The ABCD’s of CB5T

Today’s post is about the Cybernetic Big Five Theory (CB5T) theory of personality structure [pdf and pdf] as proposed by Colin DeYoung et al.

Colin and colleagues have proposed a structure of personality that is hierarchical and is build around the popular Big Five traits of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness/Intellect, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness.

English: A diagram to illustrate the layout of...

English: A diagram to illustrate the layout of a hierarchical organisation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The top level of the hierarchy consists of metatraits of Stability and Plasticity also called Alpha and Beta. Stability is related to the shared variance between Neuroticism, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness while Plasticity consists of Extraversion and Openness/Intellect. Stability refers to the fact that one has consistency of goals, interpretations and strategies; someone with low Stability will easily abandon goals etc due to internal or external disturbances. Plasticity refers to the fact that any dynamical system needs to also explore its environment for new goals, interpretations and strategies. Someone rigid with low Plasticity would lose on opportunities that are present in the uncertain environment out there.

At the intermediate level of hierarchy lie the Big Five each consisting of exactly two aspects. The aspects may be further made up on n number of facets. We will mostly not go beyond the aspects and focus more on the five Big Five traits and the 10 aspects. I have previously too blogged about CB5T and readers may find it interesting to read that post to see how my thoughts have evolved.

Cybernetics thinks in terms of goal driven self-organizing systems and that is the framework that I will be using here. I have blogged previously about there being different types of goals:  approach goals, Avoidance goals, learning goals, performance goals and differences in conceptualizing a goal as either approach or avoidance, learning or performance has different implications that are well established.

I think in terms of underlying Psychological / brain based systems and believe that we can decompose the human systems into these subsystems:

  1.  The Avoidance System: Goals are conceptualized as avoidance goals i.e a reference state that is to be avoided is on top of the mind. This system is sensitive to cues of threats and punishments and uncertainty. Punishment is something that happens when avoidance is not successful and threat is any impending punishment. The variation in parameters of this system lead to variation in Neuroticism trait in humans. Serotonin system is typically found to be associated with his subsystem. Avoidance can be further be of two types:
    1. BIS (behavioral Inhibition System):   Passive avoidance whereby whenever there is a conflict between an avoidance goal and an approach goal, the approach goal/actions are inhibited. This aspect is also called Withdrawal and is associated with depression and Anxiety.
    2. FFFS (Flight-Fight-Freeze-Faint system) : Active avoidance or escape where one exhibits anger or rage or panic but is geared to do something about the situation. This aspect is also called Volatility and is associated with anger disorders.
  2. The Approach system: Goals are conceptualized as approach goals i.e a rewarding stimuli that has to be pursued and achieved.  This system is sensitive to cues of reward and associated with the dopamine system. This is further made up of:
    1. BAS (behavioral activation system) : This is the ‘wanting’ system as opposed to the ‘liking’ system, a difference that was first proposed by Berridge.  This is more directly related to dopamine and is also called Assertiveness aspect and composed of drive etc.
    2. Pleasure system : This pleasure system is related to opioid systems and is related to the ‘liking’ system or the hedonistic pleasure one feels when consummating a goal.  It is related to Enthusiasm aspect and marked by positive emotions, sociability etc.
  3. The Attend (Learning) system: Any dynamic system is sort of torn between whether to learn more about the system to increase it performance in future or to act in such a way as to maximize its performance in present. This system, which is marked by openness/ intellect, is a cognitive exploration system associated with the dopamine system. This is further made up of:
    1.  Imagination System: This is related to the openness aspect and related to apophenia or psychosis proneness. The key mechanisms here is finding patterns and correlations between sensory and perceptual inputs.
    2. Intelligence system: This is related to the Intellect aspect and related to things like working memory capacity. The key mechanisms here are finding causal and logical relations between semantic and abstract information.
  4. The Achievement (Performance) system: This system is focused around achieving long term goals by focusing in the here and now and following rule and procedures. This system, marked by Conscientiousness, is further made up of two parts:
    1. The grit system: This is related to Industriousness aspect whereby one overcomes distractions in the service of non-immediate goals. This is probably a top down process based around inhibiting distracting stimuli.
    2. The discipline system: This is related to Orderliness aspect whereby one wants to tend towards perfectionism and following routines and self made or other made rules to achive efficiency.
  5. The Attachment (Interpersonal) system:  This system is focused around increasing cooperation and ensuring altruism among man, the social animal. The dysfunctions of this system lead to the Dark Tetrad of personality. This system is marked by Agreeableness trait and is made of two parts:
    1. The caring system: This is related to the bottom up processes of compassion and caring built on the foundations of empathy. The Compassion aspect is relevant here with its opposite pole being callousness. The opposite pole would be characterized by sadism and psychopathy.
    2. The social system: This is related to the top down process of curbing anti-social impulses and tendencies etc by reigning in those baser instincts. The Politeness aspect and its opposite pole that of exploitativeness is relevant here.  The opposite pole would be characterized by  Machiavellianism and Narcissism.

Overall, this CB5T layout maps well to the ABCDS framework.

Neuroticism, or its opposite emotional stability is related to Affective stability.

Extraversion is related to Behavioral exploration.

Openness/Intellect is related to Cognitive exploration.

Conscientiousness is related to Motivational/ Dynamic stability.

Agreeableness is related to Social stability.

Together , the ABCD(S) model and the CB5T model make immense sense and provide a good way to characterize the personality structure.

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