A Northwestern University-led study identifies 4 distinct personality types: average, reserved, self-centered, and role model
There are many paradigms for classifying personality types. Some say there are 4 personality types. Others 8.. 12.. 16. One of the most well-known is Myers-Briggs, which breaks down our personalities into a series of cognitive functions where some are dominant over others.
A new study, however, challenges these existing paradigms.
In October 2018, researchers led by Northwestern University’s Luis Amaral published their findings from a 1.5 million person global study. The study synthesized responses from a questionnaire that extracted personality and trait data from participants around the globe.
In the field of psychology, there are five higher-order and widely accepted personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The researchers used these personality traits to help cluster their findings.
You can take a test using the Open Source Psychometrics Project to see how you score for each trait.
Neuroticism — Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.
- High scoring individuals tend to be: awkward, pessimistic, fearful, self-critical, unconfident, insecure, and oversensitive
- Low scoring individuals tend be: confident, sure of themselves, brave, and unencumbered by worry
Extraversion — Individuals who score high in extraversion are more likely to be outgoing, social, and the center of attention. They enjoy being with people, participating in social gatherings, and are full of energy. A person low in extraversion is less outgoing and is more comfortable working alone.
- High scoring individuals tend to be: sociable, assertive, merry, energetic, articulate, affectionate, and socially confident
- Low scoring individuals tend to be: shy, introspective, thoughtful, and overall reserved with self-expression
Openness —Individuals who score high in openness are typically very intellectual curious and exhibit high emotional intelligence. Openness involves six facets, or dimensions, including active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.
- High scoring individuals tend to be: original, daring, clever, insightful, curious, intellectual, and complex/deep
- Low scoring individuals tend to be: routine-based, less abstract, and sticks with what they know and what is comfortable
Agreeableness — Individuals who score high in agreeableness are typically well-tempered and tend to err on the side of compassion and empathy over suspicion/cynicism. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naive or submissive. Individuals with low agreeableness are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentative or untrustworthy.
- High scoring individuals tend to be: altruistic, trusting, patient, tactful, sensitive, unselfish, well-liked, and respected
- Low scoring individuals tend to be: callous, rude, ill-tempered, sarcastic, and antagonistic
Conscientiousness — Individuals who score high in conscientiousness are typically very efficient and organized. They have the tendency to be dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as being stubborn and focused. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.
- High scoring individuals tend to be: leaders, energetic, reliable, ambitious, persistent, hard working, and resourceful
- Low scoring individuals tend to be: procrastinators, impulsive, headstrong, and hasty/reckless with decisions
4 Personality Types
Using the above traits as defining variables, researchers plotted the survey results to uncover 4 distinct personality clusters.
- Most common personality type
- High in neuroticism and extraversion — tending to be more sociable, assertive, pessimistic, and over-sensitive
- Low in openness — tending to be more routine-based and less open to abstraction
- Tend to seek attention, but are not overly intellectually curious
- More likely to be female, than male
- Higher states of agreeableness and conscientiousness — tending to be more trusting, sensitive, well-liked, and reliable
- Lower openness and neuroticism — tending to stay the course with confidence
- Emotionally stable
- Somewhat extraverted, but not overly so
- High in extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness — tending to exhibit qualities that evoke respect and admired leadership
- Low in neuroticism — tending to be more confident and brave, taking calculated risks
- Dependable and open to new ideas
- Strong leaders
- More women than men
- Likelihood to be a role model increases with age
- High in extraversion — tending to be very socially confident, energetic, and outgoing
- Low in openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness — tending to be impulsive, headstrong, ill-tempered, callous, and routine-based
- Typically self-serving at the expense of others
- Likelihood to be self-centered decreases with age
You can check out the Northwestern’s full results and analysis here.
Understanding ourselves and our peers is critical to cultivating productive relationships: both at home and in the workplace. Personalities are a spectrum, and a clustered label shouldn’t necessarily define who we are.
What is most important is to understand that each of us approaches the world differently. The way we perceive the world and each other impacts our day-to-day actions. Some of these perceptions may be more helpful than others — and it is important to recognize which traits help versus hurt.
More importantly, personalities are not static — they can and do change over time. This shows that we’re always continuously learning, and that our life experiences will continue to shape how we perceive and interact with our world.