We’re all individual, right? Well, not necessarily, according to a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour. It suggests that when it comes to personality, we can all be grouped into one of four categories.
Researchers at Northwestern University sampled an impressive 1.5 million people who answered questionnaires online. While previous studies have attempted to categorize personality, they’ve generally used unrepresentative samples of just a few hundred people. Meanwhile, the notion that personality types exist is still an "extremely controversial” topic.
The scientists used five well-known character traits to assess personality, the so-called “Big Five” of psychology. These are extraversion – being sociable, talkative, and dominant; neuroticism – a predisposition to negative emotions like worry and anger; openness to experience – being appreciative of new ideas, values, and behaviors; agreeableness – a tendency to get along with people and agree with them; and conscientiousness – being careful, punctual, and hard working.
Using a special algorithm, the researchers initially managed to divide respondents into 16 clusters, before narrowing it down to just four. The team say their findings could be useful to mental healthcare providers and prospective employers.
So, what are the four personality types?
Well, rather insultingly, the first is just called “average”. And, as noted by research leader Luis Amaral, "there is very little to say about average". Sadly, most of us fit this bill. Average people are pretty extroverted and neurotic, as well as fairly agreeable and conscientious. However, they are not very open to new things.
Next up is “reserved”. These people are a little more introverted than the average Joe, and are neither open nor neurotic. They are quite agreeable and conscientious, and are emotionally stable.
The third group contains “role models”. These people are not neurotic but are extroverted, agreeable, open-minded, and conscientious. They are nice, good leaders, dependable, and always open to new ideas.
And lastly, there's the people you probably don’t want to hang out with – the “self-centered” folk. These guys are incredibly extroverted, while scoring below average on openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
To check their results held up, the team looked at the personalities of teenage boys – a notoriously self-centered bunch. “If the data were correct and sifted for demographics, they would they turn out to be the biggest cluster of people,” said Amaral.
And they were right – teenage boys were overrepresented in the self-centered category, while girls and women over the age of 15 were significantly lacking.
If you’re a little worried you might come under category four, don’t panic. The researchers also note that our personalities can develop with time, so we can switch groups as we age. They found that in general, those over the age of 20 tend to be more conscientious and agreeable and less neurotic than teens. It seems humans are like cheese, we get much nicer with age.