Tag Archives: personality

The Algorithm of The Brain

I know that the computer metaphor does not do justice to the brain, but can we conceivably come up with a universal algorithm in how the brain processes stimuli and reacts/responds to them? Further, can we then tie up those algorithmic sub-modules to actual neural subsystems/structures and neurotransmitter systems as substantiated in the physical brain?

That is what I intend to do today, but first let us list our very basic algorithm of how the brain processes stimuli and responds to it. Consider it like a flowchart with each step there being made a decision. At each step that is numbered 1, nothing further happens; at each step numbered 2, further 2 choices are available.

  1. Stimuli comes!
    1. Ignore?
    2. Attend?
      1. Unimportant?
      2. Important?
        1. Default response?
        2. Choose response?
          1. Unfeasible?
          2. Feasible?
            1. Execute response!

Now, let me unpack this a bit. The first step for the purposes of this post is an incoming stimulus. When the stimuli comes we (the brain) can be in different levels of alertness and lookout for incoming stimuli; thus the brain may miss or detect the stimuli. We may be in neuro-vegetative states like sleep and feeding and may be relaxing and miss on both threatening as well rewarding stimuli. Or we can be in a vigilant mode either on lookout for danger or say alert while ready to pounce on prey. A Vigilance system can be reliably conjectured to underlie this and indeed Locus Coerelus- Nor epinephrine (LC-NE) system may just be exactly that system that makes us alert and inhibits neuro vegetative states. Another brain structure relevant here is Amygdala which is popularly known for its role in detecting threatening stimuli, but is involved in pleasant stimuli detection too. Hypersensitiveness of this system can conceivably lead to anxiety at one end (constant lookout for trouble) and addiction (constant lookout for possible gains) at the other. One can also extend this line of reasoning and posit that differential sensitivity of this system may underlie the personality trait of Neuroticism.

Once you have noticed or attended to a stimuli what next? Not every stimuli is salient or important. The next step for the brain is to identify whether the stimuli is indeed important from a functional point of view- whether it is an indicator of, or an actual, reward or punishment. Here comes the incentive salience function of Dopamine. Dopamine neurons in say Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc) area code for whether the incoming stimuli is important or not (see work of Berridge et al) ; if its not important nothing needs to be done; however if it is important and consequential than an appropriate response needs to be executed. Activity has to ensue. Please note that though NAcc is typically thought of as part of a reward circuit, it is equally involved in determining salience of an aversive stimuli. Hypersensitiveness of this incentive salience system can conceivably lead to depression at one end (where all stimuli are important , but negatively toned or aversive) and mania at the other end (where all stimuli are important, but perceived as positively valenced). One can also extend this line of reasoning and associate differential sensitivity in this system to trait of Extraversion.

Once you have determined that the stimuli is important and needs responding, how do you determine the right response? One effortless and ‘hot’ way is to use the default response – if someone threatens you, punch them in the face! The other, more effortful, and ‘cold’ way is to choose a response from the response sets that have been activated or by overriding the default response and selecting something better. This is the selfregulation system. As a brain region, I’m sure ACC has a major role to play here- detecting conflicts between responses and also inhibiting dominant default response. In terms of neurotransmitters I see a role for Serotonin here – regulating the response, especially emotional and instinctual response. Hypersensitiveness of this system may lead to obsessions (rigid thinking) and compulsions (rigid acting) and differential sensitivity in the system may be associated with Conscientiousness.

Now, that you/ your brain has chosen the most appropriate response, one further step needs to be executed before you actually execute the action. Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the Value -Expectancy model of motivation: Value was coded by dopamine neurons using incentive salience, what about expectancy? Basically the V-E model posits that an action will be taken only if you value the outcome and are reasonably sure that you can act in such a way as to achieve the outcome. Neurons in PFC may conceivably code for outcome prediction. PFC is important to predict whether a particular course of action will lead to desired results. It is also conceivable that dopamine neurons may play an important role here. The basic idea is to predict whether you can execute the response and receive the reward or avoid the punishment and only then if the action is feasible, then execute the action. This outcome prediction module I think recruits PFC to a large extent. Hypersensitivity of this system may lead to ADHD and differential sensitivity associated with Openness to experience.

To me the above looks very neat and logical and elegant and I would love your comments regarding the same and also any contradictions you see in literature or any additional thoughts you may have.

The Four Needs Theory: Building on McClelland

McClelland had formulated a theory of three basic needs: Need for achievement, need for affiliation and need for power. He had related this to work context, though these needs are generally applicable. While the need for achievement is all about accomplishments, be it in comparison to other people,  or in comparison to one’s own standards,  need for affiliation is about relating with others and being a part of a group; while need for power is  the need to influence others or the group in a desire to make an impact.

In the last post we had seen that achievement goals/ needs can be bifurcated into Performance needs (looking good and comparing with others) and Mastery needs (getting better and comparing with oneself); both of which can be further bifurcated along approach/ avoidance lines. This post will build from there and include Affiliation and Power needs in the framework.

