Let me tell you what I know about temperament. These are some
basic parameters of personality that govern what people are like for
their entire lives. If you like people (as I do), try understanding
them (as I've tried my whole life). What I know is that looking
through this window gives more insight than anything else I know of: a
LOT of insight. And through this window you can see what kind of
partner to have in your life, and how to deal with conflict in your
It's not my invention, but it's a strong idea, and if it'll help you figure out who to be with and what not to fight about, it's worth your time.
Getting a handle on love and hate, on balanced partnership and conflict, means getting a handle on temperament: the psychological qualities that people keep over their lifetimes, that give them their own character and make them unique.
To understand temperament we must study Myers and Briggs. Shall I explain? Here's what I know.
About Myers and BriggsYou have heard of Sigmund Freud, right? Freud was the most famous psychologist of the last century; he was famous for saying, Children are also sexual, and Talk heals, and Let's not pretend life isn't complicated. More or less.
So Freud's most famous student, the golden boy, was Carl Jung. Jung was different from Freud mostly because he emphasized the spiritual aspect of psychology and therapy. Jung's most famous idea is called "Archetypes". That is, most normal people have a sort of standard personality type which they naturally grow into over life, and as a normal person, your job in psychotherapy and in growing up emotionally is to figure out what kind of person you are (becoming) and then become yourself, know yourself, accept your basic qualities and virtues, accept the fact that you are different from other people, that that's okay, and that other people are okay even being so different as they are from you. You become a self-actualized person. So that's Jung.
Now Jung had a couple of independent students, Mrs. Briggs and her daughter Mrs. Briggs Myers, who admired Jung's work on personality, starting in 1923. They came up with a questionnaire to sell to the US Army to fit people to their jobs based on their type of personality, pretty much following Jung's ideas. So that's the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, and you can pay money to take the test and figure yourself out with a certified tester.
Finally, a great teacher in California, David Keirsey, chewed on all this for thirty or forty years and eventually wrote Please Understand Me, II, which made it popular and accessible, and improved on his first version of the same title. I suggest you get a copy and read it, if you want to understand yourself. Anyway it's cheaper than years of psychoanalysis.
How I came to Myers and BriggsLet me tell you a little story about Keirsey's book. One day my fiancé said to me, When are you going to get a real job? or something. I retorted, Back Off, I'm an Inventor! (I guess having my own software company, paying my mortgage and my taxes and keeping it going for ten years didn't count as a real job. Go figure. Okay, maybe I'm a little sensitive about that. And you're right, we never got married.) So, anyway, two weeks later, she comes home from work and says to me, Hey check out this book by Keirsey; my friend at work says it'll change your life. So now I read the first chapter, and go take the questionnaire at the end, and count the little check marks and add up the numbers, and it comes up with these letters, E, N, T, P. And I go to the section on that code, ENTP, and it says (check this out!): Inventor. Wow. That was not a coincidence.
I have been curious about people since forever and after grad school I started informally to try to get some leverage on the problem of personality. I'll give you an example. In my copious reading, I found this quite excellent book on Birth Order, called Born to Rebel, written by an MIT sociologist full of statistics, and it showed me there is some information about personality in your birth order. Primarily that first-borns and non-first-borns are different in their attitude toward authority. Guess which group had the most positive things to say about socially progressive scientific revolutions over the last 250 years? Well, first-borns were generally most actively against scientific change and progress, let's just put it that way, and the later born you are, the more radical and pro-change you probably are too.
Do you know any? I sure do. There's something to it.
The other big result I got from Born to Rebel is that in families with a gender difference in the first two children, if the first is a girl and the second is a boy, then the girl develops a personality which -- relative to those traits which correlate statistically with gender -- is more "masculine" than the average male in the population. The boy, on the other hand, is more likely to be sensitive, social, able to talk about their feelings, etc., essentially a more feminine type. This rings a bell with me because I am in just such a pair; my older sister earns the income in her family while her husband does the emotional work in the family and takes care of the kids more. I, the 2nd born brother, am a relatively sensitive type of new age guy, I'm told. Also in my family these pairs occur with my father and aunt (yes, the Matriarch), a pair of my cousins (she has a Stanford MBA), and not one but TWO pairs of nieces and nephews. When I had a visit from an old friend with his two young kids, the four or five year old daughter who had been a sweet heart on our previous meeting a year before, now had a socially active little brother, and around the corner I heard her voice talking to him, and I felt chills; there was the dismissive dominant voice intonation, saying Your Creativity Doesn't Matter in just the melody of her voice. That was the sound of my big sister. Unbelievable. So there's something about early childhood influences that really help to form your personality. I am a believer in birth order.
But even so, the birth order facts are few and far between. It's pretty weak, it predicts a couple of things, anti- or pro-authority attitudes, and what helps to make certain women into dominant, masculine personalities.
But when I said I'm an Inventor, and Keirsey's questionnaire said You're an Inventor, that pretty much said it to me, that Myers and Briggs types really have a lot of leverage on the problem of what we humans are.
If you want to understand yourself, you should see what it says about you.
MBTI BasicsIt has four*, continuous** dimensions, which I will call volume control, universe, head/heart balance, and decision time.
** While these are easier to talk about in terms of binary dimensions, it is obvious, I think to all, that these are actually continua ranging from one extreme to another, and while many or most may be on one side or the other, there are also plenty of people who are somewhere in the middle, more or less.
Under volume control, you are "E" if you are more extroverted and social, but you are "I" if you are more quiet, introverted, reserved, or shy. So: Do you find yourself comfortably talking a lot to strangers at a party ("E") or does it take you more time to warm up ("I")? Do you sometimes dominate conversations ("E") or are you more of a listener ("I") than a talker ("E").
Under universe, you are "N" if you live in the inner universe of abstractions or intuitions, and you are "S" if you live in the outer universe of reality, the world of the senses, of concrete observeables, the times, names, places, things. So: Do you talk about principles and concepts and systems ("N") or intuitions about feelings and things that are hard to express (also "N") or do you talk in details about things you can see or sense, and think in terms of the down-to-earth facts of what's actually real ("S")?
Under head/heart balance, you are "T" if you live in your head as a Thinker, and "F" if you live more in your heart as a Feeler. So: Are you typically more tough-minded ("T")? Or more likely to feel your heart bleed("F")? Are you more committed to the idea that there's a right way to do things (your way, by default) ("T"), or do you assume that there are lots of ways to do things, so cooperating is the way to get things done ("F"). Will you lose sleep if you had to fire someone from their job ("F") or not be upset because some things have to happen that way ("T"). Are you more constantly aware of your feelings ("F") or do you often not even know what your feelings are ("T").
Finally, under decision time, do you like your decisions done already ("J") or do you like to decide them later ("P"). "J" for Judging, "P" for Perceiving. So do you like to have things laid out, planned, structured ("J")? Or open, spontaneous, and free ("P")? Do you look at your schedule full of activities and feel happy that you know what's coming ("J")? Or does your schedule make you feel less comfortable, perhaps constrained or suffering, seeing that you have fewer options and less flow or spontaneity ("P")? J's are schedulers, P's are non-schedulers.
MBTI Type Names, Statistics, Trends, and PrinciplesThis section is mostly social science and you might not be interested, so skip to the next section if you like.
So with four dimensions, and two values for each, there are 2*2*2*2=16 total types. Keirsey gives us 16 names for them, and also puts them into four primary groups, like the table below. If I think of this table as a sideways branching tree, with the root on the left and branches on the right, and if I add in the frequencies at each branch of the tree, it looks like this:
The table shows frequencies for each type in a 1998 MBTI sample of 3009 people. Five trends, exemplifying four principles, may be seen in these results.
First, "E" vs "I" makes only small differences in population frequency; matching pairs are almost always closer to each other than to any others.
