Can the ‘Big 5’ help with understanding weight?

The five factor model also known as the Big 5 personality traits is a model that has attempted to categorize all personality traits into 5 broad factors, which include:

1. Conscientiousness: organized, persistent and goal directed behavior

2. Agreeableness: concerned about others, warm and trusting sentiments

3. Neuroticism: negative thoughts or affects, self-consciousness

4. Openness: open-minded, receptive to new ideas, approaches and experiences

5. Extroversion: outgoing, sociable and assertive.

The Big 5 can be easily remembered through the acronym C.A.N.O.E. or O.C.E.A.N.

Each factor is categorized by a multitude of other personality traits. Not only does this model encompass the main 5 traits but also its opposites; this means that if someone were to score low on one factor they would in consequence score higher on its opposite trait. (i.e. extroversion <=> introversion)

The Big 5 model is not meant to be used to gain a specific understanding on one’s personality. The Big 5 does not and cannot pin point specific personality traits, it is used to achieve a broad overview or a quick assessment of a person. Everyone falls somewhere on the Big 5 scale but this does not mean that a high scored trait will be consistent across situations. However, they are known to be pretty stable over time.

The real question is whether the Big 5 can measure areas of one’s life… more specifically… weight?

According to the study “Five-Factor Model Personality Traits and the Objective and Subjective Experience of Body weight” by Angelina R.Sutin and Antonio Terraciano, it can be done. Sutin and Terracciano examined how personality traits are associated with subjective body weight and discrepancies between perceived and actual body weight. The participants completed a “5 factor model personality measure”, and reported their weight, height and perception of weight category. Then the researchers measured the weight and height themselves.

Results showed that conscientiousness is linked with lower adiposity and being leaner. Low agreeableness is related to being overweight. Neuroticism is associated with high BMI in women but people high in neuroticism also perceive themselves as being heavier than in reality. Finally, being highly extroverted is linked to higher weight and the opposite is found with introversion. Extroverted people have the tendency to perceive themselves as thinner.

The results are modest, which makes reliability and validity questionable. However, this part of the research was known as ‘wave 4’ of a larger study known as the” National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health”, so the study was done over a long period of time.

I do not believe the Big 5 are valuable for predicting or diagnosing. However, with this study where individuals may be high in neuroticism or have a negative perception of themselves, it may be helpful for being aware of people who might be at higher risk of developing eating disorders.


Sutin, A. R., & Terracciano, A. (February 01, 2016). Five-Factor Model Personality Traits and the Objective and Subjective Experience of Body Weight. Journal of Personality, 84,1, 102–112.

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