Conscientiousness: A Personality Trait
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | September 28, 2021 (edited March 26, 2022)
Conscientiousness is one of the five traits of the Big Five personality theory. A high score on the conscientiousness scale suggests that the conscientious person is well organized, orderly, careful, persevering, prudent, circumspect, and non-impulsive. Conscientiousness is strongly associated to measures of successful achievement in academic and occupational domains (Little, 2016, location 615).
Those scoring low on the conscientious scale often appear disorganized, spontaneous, careless, imprudent, and impulsive.
Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is organized, orderly, careful, and non-impulsive.
Conscientiousness and Predictable Environments
Conscientiousness thrives in predictable and well-ordered environments. The exactness of effort and reward fits well with conscientious planning and organization. Exactness is attractive to the conscientious personality. The academic life fits this perfectly, especially in fields of study where success is very objective—engineering, accounting.
However, life challenges that are less exact, with imperfect equations for success can create heightened anxiety. Just winging it frightens those scoring high in conscientiousness. High conscientious types prefer a list they can check off as they complete identifiable tasks.
Brian R. Little PhD., an internationally acclaimed scholar and speaker in the field of personality and motivational psychology wrote, "the ability to persist in projects and tasks that require committed pursuit and timely completion come easily to highly conscientious people. However, if an environment is chaotic, unpredictable, and fast paced, it is possible that conscientiousness could be maladaptive. In such environments the less conscientious person might be better able to orient away from routine activities, to attend to sudden intrusions, and to change direction with alacrity" (2016, location 636).
In extreme, conscientiousness may lead to perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
A person scoring high in conscientiousness are likely to have the following traits:
Books on Conscientiousness and Personality
Is Conscientiousness Learned?
Like most aspects of human existence, we are an intricate mixture of biological propensities and environmental influences. Our genetic structures interact with environmental exposures. Conscientiousness is no exception. We are biologically programmed towards more or less conscientiousness then experience sharpens or dulls the propensities.
Little states that "there is clear evidence that each of these dimensions of personality has a genetic component accounting for roughly 50 percent of the variation between people on each trait" (2016, location 598).
A 2021 study on sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) found a correlation between SPS, largely a biological condition, and the Big Five personality trait Neuroticism (Yano, Kase, & Oishi, 2021). Perhaps, we may never accurately assess the exact percentages of nature and nurture impact. However, we should all agree that both biology and environment have a significant impact on personality traits and behavior.
A Few Words by Flourishing Life Society
Personality studies are enlightening, giving insights into our oddities and strengths. Yet, measurements, such as personality traits, also are limiting. We are complex beings. We should use information from these studies, identifying weaknesses to strengthen, and strengths to exploit.
Personally, conscientiousness is not one of my strengths. The occasional misspelled word and repeated grammatical errors drives the conscientious readers crazy. I work on these imperfections. My low scores in conscientiousness, however, benefits other areas in my life. In a few of my professional assignments, I teamed up with conscientious workers. They meticulously worked on intricate projects while I pushed through larger quantities of work. Our strengths and weaknesses blended well.
In many blogs and articles on conscientiousness, I noticed that "self-motivation" was often cited as a trait of conscientiousness and citing that motivation was lacking in those scoring lower in the trait. However, I certainly have met many highly motivated, hard driven, disorganized workers. Their desks are a mess, thoughts chaotic, but produce at a high level. Perhaps, they could be more efficient but their work ethic is impeccable and value to the work force irreplaceable.
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Little, B. R. (2016). Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. Public Affairs; Reprint edition
Yano, K., Kase, T., & Oishi, K. (2021). The Associations Between Sensory Processing Sensitivity and the Big Five Personality Traits in a Japanese Sample. Journal of Individual Differences, 42(2), 84-90.