If you ever get to talk to a university student in between their swings of all-nighters and napping, chances are you can take a stab at what course they study. Interested in this link between certain personality traits and chosen field of study, new research has attempted to find out whether different degrees tend to attract different types of people.
The study by psychologist Anna Vedel of Aarhus University in Denmark was recently published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
To assess the characteristics of personalities, Vedel looked at the Big Five personality traits criteria: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. In total, the research looked at results from 13,389 students who had previously taken a Big Five personality test in one of 12 previous studies published between 1992 and 2015.
Here’s a low-down of the results:
People studying science degrees scored highly for openness and extroversion, and a medium for neuroticism.
Engineering students scored medium for neuroticism and conscientiousness, yet low for openness.
Arts/humanities students tended to show higher levels of neuroticism and openness, medium for extraversion and low for conscientiousness.
Those studying law perhaps came off the least positive – showing high levels of extraversion, medium for neuroticism and conscientiousness, and low for openness and agreeableness. But then again, who would want an agreeable lawyer?
Economics showed similar traits, also scoring high for extraversion, medium for neuroticism and conscientiousness, and low for openness and agreeableness.
But don’t get too swept away with the findings: Not all people who study economics are disagreeable extraverts, nor are art students all disorganized neurotics, and so on. While Big Five personality trait tests are widely accepted within the world of psychology, it’s worth remembering that studying a topic as subjective as personality can encounter all kinds of biases and reliability issues.
Despite this, Vedel hopes her study could have some real-world applications, such as helping prospective students to choose a course, or to help develop the teaching methods of tutors and lecturers.
In the study’s conclusion, she said: "By taking into account some general personality characteristics of student populations, teachers and instructors may be better equipped to the task of structuring the learning environment in a way that engages the students, makes them feel comfortable, and facilitates their learning process."