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What kind of personality do you have? [Aug. 11th, 2006|08:47 am]
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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.

Big Five

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!

Some Comparisions

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:


  • 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).
Big 5: The emerging new paradigm is not a radical departure from the MBTI, but rather more of an evolution from it.
  • 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!



(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: metawade
2006-08-11 06:08 pm (UTC)
:-) Hello R. [Do let me know if you prefer I use R, real name, nickname, etc. etc in responses to ya.]

And it is a damn good thing that you refrain from such shocking vulgarity as "weenie leanings" out here in an open journal! :-)

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: longhairedbum
2006-08-11 01:52 pm (UTC)
Weird. I was going to make a post (although definitely a less comprehensive one) about personality typing today, haha! :)
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[User Picture]From: metawade
2006-08-11 03:11 pm (UTC)
I have nanobots watching your every move.

Right now, you are sitting on a chair peering at a monitor. Spooky, isn't it!

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[User Picture]From: abandonbrandon
2006-08-12 09:36 pm (UTC)
1) if you were closer to sc, or if i wasn't on the budget of a student, i'd probably be trying harder to get you into bed. after all, your icon and lj shell are pretty cute.

2) thanks for making the mockery, deadpan humor, and lack of irony clear. do you think blatant seduction comes through ok in text?

3) eh, so you're a weenie, ahem, weenie-like. i still really want to kiss you.

4) *le sigh* my 120-question IPIP-NEO results are slightly embarrassing, though not surprising really. highlights:
scored high on: assertiveness, dutifulness, anger, and emotionality
scored low on: activity level, modesty, self-efficacy, achievement-striving, and imagination
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[User Picture]From: metawade
2006-08-12 10:00 pm (UTC)

Hey Kelly!

  1. Yes, distance does make seduction more difficult, doesn't it!
  2. And yes, blatant seduction does come through clearer than deadpan,etc., but since part of blatant seduction is pointing out that it is blatant-seduction, it is kind of a circular argument :-)
  3. kissing is also very difficult at a distance :-)
  4. nothing wrong with a low modesty score :-) I'm not happy with my overall conscientiousness score. But that is why these things can be useful - points to things to work on.
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From: lynne_laughs
2007-02-10 05:18 am (UTC)
Replying to a 6 month old post feels strange.

I love the Big 5... just finished the short test for the second time.

I scored LOW (ok, they were zeros)in emotionality and anxiety.
Still pretty low (under 6) in modesty, anger, depression, self consciousness, vulnerability.

On the high side: cheerful, gregarious, trusting, self efficacy, and cautiousness.

The test is such a nice self reflection tool. The whole emotion thing is so central in my life. I think of myself as unemotional and frustrated by my lack of feeling, but others rarely see me this way. I don't believe that emotions are good tools for getting things done and really foul up decision making. However, I cry at movies, songs on the radio, beautiful paintings... thoughts of loved ones cause my chest to tighten and my breath to change. Sometimes I think I'm so filled with emotion that I have to detach myself or I'd never get through a day of work.

I see in my above paragraph two references to "getting things done" and "get through a day of work". Perhaps being efficient and getting things done well of such high importance that I must close off the emotion. I'm aware of that shutting down and label myself as "un-emotional".

Alive, alive, I'm off to my own journal for more self reflection. Thanks for the inspiration!
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[User Picture]From: metawade
2007-02-16 12:24 am (UTC)

Why does responding to old posts feel strange? I really appreciate the response!

This test definitely is a wonderful self-reflection tool! And I totally understand and relate to your suspicions around emotions, and yet the intensity of them too.

I used to be very concerned that I was too un-emotional, but falling in love with Yas really helped me put things in perspective. And always happy to be part of life's inspiration!

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