五大以及其他指定人类个性特征的模型源于词汇假设，这是19世纪19年代Francis Galton首次提出的。词汇假设指出，每种自然语言都包含与该语言的发言者相关且重要的所有人格描述。最终，在20世纪40年代，Raymond Cattell和他的同事使用统计方法将列表减少到只有16个特征。其他几位学者分析了Cattell的工作，包括1949年的Donald Fiske，他们都得出了类似的结论：数据包含了一组强大，稳定的五个特征。每个五大特质代表一个连续统一体。例如，外向对立的特征是内向的。外向和内向共同构成了五大特征的一个频谱的对立面。人们可能非常外向或非常内向，但大多数人都会处于极端频谱之间。如果您拥有高度开放的体验，您可以接受生活中所提供的所有原始和复杂的事物，包括经验和心理。与开放体验相反的是思想开放。然而，直到20世纪80年代，五巨头才开始受到更广泛的学术关注。今天，五大是心理学研究中无处不在的一部分，心理学家在很大程度上同意人格可以分为五大基本特征。
同样重要的是要记住，五大的每个特征都非常广泛，代表了许多个性特征的集群。这些特征比整个五个特征中的每一个都更具体和更细化。因此，每个特征可以一般地定义，也可以分解为几个方面。 1936年，开拓性心理学家戈登·奥尔波特（Gordon Allport）和他的同事亨利·奥德伯特（Henry Odbert）通过阅读一本未删节的英语词典并创建了一个与个体差异相关的18,000个单词列表来探讨这一假设。这些术语中大约有4,500个反映了人格特质。这一庞大的术语使得对词汇假设感兴趣的心理学家有了一个开始的地方，但它对研究没有用处，因此其他学者试图缩小词汇范围。
The Big Five, as well as other models that specify human personality traits, arises from the lexical hypothesis, which was first proposed by Francis Galton in the 1800s. The lexical hypothesis states that every natural language contains all the personality descriptions that are relevant and important to the speakers of that language. Eventually, in the 1940s, Raymond Cattell and his colleagues used statistical methods to reduce the list to a set of only 16 traits. Several additional scholars analyzed Cattell’s work, including Donald Fiske in 1949, and they all came to a similar conclusion: the data contained a strong, stable set of five traits. Each Big Five trait represents a continuum. For example, the trait of extraversion’s opposite is introversion. Together, extraversion and introversion make up opposing ends of a spectrum for that Big Five trait. People can be very extraverted or very introverted, but most people will fall somewhere in between the extremes of the spectrum. If you possess high openness to experience, you are open to all the original and complex things life has to offer, both experientially and mentally. The opposite of openness to experience is close-mindedness. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Big Five began to receive wider scholarly attention. Today, the Big Five is a ubiquitous part of psychology research, and psychologists largely agree that personality can be grouped into the five basic traits specified by the Big Five. It’s also important to remember that each trait of the Big Five is very broad, representing a cluster of many personality characteristics. These characteristics are more specific and granular than each of the five traits as a whole. Thus, each trait can be defined in general and also broken down into several facets. In 1936, pioneering psychologist Gordon Allport and his colleague Henry Odbert explored this hypothesis by going through an unabridged English dictionary and creating a list of 18,000 words related to individual differences. Approximately 4,500 of those terms reflected personality traits. This sprawling set of terms gave psychologists interested in the lexical hypothesis a place to start, but it wasn’t useful for research, so other scholars attempted to narrow the set of words down.