anything flashy or vibrant is simply excessive; a plain and simple statement is sufficient in most cases. They do not see this as “settling” for a halfway effort or an unsatisfactory goal, but are happy with what they can get.

6. Tender-Mindedness
Because they take everything at face value, highly agreeable people are aware of the emotions of others. They can go far beyond simple empathy, and will enter into the joys or sufferings of those around them. They are much more easily able to put themselves in the shoes of others. This also applies when their trust is broken, or if they feel exposed in some way: they will take that hurt personally, and may hold onto it for extended periods of time.

Conscientiousness: Facets of This Trait

Conscientiousness measures the degree of purpose or contemplated action an individual uses in a variety of ways. People with high C have large amounts of the below facets in their personalities.

1. Competence
Highly conscientious people know their strengths and are quick to use them. They will work hard to develop a skill or ability, and will find ways to utilize them whenever possible. They may also want others to recognize them for their abilities, and will find visible ways to perform at high levels. They believe that if a job can be done, it is worth doing correctly and to the best of one’s ability. They never take half measures, but throw their heart and soul into everything they do.

2. Order
Conscientious people are also highly organized. They have systems for everything, and believe that such orderliness is a worthwhile endeavor. Furthermore, they see such order as an extension of themselves: if anyone else was to see their world in a disorganized or cluttered state, it could reflect poorly on their own abilities. It also allows them to devote their mental energies to other problems or projects. If things are out of place, they must drop everything they are doing in order to set things right.

3. Dutifulness
Highly conscientious individuals feel a strong sense of duty and obligation in their lives. They will honor their commitments no matter the cost, and will follow social conventions for convention’s sake. This can be a great benefit in a relationship and career settings in that they are some of the most loyal and devoted people you could meet. Their word is their bond, and they are more than willing to prove their commitment to others or to a job through their actions.

4. Achievement Striving
Conscientious people see tangible, measurable achievement as the ultimate goal and proof of their worth. They seek to check every box and show that they have gone above and beyond in completing a task. They seek praise and applause for their attention to detail and commitment to quality. A performance evaluation system based on rewards for hitting certain milestones is an excellent motivation. This can even carry over into their casual hobbies: they will pursue an activity only if a competition or other award is possible and attainable.

5. Self-Discipline
Conscientious people are extraordinarily self-disciplined. They have a goal in mind, they know what is required to meet that goal, and they will devote all of their time and energy to finding the best way to reach it. They are not interested in cutting corners or “taking it easy” – that would mean cheating themselves out of peak performance. They will follow every rule and hold themselves to self-imposed standards that may be far stricter than others would require.

6. Deliberation
Conscientious individuals can take much longer than some people to make a decision. They rigorously seek out as much information as possible, considering all the angles and possibilities before arriving at a final choice. Even trivial decisions can go through an extensive trial and error process. If you need a snap decision, do not go to this type of person; they will analyze the issue for far longer than you might expect. They do not see this as a fault, but feel this is an appropriate and responsible way to do things.


This personality model is proof that our understanding of a person’s behaviors and temperament is constantly evolving. By adding new dimensions and aspects to study and assess, we can gain a clearer picture of the motivations behind a person’s thoughts and actions, and learn how to interact better with those around us.

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