In which Wade discusses personality, his Big 5 and MBTI scores, and
basically rambles on and on about his completely untrained
assessment of the pros and cons of personality typing.
Humans are pretty darned neat. I mean, the degree of diversity amongst humans is truly amazing, and it is true that everyone is a unique little snowflake. Everyone has their own unique personality, their own unique view of the world.
However, it is also true that there are only a limited number of "dimensions" describing a person's personality, and that different people can exhibit similar tendencies among these dimensions. Which is where the whole idea of personality typing comes in. It has only been in the last year or so that I've done any real reading on the topic, but it has been both interesting and concerning. It has been interesting because I've found personality typing to be useful both in pointing out areas of my personality that I'd like to work on improving, and because it has helped me to better understand where other people are coming from, and how best to interact with them in a positive and constructive manner. It has been concerning because I think that personality typing information is often taken out of context, misused, or downright abused. In a complex world, simplification is psychological appealing, but one must remember that personality is more complex than these typing instruments often imply.
Psychology, being the active, popular and kick-ass neat field of study that it is, has spent a fair amount of time looking at the issue of personality and personality types. As well, various groups and people have invented their own personality typing schemes. There are a variety of different personality tests that one can take, ranging from the scientifically sound, to the suspect, to the downright absurd. You get to pick which kind you like best. If you know anything about me, you'll know which one I'm leaning towards :-) One interesting site with many different kinds of tests is similarminds.com.
From what I have read, by far the most respected of these typing instruments (assuming that psychology professionals know far more about this stuff than you or I) are the Big Five personality traits. This typing instrument is based on sound empirical research, and is the basis of almost all ongoing academic research into personality typing. Although there is continuing debate over whether there are really 5 traits, whether the number of traits depends on language/culture, what the underlying theory behind the empirical results is, etc., this test appears to be the most reliable of those created so far. It is very unfortunate that it isn't more popular, but this lack of popularity is partially understandable because it does not present the same kind of appealing simplification that other more popular typing instruments do. As people realize more and more that personality cannot be accurately condensed into 16 types, the Big 5 tests are gaining popularity, exactly because of its sound empirical basis.
The Big 5 is so named because it identifies 5 broad dimensions (which it calls factors) of personality. Each of these 5 factors is divided into between 5 and 9 sub-factors (aka traits), depending on the parent factor in question. The wikipedia article gives lots of details, but I'll summarize the 5 primary factors here:
- Neuroticism: A tendency to easily experience unpleasant emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.
- Extroversion: Energy, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
- Agreeableness: A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
- Conscientiousness: A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement.
- Openness to experience: Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas; imagination and curiosity.
The Big Five personality test, being an academically and scientifically motivated test based on empirical research (is anyone else detecting a distinct bias in Wade's attitudes here :-), has as one of its primary resources a free online website featuring two different versions, a 300 item test, and a 120 item test. Both tests can be found on the IPIP-NEO website. Of course, if you want to spend money, there is always someone willing to take it, and the NEO PI-R will get you a Big 5 assessment in return for money. From the reading I've done, the freely available online tests are just as accurate as the non-free one, although I may be incorrect on this. And finally, for those with some university level psychology training interested in the details, there is this site
When you take a Big 5 test, the results consist of one number for each factor and sub-factor. The number ranges between 0 and 100, and represents a percentile that places you on a continuum relative to every other person who has taken the test. Thus, if you score a '25' for a particular factor or sub-factor, it means that 25% of test-takers scored lower than you (and that 75% scored higher). Whether or not a low score or high score is better depends on the factor/sub-factor and on the individual.
Being a scientifically inclined individual, and believing that a personality test should report similar information across multiple applications of the test (yes, yes, I know this makes me a geek), I have taken both the 120 and 300 item tests numerous times over the period of a week. The results are in the following table. The columns marked T1 through T6 represent individual tests. The second last column (Avg) is my average score. The last column (SD) represents the standard deviation (for you fellow statistically inclined individuals).
