The Sixth Personality Trait

Frédéric Bagutti
6 min readJun 23, 2022

Prevalence in the general population:10%.

According to the well-established framework of the Five Factor Model (FFM) — often referred to as the “Big Five” — personality fits neatly into five broad personality dimensions or traits, each representing a continuum: conscientiousness (high among task focused and orderly individuals), openness to experience (high among individuals with a broad range of interests, sensitive to art and beauty, and who prefer novelty over routine), agreeableness (high among cooperative and polite individuals), extraversion (assertive and sociable), and neuroticism(also thought of as the opposite of emotional stability).

Besides the “Big Five”, a distinct personality trait has been long-known but often overlooked: alexithymia.

The prevalence of alexithymia in the general population is estimated to be about 10%, and seems to be normally distributed in the population for both genders.

Identified in the mid-seventies, alexithymia translates from the Greek to mean “no words for emotions”.

Historically, alexithymia was intended to reflect the personality of the “boring” patient in psychotherapy, unable to put feelings into words, and with whom the conversation boils down to an enumeration of a few physical complaints before drying up very quickly.

Alexithymia is currently characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self (low emotional awareness), and the difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which can lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding (FeldmanHall & al., 2013).

According to recent research on the relationship between alexithymia and the “Big Five” personality traits (Heshmati & Pellerone, 2019), alexithymia appears to be positively associated with neuroticism (strongest predictor of alexithymia), and negatively associated with conscientiousness and openness to experience.

Alexithymia construct is also inversely related to psychological mindedness, which refers to a person’s capacity for self-reflection, and which includes an ability to appreciate emotional nuance and complexity, as well as to recognize the connections between past and present, and insight into one’s own and others’…

Frédéric Bagutti

Organizational consultant and executive coach, licensed psychologist, MSc Geneva University, EMCCC INSEAD. You can find me at: