For centuries we’ve looked to personalities to try to explain and understand ourselves and each other.
Psychologists and scientists have come up with many ways to try to measure and define personality traits and types.
But as we’ll see, when you’re dealing with such a complex subject, that isn’t easy.
So what are the main personality types?
This comprehensive overview will reveal all.
The difference between personality types and personality traits
Before we dive into the different theories about personality types and traits, let’s talk a little bit about the difference between the two.
Because often we use types and traits interchangeably when we talk about our personality. But there is a difference, and it’s an important one.
So much so that some experts argue that although personality traits undoubtedly exist, they question whether personality can ever truly be narrowed down into a defined type.
Dr. Russ Dewey Ph.D. nicely sums up the big difference between personality traits and types:
“Traits are durable characteristics of a person that produce an effect on behavior. Types are collections of traits that occur together in some individuals.
“For example, we might define the macho type as a person who tries to be tough, independent, courageous, and (in general) masculine, as interpreted by that person’s culture.”
So whilst we all definitely have certain characteristics that make up our personality traits, the question is whether we can clump together those traits to define a limited number of specific personality types that exist in society.
Many scientists have doubted if this was truly possible. But a large study in 2018 published in Nature Human Behavior aimed to do just that.
And it found the only scientifically backed evidence so far that there are in fact four distinct personality types.
Scientific research on the four main personality types
The theory of personality traits suggests that we’re all made up of a collection of traits, which sit along a spectrum.
It was argued that because these traits exist on a line and don’t fall into strict columns, it would be pretty impossible to put people into personality boxes.
As the co-author of the four-personality types research study, William Revelle, explains:
“People have tried to classify personality types since Hippocrates’s time, but previous scientific literature has found that to be nonsense.”
So how is this research different? Well, it’s the first time science has proved that personality types do exist.
The study used data from four questionnaires completed by over 1.5 million people around the world.
Researchers then used a special algorithm to sort through the personality data.
When participants answered questions based on the big five personality traits — openness, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and contentiousness (which we’ll look at in more detail soon) they discovered a pattern emerged.
From the data, they could see four very distinct clusters of personality types.
The four personality types
The most common personality type is referred to as Average. People within this personality type score highly in neuroticism and extraversion, and low in openness.
Whilst neuroticism may sound bad, it isn’t. The truth is that all healthy people experience degrees of neuroticism.
Researchers found that females are more likely than males to fall into the Average personality type.
The next personality type is labeled Reserved. Those who fall into this type are generally emotionally stable, but not open or neurotic.
They do not tend to be extraverted (and are more introverted) but they are quite agreeable and conscientious.
3) Role Models
Role Models are notable as they score low in neuroticism but high in all the other traits. As the name suggests, they are natural leaders due to their agreeableness, extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness.
They are also good at listening to new ideas and are reliable.
Women are more likely to fall into the Role Model type. But the chances of falling into the Role Model personality type for both men and women increase as you age,
People who fall into the Self-Centered personality type people score very high in extraversion and below average in openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
Arguably this is the personality type we would least want to be around. Teenage boys commonly appeared in the Self-Centered personality type.
The good news is that researchers noted that the number of Self-Centered personality types decreases significantly with age.
So as we get older, it seems we really do get wiser.
How personality types evolve
What is notable from the above research is how changeable our personality type actually is. It’s not something static that we are stuck with, it’s something that is always evolving.
That’s evident in how younger people tend to fall into the Self Centered personality type, perhaps as they pass through those well-documented teenage angst years.
In contrast, the older we get the more likely we fall into the Role Model personality type, perhaps as we learn to be more considerate and conscientious.
Another one of the authors of the paper, Luis Amaral, highlights how our personality isn’t fixed:
“Certain facets are changing. As people mature and grow, their personality also matures and grows. I think there is a positive message that people mature and they move to more desirable characteristics.”
Your personality type is based on your personality traits
In order to discover the four main personality types listed above, researchers used questionnaires based on the so-called ‘Big 5 personality traits’.