Name T1 T2 T3 T4 T5 T6 Avg SD
EXTRAVERSION 72 78 68 74 83 86 77 6.8
Friendliness 74 74 65 65 82 82 74 7.6
Gregariousness 55 87 72 80 97 80 79 14.2
Assertiveness 73 70 54 63 74 63 66 7.6
Activity Level 80 84 60 60 64 88 73 12.8
Excitement-Seeking 46 64 46 46 69 56 55 10.2
Cheerfulness 66 37 76 84 47 84 66 19.7
AGREEABLENESS 43 46 57 62 47 65 53 9.2
Trust 70 78 79 79 82 79 78 4.1
Morality 39 75 61 61 75 89 67 17.1
Altruism 57 30 57 57 35 57 49 12.8
Cooperation 54 31 80 87 26 72 58 25.6
Modesty 18 23 18 11 14 11 16 4.7
Sympathy 41 43 31 52 54 52 46 8.9
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS 36 33 29 34 32 48 35 6.6
Self-Efficacy 38 64 13 4 64 38 37 25.0
Orderliness 33 20 49 49 32 49 39 12.2
Dutifulness 28 17 17 17 13 17 18 5.1
Achievement-Striving 17 33 4 4 23 9 15 11.6
Self-Discipline 68 40 57 57 28 68 53 16.0
Cautiousness 56 57 64 87 67 92 71 15.4
NEUROTICISM 17 17 8 19 12 16 15 4.1
Anxiety 2 6 0 0 0 0 1 2.4
Anger 60 57 52 68 65 60 60 5.7
Depression 4 14 4 9 12 4 8 4.5
Self-Consciousness 22 12 1 22 7 30 16 10.9
Immoderation 68 44 77 77 44 77 65 16.3
Vulnerability 19 16 12 12 9 6 12 4.7
OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE 67 83 77 80 88 80 79 7.0
Imagination 50 70 61 72 79 61 66 10.3
Artistic Interests 50 33 40 40 38 40 40 5.5
Emotionality 13 32 22 13 32 22 22 8.5
Adventurousness 97 97 93 97 98 97 97 1.8
Intellect 48 91 87 87 91 87 82 16.7
Liberalism 87 89 87 87 92 87 88 2.0
Table: Big 5 Test results
Some notes about my Big 5 results:
- My score on the Anxiety sub-scale is rather amusing. Apparently, I am less anxious than almost anyone else on earth. This might explain numerous recent antics of mine that really need to be addressed. I need to figure out how to be more anxious!
- My score on the Depression sub-scale, although not quite as dramatic as the Anxiety scale, would seem to suggest that I'm not even remotely prone to depression. Phew!
- I have a theory that all polyamorous people must have a high score on the Openness to Experience scale.
- My score on the Conscientiousness scale is somewhat disconcerting, and points to an area that I need to work on.
I do have some concerns/issues with the Big 5 test, basically the same objections I have to many of the personality typing instruments. Primarily, many of the words/questions in the test have ambiguous or subjective semantics, so one person could interpret the question very differently than another. I would like to know whether or not my semantics are the same as that of the individuals who have made up the test.
Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
By far the most popular personality typing instrument is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI. Many people can tell you their four-letter MBTI type, and there are many websites dedicated to discussing and comparing the 16 different MBTI personality types. Personally, I am somewhat frustrated by the popularity of MBTI, given that it is viewed with a great deal of skepticism/contempt among many psychologists (it is often discussed in university-level psychology courses as an example of a poorly designed and inaccurate test). For example, one criticism is that "the terminology of the MBTI is so vague and complicated that it allows any kind of behavior to fit any personality type, resulting in the Forer effect, where an individual gives a high rating to a positive description that supposedly applies specifically to them."
Having said all of the above, having made it clear that I have real doubts about the validity and accuracy of this typing instrument, I will admit that I have found some of the discussions around MTBI personality types useful, both as a means of self-improvement, and as a means of improving my communication with individuals having different personalities. I do not take the test particularily seriously, but as other people do, I find it useful to be able to talk about my MBTI.
An officially sanctioned MBTI result requires you to spend money, and is in fact one of the most significant criticisms of MBTI; the owners of the test have a clear finanical interest in promoting the test as scientifically valid. Apparently, much of the positive information about MBTI stems from the publisher of the test - a situation reminicent of the tobacco companies, although I'm not trying to associate MBTI and smoking.
