Since the 1960s, cognitive psychologists and learning theorists have explored why some people succeed or continue trying in the face of obstacles while others give up. Over time, researchers and theorists have identified five major distinct (but not mutually exclusive) personality traits. This scholarly conversation is often referenced as “the Big Five” or the “Big Five Personality Traits”:

  • Openness to Experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
  • Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). 
  • Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). 
  • Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached). 
  • Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). 

Over the years, cognitive psychologists, developmental psychologists, and researchers in education have been especially interested in how these traits are correlated with success, failure, health, and participation in civic discourse. Thanks to sponsorship from the National Science Foundation (NSF), research has explored how the science education needs to be revised to foster the traits that lead to success in science courses.