A survey of literature shows that Affiliation needs can also be bifurcated into two correlated factors: one factor is the need for intimacy and can be considered approach directed, in the sense we are motivated by the hope of achieving interpersonal closeness. The other may be be called need for affiliation-avoidance type, which is primarily motivated by a fear of rejection; you want to become a part of the group as you fear that if the group rejects you, you are no good – so you want to avoid being rejected by the group to maintain your self image and hence are motivated to seek contact. Taken together these needs for affiliation ensure cooperation in the group.

Affiliation needs have their root in childhood attachment. Securely attached people have a affiliation- approach need and seek intimacy. Insecurely attached seek affiliation from a fear of rejection.

Another survey of literature on power needs shows that Power needs are also of two types:  Personal power (where the focus is on personal strength and avoiding appearing weak) ans institutional power (where power is sought to make an impact).

To sum up, there are four primary needs or motives, each with two sub types:

  1.  Performance : need for results. Success orientation.  Breeds competition.  Corresponding SDT need – Autonomy.
    1. performance-avoidance: comparison with others (either just ahead of us, or miles ahead of us, the former case is of keeping with the Jonses, the latter case is to explain our inevitable failures) .
    2. performance- approach: comparison with others who are somewhat better than us, goal is of medium challenge.
  2. Mastery: need for self improvement. Happiness orientation. Breeds Excellence. Corresponding SDT need – mastery.
    1.   mastery-avoidance: comparison with an ought self guide (either insignificant ought discrepancy or a major gaping hole in ought self guide, the latter to justify the gap and our failure to bridge it)
    2. mastery- approach: comparison with an ideal self guide  – something within reach and inspiring.
  3. Affiliation: need for closeness and group membership: Morality orientation. Breeds cooperation. Corresponding SDT need – relatedness.
    1. affiliation- avoidance: fear of rejection instrumental here. One approaches either a very easily available person (dependent/ clingy) or a very distant person (avoidant)
    2. affiliation- approach: hope of acceptance is instrumental here. Ones target is someone who is decently difficult to  approach (securely attached)
  4.   Power: need for influence and impact: Meaning orientation. Breeds leadership. Corresponding need : Purpose.
    1. power- avoidance: fear of personal weakness drives this. One either seeks power over easily dominated person or over an indomitable person/ group.
    2. power- approach: drive to make an impact.  One seeks power over a group for the benefit of the group.

Of course, the above needs can be correlated to personality traits. In the last post we saw correlations iwth OCEAN for the Achievement needs. We will refer to the HEXACO model in this post:

Performance- avoidance: E (Emotionality)

Performance- approach: C (Conscientiousness)

Mastery – avoidance (eXtraversion)

Mastery – approach: (Openness)

Affiliation- avoidance ( Agreeableness)

Affiliation – approach ( Honesty-Humility)

I believe time has come to merge emotions and motives (needs) and fold them into a common theory of personality that is steeped in traits. I m hopeful of this approach. Hope you too concur.

Personality and Goals

Goals, that people strive for, make an important part of a person’s personality- be it the daily strivings or the personal projects. However, this post is not about goals at that level of personality.

Goals can be classified as approach goals or avoidance goals based on whether one wants to achieve a particular positive outcome or is more motivated by avoiding a particular negative outcome. They can also be classified as mastery or performance goals based on whether one wants to learn and master the area and satisfy ones internal standards or whether one wants to meet external standards and is driven by appearing smart and capable. The roots of these goals, and underlying motivations, lie in Carol Dweck’s theory of growth and fixed mindsets.

So basically combining the two concepts above, we have four combinations:  Mastery-approach where one is motivated to grow and inspired by a future vision of oneself; Mastery -avoidance where one is motivated to maintain functioning and the desire to not fail to live up to earlier performance or past image; Performance – approach where one wants to perform better than other people; and Performance- avoidance where one wants to avoid performing worse than others.

In addition to this, there is promotion and prevention regulatory focus theory of goals and motivation that posits that we all have either a promotion focus, whereby we want to move towards goals and are eager or prevention focus wherein we want to avoid outcomes and are vigilant. These regulatory focus are a result of the discrepancy between actual and ideal and ought selves. The self discrepancy theory by Higgins et al posits that each of us have a few guides guiding our behavior-  ideal self is the self that we aspire to (a future vision) while ought self is what we have internalized as our duties, obligations etc. While ideal selves are more congruent with promotion focus, ought self discrepancy reduction leads to prevention focus.

Some of you might be seeing where I am getting from here. We are moving here form goals to trait level. What I propose is that while Mastery-approach goals lead to and are congruent with Promotion focus (as traditionally defined by Higgins), Mastery -avoidance leads to and follows from Prevention focus; similarly Performance-approach goals are what are typically considered as Avoidance motivation in literature ( Elliot et al) and Performance-  avoidance goals as related to Avoidance motivation. Thus it makes sense to consider and be sensitive to four types of motivational trait constructs- Promotion focus, Prevention Focus, Approach motivation and Avoidance motivation and to see them as distinct from Goals per se.  This is akin to the state -trait distinction in case of affective terms.

One can also correlate these motivational dispositional terms to Self determination theory. Basically, it appears common sense that mastery -approach goals are quite intrinsically motivating;  mastery -avoidance goals probably more identified motivation, but still autonomous. When we move to Performance goals the motivation becomes more controlled. Performance -approach goals driven by introjected motivation while Performance- avoidance goals to extrinsic motivation.

So how do these four motivational traits stand in comparison to the other well known personality traits and constructs?   This is an empirical question to be settled and part of it has been settled in this paper [pdf] by Elliot and Thrash.

Basically Elliot et al using factor analysis, both EFA and CFA showed that personality constructs like Extraversion, positive emotionality and  BAS cluster together and are related to Mastery goals (they did not differentiate between mastery -approach and mastery -avoid); while Neuroticism, negative emotionality and BIS go together and are related to Performance-avoidance.  These latter 3 were also related to Performance approach goals, as were the former 3. The 2 underlying factors they theorized as depicting approach and avoidance motivation/ temperament.

I believe they would have got better and clearer results if they has used more constructs than just E/N and +ve emotioanlity, -ve emotionality, or BAS/BIS and also included C/E/A and constraint/disinhibition and FFFS too in the factor analysis and also split Mastery goals.

If so, I conjecture the following four factors:

  1.  Promotion focus: driven by ideal self discrepancy and mastery motivations comparing with oneself and one’s future version aspired to. When people work with this focus they experience positive emotionality, are open to experience and are motivated by intrinsic motives (SDT).
  2. Prevention focus: driven by ought self discrepancy and mastery motivations comparing onself to past performances by self and identified duties and obligations. The people with this focus experience positive emotionality, are Extraverted and the BAS drives their behavior.
  3. Approach Motivation: driven by external comparisons and performance motivations to achieve something.  High in Conscientiousness, experience constraint and are driven by BIS with introjected motivation.
  4. Avoidance Motivation: driven by external comparison to avoid bad outcomes. High in Neuroticism , experience negative emotionality and the FFFS drives behavior. They have extrinsic motivations.

This, of course, remains to be empirically proved.

Basic Needs: The Maslow-Erikson Mashup

There is some evidence that ontogeny parallels phylogeny as far as cognitive development is concerned. What this means is that the same stages or steps that a species has evolved through also recur when the embryo develops into a fully functioning adult. In other words, developmental stages and states follow the same sequence as evolutionary stages. This may be because the environment is structured in such a way that some stages can only make sense when preceding stages have been already encountered.

To illustrate, if pain was the first sensation that animals could first sense and feel; then probably it will be the first emotion that babies and infants can feel. Amusement if it comes later to pain in evolutionary history, then probably amusement only starts being felt by babies once they have already felt pain. Would that also make pain more primary or basic than amusement? I believe so.

Taking cue form that, it may be possible to go one stage further and claim that adult structure/ hierarchy of a  particular construct will follow the developmental stages or time-course. To continue with our example, if pain occurs earlier in babies than pleasure, then in adulthood, losses which are sensitive to pain will be more basic and drive our choices than gains which are sensitive to pleasure. We will first need to fulfill our need to avoid pain and then only be motivated by our desire for pleasure. The bad is stronger than the good.

To extend this analogy to personality, let us consider a developmental theory of personality- Erkison’s Psychsocial stage theory. As per it people go through various stages , right from infancy to old age, grappling with many developemental challenges and either coming out successful or failing to master the developmental challenge. At each stage one can discern some basic needs that when fulfilled lead to successful closure with regards to that stage.

To illustrate:

  1. Trust vs mistrust: at this stage if the need for security that the infant has is fulfilled, he ends up being trustful.
  2. Autonomy vs shame and doubt: at this stage its important to develop a sense of self worth and self esteem by being autonomous. If however his sense of self worth is questioned he ends up feeling shameful.
  3. Initiative vs guilt: at this stage its important to take care of need for play and creativity; if however the child’s playful actions  lead to harm or are condemned, then this may lead to guilt.
  4. Industry vs inferiority: at this stage its important for the child to ‘work’ and get respect/ approval of others thereof; failure to be productive leads to feelings of inferiority.
  5. Identity vs role confusion: at this stage its important to have a sense of coherence, especially about oneself and ones role; failure of which leads to role confusion.
  6. intimacy vs isolation: at this stage the need for loving and being loved has to be fulfilled, else you end up being isolated and lonely.
  7. Generativity vs stagnation: at this stage the need for self-actualization drives one to grow and reach one’s full potential in service to the world, failing which one remains stagnant.
  8. Ego integrity vs despair: at this stage, as you reflect on your life, you are driven by need for self-transcendence failing which you end up in despair.