Over the long history of trying to get to grips with people’s personalities, there have been countless different theories.
But one of the most well-supported by scientific research and widely accepted by experts is the Big 5.
It argues that five dominant personality traits exist.
The Big 5 Personality Traits
According to Scientific American the Big 5 Personality traits were created by teams led by Paul Costa and Robert R. McCrae from the National Institutes of Health and Warren Norman and Lewis Goldberg of the University of Michigan.
I mentioned earlier that personality traits belong on a spectrum. These five personality traits exist as a range between two extremes. And most people sit somewhere between those two extremes.
Whatsmore, not all researchers agree on the labels that have been used to sum up personality traits. Nevertheless, generally, the big five have been characterized as follows:
Trait of openness involves having imagination and insight. An eagerness to experience new things characterizes people with this personality trait.
These are the people who are curious about the world around them, and the people they encounter. As a consequence, they tend to have varied interests and crave new experiences.
They are often fascinated by life and want to learn as much as they can. Because of this, they tend to be adventurous and explorative people.
People who rank highly for the openness trait are creative and may find that abstract and lateral thinking comes more easily to them.
On the other hand, people who score lower for openness are often quite traditional. They find leaving their comfort zone more challenging and can struggle with problem-solving that falls outside their own framework of the world.
People who are high in Openness
- Want to try new things
- Good at abstract thinking
- Enjoy new challenges
People who are low in Openness
- More traditional
- Dislikes change
- Struggles with abstract thinking
- Is resistant to new ideas
- Lacks imagination and creativity
Those who score highly for conscientiousness are thoughtful, have good impulse control, and display goal-directed behaviors.
Think of those people who have a good eye for detail and take a disciplined and almost methodical approach to things. For example, conscientiousness is a trait that scientists often score highly for.
High-scoring conscientious people are very good at getting organized and can be incredibly mindful of the smallest of details.
Thanks to their organizational skill, they are good at meeting deadlines and planning ahead. Conscientious people are also good at analyzing themselves and their own behavior, in order to see how it affects the people around them.
When someone is low in conscientiousness, you will probably find that they actively dislike routines, structure, and schedules. Because they have a tendency to procrastinate, they might fail to meet deadlines or fall behind on important tasks.
People who are high in Conscientiousness
- Very prepared and organized
- Meets deadlines
- Has an attention to detail
- Thrives on structure and routine
People who are low in Conscientiousness
- Struggles with routine
- Is messy and disorganized
- Is prone to procrastination
- Misses deadlines
Extraversion (which is sometimes spelled extroversion) is someone who enjoys and is energized by others’ company.
This personality trait is often characterized by sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, excitability, and plenty of emotional expressiveness.
These are the people who are the life and soul of the party. They enjoy social events and are comfortable spending time with people.
Unlike introverts who can quickly become drained in social settings, people who rate high for extraversion feel fueled by spending time with others.
Introverts on the other hand find quite the opposite to be the case. They need lots of solitude and alone time in order to recharge their batteries.
It’s not that they necessarily do not enjoy the company of others. But they can struggle to make small talk and find large gatherings of people overwhelming and quite draining.
People who are high in Extraversion
- Like the limelight
- Are talkative
- Like meeting new people
- Speak without thinking
- Gain energy from being around people
- Have a large circle of friends
- Make friends easily
People who are low in Extraversion
- Dislikes small talk
- Avoids the limelight
- Enjoys solitude
- Finds a lot of socializing tiring
- Thinks before speaking
- Can struggle to start conversations
- Prefers smaller groups
High agreeableness is linked to what we call prosocial behaviors — aka the things that benefit other people in society.
We’re referring to qualities like trust, kindness, affection, and altruism.
Those who rank highly for agreeableness are often the most cooperative people in society. They are the people that like to give back and help out. They are good at sharing and feel great empathy for others.
Conversely, those who score low for agreeableness have far less favorable social qualities.
They have a more competitive streak and can display meanness and manipulation. They may show a lack of sympathy and empathy when dealing with people, or take a general lack of interest in others.
People who score lowest for agreeableness are those that we tend to think of as the most selfish among us.
People who are high in Agreeableness
- Cares about people
- Shows an interest in how others feel and think
- Empathetic and sympathetic
- Wants to contribute to society
- Likes to help people
People who are low in Agreeableness
- Disinterested in others
- Shows little concern for people’s feeling
- Is selfish
- Can be insulting or mean
- Manipulative when it suits them
Neuroticism comes down to how stable our emotions are.
Those who score the highest for neuroticism are the most unstable, and prone to sadness, anxiety, moodiness, and depression.
Mood swings and irritability are common for highly neurotic people. They may seem like a totally different person from one day to the next. They’re also prone to worry.
If you rate low for neuroticism you will have a more even, balanced, and emotionally stable personality.
These types of people tend not to have particularly high levels of stress or worry in their life and display high levels of emotional resilience.
People who are high in Neuroticism
- High levels of stress
- Is a worrier
- Prone to mood swings
- Sensitive and gets upset easily
- High levels of anxiety
- Struggles with emotional resilience
People who are low in Neuroticism
- Good at handling stress
- Doesn’t overly worry
- Generally feels relaxed
- Is less likely to feel sad or depressed
- Bounces back quickly
Other ways to measure personality
The four personality types and the Big 5 personality traits aren’t the only models that have been developed to try to categorize personality.
You’ll find a range of personality tests and theories that try to break down and explain our personalities. The difference is that these other theories have very little scientific evidence to back them.
But that’s not to say that these alternative theories haven’t become popular over the years. So let’s take a quick look at some of the most well-known among them.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
It’s likely that you will have heard of one of the most popular personality type tests, known as the Myers-Briggs. Although it’s not without criticism and controversy.
In fact, psychologist Adam Grant called it ‘the fad that won’t die’ in his scathing assessment of the personality testing system which he calls “meaningless”.
He also points out that as many as 75% of people get a totally different result if they take the test twice.
In its defense, the Myers & Briggs Foundation claims the MBTI does meet accepted standards of reliability and validity. Suggesting it has a 90% accuracy rating.
Nevertheless, maybe you’ve seen people write a sequence of letters like INTJ or ESTP and wondered exactly what it means.
It’s become so popular that I’ve even seen people offer their Myers-Briggs Type up to potential dates on Tinder as an insight into their personality.
After answering a series of questions in the MyersBriggs test, people are assigned one of sixteen personality types.
The questionnaires itself include four different sliding scales:
- Extraversion (E) to Introversion (I) — how you interact with the outside world and people in it.
- Sensing (S) to Intuition (N) — how you gather information.
- Thinking (T) to Feeling (F) — how you make decisions.
- Judging (J) to Perceiving (P) — how you deal with the outside world.
All these elements are then combined to create 16 different personality types, which are listed as those four-letter codes.
These codes are sometimes simplified using a one-word characteristic. For example, INFP is also known as ‘The Mediator’.
The 16 personalities
- ISTJ — The Inspector
Quiet, dependable, practical, logical, realistic, and responsible. ISTJ’s are ordered and organized. They value traditions and loyalty.
- ISFJ — The protector
Friendly, conscientious, committed, loyal, considerate, and reliable. ISFJ’s are concerned with how others feel and pay attention to specific details about people important to them.
- INFJ — The advocate
- INTJ — The architect
Original, logical, creative, analytical, skeptical, and independent. INTJ’s are driven goal-setters who enjoy exploring new perspectives.
- ISTP — The crafter
Logical, tolerant, flexible, organized, efficient, independent, and practical. ISTP’s are problem solvers who make things work. They organize facts using a logical approach of cause and effect.
- ISFP — The artist
Sensitive, friendly, kind, quiet, reserved, flexible, and easygoing. ISFP’s don’t force their opinions on others and dislike conflict. They enjoy their own space but are loyal and committed.
- INFP — The mediator
Idealistic, strong values, curious, flexible, adaptive, and accepting. INFP’s want to help make the world a better place. They seek to live life according to their values.
- INTP — The thinker
Quiet, introverted, abstract, theoretical, contained, and adaptive. INTP’s enjoy delving into explanations and prefer ideas over social interaction. They are experts at deeply focusing on something in order to problem solve.
- ESTP — The persuader
Outgoing, flexible, tolerant, pragmatic, spontaneous, and sociable. ESTP’s focus on the here and now and enjoy each moment. Theories and conceptual explanations bore them.
- ESFP — The performer
Outgoing, dramatic, friendly, flexible, and spontaneous. ESFP’s have a lust for life and the people in it. They adapt well to new people and environments.
- ENFP — The champion
Enthusiastic, charismatic, imaginative, energetic, and spontaneous. ENFP‘s are flexible and affectionate with others. They see life as full of possibilities.
- ENTP — The debater
Quick, outspoken, inventive, idea orientated, stimulating, and alert. ENTP’s are resourceful people and good at solving challenging problems. They are good at reading others and quickly become bored by routine.
- ESTJ — The director
Assertive, direct, matter of fact, practical and realistic. ESTJ’s tend to be rule-oriented, and have strong principles. They have a tendency to take charge and can be forceful in implementing their plans.
- ESFJ — The caregiver
Warmhearted, conscientious, cooperative, harmonious, loyal, and attentive. ESFJ’s are able to see the best in people. They want to give back and take a dedicated approach to doing so.
- ENFJ — The Giver
Loyal, sensitive, warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. ENFJ’s are known for being highly tuned to the needs of others, and are understanding and generous. They are sociable and tend to be inspiring and motivating leaders.
- ENTJ — The commander
Outspoken, frank, decisive, knowledgeable, and confident. ENTJ’s are good organizers and planners. They are generally well-informed and well-read individuals.
Type A, B, C or D
The basis for the A, B, C, D personality types comes from a pair of cardiologists.
As explained in the Guardian newspaper:
“In the 1950s, Meyer Friedman and RH Rosenman were researching the possible causes of coronary disease. After a nine-year study of over 3,000 healthy men aged 35-59, Friedman and Rosenman speculated that certain patterns of behavior carried a higher risk, and devised a method for categorising patients as either type A, type B or type AB”
That was later expanded upon to include types C and D.
These people are your typical overachievers and go-getters in life. They are concerned with status and achievement.
At their best, they are motivated and goal orientated. At their worst they can be pushy, highly stressed, and workaholics.
- Natural leader
- Prone to high levels of stress
Type B’s sit at the opposite side of the spectrum to type A’s.
They are sociable types who have a tendency to make peace and mediate well. They can be very patient and even-tempered. And they often report higher levels of life satisfaction.
- Laid back
Type C’s share some of the same characteristics as type A’s — mainly their attention to detail and focus — but with some notable differences.
Type C’s are often referred to as thinkers or scientists. They are much more introverted in their nature and take a logical approach to understand the world.
- Attention to detail
- Critical thinkers
- Autonomous and independent
Type D’s can be viewed as the most emotional type of the four.
Sometimes referred to as the supporter or philosopher type, their sensitive nature gives them more of a predisposition to distress.
They may experience extreme emotions more intensely than other types.
- Dislikes change and prefer stability
To conclude: The power to change your personality
Asking what shapes your personality type takes us back to the age-old nature versus nurture debate.
The truth is that it’s most likely to be a combination of both that mold our personality.
For example, research has found strong evidence that the personality traits of neuroticism and openness are inherited. But no such link was found when it came to extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
It’s widely believed that the Big 5 personality traits are largely universal across cultures, and might have biological origins.
It’s been suggested the personality traits that have emerged represent some of the most important qualities within our societies.
Even though certain personality traits might be inherited and remain stable throughout our lives, recent research has highlighted that personalities overall can change with persistent intervention or major life events.
That means that our personalities are not static. They are ever-changing and capable of evolving as we mature, learn, and grow.
Even though personality types can be useful tools for getting to know yourself better, it’s important to remember that your personality is both complex and diverse, and not so easily defined.
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