Who are you, really? The puzzle of personality
What an intriguing group of individuals you are ...
I've had the opportunity over the last couple of days
of listening in on some of your conversations
and watching you interact with each other.
And I think it's fair to say, already,
that there are 47 people in this audience,
displaying psychological symptoms I would like to discuss today.
And I thought you might like to know who you are.
But instead of pointing at you,
which would be gratuitous and intrusive,
I thought I would tell you a few facts and stories,
in which you may catch a glimpse of yourself.
I'm in the field of research known as personality psychology,
which is part of a larger personality science
which spans the full spectrum, from neurons to narratives.
is to make sense of how each of us --
Now, already you may be saying of yourself,
"I'm not intriguing.
I am the 46th most boring person in the Western Hemisphere."
"I am intriguing,
even if I am regarded by most people as a great, thundering twit."
But it is your self-diagnosed boringness and your inherent "twitiness"
that makes me, as a psychologist, really fascinated by you.
So let me explain why this is so.
One of the most influential approaches in personality science
and it aligns you along five dimensions which are normally distributed,
and that describe universally held aspects of difference between people.
They spell out the acronym OCEAN.
So, "O" stands for "open to experience,"
versus those who are more closed.
"C" stands for "conscientiousness,"
in contrast to those with a more lackadaisical approach to life.
"E" -- "extroversion," in contrast to more introverted people.
"A" -- "agreeable individuals,"
in contrast to those decidedly not agreeable.
And "N" -- "neurotic individuals,"
in contrast to those who are more stable.
All of these dimensions have implications for our well-being,
And so we know that, for example,
openness and conscientiousness are very good predictors of life success,
but the open people achieve that success through being audacious
and, occasionally, odd.
The conscientious people achieve it through sticking to deadlines,
to persevering, as well as having some passion.
Extroversion and agreeableness are both conducive
Extroverts, for example, I find intriguing.
With my classes, I sometimes give them a basic fact
that might be revealing with respect to their personality:
I tell them that it is virtually impossible for adults
to lick the outside of their own elbow.
Already, some of you have tried to lick the outside of your own elbow.
are probably those who have not only tried,
but they have successfully licked the elbow
of the person sitting next to them.
Let me deal in a bit more detail with extroversion,
because it's consequential and it's intriguing,
and it helps us understand what I call our three natures.
First, our biogenic nature -- our neurophysiology.
Second, our sociogenic or second nature,
which has to do with the cultural and social aspects of our lives.
And third, what makes you individually you -- idiosyncratic --
what I call your "idiogenic" nature.
One of the things that characterizes extroverts is they need stimulation.
And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting:
loud noises, parties and social events here at TED --
you see the extroverts forming a magnetic core.
The introverts are more likely to spend time in the quiet spaces
where they are able to reduce stimulation --
and may be misconstrued as being antisocial,
but you're not necessarily antisocial.
It may be that you simply realize that you do better
when you have a chance to lower that level of stimulation.
Sometimes it's an internal stimulant, from your body.
Caffeine, for example, works much better with extroverts than it does introverts.
When extroverts come into the office at nine o'clock in the morning
and say, "I really need a cup of coffee,"
particularly if the tasks they're engaged in --
and they've had some coffee --
introverts may give the appearance of not being particularly quantitative.
So here are the consequences that are really quite intriguing:
we're not always what seem to be,
and that takes me to my next point.
I should say, before getting to this,
something about sexual intercourse,
And so, if you would like me to --
on the frequency with which individuals engage in the conjugal act,
as broken down by male, female; introvert, extrovert.
oh, I'm sorry, that was a rat study --
do introverted men engage in the act?
Introverted women: 3.1.
Frankly, speaking as an introverted male,
They not only handle all the male extroverts,
they pick up a few introverts as well.
We communicate differently, extroverts and introverts.
Extroverts, when they interact,
want to have lots of social encounter punctuated by closeness.
They'd like to stand close for comfortable communication.
They like to have a lot of eye contact,
that they use more diminutive terms when they meet somebody.
So when an extrovert meets a Charles,
it rapidly becomes "Charlie," and then "Chuck,"
it remains "Charles," until he's given a pass to be more intimate
by the person he's talking to.
Extroverts prefer black-and-white, concrete, simple language.
Introverts prefer -- and I must again tell you
that I am as extreme an introvert as you could possibly imagine --
We prefer contextually complex,
Not to put too fine a point upon it --
we sometimes talk past each other.
I had a consulting contract I shared with a colleague
who's as different from me as two people can possibly be.
And thirdly, he's as extroverted a person as you could find.
I can't even have a cup of coffee after three in the afternoon
and expect to sleep in the evening.
We had seconded to this project a fellow called Michael.
And Michael almost brought the project to a crashing halt.
So the person who seconded him asked Tom and me,
"What do you make of Michael?"
Well, I'll tell you what Tom said in a minute.
He spoke in classic "extrovert-ese."
And here is how extroverted ears heard what I said,
which is actually pretty accurate.
I said, "Well Michael does have a tendency at times
of behaving in a way that some of us might see
as perhaps more assertive than is normally called for."
Tom rolled his eyes and he said,
I might gently allude to certain "assholic" qualities
but I'm not going to lunge for the a-word.
"If he walks like one, if he talks like one, I call him one."
Now is this something that we should be heedful of?
It's important that we know this.
Are we just a bunch of traits?
Remember, you're like some other people
How about that idiosyncratic you?
you may share your extroversion or your neuroticism.
But are there some distinctively Elizabethan features of your behavior,
that make us understand you better than just a bunch of traits?
Not just because you're a certain type of person.
I'm uncomfortable putting people in pigeonholes.
I don't even think pigeons belong in pigeonholes.
So what is it that makes us different?
It's the doings that we have in our life -- the personal projects.
You have a personal project right now,
you've been back three times to the hospital,
and they still don't know what's wrong.
And you'd been acting out of character.
You're very agreeable, but you act disagreeably
in order to break down those barriers of administrative torpor
to get something for your mom or your child.
They're where we enact a script
in order to advance a core project in our lives.
Don't ask people what type you are;
ask them, "What are your core projects in your life?"
And we enact those free traits.
but I have a core project, which is to profess.
And I can't wait to tell them about what's new, what's exciting,
what I can't wait to tell them about.
And so I act in an extroverted way,
because at eight in the morning,
the students need a little bit of humor,
a little bit of engagement to keep them going
But we need to be very careful
when we act protractedly out of character.
Sometimes we may find that we don't take care of ourselves.
I find, for example, after a period of pseudo-extroverted behavior,
I need to repair somewhere on my own.
As Susan Cain said in her "Quiet" book,
in a chapter that featured the strange Canadian professor
who was teaching at the time at Harvard,
I sometimes go to the men's room
to escape the slings and arrows of outrageous extroverts.
I remember one particular day when I was retired to a cubicle,
trying to avoid overstimulation.
And a real extrovert came in beside me -- not right in my cubicle,
but in the next cubicle over --
and I could hear various evacuatory noises,
which we hate -- even our own,
that's why we flush during as well as after.
And then I heard this gravelly voice saying,
If anything is guaranteed to constipate an introvert for six months,