Its easy to see how a hierarchy similar to Maslow’s can be derived from this. Leaving the physiological needs aside, at the bottom of hierarchy would be needs related to security, followed by needs for self-worth/esteem; then needs for play and creativity;  followed by needs for respect and achievement; followed by need for coherence; then need for love; then need for self-actualization and finally on top need for self-transcendence.

I think this is a proposition worth investigating and I am sure one will find a hierarchy of needs that is rooted in developmental stages and which themselves are rooted in evolutionary stages.


The Neural Substrates of Personality

Personality is the study of individual differences, mostly in humans, though some work in animal personality too has happened. While evolution has designed for some universal adaptations, that lead to say human universals, evolution has also maintained some variations which leads to individual differences.

Personality traits are stable and consistent patterns of responding in terms of emotions, behavior, cognition and motivation across different situations. Various methods, both theoretical and empirical, have been used to arrive at the most parsimonious collection of traits; some of these methods include lexical studies to arrive at basic traits on which humans differ. Its important to remember that humans differ along degrees and on a continuum on these dimensions and the difference is not of  kind or categories.

The most well known and well established personality trait model is the Big Five or the FFM which posits that humans differ on the following five dimensions: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness/Intellect, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. The personality trait structure is hierarchical. There are meta traits of stability (Alpha) and plasticity (Beta) over the Big Five; there are aspects (two each) below the Big Five; and finally there are multiple facets composing each aspect.

If we want to explore the neural substrates of personality, we have to start at the description level and the Big Five is a good place to start. Next one needs to look at psychological functions behind each trait/ aspect and only then can one turn to what is known about brain structure/ function and neurochemical composition to figure out how those traits may be instantiated in the brain.

In explicating all this I will be hugely relying on Colin De Young and colleagues work and highly recommend listening to this podcast/ reading the mentioned papers (pdf, pdf). I will however be extending and building on that analysis.

First thing I would like to extend is that instead of the Big Five, I will be using the HEXACO model of personality which posits that there are six major traits of personality: Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, EXtraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness/Intellect. The major difference from Big Five is the addition of a new factor Honesty-Humility and also that A(greeablness) of Big Five is not the same as A of HEXACO.

Now, Colin De Young and colleagues have proposed, and found evidence, for two aspects each in the Big Five (which they measure using BFAS) ; extending the same to HEXACO I propose two aspects that make Honesty-Humility: Honesty and Humility! Phew, that was easy!! I also propose to use the same aspect names Colin De Young and colleagues use for Big Five in below analysis which is extrapolated to the HEXACO.

I would also list down the possible functions of each aspect/trait and the possible neurotransmitters / brain regions associated with that trait/ aspect based on theoretical as well as empirical grounds.

But first lets talk a little more about stability and plasticity.

Stability is made up of Neuroticism (reverse scored) , Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Stability involves sensitivity to unpredictability/ ambiguity.  Neuroticism (reverse scored ) refers to emotional stability; Agreeableness refers to social stability (social harmony) while conscientiousness refers to motivational stability.

Plasticity is made up of Extraversion and Openness/Intellect and I propose that Honesty-Humility will also load on this factor when two factor analysis of personality is done. Plasticity is associated with exploration of the unknown. Extarversion involves behavioral exploration; openness/ intellect involves cognitive exploration and I propose that Honesty-Humility involves moral exploration (vs moral exploitation of others that is associated with Dark Triad/ Dark Tetrad which is associated with the low pole of Honesty -Humility).  This is a testable prediction. Some work on creativity suggests that it is not associated with C/A/E but is positively associated with eXtraversion and Openness/ intellect and negatively associated with Honesty- humility. Thus H, X and O seem to go together in one way or the other!

Another important point to note is that stability is associated with serotonergic system while plasticity with dopaminergic system; this gives us the second prediction of the day: Honesty-humility which loads on plasticity should be associated with Dopamine in the brain.

So this brings us finally to the list of aspects along with their associated emotions (after all consistent emotional states leads to traits over time is one way to look at personality and I have been writing a series of posts regarding emotions and personality), and the neurotransmitters systems or associated brain systems/networks.

  1. eXtraversion : aspect Assertiveness. This is associated with emotion of courage/drive. The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Behavioral Activation system (BAS as proposed by Gray ) . The value coding neurons of dopamine system will be associated with this.
  2. eXtraversion : aspect Enthusiasm. This is associated with emotion of Joy/Play. The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Pleasure system (PS as proposed by me here ) . The endogenous opioid system will be associated with this, along with dopamine.
  3. Emotionality (Neuroticism) : aspect Withdrawal.  This is associated with emotion of sadness. The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Behavioral Inhibition system (BIS as proposed by Gray ) . The neurons of serotonin system will be associated with this.
  4. Emotionality (Neuroticism) : aspect Volatility.  This is associated with emotion of fear. The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Fight-flight-freeze system (FFFS as proposed by Gray and others) . The neurons of norepinephrine along with serotonin system will be associated with this.
  5. Openness/Intellect: aspect Openness. This is associated with emotion of awe/wonder. The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Default Mode Network (DMN as proposed by many) . The neurons of salience coding dopamine system will be associated with this. Note that at times if you are very high on this trait, everything will seem salient and you may suffer from apophenia/ psychosis in extreme cases.
  6. Openness/Intellect: aspect Intellect. This is associated with emotion of Lust and sexual selection plays a big role in development of intelligence. The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Fronto Parietal Control Network (FPCN as proposed by many) . The neurons of dopamine system are likely to be associated with this.
  7. Agreeableness: aspect Compassion. This is associated with emotion of disgust (negative correlation). The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Empathy/ Mirror Neuron Network. The hormones of oxytocin have been associated with this. This is also associated with perception of Warmth when you first meet someone.
  8. Agreeableness: aspect Politeness. This is associated with emotion of Anger/Agression (negative correlation). The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Social Dominance/ Power network. The hormones of testosterone have been associated with this. This is also associated with perception of Competence when you first meet someone. The serotonin system is also likely associated with this, given its role in aggression/ anger.
  9. Honesty- Humility: aspect Honesty. This is associated with emotion of Pride . More research needs to happen about its neural substrates.
  10. Honesty- Humility: aspect Humility. This is associated with emotion of Gratitude/ Contentment . More research needs to happen about its neural substrates.
  11. Conscientiousness: aspect: Industriousness.  This is a uniquely human capacity (only other species where it may be present is chimpanzees).  This is associated with emotion of Apathy (negative correlation).  The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Salience Network or Ventral Attention Network ( SAL/VAN) . Much less is known about neurochemical aspect except that Serotonin should be implicated.
  12. Conscientiousness: aspect: Orderliness.  This is a uniquely human capacity (only other species where it may be present is chimpanzees).  This is associated with emotion of Shame (negative correlation).  The neural system underlying this aspect is proposed to be Dorasl Attention Network (DAN) .  This is very speculative. Much less is known about neurochemical aspect except that Serotonin should be implicated.

The above is partly based on Colin De Young and colleagues work and partly some speculations, based on sound theoretical basis, by me. Even of some of the neural systems may not align with traits as mentioned above, I am very positive that at least the structure and functionality of personality traits is pretty much accurate. As always I am excited to live in such exciting times!

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.

Research Summaries: Personality Measurement and Assessment in Large Panel Surveys

Today’s research summary looks at another paper [pdf] by Angela Duckworth et al this time focusing on whether it makes sense to include personality variables in long national longitudinal surveys/studies like the MIDUS/ Dunedin/ HRS.

Nonconcordant traits

Nonconcordant traits (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1.  Personality differences can be conceptualized to be either differences in ability (like cognitive ability), traits (stable patterns of thinking, feeling, acting) , motives or narratives and this paper focuses on traits to the exclusion of other measures of personality. Even in traits, the traits of concern are the Big Five traits of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness.
  2. Personality, in general, and these traits, in particular, are known to predict a range of outcomes like health, achievement, and relationships. The authors believe that large panel surveys should measure these traits to find the correlations with other outcomes being measured. They review research on how traits predict wealth and health and are predicted by underlying genetic polymorphisms or variations.
  3. For elaborating the association between traits and genes they look at candidate gene studies as well as GWAS. Extraversion is associated with polymorphisms in Dopamine subsystem related genes. Nueroticism is primarily associated with serotenergic genes. Agreeableness and Conscientiousness are both affected by polymorphsism in genes related to dopamine as well as serotonin. Openness to COMT variation. Read the paper to get additional nuances.
  4. When it comes to economic outcomes, more introverted and more emotionally stable (less in neuroticism)  individuals  were more likely to save over the lifetime and borrow less; reverse was found for those high in agreeableness. Emotional stability was the best predictor of earnings; extraversion had a complex relation but overall positively predicted earnings; while agreeableness had a very slight negative impact on earning.
  5. In terms of health, traits like Conscientiousness had a direct effect on health as well as indirect effects mediated by healthy behaviors and educational attainments. In general it is safe to conclude that personality traits do not affect health outcomes directly but by their impact on problematic or protective behaviors. Personality traits have also been linked to mortality.
  6. The authors recommend that personality traits should be measured in large panel studies, and measured as far as consistently, using say BFI, so that they can be used to predict important life outcomes. Moreover they recommend that as personality traits can change , they should be treated as dependent variables too and measured in each subsequent measurement time.
  7. One recommendation they have is to keep such trait measures short and relevant; also they recommend multiple measures using informant reports or cognitive tests like go-no go task. However I ‘m not sure if that may be practical in large surveys.
  8. They also highlight the concerns about ‘flush-right’ responding where some unmotivated participants who are juts going through the motions of filling the survey may keep choosing the extreme right option making the survey results suspect.  The instruments should have something inbuilt to detect such responding just like one detects social desirability.

