Temperment and Personality and How They Influence Your Thinking

The title is a bit clunky, but we’ll digress about that later.

Before I delve into posts about schools of thought, I got to thinking about why some would appeal to this group of people and others would appeal to that group of people, and why, even when we adhere to a certain school of thought, how we may fail to integrate the teachings properly. I came to the conclusion that there are two factors: Temperament/personality, and Logic skills. This week we’ll cover temperament and your personality and how they could influence the conclusions one comes to. Next month we’ll cover logic, and then we can dive into schools of thought.

Temperament and personality have been a source of study for ages. As stated in this CrashCourse video, defining one’s personality is one of the ways we try to pin down what the Self is. (Which is a whole other series of shows.) Temperament and personality are not the same things, though in casual speech we may confuse them.

Though not universally agreed upon, (the nitpicky details are still argued.) Temperament is the traits one inherits, your biological predispositions that are decided upon by your genetics, whereas personality is a set of fairly predictable behaviors developed over time, and are influenced by your temperament, environment, and nurture. Current personality research is attempting, with some success, to find the links between the two. Finding reading material on where the two cross is a bit tricky. Lumen Learning has a page on the overall study of Personality and how it is theorized to arise both biologically and otherwise.

Now this is the point in pop-psychology where we’d talk about your Myers-Briggs Type (INFP), which Hogwarts House Pottermore sorted you into (Hufflepuff), or what kind of dog (Samoyed- Ohmygodimsofluffy) Buzzfeed thinks you are. Yes, Myers-Briggs is not considered a valid psychological personality type. It has some issues. (Though based on Jung’s cognitive concepts, some argue it misunderstood/misused his ideas.)

What we will be talking about today is the Five Factor Model of Personality, otherwise known as the Big Five. The Big Five has a research history going back about 50 odd years and is currently our best empirical study of personality and temperament. (If you hit both of those links you’ll get a fair overview of what the FFMP is, though if you want to get nitty-gritty and have your mind blown, I highly recommend this lecture series on youtube from the University of Toronto. This will take you some time- you may even have to rewatch some videos over again((it’s heavy stuff- he discusses ideas from mythology, behaviorism, psychoanalytical, existential, as well as the biometric and so on. It’s also going to be where some might have to squeeze your source of comfort and take a deep breath.)), but it is so worth it. I even call it life-changing.)

I don’t believe we can discuss this without talking about getting your own Five Factor Model. Most Big Five reports are generated through self-reporting, which does have its drawbacks, The greatest I am concerned with are the issues of honesty (wanting to portray yourself in a more socially acceptable light- this does you no good when it comes to understanding yourself!) and poor introspection. (Improper recall of events, poor self-esteem or inflated ego influencing your bias, etc) Tests like Understandmyself.com, which use their results for research, will ask you to ensure things like being in an even state of mind, not tired, and well fed before beginning the test so that negative, or overly positive feelings do not skew your results. Some other places you can go to (that I’ve scoped out and liked. There are dozens.) for a report are Truity, 123 Test, and Psychology Today.

The last three will let you take the test for free, give you a very simple report, and if you pay a certain fee, you get a full report. (Truity is the most expensive at $30, 123 Test is $18 and Psychology Today is the cheapest at $7.) Understand Myself is $10 to take the test and you get a full report upon completion. Understand Myself gives you what I feel is the most detailed breakdown, including a full description of the Big Five trait. It looks a lot like this:

Screenshot (33)

(A portion of my actual results, screen capped)

Then it breaks down the Big Five even further, into sub traits:

  • Agreeableness
    • Compassion and Politeness
  • Conscientiousness
    • Industriousness and Orderliness
  • Extraversion
    • Enthusiasm and Assertiveness
  • Neuroticism
    • Withdrawl and Volatility
  • Openness
    • Openness (creativity) and Intellect (different from intelligence!)

Now, understand that scoring higher or lower in any trait is not any better than its opposite. Being ultra high in agreeableness is not always preferred to being lower- very agreeable people are prone to burnout or being taken advantage of, whereas those low often struggle socially. Those very high in Extroversion can be impulsive socially, and those very low also tend to struggle. Those highly conscientious may become workaholics, and those low can be seen as lazy. Highly neurotic people are at increased risk for depression and anxiety. (Can you think of any downsides to being low in Neuroticism?) While being high in openness can lead to general instability, and great difficulty adhering to the status quo, and don’t do well at the bottom of social hierarchies, whereas those low in openness are seen as close-minded and are very wary of new experiences.

The five-factor model doesn’t seek to tell us where we shine so bright and make us feel good about ourselves- in fact, it’s a wonderful map of what you need to watch out for. Highly neurotic? Keep in mind the next time you feel hurt or fearful that you are more prone to such things, and that realistically, it’s not as bad as your impulse thinks. Extremely conscientious and industrious? You may need to step back and realize how to take breaks from work, and that maybe your resentment of everyone else in the office not putting in as many hours/ as much effort as you could be a result of your bias. Etcetera, etcetera…

But let’s factor in how these traits affect how you think. I’ll go through my own results (from Understand Myself) and factor out how I believe they have influenced my perception, and what I watch out for.

  • Agreeableness: I scored in the 82nd percentile overall, with 77th in Compassion and 81st in Politeness.

I will say this; when I’m in a bad mood- the sweet nice Nana goes away. It’s something I have to focus on very hard. But in general, I’m the person who hesitates to tell you when you’re being (insert something negative here), and until recently, had a bad habit of telling white lies to spare your feelings. I have a tendency towards speaking with euphemisms, which I don’t believe to be very helpful at all. It’s turned into a habit of using very indirect speech. It can get to a degree where the issue at hand is clouded, or I obscure it completely. (I have to watch myself when writing these posts.) If you brought up needing help, I’d be in the group of people immediately offering help within my realm of competence. If it wasn’t, I’m still likely to look up others with the competence to help. This trait endears me to ideologies that favor those in need and focuses on compassion, like Mahayana Buddhism, which is famously summed up in the quote by the current Dalai Lama, “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” It even shows in my chosen profession (and this blog!) of being a Massage Therapist, where my purpose is to nurture and encourage healing. My bias is to reflect on if something is going to cause (perceived) harm, it’s “bad” and should be avoided. I’ve had to work on revising what compassion actually means, and how much politeness is too much and can be a detriment to myself.

  • Conscientiousness: I scored 45th overall, with 32nd in Industriousness and 60th in Orderliness.

Whoa-boy. Yeah. I’m an absolute procrastinator. I procrastinated writing this post! I have an inclination towards comfort over productivity and am having to train myself how to create and stick to schedules to accomplish my goals- even just to live in a way I deem to be ideal. (Goals will be a post, by the way. So watch for that!) I tend to explode my things when working on projects- creativity requires a degree of chaos- yet if that mess remains, I become anxious and irritable. I have a tendency towards being a germaphobe-(This is a realm of Orderliness, which is disgust sensitivity.) I literally cried the first time I touched raw chicken and even after years of beating it out of myself- I cringe (mentally now) when I wash nasty dishes or clean my fish tank. This disgust sensitivity manifests very interestingly on a psychological and ideological level; my impulse is to reject any ideas that my underlying schema has deemed to be “not-nice”, or even abhorrent. It’s very difficult for me to entertain ideas that are harsh or painful, or uncomfortable to think about. I put off such things until they are so overwhelming I can’t ignore them- which is not good to do. (youtube link)

  • My Extraversion comes to 69th overall, with 86th in Enthusiasm, and 41st in Assertiveness.

Ah, the dreaded Ambivert- am I social? Do I long for only the company of my cat and a book? Oh god, I don’t know. Every day I need to evaluate this. It’s a struggle and it took me a while to even realize this is a thing I need to be conscious of to maintain a healthy mental energy level. My high enthusiasm endears me towards more “fun” things. What’s new? What’s exciting? Can I tell great jokes and stories here? Once you get to know me, I might never shut up. But I don’t prefer the spotlight- especially taking charge of a situation. I take a fair amount of time evaluating how relevant or welcome my opinion will be before I share it- historically this combines with my politeness and results in quite a bit withheld on my end. This puts someone like me- who likes sharing information and my own thoughts- in a terrible quandary. It’s something to be said for a lack of assertiveness when you have opinions- not stating what you want and how you want it can lead to feeling neglected and undervalued, and maybe even resentment. But I think that ties in more with our next trait:

  • Neuroticism: I’ve had to learn to laugh at this, I scored 95th in the overall, 93rd in Withdrawl, and 93rd in Volatility.

This is probably the trait with the most relation to depression and anxiety. Neuroticism is essentially how sensitive your nervous system is primed towards “danger”. You’re more likely to perceive something as negative, or painful. How does this look? When not conscious of my neuroticism, I fear change. I am very adverse to change. I’ve learned through study that I have this reaction because my brain is screaming, “THIS MIGHT KILL YOU.” Which is silly, really. Social rejection has been a sore spot for me for years, it plays into how agreeable and polite I am at times. If I don’t upset someone, I don’t lose out socially. Sometimes my mind begins to run around and around trying to anticipate something painful- to the point where I’m incapacitated in making decisions or standing up for myself. The volatility feeds into my general reaction to things- I tend towards if something I dislike happens, (and I’m finding I’m likely to dislike a great number of things.) I become angry about it. I’ve yelled and shouted and said very disagreeable things and once, as an impulsive teen, broke a window. Not good. Then once I’ve hollered and been mean I feel terrible and my self-esteem drops and the negative thoughts crowd in and it turns in to a horrible spiral of self-loathing and the distortion that nothing good has ever happened or ever will happen again so why live? God, being highly neurotic is a nasty, nasty thing. This is why you watch it. Defy it. Challenge it. Manage yourself. (The video above gives you a good insight into doing so.)

  • Openness I scored 75th overall, 41st in Intellect, and 90th in Openness relating to Creativity.

My Openness, in contrast with my Neuroticism and Orderliness, looks quite humorous to me. In spite of my fear of change and New Things, I love new things! I love learning, I always have. Let’s poke and prod and search out things maybe no one has ever seen before- and yet- I like making connections between what I already know even more. I like producing ideas more. One could argue that the reason I search out new things is so that I can make more of those connections in the first place. I tend towards daydreaming, and creating stories in my head- I’m trying to write a story, but that low industriousness I have is a bully for getting anything done quickly. I love to read- and it’s been mused by others that my taste in books is so hard to pin down. I can see the trends in what I prefer (mostly) because I like to make those connections, but I can imagine the analogy is difficult for others to make. I like stories about confronting difficult things or going off into the unknown to bring back something hard-won and valuable, or to save something precious to the hero. But not only that, stories where the hero remains, or becomes a person who can live well, in spite of the horrors they experience. Basically, adventure stories. I very much like the idea of going on an Adventure. When I research things, I have to be careful to avoid whats called Confirmation Bias. I have to remind myself that there is so much outside my current realm of understanding. But honestly? That’s thrilling.

That’s just a small sampling, I could literally go on until you’re sick of reading about my internal processes. I recommend, once you do understand your traits, to journal them out- the bad and the good in an honest picture of yourself- so that you can begin to piece together how your personality is going to influence what conclusions you draw, what premises you may favor, and where your thinking might become distorted. This practice is a type of Introspection and is a part of Metacognition. I like the added wrinkle of journaling your thoughts to keep you from ruminating on any one part of yourself. I also wouldn’t attempt going over your hard to acknowledge qualities if you’re feeling particularly negative at that moment. Tiny Buddha and Leverage Research have some further help for you on the subject.

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something (or so Thorin said to the young dwarves). You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it’s not always quite the something you were after.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.

Please note that some of the links provided may lead to websites that want to sell you products. I am not affiliated with any of these websites and am not attempting to push you towards certain brands or products. I have simply used those links for the information they contain.

Again, this blog is for informational purposes. I am not a professional. It should not be an exclusive source to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

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