A new study based on data representing 1.5 million people has found that there are four distinct personality types likely to exist in human beings. The study, which was published in the Nature Human Behaviour journal, identified four personality types - reserved, role models, average and self-centered.
"The social psychology community is pretty in line with being anti-Myers-Briggs (a personality test that results in the generation of an acronym in order to describe a personality) type assessments," said Alexander Swan, a psychologist at Eureka College in Illinois who is a critic of the Myers-Briggs test.
People have been trying to stuff each other into categorical bins for thousands of years. "These ideas go back to the ancient Greeks like Hippocrates and so on," said Martin Gerlach, a postdoctoral researcher who studies complex systems at Northwestern University.
This study is different because the researchers took a whole new approach compared to Myers-Briggs-related personality tests – they simply analyzed four huge data sets without adhering to Jungian (as in Carl Jung, the man who developed the Myers-Briggs test) theories.
The researchers also enlisted the help of psychologist William Revelle, who is an outspoken critic of the notion that there are distinct personality types. "I'm going to be very blunt," he said. "My first reaction was this is nonsense."
Social psychologists have long argued about whether personality types exist at all. Traits, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. Personality traits "can be measured consistently across ages, across cultures," said one of the lead researchers.
There are five well-established personality traits, and these are often referred to as the Big Five. They are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The degree to which an individual possesses said traits is usually established by a very detailed questionnaire that often contains 100 questions or more.
A typical item might ask how much you agree with a statement such as, "I see myself as someone who is full of energy" or "I tend to keep grudges." The results from each questionnaire serve to give a value for each of the five traits, for instance indicating that a person is highly agreeable, or shows no traces of neuroticism.
The one big flaw with the Big Five is that it is based on self-reporting. That raises questions about how well a person can say whether they’re, for instance, full of energy or not. However, proponents of this method point out that it’s consistent – self-evaluations have been found to line up with results garnered from peer assessment.
The novel method that the researchers developed was enough to ultimately convince Revelle of the four personality types. They consistently appeared over the sample of approximately 1.5 million people from the United States and England.
According to John A. Johnson, a Pennsylvania State University psychologist, the new study "presents a very strong case for personality types defined by configurations of the Big-Five personality traits." Johnson has collected personality trait data from more than 500,000 people. Although he wasn’t directly involved with this one, in particular, he made the data sets he collected available to the researchers.
"What is unique about the current study is their choice of the Big Five trait domains as a starting point," Johnson said, "rather than some theoretical types that sprang from the imagination of the theorist."
Some of the study’s findings included the fact that role model personality types were found to be present in every Big Five trait except neuroticism. The presence of role models also seemed to increase with age. In addition, teenage males were more likely than average to be self-centered, but this decreased with age.
Although there were numerous people that criticized the study for having an “average” personality type included in it, Revelle (who was initially skeptical) used a metaphor to describe the other four personality types as each being one of the four biggest metropolitan areas in the United States. The average personality type, on the other hand, gave a clearer picture of the rest of the country.
Nevertheless, Revelle also questioned the actual utility of the personality traits in the study, but further expansions of its findings, such as investigating whether more people that it called “role models” are more successful in their jobs than the rest of the participants, should soon follow.
Images by Deposit Photos