Science and Personality Types

By Michael Edmonds 08/11/2010

Catching up on some back issues of the New Scientist I came across an article in the October 23rd edition (pg 14) looking at how certain personality characteristics correspond to an interest in science. Dutch researcher, Hanke Korpershoek and colleagues found that students who chose science subjects tended to be less extroverted, more conscientious and have a higher emotional stability than those who chose non-science subjects. The study involved almost 4000 students and examined their personalities and subject choices at the age of 15.

If one considers some of the demands in doing science well then it is not surprising that it might appeal more to students with high levels of conscientiousness. High emotional stability would also make it easier to weather the challenges that regularly occur in science. The tendency for introverts to look inwards, to be happy to work on their own and to think things through would also seem to favour an interest in things scientific.

While one must be careful not to pigeonhole students using psychological tests, I would suggest that there probably would be some benefit in the use of reputable testing to give students some career options to consider. Having myself completed the Myers Brigg personality type indicator five years ago, I was pleasantly surprised that my INTP (Introvert, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving) type suggested I would get the most satisfaction in a scientific or education setting.

I’ve always thought that good career advice in school was important, but never really considered that this might be assisted by psychological testing. I’d be interested in what others have to think. Is there a danger of pigeonholing students, or is this an opportunity to align a students natural abilities and tendencies with a suitable and satisfying career?

For anyone that is interested a description of the INTP personality type can be found at Descriptions of the other 15 Myers-Brigg personality types can be found through links at the top of the page.

0 Responses to “Science and Personality Types”

  • Interesting… I’d certainly agree that psychometric testing in school wouldn’t be a bad thing, particularly for the kids who aren’t sure what they want to do, and have been told they could ‘do anything’.

    I took up science and, while I loved it, I realised in my honours year that I didn’t necessarily have the attention span to be a research scientist. I did try out psychometric testing then, to figure out what to do next: amusingly, one of the suggestions was ‘microbiologist’, which was one of my majors!

    And I did love those li’l critters 🙂

    But yes – it’s definitely not a bad idea at all. On the other hand, though, there’s no reason that science couldn’t have more of (and benefit from), for example, extroverted people. One wonders if the psychological makeup of people in science is as function of how it’s been perceived previously, for example (kinda like the whole ‘why aren’t there more girls in science?’ thing).

    • Actually, from the description of the characteristics of conscientiousness, introversion and emotional stability, it must be a different test to the Myers-Brigg.
      The Myers-Brigg is just the personality test I am most familiar with. While the Myers-Brigg does have it’s detractors, I see nothing wrong with using it as a guide to encourage students to think about and reflect on their preferences. I would worry if it was used to label or pigeonhole them. Indeed the instructor on the course where I did my Myers Brigg (as well as other personality tests) pointed out that it was no designed to find what my “perfect job” was but rather to assist in reflecting on what types of career might be better than others.
      Of course there are other personality tests which may be more relevant.

  • I don’t know that I agree. Given the problems of splitting bell curves down the middle, qualities correlating and that the the distribution of types in a job is not siginficantly different to the distribution in a random sample of the population it seems like, in a case like the first post, you’re just using an ad hoc way to reduce job options. And I _guess_ one can make the pragmatic argument of it being a good way to start the conversation but in that case why not use something like astrology, numerology or palmistry? At least in the latter group you aren’t giving people the (possibly) incorrect impression it has scientific backing (given that MBTI is used unethically by some businesses in their hiring practices I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind). Just given that type system was developed first by someone (Jung) who swore off statistics because he couldn’t use it to prove astrology, going so far as to say “You can prove anything with statistics”, and then MBTI by someone with a background in political science, although this doesn’t make it wrong (I think the pieces linked speak as to that), it does set off a number of warning bells for me. To me specifically MBTI (I can’t speak as to other systems not knowing anything about them) seems to be astrology for the high-IQ crowd, but having said that I’m not a psychologist so treat what I say with appropriate saltiness. 😛

    (I forgot to include it but is also pretty good on the history)

    • I would agree with you that there is probably a lot of improper use of the Myers Brigg personality indicator, but I don’t think that eliminates the possiblility that it is a useful tool in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing.
      I, and most of my classmates, found the Myers Brigg quite useful, and I did go into the class with a reasonable amount of skepticism.
      I think suggesting it has similar value to palmistry and astrology is overstating some of the quite valid criticisms of its limitations.
      I must track down the full paper of the Danish research and see what test they did actually use.

      • HappyEvilSlosh

        Given that we disagree somewhat with regards to the Myers-Brigg, would you see merit in using a psychologically valid test with school children to help them consider possible career options?

  • I would be hesitant. I think there’s a real risk of it becoming limiting rather than illuminating. And I mean, I dunno if I see the point about doing it in high school. (Anecdotally naturally) _I_ had no idea what I wanted to do and I ended up fine.

    Other than that my partner, who unlike me actually has one of her BA majors in psychology :P, adds that aptitude, rather than just psychology, would also needed to be taken into account and you may not even know that yet.

    So I’ll finish by saying lets say someone did come up with a profiler and studies found if you profiled someone, didn’t tell them the results, and it was fairly accurate (this also might be difficult depending on the spread of possibilities MBTI, for example, seems to give) at predicting the jobs the people went into I _might_ be behind it, although it still sits a little uncomfortably with me. But as far as I’m aware no profiler has yet been shown to have that level of accuracy and until it does I would have to say I couldn’t endorse its use.

  • Actually thinking about it a little more (and sorry for spamming your post) aptitudes I might even consider a better thing to base it on than psychology as if you’re good at something you’ve probably put a lot of time into it and is likely an indicator that you’ve enjoyed it thus may hint at good career paths.