Conscientiousness Research Paper

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Conscientiousness is one of five major dimensions of individual differences in personality. It contrasts people who are methodical, purposeful, and deliberate with those who are disorganized, lazy, and hasty. Conscientiousness shows strong genetic influences. It is relatively low among adolescents and increases up to 30 years of age. Thereafter, mean levels and individual differences are generally stable throughout adulthood. Low levels of the Conscientiousness factor are associated with several forms of psychopathology, whereas high levels are associated with academic achievement and superior job performance.


  1. Conscientiousness as a Dimension of Personality
  2. Origin and Development of Conscientiousness
  3. Applications
  4. Conclusion

1. Conscientiousness As A Dimension Of Personality

Personality traits are tendencies to think, feel, and act in consistent ways. People in every culture learn to describe themselves and others in trait terms, with words such as nervous, energetic, original, altruistic, and careful referring to personality traits. The English language has several thousand such words. In addition, personality psychologists working in a variety of theoretical perspectives have identified traits such as ego strength, exvia, tolerance of ambiguity, dependency, and socialization.

All of these traits are similar in some respects. All are normally distributed; that is, a few people score low, most score in the average range, and a few score high. All traits are relatively stable across time. All of them affect behavior, but their impact is often weak and observable only when averaged across a wide sample of occasions.

It has become clear during the past 20 years or so that nearly all personality traits are related to one or more of five basic personality dimensions or factors, most commonly labeled Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Together, these factors and their constituent traits are known as the Five-Factor Model (FFM). Each of the five factors is a broad disposition defined by many narrower traits. Furthermore, the factors are orthogonal in that people who are very high in Conscientiousness may be introverted or extraverted and may be agreeable or antagonistic.

Many personality theorists have described traits akin to Conscientiousness. These include Tupes and Christal’s dependability, Tellegen’s constraint, Gough’s norm adhering, Cloninger’s persistence, Digman’s will to achieve, and Cattell’s control. These various names reflect somewhat different conceptions of the Conscientiousness factor, with some suggesting a proactive purposefulness and others suggesting an inhibitive self-control. In an attempt to represent the full range of relevant traits, Costa and McCrae in 1991 assessed six facets of Conscientiousness in their Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R): competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and deliberation. Factor analyses have shown that these six facets intercorrelate and define a clear factor in both men and women, as well as in both adults and children, in many different languages and cultures.

2. Origin And Development Of Conscientiousness

Terms such as hard-working, reliable, and persevering describe desirable aspects of character. Indeed, Conscientiousness was omitted from some personality systems because it was once believed to be a moral evaluation rather than a real psychological attribute. The reality of individual differences in Conscientiousness has now been clearly established by studies of cross-observer agreement. Peer and expert ratings confirm the self-reports that people make about their degrees of Conscientiousness. Furthermore, both self-reports and observer ratings of Conscientiousness predict real-life outcomes such as academic success.

During most of the 20th century, psychologists believed that personality traits could be divided into two categories: temperament and character. Temperament traits were thought to be biologically based, whereas character traits were thought to be learned either during childhood or throughout life. With the advent of the FFM, behavior geneticists began systematic studies of the full range of personality traits, and it soon became clear that all five factors are substantially heritable. Identical twins showed very similar personality traits even when they had been separated at birth and raised apart, and this was equally true for both character traits and temperament traits. Parents and communities influence the ways in which Conscientiousness is expressed, but they apparently do not influence its level.

Currently, little is known about Conscientiousness in young children because the self-report inventories typically used to assess it are not appropriate for that age group. It is obvious, however, that there are individual differences on this factor at an early age. We know, for example, that some children have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized in part by problems with concentration, organization, and persistence—traits related to Conscientiousness. Longitudinal and cross-sectional studies suggest that Conscientiousness is relatively low among adolescents but increases between 18 and 30 years of age. Through most of the rest of adult life, there is relatively little change in the average level of Conscientiousness, although it is less clear what happens during extreme old age. Individual differences are strongly preserved, meaning that a careful, neat, and scrupulous 30-year-old is likely to become a careful, neat, and scrupulous 80-year-old.

3. Applications

It matters greatly whether one is purposeful, diligent, and persistent or aimless, undisciplined, and impulsive. Consequently, Conscientiousness is associated with a variety of important life outcomes.

3.1. Mental Health And Psychotherapy

Individuals who are low in Conscientiousness are at risk for a number of psychiatric disorders. Because they act without due consideration of the long-term consequences of their actions, and because they lack self-control, they are prone to alcohol and substance abuse. Because they are chronically low in motivation to pursue goals, they are more susceptible to demoralization and depression. Because they do not have a strong sense of social obligations, they are more likely to be psychopaths or to have antisocial personality disorder. In 1998, Ranseen and colleagues showed strong associations between Conscientiousness and adult attention deficit disorder.

In principle, very high levels of Conscientiousness might also lead to problems in living. Some theorists link high Conscientiousness to obsessive–compulsive personality disorder and perfectionism. Highly conscientious people might also be workaholics whose task orientation interferes with family and social life.

The importance of Conscientiousness for clinical psychology and psychiatry was long underrated, in part because one of the chief measures of psychopathology, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), does not include clear measures of this factor. It would appear that the assessment of Conscientiousness should be of considerable value in the diagnosis of psychopathology.

Conscientiousness has implications for psychotherapy as well. Individuals who are lax and careless might not show up for therapy sessions, and they are less likely to complete homework assignments. Clinicians whose patients are low in Conscientiousness might need to make special efforts or enlist the assistance of family members to compensate for these patients’ low motivation and persistence.

3.2. Physical Health

For several reasons, Conscientiousness is an important determinant of physical health. Conscientious people have the self-discipline to develop and maintain good health habits. They exercise, stick to diets, and drink in moderation. Because they are thoughtful and deliberate, they avoid unnecessary risks in driving, and they are less likely to engage in unsafe sex. Conscientious individuals are likely to be better patients who are more willing and able to comply with prescribed medical regimens. Research has generally shown higher levels of adherence among highly conscientious patients, although many other variables are also involved. For at least some of these reasons, some studies have reported an association of Conscientiousness with longevity.

Conscientiousness may sometimes be affected by physical health, particularly brain injuries or diseases. In both Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury patients, one of the most notable features is a precipitous decline in level of Conscientiousness. Observed declines in organized and purposeful behavior may prove to be early indicators of brain disease.

3.3. Academic Performance

Research on personality and academic performance can be traced as far back as Webb’s 1915 study of character and intelligence. Webb identified a factor called persistence of motives or will that clearly anticipated the construct of Conscientiousness. Many subsequent studies confirmed that the organization, diligence, neatness, and punctuality of highly conscientious students contribute to academic success.

Academic performance is also affected by Openness to Experience, and combinations of Conscientiousness and Openness define different learning styles. Students high on both factors are prototypical good students, pursuing a wide range of interests with careful and thorough study. Students who are conscientious but closed are more likely to excel in fields such as accounting and pharmacy that emphasize accuracy over imagination.

3.4. Job Performance

Conscientiousness is best known to applied psychologists as the dimension of personality most consistently associated with job performance. A series of meta-analyses have confirmed that highly conscientious people are rated as superior performers in nearly every occupation. Other personality factors are also related to job success, but usually only in specific job categories; for example, Openness is likely to be more useful to a novelist than to a banker. But organization, persistence, meticulousness, and achievement orientation are assets in any job.

Typically, Conscientiousness scores correlate roughly .20 to .30 with performance ratings. This correlation is small, in part because performance ratings are themselves imperfect measures and in part because vocational success also depends on a host of other factors, including intelligence, training and experience, and compatibility with coworkers. Nevertheless, other things being equal, employers would be better off hiring more conscientious candidates.

If test respondents are instructed to ‘‘fake good’’ on a personality inventory, they typically score high in Conscientiousness. Furthermore, job applicant samples typically score higher on desirable traits than do volunteers with no incentive to manage the impressions they are making. These facts have led some industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologists to question whether self-reports on personality inventories can be trusted. However, research to date has shown that Conscientiousness scores are valid predictors even when they are administered as part of a job selection battery.

4. Conclusion

Conscientiousness is the dimension of personality most directly relevant to the accomplishment of tasks. Individuals who score high on this factor have clear goals and the ability to persevere in their efforts to attain them. It is possible, of course, that one’s goals are inimical to society, and highly conscientious individuals can sometimes become dangerous criminals or entrenched dictators. For the most part, however, Conscientiousness is useful to both the individual and society, and anyone interested in success in life must take it into account.


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  11. Webb, E. (1915). Character and intelligence: An attempt at an exact study of character. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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