There are, however, numerous online MBTI-related tests, including those found here. I have taken numerous variants (short test, word test, word choice test, multi-perspective jung test, advanced jung), numerous times, over a span of a year or more, and almost always come out as ENTJ, although I am very close to 50% on the judging-perceiving scale, so I normally refer to myself as an ENT*, as that seems more accurate (and yes, that is one of the traits of an ENT* :-) I am also often close to 50% on the sensing-intuition scale, so I might more accurately be refered to as E*T* (and no, I will not phone home) but I have not really looked at the EST* descriptions to see how "accurately" they describe me.
There are many websites that discuss what an ENTJ (and every other MBTI type) is like. The ENTJ description does fit fairly well, although there are some glaring inconsistencies between what an ENTJ is and what I am. As well, because I am very concerned about being seduced by the Forer effect, I am deeply suspicious of the "positive" traits attributed to ENTJ's (is it a true reflection of my personality, or do I just want it to be because it is positive?). On the other hand, the "negative" observations about ENTJ's are often accurate, and worthy of further study. In fact, since learning about MBTI, I have been much more concious of the well-known "weaknesses" of the ENTJ personality and have been actively trying to address those weaknesses. Sometime in the future, maybe I'll post a journal entry taking some ENTJ description and analyze how accurately it describes me.
Other Type "Instruments"
Much less respected (or actively derided as absurd) typing instruments include the Insight, Enneagram, and horoscopes. If you believe in the accuracy of horoscopes, I realize that you are likely to dismiss everything else I have to say now that I've revealed that I think your belief is silly. However, before dismissing what I'm saying, please consider that if you can prove that horoscopes have any predictive power, whatsoever, you will be awarded $1 million dollars (US). This award has been available for over 20 years. Many people have claimed they can prove it. Noone has come remotely close to doing so. Astrology can be fun and amusing. Don't use it to dictate what you do with your life! Or your day!
I found a useful comparison of the Big 5 and MBTI here. I've paraphrased in order to remove the sales-pitchy tone apparent on that website:
Big 5: The emerging new paradigm is not a radical departure from the MBTI, but rather more of an evolution from it.
- a four-dimension model,
- bimodal distribution of scores on each dimension,
- sixteen independent types,
- the concept of a primary function determined by Judger/Perceiver preference, and
- a grounding in the personality theory of Carl Jung (1971).
- five dimensions of personality,
- a normal distribution of scores on these dimensions,
- an emphasis on individual personality traits (the type concept is gone),
- preferences indicated by strength of score, and
- a model based on experience, not theory.
One of the reasons why the Big 5 test is not as popular as the MBTI is that it doesn't "simplify" personality as much. And since I don't think that there are only 16 personalities (as dictated by MBTI), I think this lack of simplification is a very good thing. Not only does the Big 5 have 5 primary dimensions instead of the 4 that MBTI does, it also has numerous sub-dimensions for each dimension. More importantly, rather than allowing only two values (bimodal distribution) for each dimension, Big 5 uses a normal distribution that positions individuals on a continuum relative to other people. This is a much better way of capturing the unique little snowflakiness of each person!
However, the down-side of this lack of simplification is that there aren't as many convenient little summaries of "who you are" and "what you like" and "how you like others to interact with you" available for the Big 5 as there are for MBTI. And everyone likes to believe that other people can be put into a nice little box and summarized, so MBTI is more appealing to the masses. Don't be seduced by MBTI! Go to the Big 5! :-)
Sorry for the rather dry, clinical tone of this journal entry. It didn't do much to show the more personable, cool, debonair, wow-I-really-want-to-kiss-him side of my personality, but it probably did a good job of demonstrating my weenie-like scientific and organizational leanings :-)
If you know of any other personality typing instruments (tests), regardless of their "merit", I'd love to hear about them. If you want to take any of the tests I've cited above, I'd love to have you post your results here (or post a link into your journal, of course). Always neat to see snowflakes in action!