Frequently Asked Questions

How do VIA character strengths relate to the Big 5 Personality traits?

The Big Five personality traits are broad domains/dimensions of personality and include the following traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (under the acronym, OCEAN). The Five Factor Model, which is the theory that underpins the five traits, is popular among personality researchers and theorists (it is generally not popular among practitioners), and has gained substantial empirical support. Researchers have conducted scores of studies using the Big Five traits and have examined them in relation to academic achievement, learning styles, cultural differences, gender differences, personality disorders, heritability, brain structures, and work success, to name a few areas.

There are a number of assessment instruments researchers use to measures these five traits; the most popular is the NEO-PI, a personality inventory that has undergone a number of revisions over the years.

The Big Five personality traits are discussed and referenced many times in the Character Strengths and Virtues text (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). One of the charts in the text shows the correspondence between Big Five traits and character traits. It is reprinted below with minor updates in language (from Table 3.7, p. 69).

 Big Five Trait   Representative examples  Approximate
 corresponding character strengths

 Worried, nervous, emotional  None
 Extroversion  Sociable, fun-loving, active  Zest, humor, playfulness
 Openness   Imaginative, creative, artistic  Curiosity, creativity,
 appreciation of beauty
 Agreeableness  Good-natured, softhearted, sympathetic  Kindness, gratitude
 Conscientiousness  Reliable, hardworking, punctual  Self-regulation, perseverance,

This table shows some examples of character strengths likely to be highly correlated with each Big Five trait. Arguments could be made for meaningful correlations for additional character strengths for each. Additional research is needed in studying this correspondence. This
indicates that there is not only overlap among these constructs being measured but also substantial distinctiveness among the two.

Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004) observed the following in regard to the Big Five tradition:

The Big Five tradition strikes us as largely atheoretical (not a problem in our view of things) and largely nonpsychological (a big problem to us) in that classification per se seems to be the goal, not an understanding of the causes or consequences of the classification’s entries. When a new measure of individual differences is reported in the literature, one or another lexical research group invariably conducts a study lining the new measure to existing Big Five inventories. There is invariably convergence, but rarely is it so striking that one would conclude that the new measures is superfluous, probably because the Big Five traits are very broad and unlikely to capture the meaning of a more nuanced individual difference. (pp. 68-69).

VIA is undergoing a new study led by personality researcher, Dr. Robert McGrath, that involves examining the VIA Survey and Big 5 measures. McGrath and others are examining the incremental validity of the VIA Survey to be useful in explaining core personality over and above what is explained by the Big 5 traits. This important study will examine incremental validity across 6 behavioral measures. Results are very promising.


Further questions?

Contact the VIA Institute: 

The VIA Institute on Character
312 Walnut Street, Suite 3600
Cincinnati, OH 45202
VIA's Communications Specialist Kelly Aluise: