How the “Big 5” in Social Emotional Learning Impact Life Outcomes


By: Mary Ware 

Social and emotional skill development has slowly been gaining momentum the past few years as more and more districts are recognizing the importance of, and placing value on social and emotional learning. The abilities taught through Social Emotional Learning (SEL) are indicators for how successful a person is able to adapt to change or adjust to environments as well as be successful later in life. New data is supporting this idea, and demonstrating that SEL instruction has a positive impact on life outcomes during and after leaving school.

In the publication “Social and Emotional Skills: Well-being, Connectedness, and Success” The Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) details how the “Big 5” model in the field of social and emotional skills contribute to positive outcomes in other aspects of life. The OECD report draws on evidence from many studies, in preparation of a global assessment on the impact of these skills on students’ lives.

The Big 5 Model includes a hierarchy of 5 general skill categories, each comprised of a collection of lower order skills. The 5 categories include (pg. 5):

  • Openness to experience (open-mindedness)
  • Conscientiousness (task performance)
  • Emotional stability (emotional regulation)
  • Extraversion (engaging with others)  
  • Agreeableness (collaboration)

According to the report, widespread studies have shown that social and emotional skills have the ability to influence not only academic achievement, but also job performance, occupational attainment, and personal/societal well-being (pg. 10).

Big 5 indicators have shown to help increase mental health and decrease behavioral problems as well. Strong social emotional skills help with regulation in both children and adults in areas of aggression, violence, theft and use of illegal substances (pg. 14).

A closer look at each of the categories demonstrates how they can impact life outcomes.

Conscientiousness encompasses skills that lead to getting things done correctly. These skills include:

  • Achievement Motivation
  • Self-Control
  • Responsibility
  • Persistence

Many of these skills correlate to job performance, but they also provide insight into health related behaviors. Higher self-control is associated with decreased behaviors such as substance abuse and risky driving, while responsibility skill level is correlated to drug use, suicide and violence (pg. 19).

Openmindedness demonstrates ability to being open to new experiences, and includes curiosity, creativity and cultural flexibility & tolerance. The ability to show openmindedness has a positive impact on grades both during high school and college (pg. 20).

Extraversion, or being able to engage socially and demonstrate aspects of leadership, includes lower-order skills such as being able to sustain energy & activity throughout the day, assertiveness, and sociability. This category is associated with task performance and organizational citizenship, and the report indicates that Extraversion is the best predictor of leadership outcomes for individuals later on down the road (pg. 21).

Agreeableness includes empathy, co-operation and trust, and is also strongly correlated with organizational citizenship (pg. 22).

Emotional Stability—the ability to have a calm and positive emotionality—covers stress resistance, emotional control and optimism, and is tied to many aspects of life outcomes as well as school absences.

The Big 5 are important to cover in the teaching of social and emotional skills throughout a child’s school career, as the skills not only will impact their lives in the short term, including ability to respond in a healthy manner to difficult life situations or stress, but will also play a large role in their success later in life.

It is important that hospital education programs consider their role in the instruction of such skills, to provide ongoing opportunity for learning and skill development of these vital skills.

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