Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Big Five
One of my favorite long-time television series is Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran from 1997 through 2003. The main character was featured as an archetypal heroine, constantly battling evil and saving the world while at the same time struggling with typical female teen angst. I thought it might be interesting to consider Buffy’s personality from the perspective of the Big Five: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. In fact, I took an online personality test purportedly representing the Big Five located at http://similarminds.com/big5.html. I have attached a pdf version of the test with the answers in inputted. The results are as follows:
“Extroversion results were medium which suggests you average somewhere in between being assertive and social and being withdrawn and solitary.” Buffy is a teen girl approximately 14 years old. When she is called upon to become the vampire slayer, she is a freshman in high school. She was popular, a cheerleader, and had many social friends. However, after becoming the vampire slayer, it was impressed upon her the necessity of secrecy regarding her true identity. As a compromise between the extrovert she was and the introvert nature required by her role as the vampire slayer, she shared her secret identity with a chosen group of friends who aided her in saving the world. Therefore, this assessment of her medium level of extroversion is fairly accurate, although it would be unwise to jump to the conclusion that it is her biological nature that resulted in her current level of extroversion. It is quite clear that Buffy would prefer a “normal life” where she was free to be more active socially, without damaging repercussions.
“Orderliness results were medium which suggests you are moderately organized, structured, and self-controlled while still remaining flexible, varied, and fun.” Orderliness represents the construct conscientiousness. Again, this assessment seems fairly accurate when considering a teen girl aged 14-18. Her roles as a vampire slayer and student necessarily require some planning, learning, and organization. However, as a teenager, Buffy often succumbs to spontaneous desires to do things out of the box or less approved of, such as meeting with her vampire boyfriend, going to a dance without telling anyone, etc. Further still, these instances of spontaneity typically resulted in unanticipated danger or events requiring her vampire slayer skills to which she successfully rose to the occasion demonstrating her ability to adapt, be flexible, and think outside of the box. More specifically relating to conscientiousness, Buffy’s role as THE vampire slayer necessarily puts her in a position of maximum conscientiousness, requiring her to fulfill her duty to protect the world from evil.
“Emotional Stability results were high which suggests you are very relaxed, calm, secure, and optimistic.” Emotional stability is also known as neuroticism. High emotional stability would also mean low neuroticism. This result seems accurate possibly as the result of her inherent personality, but also possibly because Buffy’s role required her to successfully fight off danger and evil frequently resulting in the projection of a more relaxed attitude. Interestingly, Buffy’s character regularly experienced sadness, or expressed resigned thoughts relative to her role as the vampire slayer. She frequently spoke of her desire to have a normal life, but she understood that it was her role to protect the world from evil. It could be that her confidence level and positive self-esteem carried her score over the realistic expressions of resignation. Further, Buffy’s outlook was pragmatically realistic because she faced real world evil, rather than trivial anxiety producing situations typically faced by teenage girls.
“Accommodation results were high which suggests you are overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense too often of your own individual development (martyr complex).” Accommodation represents the construct agreeableness from the Big Five. Similar to the other constructs discussed previously, Buffy’s inherent role as THE vampire slayer requires her squelch her natural teen desires to strike out independently from others and be herself. She is already unique. However, Buffy does demonstrate independence and individuality in her unique approach to solving problems, as well as her infrequent clashes with authority. For instance, after one particularly difficult ordeal she ran away from home for an episode. However, she learned that her duty as the vampire slayer was more than skin deep when she helped others even when away from her traditional environment. As a result, Buffy went home and dealt with her issues with her family and friends (over several episodes).
“Inquisitiveness results were very low which suggests you are overly small minded, traditional, and conventional at the expense too often of intellectual curiosity, possibility, and progress.” Inquisitiveness refers to openness of the Big Five. This result seems a little odd, unless consideration is given to Buffy’s life role. She is not a huge intellect and does not prefer books, art, or imaginative abstractions. Her life is defined by her life role. However, her life role is inherently unconventional and nontraditional. In this sense, this result is not accurate. Further, there are many instances when Buffy demonstrates creativity in the complex problem solving. Additionally, it is possible that Buffy did not seek out new experiences simply because her life was always novel and nontraditional. Therefore, she craved what she did not already have, a traditional, routine life.
Applying the Big Five to the character Buffy from the television show has been enlightening from the perspective of solidifying some of the limitations of the model. For instance, although many of the results were fairly accurate and could readily be understood from an in depth observation of the person, understanding why the person answered the questions the way they did would not be so easily understood. Essentially, if I had not watched the many episodes depicting Buffy in many different scenarios, expressing different feelings, etc. and all I had was the results from the Big Five test, I would have very little understanding of her personality (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Certainly, without an understanding of her life role, Buffy’s answers would be taken seriously out of context illustrating one of the more serious limitations of this model. Understanding personality requires an in depth understanding of the whole person, their whole being, and the entirety of their selves. This cannot be accomplished simply from a paper and pencil questionnaire designed to extract a relatively small number of significant traits.
Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.