Today I read a paper by De Young about Cybernetic Big 5 theory of personality and that led me to think hard about my own conceptualization of personality.  The below is an effort to elucidate the CB5T as well as to enhance and point out the commonalities with my own conception.


To begin with, there are two broad personalty meta-traits: called stability and plasticity. Like all personality traits these are on a continuum and someone low in stability I like to call as labile; while someone low on plasticity I like to call as rigid.

Lets first look at plasticity. It is made up of the big 5 traits of Extraversion also conceptualized as behavioral plasticity and Openness/intellect conceptualized as cognitive plasticity. Its important to note here that plasticity has nothing to do with neuro-plasticity; this is more behavioral and cognitive flexibility or plasticity and is related to a tendency to explore either behaviorally one’s environment or cognitively one’s conceptual space to maximize learning.  Thus while plasticity pole is a learning and exploration pole, the rigidity pole is performance or exploitation pole.  In normal course of life one would need to both learn new stuff and leverage that to perform well using existing knowledge. Plasticity-rigidity, imho,  is the tradeoff and tension between too much learning and too much performance focus. This aspect of personality is purely in cognitive -behavioral domain and can be easily modeled/ replicated by machines. This is the philosophical zombie.

Why we need the second meta trait of stability- labile is somewhat of a mystery to many people. This is the part of person that feels, has motives and understands and acts as if others too are conscious entities like him/her. This is the ghost in the machine. Stability is comprised of Big 5 underlying traits of Neuroticism also conceptualized as low emotional stability , Conscientiousness conceptualized as motivational stability and Agreeableness conceptualized as social stability. Stability here refers to the fact that one can exercise control over ones reactions to the environment. While labile, the polar extreme of stability, is characterized by reactivity to environment/ stimuli, giving in to impulses and is more toward the facet ‘Experience’ of consciousness; stability on the other hand is all about effort-full regulation of impulses, willpower and control and related to ‘Agency’ part of consciousness.

That is about the two meta traits.

Now, lets come to the big 5 and 2 aspects of each of the big 5 as per De Young.

First up is Extraverison. Its there because rewards are present in the world and it codes for reward sensitivity. As long as rewards are there in the world and the organism acts to receive rewards, there would be individual differences in how much the behavior is performed for the same reward. Thus though operant conditioning will guarantee that behaviors get coupled with reward contingencies in the environment, the degree of coupling will be a matter of individual taste. There are two aspects of Extraversion: assertiveness and enthusiasm. Assertiveness is related to wanting a reward and enthusiasm to liking a reward and this echoes earlier work by Berridge et al. I also think of them as Work (wanting something  and willing to expand energy) and Play (liking something and enjoying it) aspects of extraversion. These neurobiologically are related to the BAS  (behavior approach system)  and pleasure system (PS ) about which I have blogged elsewhere,

Next up is Neuroticism. Its because there are punishments and threats in the world and it codes sensitivity to the same. As long as threats are there in the world, the organism will respond by defensive behavior that can be either active escape or passive avoidance. There are tow aspects of Neuroticism: Volatility or active FFFS (fight, freeze, flight response) response and  Withdrawal or BIS (behavioral inhibition system) like responses. On the flip side you have a calm person (flip of volatile) and a confident person (flip of withdrawn) . Volatility is active in nature while withdrawal is passive in nature. This can also be thought of as the Avoid system, but is made of FFFS and BIS as I have blogged elsewhere.

Consider Agreeableness next. It is a response to a problem posed by con-specifics and significant others. Here the self-other dynamic plays. On one hand you curb selfish impulses to co-operate ad share with con-specifics, on the other hand the attachment system makes you automatically care and be compassionate about your kins and near and dear ones. The two aspects of  Agreeableness are accordingly politeness (curbing impulses to be pro social) and compassion (genuinely caring about others) . This is colloquially the attach system , also made popular by Rick Hanson, but I am sure will be decomposed in two systems on closer analysis.

Next come openness/ intellect: It is a response to the problem of uncertainty. We are never sure what is out there and thus need to continuously update our representation of the world. One can do that using a broad lens and by abstracting or one can use a concrete lens and be narrowly focused .  One can take things in parallel or consider inputs serially and in a logical fashion.  Correspondingly, there are two aspects of this : Openness to experience that is broadly construed and intellect which is more narrowly construed.  But at the end of the day this system is about attending to the world and about cognitive exploration and can be called an Attend system.


Lastly comes Conscientiousness. Here the challenge is unpredictability- of self – and thus the need to regulate oneself. This could be done by either inculcating habits and routines or by exercising willpower and top down control. Accordingly the two aspects are industriousness (characterized by delaying gratification and forgetful control) and orderliness ( following rules, routines etc). This is the domain of self regulation and motivation.

I am so excited by this new model- it does seem to sum up many things beautifully and gels beautifully with my ABCDS (now a S or  social factor to be added to affective, behavioral, cognitive and motivational domain ) model and also with the polarities of Millon .  Do let me know what you think about this model of personality?

GD Star Rating
Personality decomposed!, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

Effecient Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts