The Big Five Inventory (BFI)

The Big Five Inventory (BFI)

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About Scale Name

Scale Name

The Big Five Inventory (BFI)

Author Details

Oliver P. John, Edward M. Donahue, and Robert L. Kentle

Translation Availability

Chinese, Dutch, German (BFI-10 only), English, Hebrew, Italian, Lithuanian, Portugese, Spanish, Swedish

The Big Five Inventory (BFI)
The Big Five Inventory (BFI)


The Big Five Inventory (BFI) is a self-report personality test that measures five broad dimensions of personality:

  • Openness to experience : This trait reflects how open someone is to new ideas, experiences, and ways of thinking. People who are high in openness are curious, imaginative, and creative. They are also more likely to be interested in art, music, and travel.
  • Conscientiousness : This trait reflects how organized, hardworking, and responsible someone is. People who are high in conscientiousness are typically punctual, reliable, and efficient. They are also more likely to set goals and achieve them.
  • Extraversion : This trait reflects how outgoing and sociable someone is. People who are high in extraversion enjoy being around others and are typically talkative, energetic, and assertive. They are also more likely to take risks and seek out new challenges.
  • Agreeableness : This trait reflects how kind, cooperative, and trusting someone is. People who are high in agreeableness are typically helpful, forgiving, and understanding. They are also more likely to avoid conflict and get along with others.
  • Neuroticism : This trait reflects how emotionally stable and resilient someone is. People who are high in neuroticism are more likely to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and sadness. They are also more likely to be self-conscious and worry about things.

The Big Five personality traits are one of the most widely accepted and researched theories of personality. They have been shown to be consistent across cultures and to be predictive of a variety of important outcomes, such as job performance, academic achievement, and mental health.

The Big Five Inventory was developed in the early 1990s by Oliver P. John, Edward M. Donahue, and Robert L. Kentle. It is based on the five-factor model of personality, which was first proposed by Raymond Cattell in the 1940s. The BFI has been translated into over 50 languages and is used in a variety of settings, including research, clinical practice, and organizational settings.

The BFI is a reliable and valid measure of the Big Five personality traits. It has been shown to be consistent over time and to predict a variety of important outcomes. The BFI is a valuable tool for understanding human personality and for predicting behavior.

Administration, Scoring and Interpretation

The Big Five Inventory (BFI) is a self-report personality test that can be administered in a variety of settings, including individual or group settings, online or paper-and-pencil format. The test takes about 15 minutes to complete.

To administer the BFI, the examiner will first read the instructions to the participant. The instructions will explain how to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, and 5 = Strongly Agree.

The examiner will then ask the participant to read each item and rate how strongly they agree or disagree with the statement. The participant should answer each item honestly and thoughtfully.

Once the participant has completed the test, the examiner will collect the test booklet and score the test. The scoring instructions are provided in the test manual.

Reliability and Validity

The Big Five Inventory (BFI) is a reliable and valid measure of the Big Five personality traits. Reliability refers to the consistency of the test scores. Validity refers to the extent to which the test measures what it is supposed to measure.

The BFI has been shown to be reliable in a variety of studies. The internal consistency reliability of the BFI is typically high, with Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranging from 0.70 to 0.80. This means that the items on the BFI are internally consistent, meaning that they measure the same underlying construct.

The BFI has also been shown to be valid in a variety of studies. The test has been shown to correlate with other measures of the Big Five personality traits, such as the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO-PI-R). This suggests that the BFI is measuring the same underlying constructs as other well-validated measures of the Big Five personality traits.

The BFI has also been shown to predict a variety of important outcomes, such as job performance, academic achievement, and mental health. This suggests that the BFI is a valid measure of the Big Five personality traits and that it can be used to predict important outcomes in people’s lives.

Available Versions



John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. L. (1991). The Big Five Inventory (BFI): A measure of the Big Five personality factors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(2), 555-562. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.50.2.555

Important Link

Scale File:

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Big Five Inventory (BFI) in the public domain and available for use?

Oliver P. John hold the copyright to the BFI and it is not in the public domain per se. However, it is freely available for researchers to use for non-commercial research purposes.  Please keep us posted on your findings.

If you are interested in using the BFI for commercial purposes, please submit a request to At this time, the BFI is for non-commercial uses only.

If you are interested in using the BFI for research purposes, please click [here], which will direct you to the BFI download page. 

How should I reference the BFI?

You should reference these article in manuscripts using the BFI:

(1) John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm Shift to the Integrative Big-Five Trait Taxonomy: History, Measurement, and Conceptual Issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 114-158). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

(2) John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. L. (1991). The Big Five Inventory–Versions 4a and 54. Berkeley, CA: University of California,Berkeley, Institute of Personality and Social Research.

(3) Benet-Martinez, V., & John, O. P. (1998).  Los Cinco Grandes across cultures and ethnic groups: Multitrait multimethod analyses of the Big Five in Spanish and English.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 729-750.

How do I score the BFI?

Scoring instructions and SPSS syntax are downloadable from this website after completing the survey.

