The Oxford Dictionary defines personality as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character”. Psychologists generally agree that personality traits can be split into the ‘Big Five’ of: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion (easy to remember—their first letters spell out ‘canoe’ or ‘ocean’). We all have varying degrees of each one, which, when combined, concoct the unique cocktail of our character. The Big Five theory was developed in the 1970s by research teams from the USA’s National Institute of Health, and Oregon and of Michigan universities.
Conscientiousness concerns those who generally have their lives — and the things in it — in order. Disciplined and dependable, a conscientious personality lives by a code of duty. Purposeful and excellent planners, they set goals and stick with them. Agreeable souls are generous in spirit, warm-hearted, trusting and quick with a compliment. They are likely to be happier. Perversely, studies have shown disagreeable men to earn more than their friendlier peers (contrary to their female counterparts), though, according to a 2011 study by the University of Gottingen, Germany, both agreeable and conscientious men make better dancers!
Know someone who dwells? Who worries and obsesses over the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of details? They’d likely score high in neuroticism. Neurotics are easily overwhelmed to the point of emotional instability and may even die younger owing to a tendency to alleviate their anxieties through alcohol and/or tobacco dependency. Openness is not to be confused with a propensity to be forthcoming with one’s feelings, but rather relates to someone’s willingness to try new things — anything from new genres of books, films, or music, to leaping from tall bridges attached to a bungy cord. Openness is a reliable predictor of leaders — and one of the most likely aspects of personality to most change with age. The final trait, extraversion, is likely the easiest to spot. Extraverts love to chat and mingle and feed off the energies of others. Introverts — not to be confused with shy souls — tend to favour small group interactions, they can be just as confident as extroverts, but more comfortable in their own company.
“Understanding your specific perceptions and judgments can provide you a tremendous amount of insight”
Classifying personality by type, rather than trait, has been the cause of far more confusion, and something psychologists tend to agree on less. Last year, a study by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, published by the journal, Science Advances, concluded that 90% of people fall into four basic personality types: optimistic, pessimistic, trusting, and envious. Envious is the biggest group, accounting for around a third of people, with the other three hovering around the 20% mark. One of the most common methods of assessing someone’s professional mental attributes has long been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. The self-report survey is based on the work by revered psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, and splits personality types into four pairs: extraversion (E) or introversion (I); sensing (S) or intuitive (N); feeling (F) or thinking (T); and judging (J) or perceiving (P), with participants getting a four-letter combination that supposedly defines their personality at the test’s end. An ISFP personality type, for example, is adaptable, sympathetic, loyal and enjoys helping others—think nurses or teachers; while an ENTJ individual is critical, logical and well-organised and likely to flourish in law, engineering or science (head to 16personalities.com if you’re interested in completing a similar survey). “Understanding your specific perceptions and judgments can provide you a tremendous amount of insight, especially if you’re in the job market,” writes Ashely Stahl for Forbes. “… The [MBTI] test is designed to give you a deeper understanding of how people differ and to help you better understand your own perceptions and reactions to the world around you.”
According to Business Insider, 80% of Fortune 500, and 89 of Fortune 100 firms use MBTI with their staff, but others question its validity, saying results depend on the subject’s mood on any given day, or even hour, and that it is incapable of categorising the nuances of our nature in such simple terms. In his book, Personality and the Fate of Organizations, Robert Hogan, a personality-testing specialist, labels the self-regulating method “little more than a Chinese fortune cookie”, while Ronald Riggio, a teacher at Claremont McKenna College who earned a psychology PhD from California University tells Vice that the MBTI doesn’t predict behaviour in a consistent way: “My first encounter with the scale was when a student presented it to me, and since it was so poorly constructed, I thought it was the student’s work.”
Either way, whether it be on a personal or professional level, you may be pleased to know that, contrary to popular belief, leopards may well be capable of changing their spots. A study published earlier this year in the journal Psychological Bulletin revealed that our personalities may be more pliable that we imagine. “For the people who want to change their spouse tomorrow, which a lot of people want to do, I don’t hold out much hope for them,” states study researcher, and social and personality psychologist, Brent Roberts, of Illinois University, “… [but] if you’re willing to focus on one aspect of yourself, and you’re willing to go at it systematically, there’s now increased optimism that you can affect change in that domain.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces
Curious to know where you might fit on the personality spectrum? There are heaps of fun personality tests online, try this one