by Arthur Worsley
M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
6. Personality Tests & Personality Inventories
9. Personality Tests: Warnings & Caveats
12. Examples of Personality Traits and Types
15. Personality at Home and At Work
What is Personality: A DefinitionYour personality is what makes you “you”. It’s the combination of characteristics (the habits of thought, action and emotions) that influence how you think, act and feel day-to-day. At least that’s the simple answer. The problem is that describing personality any further is like describing what it’s like to ride a bicycle. The intuitive grasp we all have of what makes me “me” and you “you” is so intuitive, subtle and changing that breaking it down more precisely is complex. Writers understand this fact intimately. You could fill books on a character’s personality but a good author will throw you a few traits, a short backstory and some action and let your monkey brain fill in the blanks.
Measuring Personality: Why It MattersUnfortunately, the rest of us don’t seem to get that. Philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, poets, priests, entrepreneurs, astrologers and pundits alike have spent billions of hours over thousands of years trying to penetrate personality. Why? Because understanding what makes you “you” is not only fascinating (and reassuring), it also promises to let others predict your behaviour. At its best, that creates huge possibilities for fields like mental health, mental well-being, management and statesmanship. At its worst, that creates huge opportunities for selling you stuff you don’t need or to rationalise oppressing minorities. How have we done it? Great question. Most of our efforts have gone into boiling the endless list of attributes that describe you into a handful of…
Personality Traits & Personality TypesBefore we jump into personality testing let’s quickly recap the two main ways personality psychologists talk about determinants of personality: personality traits and personality types…
Personality Traits: A ⟷ BProponents of personality traits avoid making statements about what kind of person you are. Instead, they focus on scoring you from 0 – 100 across key traits like…
- Neuroticism – Moodiness and proneness to negative emotions;
- Extraversion – Seeking fulfilment outside of oneself; and
- Psychoticism – Impulsivity, sensation seeking.
- Neuroticism – Moodiness and proneness to negative emotions;
- Agreeableness – Friendliness and compassion;
- Conscientiousness – Carefulness and diligence;
- Extroversion – Seeking fulfilment outside of oneself; and
- Openness to experience – Inventiveness/curiosity.
Personality Types: A or BProponents of personality types go further and segment folks into distinct personality groups. For example:
- Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I);
- Sensing (S) vs. Intuitive (N);
- Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F); and
- Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P).
- Aries – People born March 21 – April 19;
- Taurus – People born April 20 – May 20;
- Gemini – People born May 21 – June 20;
- Cancer – People born June 21 – July 22; and
- Leo – People born July 23 – Aug. 22 etc…
- Fixed Mindset – Believing abilities are innate and largely fixed; or
- Growth Mindset – Believing abilities are trainable and developed through effort.
- Extroverts have high sociability and love being around others; while
- Introverts feel drained by and avoid social situations.
Personality Tests & Personality InventoriesSo, quick recap:
- Personality Trait Theories measure individual differences quantitatively on a continuous scale (i.e., you can always score somewhere in the middle); while
- Personality Types Theories measure personality qualitatively by grouping people into different types of people (i.e., you’re either one or the other).
Personality Trait Personality TestsHere are some links to some popular personality trait personality tests:
- The Big Five Personality Test (Wiki Article);
- The HEXACO Personality Test (Wiki Article);
- The EPQ (Three-Factor) Personality Test (Wiki Article); and
- The 16PF (Sixteen Personality Factor) Questionnaire (Wiki Article).
Personality Type Personality TestsHere are some links to some popular personality type personality tests:
- The MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) (Wiki Article);
- The Enneagram Test (Wiki Article);
- The DISC Test (Wiki Article);
- The True Colors system (Wiki Article); and
- The KTS (Kiersey Temperament Sorter) (Wiki Article).
Personality Tests: Warnings & CaveatsNote: I’ll break down some personality trait and personality type examples in a moment. First, though, there’s some things you should know about ALL personality tests before you take them.
Personality Tests: The BadThere are two ways that personality tests get their results:
- Self-report questionnaires – You read statements and agree or disagree; and
- Life record analysis – You analyse people’s lives and track records.
- Scoring methodologies often aren’t peer-reviewed or made public;
- Rating scales are inconsistently judged between (and within) individuals; and
- Self-report/analysis is susceptible to biases, ignorance and lying.
Personality Tests: The UglyBut here’s the worst part… Most providers of personality testing (like most astrologists, fortune tellers, psychics and other purveyors of divination) know full-well the limitations (or at least the lack of evidence for the efficacy) of their services. And yet they miss-lead and miss-sell their wares anyway. Personality type tests have no scientific validity. And even personality trait tests tread a fine-, still-debated-line between being usefully predictive and merely interesting. Telling a gullible or naive person to pay money for and make significant life-decisions based on personality tests is like telling someone with cancer to replace medical treatment with prayer beads. It’s amoral. It’s dangerous. It leads to vulnerable people getting hurt. More on this (including thoughts on how to and how not to use personality tests) below. For now, though, let’s look at…
Examples of Personality Traits and Types
List of 101+ Personality Traits ExamplesNote: Want a long list of 800+ character traits instead of just psychology focussed personality traits? Check out this ultimate guide for a free, printable PDF. In the list below, I’ve gathered the main and second-tier personality traits from the most prominent (and well studied) trait theories of personality in psychology and psychiatry today. Here’s a list of 101+ personality traits examples (with definitions):
- Absent-minded – Being forgetful or inattentive.
- Achievement-oriented – Driven by developing/displaying ones abilities.
- Active – Ready to engage in physical or energetic pursuits.
- Aggressive – Ready or likely to attack or confront.
- Agreeable – Having a cheerful and pleasant disposition.
- Altruistic – Showing altruism; selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.
- Anxious – Feeling unease about uncertain outcomes.
- Assertive – Being confident and forceful.
- Boastful – Showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in ones achievements.
- Brave – Ready to face and endure danger or pain.
- Careful – Being sure to avoid potential mishaps or harm.
- Careless – Not giving thought to avoiding errors.
- Cautious – Careful to avoid problems or dangers.
- Cheerful – Noticeably happy and optimistic.
- Compassionate – Feeling sympathy and concern for others.
- Confident – Certain of one’s abilities or qualities.
- Conscientious – Willing to do one’s work well/thoroughly.
- Consistent – Unchanging in nature over time.
- Conventional – Concerned with what is socially acceptable.
- Creative – Having a good imagination or original ideas.
- Critical – Tending to express disapproval or judgement.
- Curious – Eager to learn or know new things.
- Deceitful – Misleading others.
- Dependant – Relying on others for support.
- Depressed – Being unhappy or despondent.
- Diligent – Showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work.
- Disciplined – Showing control in one’s behaviour or way of working.
- Dogmatic – Unthinkingly laying down or following “true” principles.
- Dominant – Having power or influence over others.
- Efficient – Achieving maximum productivity with minimum waste.
- Egocentric – Thinking only of oneself without regard to others.
- Emotional – Having feelings that are easily excitable and displayed.
- Energetic – Showing great activity or vitality.
- Expressive – Effective at converting thoughts or feelings.
- Extravagant – Lacking restraint in spending/using resources.
- Extraverted – Tending to seek fulfilment outside of oneself.
- Faithful – Remaining loyal and steadfast.
- Fearful – Feeling or showing anxiety.
- Feminine – Having qualities traditionally associated with women.
- Friendly – Kind and pleasant towards others.
- Gritty – Tough minded; showing courage and resolve.
- Greedy – Showing intense or selfish desire for more.
- Guilty – Feeling often like you’ve done wrong or failed.
- Honest – Being truthful and sincere.
- Hypochondriac – Being abnormally anxious about health.
- Hypocritical – Acting as if one’s beliefs are more noble than they are.
- Impulsive – Acting without forethought or planning.
- Independent – Not swayed by other people’s control.
- Innovative – Original and creative in one’s thinking.
- Insecure – Having low self-esteem; uncertain about oneself.
- Intellectual – Focusing on reasoning and objective understanding.
- Introverted – Tending to seek fulfilment from within oneself.
- Inventive – Able to create new things and think originally.
- Ironic – Sarcastic and prone to use of irony.
- Irresponsible – Not taking accountability for one’s actions.
- Lazy – Unwilling to work or use energy.
- Lively – Full of life; active and outgoing.
- Loyal – Showing firm and consistent support and allegiance.
- Manipulative – Exercising unscrupulous control over others.
- Masculine – Having qualities traditionally associated with men.
- Modest – Unassuming in estimating ones abilities or achievements.
- Moody – Proneness to sudden and unpredictable mood-swings.
- Negative – Prone to negative emotions and expectations.
- Negligent – Failing to take proper care of one’s duties.
- Nervous – Easily agitated or alarmed.
- Neurotic – Being sensitive, obsessive or anxious.
- Obsessive – Being unable to let go of things, people or ideas.
- Open – Open to and excited by new experiences.
- Organised – Being structured and systematic.
- Outgoing – Friendly and confident in social interactions.
- Oversensitive – Excessively sensitive to e.g., criticism.
- Passive – Accepting events without response or resistance.
- Pompous – Affectedly grand, solemn or self-important.
- Positive – Prone to positive emotions and expectations.
- Precise – Exact, accurate and detail oriented.
- Pretentious – Attempting to impress by misleading others.
- Quiet – Mild and reserved by nature.
- Rational – Tending to use reason and logic.
- Reckless – Heedless of danger or consequences.
