Here finally is the post I promised when I got back from my trip a few weeks ago…
I’ve had a keen interest in psychology since high school, when I began trying to piece together large blank spots in my memories and figure out what was wrong with me, why I was so weird. So when I saw the Kindle e-book “Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality” (FT Press Science) by Samuel Barondes available free on Amazon back in February I jumped at it!
Of course, it then went on my all-too-long reading pile, and sat largely forgotten. But on my trip I finally got to it, and found it as interesting as I had expected.
The five-factor personality model
Barondes first discusses how we innately evaluate the personalities of others we interact with, and how a lack of training on doing this properly limits us, like trying to do arithmetic without having been taught how. He then argues that some of our biggest mistakes result from this lack of education—choosing badly in our relationships and jobs, how we raise our children. It can cause us to misinterpret the intentions of others, and thus react inappropriately.
Next he introduces a model that breaks down personality into five general well-defined characteristics, each of which has several components. Each of these traits can be rated on a scale from low to high, and taken together they provide a good overview of a person’s personality. Obviously, personality is far more complex than this, and Barondes acknowledges this. But it provides a good model of the major aspects of personality.
The Big Five personality traits are:
- Extroversion: the tendency to actively reach out to others.
- Agreeableness: the tendency to be altruistic, cooperative, and good-natured.
- Conscientiousness: the tendency to control impulses and to tenaciously pursue goals.
- Neuroticism: the tendency to have negative feelings, particularly in reaction to perceived social threats.
- Openness: the tendency to be imaginative and to enjoy novelty and variety.
The book goes on to explain these in more detail, and warns against certain misunderstandings. For example, low extroversion doesn’t mean someone is socially anxious or depressed—they may just prefer to be alone. Low neuroticism indicates relative freedom from negative feelings, but doesn’t imply an inclination toward positive ones. And level of openness has nothing to do with level of intelligence.
The facets of each of these major traits (taken from Table 1.2 of the book) are:
- Warmth/friendliness (makes friends easily)
- Gregariousness (likes the company of others)
- Assertiveness (likes to take charge)
- Activity (likes to be busy)
- Excitement-seeking (likes thrills)
- Positive emotions/cheerfulness (is prone to feel happy)
- Trust (assumes people have good intentions)
- Straightforwardness/morality (is candid, avoids deception)
- Altruism (finds helping others rewarding, is not exploitative)
- Compliance/cooperation (prefers compromise to opposition)
- Modesty (is not boastful)
- Tender-mindedness/sympathy (is kind, compassionate)
- Competence/self-efficacy (can accomplish things)
- Order/orderliness (is well organized, makes plans)
- Dutifulness (is highly reliable)
- Achievement-striving (works to achieve excellence)
- Self-discipline (has willpower)
- Deliberation/Cautiousness (takes time making decisions)
- Anxiety (is prone to fearfulness)
- Anger/hostility (is prone to feel resentful)
- Depression (is prone to feel discouraged, pessimistic)
- Self-consciousness (is shy because of fear of rejection)
- Impulsiveness/immoderation (has difficulty resisting urges)
- Vulnerability (loses poise under pressure)
- Fantasy/imagination (tries to create a more interesting world)
- Aesthetics/artistic interests (loves beauty in art and nature)
- Feelings/emotionality (is aware of own feelings)
- Actions/adventurousness (is eager to try new activities)
- Ideas/intellect (likes to play with ideas)
- Values/liberalism (is ready to challenge convention)
It’s important to note that although some of the words used to name these facets (e.g. morality, immoderation, liberalism) are emotionally loaded, no value judgement is intended. None are inherently good or bad, they are simply a way to describe personality traits, and each has pros and cons.
The informal use of these traits and facets is demonstrated using the examples of U.S. Presidents Clinton and Obama, and the resulting analysis is very interesting.
A list of troublesome patterns is given, such as workaholic, control freak and drama queen, and defined in terms of these traits and facets. This really shows the utility of this model.
In general, problematic personality types occur where some of these traits are either very high or very low. Most ordinary people fall closer to the middle of the ranges. It’s the extreme outliers where these traits become maladaptive and create problems, for both the person in question and those around them.
Since this post has already gone on quite long (and I’m already late posting), I’ll leave the application to characters in our stories to another post.
- Structure of childhood temperaments (the-mouse-trap.com)
- Personality predicts professional philosophers’ beliefs (experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com)
- More can mean less when it comes to being happier – especially if you are neurotic (eurekalert.org)
- Learn Your Greatest Strength to Find Your Weakness (inc.com)
- Happiness Is Significantly Affected By Neuroticism (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Neuroticism got you down? (heartsoulmindandbody.wordpress.com)
- More money means less chance of happiness for the neurotic (examiner.com)
- Researchers go wild over ape personalities (scotsman.com)
- How Neuroticism Affects Happiness | Articles on Psychology … (psychone.net)
- Optimism, Laughter May Bring Long Life (news.health.com)
- Positive Psychology and Happiness Research Bibliography (compassioninpolitics.wordpress.com)