Overall its a pretty decent paper to understand some of the  antecedents (genetics) as well as consequents (health and wealth) of Big Five traits and makes a strong case for incorporating big five measures in such large scale studies and surveys. Check the paper here [pdf] .

Openness/ Intellect and the MBTI

As per the Big Five/FFM or the HEXACO model, Openness/Intellect appears to be an important personality dimension on which humans differ from each other. People high on this dimension are variously described as creative, imaginative, intellectual etc. We will be only focusing on this trait of the big five/HEXACO/FFM for the purpose of this post.

fancy logo/writing for use in MBTI articles

fancy logo/writing for use in MBTI articles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MBTI is based on Jung’s theory: People may be Extroverted or Introverted, based on whether they find stimulation in the outer world preferable or find the inner world more a focus of their attention; and are low reactive/ high reactive respectively. They can also be predominantly focused on processing information and acting and deciding consistently (and thus using the Judging function) or on taking in information and acting flexibly and keeping options open (and thus using the Perceiving function). Within the judging function, they may rely more on logical analysis etc (the Thinking function) or go more by case-by-case basis (The Feeling function). Within the perceiving function, they may restrict themselves to facts and givens (the Sensing function) or  go beyond the givens and add meanings and interpretations (the iNtuition function). Depending on your propensities/ reliance on these four functions you would be categorized as INFP or ESTJ etc.

Some of the MBTI dimensions have been mapped onto the Big five/FFM/HEXACO.  The mapping of introversion-extroversion to eXtraverted trait of FFM/HEXACO is a given and self-evident, There could also be made a strong case for Judgement-Perception dimension to be mapped onto the Conscientiousness trait of the big five/FFM/HEXACO. However, there is no ready correspondence to Openness/Intellect trait and any of the MBTI dimensions/functions.

For the remaining analysis, I will like readers to refer to this article [pdf] that talks about AB5C model and lists five factors of personality:

For the NEO, the column defined by high loadings from the Extraversion facets is labeled Factor I, for the Agreeableness facets, Factor II, for the Conscientiousness facets, Factor III, the Neuroticism facets, Factor IV, and the Openness to Experience facets, Factor V.
Its important to note that Openness to Experience, like other NEO factors, is made of six facets. These are Openness to Aesthetics, Openness to Feelings, Openness to Ideas, Openness to Actions, Openness to Values and Openness to Fantasy.  The paper goes on to show that different facets of Openness to Experience can be construed as a combination of core Openness to experience factor V as primary factor and either low/ high  Conscientiousness (factor III) or low/high eXtraversion (factor I) as a  secondary factor.

For eg. Openness + high Conscientiousness = factor V + high factor III = terms like analytical, intellectual, intelligent, knowledgeable. This sub-factor of openness may be related to intelligence and may be called Intellectual. Its my contention that NEO facets like Openness to Ideas belong here. This is also closely related to the Thinking function of MBTI and is cognitive in nature (as per the fundamental four model).

Similarly, Openness + low eXtraversion = factor V + low factor I = terms like artistic, creative and imaginative. This sub-factor of openness may be related to creativity and may be called Instinctual. NEO facets like Openness to Feelings and Openness to Aesthetics belong here. This is also closely related to the Feeling function of MBTI and is affective in nature (as per the fundamental four model).

Similarly, Openness + low Conscientiousness = factor V + low factor III = terms like changeable, unorthodox. This sub-factor of openness may be related to fantasy-proneness and may be called Imagination. NEO facets like Openness to Fantasy belong here. This is also closely related to the iNtuition function of MBTI and is motivational/dynamic in nature (as per the fundamental four model).

Similarly, Openness + high eXtraversion = factor V + high I = terms like experimenting, original, prefer variety. This sub-factor of openness may be related to reality-orientation and may be called Innovation. NEO facets like Openness to Actions and Openness to Values belong here. This is also closely related to the Sensing function of MBTI and is behavioral in nature (as per the fundamental four model).

Talking in more abstract terms, the sub-factor of openness called Intellectual may be concerned with Truth, the sub-factor Instinctual with Beauty; Imagination with Possibility/probability while Innovation with Utility. While the former two are idealistic in nature (and being related to Thinking and Feeling, belonging to Judgement), the latter two are more pragmatic in nature ( being related to iNtuition and Sensing, belonging to perception).

To me this linkage of MBTI with openness to experience facets looks a promising future direction and makes immense sense; In a later post I will talk more about MBTI and FFM in more general terms.

PS: this post followed as a result of reading a recent paper [pdf] by Scott Barry Kaufman et al on structure of intuitive abilities and its relationship to Openness to Experience/ intelligence.

Research Summaries: Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

This research summary looks at a paper co-authored by Angela Duckworth, that tries to carve conscientiousness at it joints.

English: perfectionist measuring and cutting grass

English: perfectionist measuring and cutting grass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is present in most personality theories and measured by most personality inventories, the most famous of these being the Big Five or OCEAN model and as measured by Big Five Inventory (BFI)/ NEO-PI-R.
  2. Personality traits structure is supposed to be hierarchical with traits like Conscientiousness comprising of many finer aspects or facets. The NEO-PI-R is structured around 6 facets of conscientiousness, they being competence, order, dutifulness, achievement-striving, self-discipline and deliberation.
  3. Conscientiousness predicts a number of important life outcomes, however the relationship of different facets with different outcomes is not well established; nor are the number of facets of Conscientiousness agreed upon.
  4. Thus Angela and colleagues set forth to find out what was the underlying facet level structure of Conscientiousness and which facets predicted which outcomes. For this they used exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis on data obtained from 291 adolescents. Conscientiousness was measured using items present in multiple scales from IPIP (international personality item pool).
  5. Exploratory factor analysis yielded an eight factor structure which was confirmed with confirmatory factor analysis.
  6. The eight factors were best described by the following construct labels: (a) Industriousness (“I make an effort”, “I am always prepared”); (b) Perfectionism (“I want to be the very best”, “I demand quality”); (c) Tidiness (“I like to tidy up”, “I leave a mess in my room” [reverse-keyed]); (d) Procrastination Refrainment (“I get to work at once”, “I am easily distracted” [reverse-keyed]); (e) Control (“I rush into things” [reverse-keyed], “I do unexpected things” [reverse-keyed]); (f) Cautiousness (“I think before I speak”, “I make careful choices”); (g) Task Planning (“I follow a schedule”, “I work according to a routine”); and (h) Perseverance (“I give up easily” [reverse-keyed], “I am easily discouraged” [reverse-keyed]).

  7.   Multiple outcomes of interest for the students were measured, these included absenteeism, CGPA, high stakes achievement results and teacher ratings of social behavior. All facets except tidiness predicted these outcomes. Perfectionism predicted scores in high stakes test even stronger than Conscientiousness as a whole. Industriousness predicted less absenteeism even strongly than Conscientiousness as a whole.
  8. Based on when the factors emerged and drawing a parallel with other lesser factor solutions, its apparent that following pairings can be done (my interpretation!) :
    1. Task planning (ordering tasks and time) and Tidiness (ordering possessions) make one group that can be called organization/orderliness. Task planning seems to be the dutifulness facet of NEO-PI-R.
    2. Cautiousness (prudence in VIA) and Control of impulses (self-regulation in VIA) make one group that is related to in-the-moment exercise of control, willpower and judgement. Cautiousness seems to be related to deliberation facet of NEO-PI-R.
    3. Industriousness (hard work {driven by harmonious passion?} where focus is on achieving quantity) and Perfectionism ( drive towards perfection {driven by obsessive passion?} where focus is on achieving quality) seem to make one group that is related to long term focus/ passion. Industriousness looks the same as Achievement-striving as per NEO-PI-R.
    4. Procrastination refrainment (decisiveness or starting things without waiting)  and perseverance (or finishing things that have been started, no matter what) seem to make the final group that is task-oriented. While procrastination refrainment seems like self-discipline of NEO-PI-R, Perseverance is more close to competence.
  9. To me the above eight factor structure of conscientiousness fits beautifully with my own ABCD model whereby I can see parallels with the Orderliness/organization related to Affect dimension and so forth.
  10. This research has real world implications. Given the limited time, if at all,  allotted by schools for positive education interventions, if one wants to increase odds of better outcomes, its wiser to focus on particular facets of Conscientiousness like industriousness, that are known to be associated with good outcomes, rather than poor predictor facets like tidiness, or even Conscientiousness as a whole.
  11. Bottom-line appears to be that teaching children tidy habits may be totally irrelevant,, in terms of valued life outcomes,  but making them appreciate the value of hard work and effort may really pay off!

if intrigued, here is the original paper.

Research Summaries: The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits

Today’s research summary is about a paper co-authored by Angela Duckworth, that is at the intersection of psychology and economics. Though I have been following behavioral economics a bit, I still found the paper a bit challenging to read and comprehend and don’t claim to understand all the attached jargon, functions and mathematical formulations. The fact that the paper is 88 pages long wasn’t of help either 🙂 (the saving grace being that 20 or more pages were filled with references alone), so read the rest of the summary at your own peril!

An illustration of Spearman's two-factor intel...

