Big Data Study Challenges Thinking on Personality Types
New research using Big Data suggests established psychological paradigms on personality types may need to be revised.
In the study, Northwestern University researchers analyzed data from more than 1.5 million questionnaire respondents. The review discovered at least four distinct clusters of personality types exist: average, reserved, self-centered and role model.
The findings, which challenge existing paradigms in psychology, are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. Study leader Dr. Luís Amaral of the McCormick School of Engineering, believes the new perspectives could be of interest to hiring managers and mental health care providers.
“People have tried to classify personality types since Hippocrates’ time, but previous scientific literature has found that to be nonsense,” said co-author Dr. William Revelle, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
“Now, these data show there are higher densities of certain personality types,” said Revelle, who specializes in personality measurement, theory and research.
Initially, however, Revelle was skeptical of the study’s premise. The concept of personality types remains controversial in psychology, with hard scientific proof difficult to find. Previous attempts based on small research groups created results that often were not replicable.
“Personality types only existed in self-help literature and did not have a place in scientific journals,” said Amaral. “Now, we think this will change because of this study.”
The new research combined an alternative computational approach with data from four standardized questionnaires with more than 1.5 million respondents from around the world.
The data was obtained from John Johnson’s IPIP-NEO questionnaire with 120 and 300 items, respectively, the myPersonality project and the BBC Big Personality Test datasets.
The questionnaires, developed by the research community over the decades, have between 44 and 300 questions. People voluntarily take the online quizzes attracted by the opportunity to receive feedback about their own personality. These data are now being made available to other researchers for independent analyses.
“The thing that is really, really cool is that a study with a dataset this large would not have been possible before the web,” Amaral said.
“Previously, maybe researchers would recruit undergrads on campus, and maybe get a few hundred people. Now, we have all these online resources available, and now data is being shared.”
From those robust datasets, the team plotted the five widely accepted basic personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.