General belief has long held that part of our personality always remains hidden from outside observers. However, a team of University of Tartu psychologists recently conducted a survey of the Estonian Genome Project’s gene donors which seriously challenges this assumption. The study indicates that it is impossible to hide anything from a relative or a close friend.
“For half a century it has generally been thought that some personality traits are well hidden from other people,” says the leader of the research group, UT professor of experimental psychology Jüri Allik. “This has been thought to be the case with neuroticism and emotional instability, for example. On the surface, a person may look perfectly calm while going through some complex internal struggles.”
Extroversion, on the other hand, is a very conspicuous trait: an extroverted person laughs, speaks in a loud voice and behaves in an assertive and confident manner.
A total of 627 gene donors from the Estonian Genome Project participated in the survey. Respondents were asked to invite someone they knew to fill in a questionnaire about their personality traits. Most respondents chose to invite their close relatives, spouses or old friends.
The work group was mainly interested in finding out how big the differences were between the estimates expressed by the respondents themselves and those of their good acquaintances.
“The differences turned out to be caused by statistical dispersion. For example, all respondents gave rather similar answers to the question regarding their openness to new ideas. The same was true of questions regarding openness to aesthetic experiences. If an Estonian really doesn’t like ballet, s/he is not afraid of saying so,” says Allik.
When the research group developed a hypothesis that the differences may have been due to statistical dispersion, they decided to process the data a little.
“Basically, it could be compared to a situation in which you have answers only from students who get As. But what would the correlation be if you also include those getting Cs and Bs?” Allik explains.
After compensating for the dispersion, all of a sudden everything fell into place. “It turns out that personality traits are very easily noticeable, at least for people who have known each other for years,” says Allik.
The article constitutes the first stage in a research project that in the future will combine gene and personality studies on the Estonian Genome Project’s donors. “40 to 60 percent of a person’s personality traits are thought to be determined by genes and we are determined to try to identify these genes,” said Allik.
Allik, J., Realo, A., Mõttus, R., Esko, T., Pullat, J., & Metspalu, A. (2010). Variance determines self-observer agreement on the Big Five personality traits Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (4), 421-426 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.04.005