Second, about three times more people are S than are N (73% to 27%). That makes sense; people that don't live in the real world probably don't survive or reproduce as easily in the real world, so natural selection could be the reason. Third, depending on the universe you live in, you are more likely to be scheduled or not. One trend here is that reality-based S people are more frequently found to be J/schedulers than P/non-schedulers (thus Guardians are almost twice as common as Artisans; 46% to 27%). The other trend is that the inner-worlds people ("N") are more likely to go with the flow and be non-schedulers ("P") than to be schedulers (so there are twice as many P Rationals as J Rationals, and more than three times as many P Idealists as J Idealists).
One might understand these two trends through a principle of contrast. That is, the generally unchanging quality of real things, the constancy of reality, leads reality-based people to more often be comfortable with the constancy of decisions already made. In contrast, the inconstancy of inner thoughts and feelings leads more of the inner-worlds "N" types to be comfortable with the flow and spontaneity of their thoughts and feelings -- and more so for feelings than thoughts. Thus the P trend for "N" folks is even stronger for NFs than for NTs. As we may all observe, feelings being often so changeable, even more so than thoughts, the feelings-based Idealists are even more commonly P than J in the population. So reality is more decisive in contrast to inner worlds which are more fluid.
Fourth and finally, then, there is a trend that for each group that splits into T versus F subgroups, the F subgroup is larger than the T subgroup. So there are a lot more NF Idealists than NT Rationals, and within both the SJ Guardian and the SP Artisan groups, the F subgroup is much bigger than the T subgroup. In each of these three cases, the F subgroup is larger, by six or seven percent of the total population, than the T subgroup.
More F's than T's is a trend that surprises me (I'm a T), but is consistent with the gregarious nature of the human species. "F" means both cooperativeness and being feelings-based. One can also strongly argue the value of feelings over thinking: feelings are what matter most, after all. (As a thinker, that's about all I have to say about it!)
One may also strongly argue for the value of cooperativeness: Humans work with and for and around each other, more or less together, for most of their lives, and they receive most of their survival support through their social support systems. Family and the money relationships of work (money in) and shopping (money out) are all absolutely dependent on some form of social connection. So the human species might well be genetically selected for being cooperative ("F"), so as to function well together. And although thinking ("T") adds value to the population too, feelings based people are clearly the reason we are successful social animals and the reason that societies around the world actually work. Otherwise, of course, many more of us might be like bull elephants out in the bush, with solitary and independent lives, living off the land, at a comfortably great distance from one another, or less sympathetically, like Ted Kazinsky, the paradigm of the anti-social human.
If you assume these four principles (E=I, S>N, F>T, and S->(J>P) & N->(P>J)), the frequency trends in the human personality types according to the Myers/Briggs/Jung/Keirsey system are all predicted and explained. You, dear reader, could dismiss these ruminations, saying that here there are just as many facts (4 trends) as explanations (4 principles), so I haven't added anything to our understanding in this discussion. Or you could notice that there are 16 different frequency counts being explained by four principles, each expressed at the right level of generality, and thus reducing many facts to few. And therefore that the discussion has something to add to our knowledge of the human species. Keirsey really gets the credit, for picking out the tree structure of groups and subgroups, the way it is organized in the above table, so that the patterns can be seen. I'd say it this way: If Keirsey takes *ALL* the credit, then these four principles add nothing, but if not, then these four principles both reduce many facts to few explanations and also validate and support Keirsey's thinking.
Do I need to emphasize that these principles are not categorical, but statistical? That they are general influences, rather than absolute or governing laws? Obviously there are people of all types, each as normal as any other in a balanced population of talkers and listeners, of more feelers and fewer thinkers (but still plenty), of more people who are reality based and fewer (but still plenty) in the inner worlds, and of more deciders in the real world and more explorers in the inner world.
Big 5Some statisticians got into personality theory and used a tool called factor analysis to divide up the personality-related lexicon of English. They asked a bunch of people to rate other people using some set of words with questions like, on a scale of 0 to 7 how 'obnoxious' is this person. After thousands of people rating thousands of other people using thousands of words, they used factor analysis to see if there may be underlying unobserved dimensions that can be used to add up in an estimated rating across all the data to the actual data they found.