Are there norms for the BFI?

There is no official BFI manual with published norms. However, the following paper contains means from age 20 to age 60. You might want to look at it (download here) for an American sample; scores were converted to POMP (percentage of maximum possible) metric and graphed by gender and age for each Big Five dimension.

Srivastava, S., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2003). Development of personality in early and middle adulthood: Set like plaster or persistent change? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1041-1053

Is there a shorter version of the BFI available?

Yes, there is an abbreviated 10-item version available here. However, given that the entire BFI consists of only 44 very short phrases and takes only 5 minutes to complete, we do not recommend using the short 11-item version unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Why are there multiple descriptors for some BFI items?

For several items, such as “being relaxed, handles stress well, the typical understanding would be that the second phrase provides an elaboration of the first concept, so its understood as “being relaxed, in the sense of being good at handling stress”. Specifically, “relaxed” is typically a low-Neuroticism item and means “not anxious, not easily upset or stressed out.” But some people might misunderstand “relaxed” to mean “easy-going, having fun” which would be an high-Extraversion item. Thus, to rule out this misinterpretation, we use “handles stress well” to elaborate what we mean by “being relaxed”.

How do you handle missing items?

There are different approaches in the literature, varying in complexity. If a lot of item responses are missing, you may not want to use that person’s scores. With only a few responses missing (6 or less), I try to use either the response to the closest synonym (similar) item or I compute the scale score (as an average item response) without the missing item(s) and then use that score (rounded to an integer) as the substitute item score (when you do that, be careful not to get confused with reverse items).

Given the fact that it is a five point Likert scale, there are bound to be some middle (3) responses given, especially if participants become fatigued. How do you handle these 3 responses? Are they discarded? Or are they counted toward the total score?

I almost always permit middle responses (3)–when research participants are reasonably motivated, they use “3” when appropriate–on some items, people are just “in the middle.” These scores get simply added into the overall score. Remember, this is truly a dimensional response scale, not a “true or false” questionnaire! In fact, on some items, responding “3” is actually very diagnostic; for example, responding “3” the reverse Agreeableness item “Starts quarrels with others” means the participant is admitting to considerable disagreeableness (the majority of individuals answer 2 or even 1). So, unless there are lots of 3 responses, I would not worry about it.

Has anyone used the scale without response 3 (neither agree or disagree)? i.e. use only the remaining 4 item scale to force respondents to choose an answer? Have there been any psychometrics done on this?

You are implying that you will give the BFI in an interview format–will you? If so, you could give an instruction that says “first, consider whether you agree with this item, or disagree–choose one way.” Then have them rate *how much* they agree (strongly or a little) or disagree (strongly or a little). And tell them that they should/can respond “neither agree nor disagree, right in the middle” only in those rare instances when they are really right in the middle.

If the BFI is self-administered, in that participants read the items by themselves and record their answers in writing (the way we usually administer the BFI), then yes, you could simply give the scale as ranging from 1 to 4, with the middle-response option omitted. If you have strong reasons to do that, it’s ok with me, but you will end up sacrificing the opportunity to compare your means and SDs to other research, all of which has used the standard 5-point scale. If the problem is fatigue-related, I would rather have them take a little break!

Should I use the 54-item version?

You seem to be using a very early version of the BFI; 10 items are not scored on any of the scales. The following materials refer to the 44-item version, all of which are included in the 54-item version. Just select those items and follow the scoring for those 44. Ignore the other 10 items. If the BFI is administered routinely at your institution, you may want to update the questionnaire and use the 44-item final version.

I cannot locate the John & Donahue, 1998, The Big Five Inventory: Studies of reliability and validity article referenced in Benet-Martinez & John 1998. Was it published?

No, it was not published. Please refer to Rammstedt & John 2007, Measuring personality in one minute or less: A 10-item short version of the Big Five Inventory in English and German. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 203-212. This article focuses on a shorter 10-item version that includes information on external validity via peer ratings for the full, 44-item BFI as well. Note that we do not recommend using the short 10-item version unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Where can I learn more about the Big Five dimensions of Personality?

For an introduction to the conceptual and measurement issues surrounding the Big Five personality factors, a good place to start is the recent John, Naumann, & Soto (2008) Handbook of Personality chapter.

The chapter covers a number of important issues including the scientific origins and history of the Big Five, theoretical accounts of the Big Five, and comparisons of different measurement instruments. The chapter also includes a conceptual and empirical comparison of three measurement instruments: the Big Five Inventory (BFI), Costa and McCrae’s NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), and Goldberg’s set of 100 trait-descriptive adjectives. There is no one-size-fits-all measure, but the chapter includes our recommendations on which instrument(s) you should use for different applications.


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I am a senior clinical psychologist with over 11years of experience in the field. I am the founder of Psychology Roots, a platform that provides solutions and support to learners and professionals in psychology. My goal is to help people understand and improve their mental health, and to empower them to live happier and healthier lives.

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1 year ago

This article is incredibly helpful! Has the inventory been compared to the 240-item version concerning reliability and validity yet?

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