The Big Five Inventory

Frequently Asked Questions


The Big Five Inventory (BFI) is a self-report inventory designed to measure the Big Five dimensions. It is quite brief for a multidimensional personality inventory (44 items total), and consists of short phrases with relatively accessible vocabulary.


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

I 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.


Where do I get the Big Five Inventory (BFI)?

If you are interested in taking the BFI yourself, please visit this website, where you can take an online version of the scale that gives you instant feedback.


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. We are trying to create a database for BFI users of publications, relevant findings, and translations of the BFI in an effort to make the scale more useful for users. Thus, before downloading a copy of the BFI and the scoring instructions, please complete a short survey to let us know a little more about who you are and why you want to use the measure. All information will be kept strictly confidential.


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 11-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.


Is there a version with language appropriate for children?

Yes, there is a version of the BFI where items with wording difficult for children have been modified. This version has also been adapted so that parents may fill it out for their children. Both versions are available after completing the survey.


Is the BFI available in other languages?

Yes, the BFI has been translated into the following languages:




German (BFI-10 only)









Can I translate the BFI so that I may use it for research purposes?

If you translate the BFI, an expert bilingual (someone who is American or has lived in the U.S.A.) should perform back-translation procedures with your newly-translated version. In other words, after you have translated the BFI into the new language, an expert bilingual should translate it back into English. Next, you should compare that back-translated English version to the original English version of the BFI.  Please send us a copy of the version that you are going to use so that we may add it to our collection.


Finally, it's much more important to capture the *total meaning* of the item than to translate any of its parts literally. For example, the translation of "calm" into German often comes out as "ruhig" but that could be N- as well as E- (as in still, quiet--even in English, "calm waters" are still and quiet, too!). So, an N item that has calm as a part is better translated into German using the negation "nicht nervoes" than the more literal translation "ruhig".


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 pt 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.