The results are 5 dimensions they labelled Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism to form an acronym, OCEAN. In this theory individuals are then modelled as some linear combination of these five dimensions.
So there are two caveats to this work. First, the information is people rating other people using words. Obviously this accesses information about how people instrumentally represent other people. When you use words to describe someone, you are instrumentally representing them, and using your tools to characterize what they are like, to work or play, in social operational life. Similarly, yes, if you want to push a barrel up a slope, your instrumental understanding has to do with how heavy is it and how round is it, not what is inside it, so your factor analysis about barrels would not say much about their contents. As it turns out, people are not actually entirely reducible to barrels, even when they are somewhat understood by other people for the purpose of interacting with them. People have different stuff on the inside. Just ask a man and a woman in a relationship whether they understand the true interior life of their opposite number, or not.
So for example, the Big 5 Extraversion-Introversion dimension is, I'd say, more about volume control and how much talking you do, how you interact with others and how they see you operationally in social interaction with them, more than it is about interior processing, such as, Do you rest, recover, and gain energy through solitude as opposed to through talking with others, which some claim is the essence of the Myers Briggs or perhaps Jungian Extraversion/Introversion dimension. These are correlated, but not the same. The Big 5 system loses the information about what's going on inside a person. Well, how surprising is that, it also loses the whole idea that people can live in inner universes of abstraction and intuition (Universe, 'N') and that that is an important dimension of long term personality. So both those losses are understandable based on what Big 5 research is based on, instrumental data; unfortunately it's not a big win for the Big 5, in my book.
The second caveat might be my own ignorance, but given that the factor analysis methodology uses a linear combination of inferred underlying factors, they are to be considered independent and their power is strongest in a 50-50 split. But first, Universe or N/S is a 27/73 split, so it isn't as highly valued even if strong, and second the significance of the other dimensions is dependent on it, as discussed above. A mixed linear and multiplicative model, using data not guaranteed to exclude the outcome, might reveal deeper patterns than the linear Big 5 sum. That is, better methodology and a better model might resolve these issues; until then we may be stuck with alternative models, with their different, respective, appropriate uses.
To compare the models, Big 5 includes a volume control and head/heart balance dimension quite like those of Myers Briggs, but removes the the "Universe" or N/S dimension, and inserts a neuroticism dimension, and finally it divides the MB dimension of decision time, into two which it calls Openness and Conscientiousness. Decision time (MB P vs J) is about a temperamental preference that decisions be made already (J), or that decisions be made in the future (P). Big 5's Openness dimension correlates with MB P, since obviously openness to experience requires postponement of decision since more experience is unnecessary once a decision is made. Big 5 O and MB P/J are almost the same dimension, viewed from this angle. Big 5's Conscientiousness dimension, on the other hand, only makes sense in the context of commitments: decisions already made. Thus if P/J is represented as positives in two different dimensions rather than positive and negative on a single dimension, then in this respect Big 5 can be seen as a subtle elaboration of Myers Briggs.
Finally, Big 5 is distorted by moral judgement. Each dimension has a "Good" end and a "Bad" end, according to the input data, because people judge others most fundamentally with negative or non-negative judgement. The case for four of the five is clear. Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness are all unambigious virtues. Neuroticism is the opposite, but a virtue times -1 is still a dimension of virtue, no different but for a relabelling of the endpoints. Whereas extraversion might seem to be morally neutral; still, my introverted family members and loved ones have uniformly declared their experience of prejudice against them and their struggle with having their introversion be taken positively in society. This may be cultural; would you say Japan is culturally introverted? It may not be unreasonable to assert that in our society there exists a general, vernacular theme of negative moral judgement against introversion. If so, all the Big 5 dimensions are moral dimensions, consistent with the source of the data: human judgements of others. It is no surprise if moral judgement colors human judgement. Yet, Is that what we want to use to characterize all people, dimensions in which half of all people for half of the qualities that as a population they have, they are basically bad for the way they are? Seems a bit questionable.
