Personality: What makes you the way you are? This is an article in The Independent (17 September 2007) by a psychologist, Daniel Nettle, author of Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are, published by Oxford University Press.
He writes: "In recent years there has been renewed interest in personality assessment. This has been greatly aided by the fact that there is now a consensus on what the key variables are." /// "over the last 20 years, many studies in several different cultures have shown that much of the systematic variation in personality can be reduced to scores along five dimensions (the "Big Five"): Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Openness. It's important to stress that these are all continuous dimensions. That is, there are no discrete "types" of person. Personality dimensions are like height or weight, which vary continuously, not like being a left- or a right-hand writer. Your score on one dimension is independent of your scores on all the others, so there is an almost infinite diversity of different overall profiles possible."
He claims: "Neuroscientists have shown, mainly using the increasingly sophisticated brain imaging techniques that are now available, that those simple pencil-and-paper personality scores correlate significantly with the size or neurophysiological reactivity of specific regions of the brain. Moreover, these turn out to be the very regions that other types of evidence (evidence from brain damage, for example) would lead us to expect would be involved in that particular area of psychological function. Geneticists, too, are getting involved in personality research. It has recently become apparent that more of the human genome differs from individual to individual, even within our rather genetically homogenous species, than was previously thought."
He also observes: "The other group of researchers getting interested in personality is evolutionists. /// The question for evolutionists is why you would find variation persisting in populations, when selection always reduces diversity in favour of the optimal type. In fact, it turns out that there are often multiple optima, even within a single habitat /// individuals with different qualities flourish in different contexts.
Introducing the Big Five:
To explain some natural event, such as a storm or earthquake or plague of locusts, human beings often found it natural to imagine other beings like themselves but much more powerful, hidden behind the scenes, manipulating nature in the same way that humans were able to manipulate nature to a smaller degree. These forces of nature became personified and grew into spirits and gods. Sometimes their actions could seem to be malicious, sometimes beneficent, thus leading to superstitious practices of offering gifts of food or precious possessions to these beings (for instance by throwing them into a bog or lake) or requesting help in the form of prayer. If these didn't work, as would often be the case, then it was thought that perhaps the person making the offering was unworthy, or exactly the right words or rituals had not been used.
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