An illustration of Spearman’s two-factor intelligence theory. Each small oval is a hypothetical mental test. The blue areas show the variance attributed to s, and the purple areas the variance attributed to g. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. The paper aims to throw light on how personality affects (socio)economic outcomes and how concepts from personality psychology can be used in economic equations and modeling.
  2. To start with, an important socioeconomic outcome is success in life. IQ or cognitive ability is well established as a predictor of success in life/job,  and slowly but surely, a case is building up for the predictive power of personality traits like conscientiousness to predict success in life/job.
  3. Its useful to distinguish cognitive factors like Intelligence/IQ from other ‘non-cognitive’ factors like personality traits and motivation.
  4. Perry Preschool study which enriched the environment (an intervention aimed at increasing IQ) of disadvantaged kids with subnormal IQ, found that IQ gains for treatment group (which shot up initially) and control group became equal at age 10 , though the treatment group continued to be much more successful on many socioeconomic outcomes over their life cycle. This can be only explained if we admit that something other than IQ, maybe personality factors, were changed by the intervention.
  5. Psychologists use personality, motivation and cognitive factors to explain behavior and success of an agent. Economists however use concepts like preferences, constraints, incentives etc to explain choice/decision/ behavior and ultimately success in life.
  6. Cognitive factors are defined as ‘‘ability to understand complex ideas,to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought’’. The various tests like IQ tests that measure cognitive ability have led to identification of a general factor ‘g’ of intelligence. The factor structure of Intelligence is hierarchical;  as per one conceptualization, the second-order factors are ‘fluid intelligence’ and ‘crystallized intelligence“.
  7. IQ test are not a pure measure of maximal intellectual performance; for those getting low scores, appropriate incentives can increase their scores. Similarly test anxiety may affect performance; thus IQ measure is affected by factors like motivation and personality.
  8. Personality factors also have a hierarchical structure; the most common level contains the Big Five factors, below them are specific facets  and above them two super factors of plasticity and stability.
  9. The personality traits of Big Five have been arrived at using factor analysis and are more descriptive in nature, based around clustering of together of traits, adjectives or behaviors. The same can be said of ‘g’ which is again more descriptively arrived at. In contrast, economists prefer measures that have been built based around their predictive power in the real word. MMPI, Hogan personality inventory etc were on the other hand built with the specific aim of predicting real world outcomes.
  10. Economists, try to estimate preferences of agents and thus predict/explain their behavior etc. Some of the typical preferences studied are time preference, risk aversion, preference for leisure and altruism/ social preferences. Estimating these preferences help explain and predict behavior that deviates from a purely self-interested rational agent.
  11. Time preference is the preference for immediate reward over future reward. This is measured by the phenomenon of time discounting while making decisions.  For example, what would you choose 1 $ today or 2 $ tomorrow? 500 $ this week or 1000 $ next month? based on answers to questions like these (and maybe real world behaviors/ decisions too) economists can infer what is the rate at which you discount future utility for present utility. That function is hyperbolic in nature.
  12. Its seems “time preference is tri-dimensional, comprising three separate underlying motives: impulsivity, the tendency to act spontaneously and without planning; compulsivity, the tendency to stick with plans; and inhibition, the ability to override automatic responses to urges or emotions”. Its easy to see how the three components of time preference can be related to personality factors. Also important is to note that a person with low future vision or imagination may be constrained on this time preference dimension.
  13. Risk aversion is the phenomenon, whereby a sure or less uncertain outcome is preferred over an uncertain outcome.  For example, what would you choose  1 $ for sure or a 50 % chance of winning 2.2 $? Based on analyzing such decisions, one can again calculate, how risk averse a person is. This paradigm is however prone to framing effects.
  14. Those who show little risk aversion, also have poor outcomes like indulging in smoking, stealing and not wearing seat belts. The personality trait of sensation seeking, as developed by Zuckerman, is related to this construct.
  15. Preference for leisure is the preference to use time for relaxation etc over indulging in work or economic activity. Some people are driven to work hard and personality traits like Conscientiousness are really relevant here.
  16. Social preferences are preferences like inequality aversion where a monkey would not accept cucumber pieces for the same work, if another monkey is getting grapes instead. Doesn’t  make sense rationally, but economists can use social preference to get out of this hole!
  17. The big five as well as IQ are predictive of various life outcomes like leadership, grades, longevity etc
  18. Most personality traits as well as intelligence measures change with age- they are malleable and follow a pattern. For eg, fluid intelligence decreases while crystallized intelligence increases over the lifespan.
  19. Environmental factors like parental investment and social roles can be the mechanisms that lead to changes and stability in these traits.
  20. Preference factors, which are studied by economists, however are not clear as to whether they are stable or change with age and more research needs to be done there.
  21. The real contribution of this paper is in conceiving psychological traits as constraints under which economic decisions are being made.  For eg. low cognitive ability will constrain a person to figure out and get clarity about the issue at hand and he will be forced to choose in uncertainty and his risk aversion maybe causing him to make sub-optimal decisions.  The intelligent person has a richer choice set and intelligence is a constrain having real world implications; same is true for personality factors.
  22. Thus personality traits may be a form of constraints/ preferences and research in either psychology or economics around this shroud inform each other.
  23. Overall, despite its challenging economics jargon, I found this really useful; as someone interested in personality psychology, this provided a new perspective.

As always, do check out the original paper here.