What Is Conscientiousness?

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When someone is conscientious, they are able to exercise self-discipline and self-control in order to pursue and ultimately achieve their goals. People with high conscientiousness are also organized, determined, and able to postpone immediate gratification—all of which contribute to a more successful life.

If you've taken a personality test and scored high in conscientiousness, you may be wondering what this means for you. Learn more about the conscientious personality trait and how conscientiousness can affect your behaviors.

Conscientiousness As a Big Five Personality Trait

Many psychologists believe that even though there are thousands of different dimensions to personality, they all fall into one of five basic categories. These are known as the Big Five personality traits:

Psychologists often use the acronym OCEAN when referring to the Big Five.

If you score high in conscientiousness, that doesn't mean that you won't find other aspects of the Big Five within your personality. Each trait is viewed on a continuum. You can be high, low, or somewhere in the middle when it comes to each trait.

In other words, even though you may be dominant in conscientiousness, you will still have some level of the other four traits represented. The Big Five is a useful tool for understanding personality and is also helpful in identifying how people respond to different scenarios or stressors in their lives.

Common Characteristics of Conscientiousness

While some people are more likely to choose what feels good right now, conscientious people tend to work diligently to achieve goals they've set for their future. They are responsible, reliable, organized, and hard-working. They also pay attention to detail to make sure they deliver on their promises.

Someone who is conscientious will rarely make impulsive or careless decisions. Instead, their decision-making style tends to be more rational and dependent (requiring support or guidance from others) and less spontaneous.

Words often used to describe a conscientious person include:

Conversely, people who are low in conscientiousness tend to prioritize having fun in the moment. They are often described as casual, laid-back, and relaxed. They are less likely to follow schedules and aren't prone to extensive planning.

Signs of Conscientiousness

If you are a conscientious person, there are some common behaviors that you are likely to witness in your life. You might say about yourself:

  • I like for things to be neat and clean.
  • I prefer order and organization.
  • I try to always be prepared.
  • I plan ahead and follow a schedule.
  • I like to be precise and pay attention to details.
  • I work hard and produce high-quality work.
  • I get work done right away.

Prevalence

When it comes to determining conscientiousness (and the other four traits in the Big Five), most people complete a self-report questionnaire. These inventories usually contain statements in which test-takers must decide to what extent they agree or disagree.

Because conscientiousness is measured through self-inventory, it's difficult to determine its prevalence within the general public. It is not a diagnosis, but simply an aspect of personality that helps people better understand why they do the things they do.

What's more, each person has some level of conscientiousness that exists along a continuum. So, people can be very high in conscientiousness, very low, or somewhere in between. This makes the act of measuring this personality trait and understanding its prevalence even more complex.

How Conscientiousness Influences Behavior

When someone tests high in conscientiousness, they are likely very dependable and organized. They also tend to be able to control their impulses. Within the trait of conscientiousness, there are six facets or sub-traits that further describe personality.

Achievement-Oriented

People who score high in conscientiousness tend to be high achievers—in school, at work, and even when playing sports. They are always striving for excellence in everything they do. Consequently, they are often extremely ambitious and tend to have lofty goals.

Meanwhile, those that score lower in conscientiousness may sometimes be viewed as lazy. They may be more content with doing minimal work or skimping on their responsibilities.

Cautious

If someone scores high in conscientiousness, they are likely to carefully consider all the facts before making decisions. They tend to think most things through and consider the consequences before finally acting.

Conscientious people often analyze situations and weigh the pros and cons before moving forward. People with low scores, on the other hand, tend to be impulsive and take greater risks.

Dutiful

When someone scores high in conscientiousness, they are typically a very reliable person with a strong sense of duty and moral obligation. They honor their commitments and follow through on their promises. Leaders with this trait have higher ratings in integrity and accountability.

People who score low in conscientiousness tend to view rules and regulations as restricting, limiting, and confining. They may not feel responsible for anyone other than themselves. Consequently, low scorers may be viewed as irresponsible and insubordinate.

Orderly

Typically, when someone is high in conscientiousness, they are highly organized and thrive with schedules and routines. They may enjoy list-making and are often punctual with their time.

Many times, people with this trait will describe themselves as self-starters who are both orderly and neat. Conversely, someone low in conscientiousness may appear more disorganized or feel scatterbrained.

Self-Disciplined

People scoring high in conscientiousness are often very self-disciplined. They tend to persevere even when things get difficult or unpleasant. Some refer to this as having grit, which is closely connected to conscientiousness and self-discipline.

What's more, a conscientious person is able to stay focused and stick to the task at hand, even when faced with multiple distractions. Low conscientiousness, however, may lead to the failure to complete tasks, especially if they are perceived as being too difficult.

Prone to Self-Efficacy

When someone scores high in conscientiousness, they often have complete confidence in their ability to reach their goals and be successful. They tend to believe in themselves and their abilities, and they have a great deal of ambition to see things through to the end.

Conversely, people who score low in conscientiousness tend to feel ineffective. They also often believe that they have no control over their lives.

Pros and Cons of Conscientiousness

Multiple studies have shown that being conscientious is associated with better health. This may be because people who score high in conscientiousness tend to engage in lower-risk health behaviors. For example, studies indicate that the higher one's level of conscientiousness, the lower their rate of substance use.

Other research-supported benefits of being conscientious include:

Even so, there are some potential downsides to scoring high in this personality trait. For instance, people who are conscientious can become too serious. Therefore, they may need some help lightening up and having fun.

A highly conscientious person can also become overly rigid or inflexible and struggle to be spontaneous. In extreme cases, they may struggle with perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While people low in conscientiousness are sometimes viewed as irresponsible and unpredictable, they also are more likely to step outside of the box and may respond well to last-minute demands. This can be a benefit in situations that require creativity or an immediate response.

Ways to Increase Conscientiousness

Do you wish you had more of this personality trait? The good news is that you can change your level of conscientiousness—even if you're struggling to do so motivationally. You might try these strategies:

  • Avoid procrastination. Instead of putting things off until later, take care of them when they first arise. This keeps your to-do list from getting too long while also helping you work on your self-control.
  • Consider decisions carefully. When faced with a decision, you may be tempted to act on it quickly. However, take the time to consider your options if you can. This can stop you from being impulsive, helping you act in a more cautious manner.
  • Create a weekly schedule. Take time once a week to plan the following week. Put scheduled events on your calendar and note the tasks that you want to get done each day.
  • Get organized. File paperwork away, clean your closets, and organize your drawers. Come up with a place for all your things and get rid of the items you don't need.
  • Set goals. Conscientious people are goal-oriented. So, take the time to set goals for yourself. Next, develop a plan for meeting them.
  • Slow down. If you are low in conscientiousness, you may have a tendency to skip the smaller details. Slow yourself down when you're tempted to do this, paying closer attention to whatever it is you're working on.

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Decision Fatigue

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A Word From Verywell

Even though you may have scored high in conscientiousness, it's important to remember that this personality trait is just one part of your overall personality. You still have other traits that help round you out.

While understanding conscientiousness may help you know why you do what you do, it is not your only defining trait. Typically, your personality will contain some level of all five traits, so stay open to exploring all of its dimensions.

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