- Reserved – Slow to reveal emotions or opinions.
- Resilient – Quickly able to withstand or recover from difficulties.
- Risk-taking – Undaunted by uncertainty.
- Self-assured – Confident in one’s abilities or character.
- Sentimental – Prone to feelings of tenderness, sadness or nostalgia.
- Sensation-seeking – Pursuing new sensations, feelings, experiences.
- Sensitive – Easily distressed/quick to pick up on others feelings.
- Shallow – Not showing or capable of serious thought.
- Shy – Nervous or timid in the company of others.
- Sincere – Free from pretence or deceit.
- Sloppy – Careless and unsystematic.
- Sly – Cunning and deceitful of nature.
- Sociable – Friendly and willing to engage with others.
- Solitary – Tending to live and enjoy being alone.
- Stable – Not easily upset or disturbed.
- Superficial – Lacking depth of thought or character.
- Talkative – Fond of or given to talking.
- Tense – Unable to relax due to nervousness, anxiety.
- Thorough – Focussed on and attentive to details.
- Tough – Able to endure hardship or pain.
- Unconventional – Not sticking to what is generally done or believed.
- Unimaginative – Stolid, dull and not prone to using imagination.
- Unsympathetic – Not friendly or cooperative; unlikeable.
- Withdrawn – Not wanting to communicate with others.
List of Personality Types ExamplesThe number of personality types and their definitions is as varied as the number of personality type tests in existence (i.e., thousands). Here are some links to descriptions of some popular ones (Note: See above re the drawbacks of personality type theories. Popular does NOT mean useful or accurate):
- MBTI Personality Type Descriptions;
- Enneagram Personality Type Descriptions;
- DISC Personality Type Descriptions;
- True Colors Personality Type Descriptions;
- The KTS Personality Type Descriptions; and
- Zodiac (Astrological) Personality Type Descriptions.
Personality at Home and At WorkTLDR; Personality is complex, personality theories are just that (theoretical) and personality tests have huge flaws. Even now, the debate is still out on whether seasoned factor analysis personality models like the big five can really measure an individual’s personality or predict things like emotional stability, life outcomes or lifespan. Does that mean talking about personality is a total waste of time? Or that nobody should ever take a personality test again? No it doesn’t. Here are some thoughts on how to use and not use these ideas day-to-day.
How to Use Personality Tests At Home/WorkThere are several great reasons to take a personality test:
- For fun – who doesn’t want to know what Harry Potter character they’re most like;
- To help you get to know yourself better; and
- As a great starting point for discussions around likes, dislikes and preferences with your friends, colleagues and loved ones.
How NOT to Use Personality Tests At Home/WorkExcept when people started to buy too strongly into the validity or reliability of the results. Because here’s the thing aside from the MAJOR flaws of self-report personality tests we’ve already talked about…. Being human is complicated. Sometimes I love nothing more than the energy of working with others. Other times I want nothing but silence and solitude. And no personality test (trait or type) can accurately capture that paradox. We love books and stories with dynamic characters whose perspective and lives change dramatically. There’s a good chance you’re reading this article because you believe in the power to change yourself. And yet it’s incredible how many people (often the same people) are prepared to blindly cram themselves into (and refuse to come out of) an arbitrary box just because a piece of paper said they have X or Y personality. Enjoy personality tests. Use them to understand yourself better. Use them to start conversations. But DON’T use them for life-changing decision making or as excuses to not do the right thing or to avoid taking responsibility for your life. Don’t buy a pig at the market and then try to ride it like a horse. Or you’re likely to end up getting hurt.
A Quick Note on Personality DisordersThough personality and personality disorders are loosely linked, they’re not the same thing. According to DSM-5 (the latest guide to assessing and diagnosing psychological disorders from the American Psychiatric Association) a personality disorder is: An enduring and inflexible pattern of long duration leading to significant distress or impairment and is not due to use of substances or another medical condition. And the same manual lists 10-major personality disorders: paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent and obsessive–compulsive. Assessing and treating these conditions is a complex (and imprecise) science. STAY WELL AWAY from DIY personality tests that claim to be able to diagnose them. There are still only tenuous links between even the most studied personality theories and their ability to reliably predict personality disorders. If you’re worried that you or a loved one might be suffering from a personality disorder you should seek help from a qualified clinician.
Can You Change Your Personality?One question I get a lot is whether or not I think it’s possible to change one’s personality. My short answer is yes. For a longer answer, with simple step-by-step instructions, check out this post. Despite their drawbacks, there’s some evidence from longitudinal studies of consistency across personality trait tests among individuals over time. This is not evidence for personality being static. It’s evidence for most people not knowing how or making very little effort to change how they think, act or feel. If you’re serious about changing your personality, go check out that article and email me if you have any questions.
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