Despite the enduring popularity of personality quizzes, the science behind them has often been a bit iffy. But new research has the potential to change that by offering statistical evidence of distinct personality types.
Rather than coming up with types first and seeing how people fit into each category, the researchers instead worked backwards, analyzing over 1.5 million people’s responses to four different online personality quizzes. They analyzed each person according to five personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
What they found is that people’s responses clustered around four categories, which they named personality types. They published their findings in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
The personality types are:
The most common personality type, these people score high in neuroticism and extraversion, but low in openness.
Reserved people are emotionally stable, but not open or neurotic. According to a press release from Northwestern University, where the research was done, these people tend not to be extraverted, but are fairly conscientious and agreeable.
Role models aren’t very neurotic, but score high in every other trait.
Self-centred people are very extraverted but are below average in openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
The statistical analysis done by these researchers seems very sophisticated, said Gordon Flett, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health at York University.
However, Flett, who was not involved with the research, takes issue with how these personality types were named and described. “To say that one group is self-centred, as the one group is labelled, you would need to have something that is a measure of that, that taps into that egocentricity and the like,” he said.
Analyzing more than just five personality traits would help to come up with more accurate categories, he said. This is something that could be explored in later studies.
The researchers also found that none of these personality types are set in stone — people seem to shift over time. For example, teenage boys are very over-represented in the “self-centred” personality type, whereas people over 40 are over-represented in the “role model” category.
Whether there is any actual practical value to knowing your personality type is a different discussion. “I think the practical application, what I would say for the general public, is that it just heightens awareness about what type of a person you might be,” Flett said.
“If you’re somebody, for instance, who fell in the self-centred group, you might want to reflect on that and whether you want to be so self-centred.”
Personality is generally discussed in terms of traits, he said, which represent how you typically are. But people might change their behaviour depending on the situation, such as being more of an extravert in the workplace, for instance, so you’re not bound by your personality traits.
“You also need to talk about people in terms of what they’re capable of.”