Outline for april 14, Club of Amsterdam


Personality types and your brain

The human mind is a complex machine with according to some just some hardware-software and wetware, others see quite a virtual part to it. Mind and brain are (at least) related, and it has been a fascination of psychologist (and HR specialists) to see how a person uses his or her brain, how that relates to thinking, feeling and acting, especially in relation to others and the world.

We like systems and classifications, so many typologies have evolved over time, from the Ayurvedic, the astrological and Greco-Egyptian four temperaments or humours, which Galen named "sanguine", "melancholic", "choleric" and "phlegmatic" to the modern Big Five, the MBTI, the left/right hemispheric brain model, the now discarded MacLean Triune Brain theory, the A/B type of leader/follower and more esoteric forms like the enneagram. In contemporary psychology the most accepted is, apart from Right/Left separation,  the "Big Five" factors (or Five Factor Model; FFM) model of personality, with five broad domains or dimensions of personality, openness (intellect), conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN, or CANOE if rearranged). The neuroticism factor is sometimes referred to as "emotional stability". These factor are clusters of more specific traits that correlate together. For example, extraversion includes such related qualities as gregariousness, assertiveness, excitement seeking, warmth, activity. There is no underlying neurological or systematic model, it is a language-based factor-analysis statistical model, like the somewhat more elaborate 16 Personality Factors, by psychologist Raymond Cattell. The Big Five approach does have a positive correlation with the DSM-IV and all five factors show an influence from both heredity and environment around the 50/50 nature/nurture level. The HEXACO model of personality structure summarizes human personality characteristics in terms of six dimensions, or factors: Honesty-Humility (H), Emotionality (E), Extraversion (X), Agreeableness (A), Conscientiousness (C), and Openness to Experience (O). Higher levels of Honesty-Humility and Agreeableness factors are believed to represent two different aspects of a tendency toward reciprocally altruistic behavior, whereas higher levels of Emotionality represents a tendency toward kin altruistic behavior (and toward personal and kin survival more generally).

In the sixties it was asserted that personality tests could not predict behavior with a significant correlation as attitudes and behavior were not stable, but varied with the situation. Predicting specific behavior by personality tests was then considered to be impossible, but later it was accepted that  patterns of behavior by aggregating would yield some insights and that a “personality” does in fact exist.

It was Jung who, based on his observations in therapy, came up with another classification or typology of thinking styles, which was later more or less confirmed by brain-research. His four basic criteria in two axes: Sensing - Intuition (which turned out to be more willing) and Thinking - Feeling can be mapped on the neocortex, and his Extraversion - Introversion adds the behavioural component towards the world. It is remarkable, that the thinking-feeling opposites in brain-structure terms have no direct link (there are no diagonal links in the brain), Jung must have been a very good observer.

The Meyers-Briggs approach adds Judging/Perceiving to the Jung approach and is used a lot in de USA (military etc.) and has 16 types, but again no underlying model apart from Jung’s insights.

 A typology with a systematic approach is the enneagram, using body-heart-mind and extrovert-denial-introvert to give 9 types with a specific relationships between the types, based on the figure 7. It has been used by Gurdfieff  and Ichazo, but it’s origing remains clouded.

All these typologies have some value, it’s the practitioner who makes it useful, but it must be noted that there are two major problems;

First, typology tend to be used as a framing tool, narrowing the broad possibilities of each individual. In modern times, with large databases, this also has the danger of privacy degradation and profiling. Profiling is using various characteristics to identify narrow subgroups, like potential criminals, psychopaths, health-risks, insurance risks and is more and more used, in marketing, law&order and medicine. Social media, government databanks, email files, voice prints are potential “shadows” in this respect.

Secondly, none of the typologies gives a good account of the development of the psyche as one grows up and matures. The lack of a broad psychological or neurological model or theory that describes how we grow and change, how nature and nurture interact, how morality, ethics, happiness, ambition, belief, intention and ability are related to behaviour has lead to many books and great ideas, but not (yet) to a commonly accepted idea.

I believe, that we have to dig deeper into how the relation between inner world (our mind) and outer world (ideas & tangible or virtual and real) works, how mind and matter interact and how information in a very broad sense is what links us (I), all and everything together.

The question whether a typology can help identify more effective or more creative people in the working environment remains open, it helps as a tool in HR-work and for therapeutic analysis, but has no absolute validity.





Ir. Luc Sala is a physicist and economist by training, but worked all his life in the media as entrepreneur, television maker, writer, journalist and publisher. He has written thousands of articles and a dozen books about many subjects, from ICT to the esoteric. His fancy is understanding information and how humans use information. His website is www.lucsala.nl