John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD


Personality Redux


Maybe you go to the house of a neighbor, or someone you’ve just met, and you glance around the rooms, wondering what, if anything, the decor says about the person. How do you distinguish the objects that have been put there for show, for the sake of would-be visitors, from those objects that reveal something true and significant about the owner of the home?

This is the subject of Sam Gosling’s book, Snoop. The results of his research may surprise you. Our personalities do indeed appear to be reflected in the stuff we accumulate and display. But maybe not always in the way you’d think.

Gosling writes with a light touch. He tells you just enough about his research to get the nuances without bogging you down with technical details.

If personality fascinates you, this book is well worth your time.

The OCEAN of Personality

How would you describe the person you think you know best? What adjectives might you use to describe his or her personality?

It turns out that when descriptors of personality are subjected to rigorous research, with modern measurement techniques, five basic dimensions occur again and again, across personality tests, across cultures, and across researchers. In the world of personality research, this is BIG news. It’s the closest personality psychologists have come to reaching consensus about the basic dimensions of the human personality.

The five dimensions are:

Openness to Experience

(Sometimes dubbed the “ocean” model because of the first letters.)

We all have the same five traits in varying degrees. Each of these traits are on a continuum from very low to very high, though most people fall near the middle on any given dimension (sort of like height).

If you are high in Openness to Experience, you are open to new ideas, feelings, values, actions. You are likely to show divergent thinking and have a keen appreciation for art, literature, and possibly science, as well for fantasy and imagination. If you are low on this dimension, you are more like to be down-to-earth, practical, more a preserver of status quo than and explorer of new experience.

As for Conscientious, think focus. Getting things done. Doing what one is suppose to do as opposed to letting things ride.

Extraversion is about how gregarious you are. How much social stimulation do you need? The classic extravert likes to have lots of people around because they make him feel good. By contrast, the classic introvert (the low end of extraversion--introversion-extraversion are not different types, but one continuous trait), needs only a few good friends, and is easily overwhelmed by too much social stimulation.

People high on the trait of Agreeableness are trusting, friendly, souls. They make great friends. People low in this trait tend to be antagonistic, possibly even aggressive at times. They make good lawyers.

If you are emotional reactive, prone to stress and negative emotions, you are likely high on neuroticism, a NORMAL dimension of personality. But if you are nonreactive, even-keeled, seldom upset, and rebound quickly after stress, you are probably lower in this dimension.

Want to know more? Take a free personality inventory that uses this model. Or, type in FIVE-FACTOR MODEL into your favorite search engine. In my psychology practice, I use an instrument called the NEO-PI, which gives detailed information about the five personality dimensions, as well as their facet scores.

Know Thyself


Why does it pay to have a clear picture of your own PERSONALITY?

1. It helps you be true to yourself.

For instance, if you are an introvert, and you know this about yourself, you will be more able to resist an extravert's attempts to get your to be more like him. (Extraverts seem especially prone to trying to change the introvert’s character.)

2. It helps you know where you fit in the world.

"Birds of a feather flock together" or "opposites attract"? According to research, it's more the former than the latter. So the clearer you are about your own personality, the easier it will be to choose a mate, an occupation, or a group of people to hang out with.

3. It helps you identify potential blind-spots.

No personality trait is all good or all bad; there's always an upside and a downside. But it helps to know what the downside is because sooner or later you’ll have compensate for it.

4. It helps identify your strengths.

Although it seems paradoxical at first glance, sometimes real growth comes, not from working on your weaknesses, but on developing your strengths. Unlike popular wisdom, which suggests people can “re-invent” themselves, it’s much more valuable to become MORE yourself. That is, as time goes on, as you mature and gain self-understanding and self-complexity, you expand those aspects of yourself that are uniquely you. The goal is not to become like your spouse, your neighbor, or even the person you most admire. The goal is to become who you really are, who you were mean to.

Know yourself truly and deeply, and you will find yourself place in the world.

(image by Leonard John Matthews)