If you regularly read about psychological research, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of the Big Five personality scale. It’s currently the most popular, recognized way in the field to gauge people’s personalities, and it breaks those personalities down into five factors: extraversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and agreeableness.
One of the nice things about the Big Five is most of the terms lend themselves to fairly easy, intuitive understanding: When someone is agreeable or conscientious, we generally know what that means. But as Benjamin P. Chapman and Lewis R. Goldberg point out in a new paper in Personality and Individual Differences, this intuitive understanding can only get us so far — it doesn’t tell us all that much about what it actually means, in terms of day-to-day life, for someone to be low in neuroticism, or high in conscientiousness.
So Chapman and Goldberg decided to take an interesting approach to this subject. They found a data set from the ’90s in which some of the respondents both took a Big Five and also answered questions tied to the Act-Frequency Approach, designed to measure “mundane or incidental behaviors that make up everyday life.” The behaviors are all over the place: How often do you talk on a cell phone? Chew on a pencil? Use a sauna or a hot tub?
After employing some number-crunching, the researchers were able to come up with a list of which behaviors were most tied to which Big Five characteristics. You can view the entire table they published here, but to take a few examples: People high in agreeableness were more likely to sing in the shower; those high in conscientiousness were less likely to chew on a pencil (pencils don’t grow on trees); and those lower in neuroticism were less likely to diet to lose weight.
Perhaps the most interesting category, though, was intellect — which apparently is what some researchers call the openness-to-experience factor (side-gripe: this is a confusing double-name situation, since openness and intellect don’t intuitively feel like the same thing). Those higher in intellect, or openness to experience, were more likely to swear around other people, buy organic food, create art, eat spicy breakfasts, not follow a sports team closely, do car maintenance on their own, and to lounge around the house without clothes on.
It isn’t set in stone that if you score high on a given Big Five factor you’ll engage in certain behaviors, of course. But it’s still interesting to think about a personality test that can accurately gauge the likelihood you’ll live your life a certain way, especially when it comes to items, like driving while talking on the phone, or at a speed greater than 75 miles per hour (which those who are high in extraversion are more likely to do), that carry a health risk. Personality matters!