In 2009, the BBC Lab UK launched The Big Personality Test to learn if our personalities shape our lives, or if our lives form us – and now the results are in.
Over a quarter of a million people responded to the test on BBC’s website, making it Britain’s biggest ever scientific personality study, and the scientists who scrutinized the data came up with some tantalizing findings.
Recently, Dr Jason Rentfrow of Cambridge University negotiated a major Oxford City traffic jam to explain some major discoveries to a keen audience at Science Oxford.
“Modern personality studies have moved away from the idea of unconscious effects and psychoanalysis to study personality traits,” he said.
“The idea of traits is the foundation of personality psychology today.”
As is many fields, modern technology has led to big advances for personality psychologists, as they now can evaluate vast amounts of data.
“About 20 years ago, a number of personality psychologists got together and compared the results of hundreds of studies with tens of thousands of participants,” Jason said.
“With desktop computers, they were able to come up with answers much more quickly than before.”
“This allowed psychologists to group personalities in five basic dimensions, and there was a consensus around what we now call the big five personality traits.”
“These are called the OCEAN of personality traits.”
The acronym OCEAN stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, and with these broad types, each of which includes many subsets of characteristics, psychologists can describe tendencies in personalities.
Among the participants in The Big Personality Test, the team found that people ranking high in Agreeableness were more likely to say they were healthier than other people .
This could be due to that the trait Agreeableness is linked with having close social relationships and access to emotional support – a crucial support factor in tough times.