Big 5 is a reification of the vernacular moral judgements people make of others. It's not the final result of ultimate science if you want to know about the temperament and character of yourself and others. Big 5 describes the space of moral judgements made by humans about humans: a superficial and instrumentally skewed subset perspective rather than an inclusive or deeply-penetrating view of the heart of humanity. If you want to know how people are likely to judge you, great, find your place in the Big 5 space. But if you want to know about your true inner character, your overriding maturational and growth directions of unfolding and of actualization, then maybe Big 5 won't quite help that much, and you could look at some different, maybe some deeper, things like MB also. Just my opinion.
I myself would have added a dimension for the degree of personal actualization, or conversely of brokenness as a person, where addicts would be low and saints high, to a richer system. This separates out the negativity aspect within all the Big 5 dimensions into a single negative dimension, and instead of making it an external moral judgement quality, it identifies this with the inner growth (or lack thereof) of a person. Perhaps this view suffers from an excess of political correctness, but the opposite, that half of everybody is bad, seems an excess of political hostility toward the species. I tend to consider that if half the species has some quality, then it's not a fact about their bad character, but a fact about the variation within the species. If some dogs lick their balls because they can, it doesn't make them a bad dog, but simply a dog. Big 5 makes us out as bad dogs. I don't think so.
Here's maybe why. Big 5 suffers from a thick layer of attribution bias, the normal human psychological view that negative qualities of others are more typically characterological, whereas of oneself are more typically situational. All the judgements which are input to the factor analysis are characterological judgements of others. Sure explains things.
So I'm not ready to give up on Myers and Briggs. Anyway I have an independent reason to accept it: it called me Inventor, just after I did so myself. Think about it yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Lessons from Myers and BriggsSo far I've been acting like a salesman for Myers and Briggs. Yes, I think you can get some value out of it, if you are interested in understanding things.
But my point here is to go beyond the rationale and the power of it, and just point out some non-obvious but very strong lessons that we ought to learn from this.
How much complaining, fighting, criticizing, negativity, and social misery comes from the Myers Briggs dimensions? When two people are in conflict, how often is it due to a difference between their personality types that is one of these dimensions? It's a lot. I hear a lot of heavy advice to non-schedulers about how they should make schedules and lists and live a more structured life. I hear a lot of (lighter) opposing advice from non-schedulers suggesting that happiness may be found through openness to possibilities. These are P and J people each telling the other that the other should be like him or herself. I see a lot of issues that never get discussed, but simmer unresolved. These are very often between "I" people who don't talk about the problem. Avoiders. "E" people fight over who gets to talk. Conversation-dominators. Balance! N and S people don't much understand each other. There's often a lot of contempt in dialog between these types: N people think that S people don't have a brain, don't have a concept or an intuition, can't relate to what's important. S people think that N people are not in the real world, couldn't survive on their own, are too absent minded or too airy-fairy to even be in the room here with them. "The devil is in the details, and it's all details" is an S comment, telling everyone to be like them. To me, these differences are the majority of human conflicts. Maybe it's 85%. What frequency do you put on it? Notice the issues you see people arguing about, and see if you can understand them in terms of some of these Myers Briggs dimensions. In general, people are always telling other people to be like them.
How come you can't be more sensitive (F)! complains an F daughter to her T mother. Come down from the clouds (N) and do your homework (J)! says the SJ parent to their NP child. Why won't you say something! says the E partner to the I partner. Bast*rd, always acting like I don't have anything to say, thinks the I partner about the E partner.
I hear these issues come up all the time. I really do think it's way more than half of all human conflict. And I am not immune; I still have an emotional reaction to my sister's dismissive intonation, even when it comes from the mouth of a five year old girl.
But if I can try to understand a conflict or difficulty between people as involving one of these issues (E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P), then I can see it as being part of that person's nature, part of their long-term temperament and personality, which more than a hundred million other people around the world share with them. And that means they are perfectly normal, even if they are totally different from me. And that I have no cause to complain or get upset or angry about them being that way, because a matter of temperament is essentially a matter of fate. You are what you are, and nothing is really going to change it. So give up the complaining, fighting, and misery.
The real lessonGive each other acceptance.