The Conscientiousness Dimension of Personality

In Big Five personality theory, Conscientiousness describes the degree to which a person is able to forgo immediate demands or distractions in favor of delayed gratification. More Conscientious people tend to be goal-oriented and self-disciplined, but may have trouble unwinding and being spontaneous. People who are less Conscientious tend to be flexible and more comfortable living in the moment, but may struggle with responsibility and achieving long-term goals.

Conscientiousness describes a person’s ability to exercise self-discipline and control in order to pursue their goals. High scorers are organized and determined, and are able to forego immediate gratification for the sake of long-term achievement. Low scorers are impulsive and easily sidetracked.

The concept of Conscientiousness focuses on a dilemma we all face: shall I do what feels good now, or instead do what is less fun but will pay off in the future? Some people are more likely to choose fun in the moment, and thus are low in Conscientiousness. Others are more likely to work doggedly toward their goals, and thus are high in this trait.

What Does High Conscientiousness Look Like?

People who are high in Conscientiousness tend to be responsible and goal-oriented. They make a plan and stick to it. They are often described as reliable, orderly, and hardworking. They make sure they get the details right and deliver on their promises.

Conscientious people have an advantage in many areas of life. People high in Conscientiousness tend to get better grades in school and are seen as better employees in the workforce. Conscientiousness is positively correlated with income and responsibility at work. Conscientious people usually earn a reputation as reliable, productive, and hardworking employees.

Conscientious people tend to have an easier time with self-discipline in general; they are less likely to make impulsive decisions and poor choices. Highly Conscientious people are less likely to commit crimes and have fewer problems with drug and alcohol addiction. They are even found to live longer.

Although Conscientiousness is generally thought of as a positive trait, there are some downsides to being high in Conscientiousness. Highly Conscientious people can sometimes be overly serious and may need some prodding to relax and have fun. Very Conscientious people can become hardworking to the point of excess, and burn themselves out with overwork. Conscientious people can sometimes have trouble being flexible and spontaneous.

What Does Low Conscientiousness Look Like?

People who are low in Conscientiousness tend to prioritize having fun and responding to the demands of the moment. They are often described as laid-back, casual, and relaxed. They tend to dislike demanding schedules and rigid structure.

Those who are low in Conscientiousness tend to avoid planning ahead. They may have difficulty pursuing long-term goals because they are easily distracted and tend to follow their impulses. They may struggle with self-discipline in general. Other people may see them as flaky, irresponsible, or unpredictable.

Conscientiousness is highly correlated with income and success at work. People who are high in Conscientiousness tend to be more hardworking and organized, and thus have an advantage in the workplace. In contrast, for those low in Conscientiousness, orderly habits do not come as naturally. Less Conscientious people have to work harder to be the kind of dependable, productive employee that organizations value.

Although Conscientiousness is generally thought of as a positive trait, there are some benefits to being low in this dimension. Because people low in Conscientiousness are not usually married to a plan, they tend to be flexible and respond well to changes in their situation. They may be good at reacting to emergencies and last-minute demands. They also have an advantage when it comes to fun. They are not likely to put work before play, and always make time to relax.

Molly Owens
Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly. Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.