What Is Conscientiousness?

Conscientiousness is a fundamental personality trait—one of the Big Five—that reflects the tendency to be responsible, organized, and hard-working; to be goal-directed; and to adhere to norms and rules. Like the other basic personality traits, it has multiple facets; conscientiousness comprises self-control, industriousness, responsibility, and reliability.

Considered an outgrowth of self-regulation processes, conscientiousness is related to impulse control. It influences whether people set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices, behave cautiously or impulsively, and take obligations to others seriously. (The other Big Five personality traits are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism.)

Conscientiousness is generally a key ingredient for success—in love as well as at work. It's also a major predictor of health, well-being, and longevity.

People normally differ in the degree to which they are conscientious, and there is evidence that the trait reflects both constitutional factors and socialization experiences during childhood. Those people at the higher end of the spectrum of conscientiousness may be at risk of perfectionism and workaholism and fare poorly under conditions of high stress. Those low in conscientiousness may exhibit flexibility and spontaneity, but they may also tend to unreliability and carelessness.

How Conscientious Are You?

Studies of what conscientious people actually do show that the trait involves much more than impulse control. There is a significant proactive element. For example, the conscientious don't just set goals but set a timeline for meeting them.

Punctuality is one of the many behavioral traits of the conscientious person. So is keeping a To Do list. Like a good scout, the conscientious person is usually prepared, attends to tasks without delay, and prefers an orderly schedule. They take notes and write first drafts.The less conscientious may oversleep for class or work and avoid tasks that demand action.

People with a conscientious personality do well in jobs that require attention to detail. And it's no surprise that the conscientious are less likely to wind up behind bars.

Does Conscientiousness Predict Success?

Conscientious individuals tend to higher achievement in high school and college, independent of their cognitive ability. On the job, along with high productivity, they garner higher earnings, good relationships, work satisfaction and achievement. Plus, the conscientious tend to land more leadership positions.

People high in conscientiousness also abide by certain rules of living. They are, for example, likely to persevere in the face of a challenge and take responsibility for problems that crop up. They pay attention to detail and plan ahead.

There are ways to boost conscientiousness. One technique is mental contrasting, by which individuals imagine a goal, the path to the goal, and obstacles likely to be encountered along the way. Such a process has been found to help people choose feasible goals and boost their commitment to achieving them.

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