Human personality is a well-known concept in both academic and non-academic circles. This concept has raised the most diverse conclusions in both circles: from well-established factorial solutions to classifications of people based on what the Sorting Hat from Hogwarts would estimate. For a long time now, research in psychology has gained plenty of knowledge about human personality and its implications in everyday life, but this knowledge is either unknown or misunderstood by the general population. This situation calls for efforts to close this gap between what is known based on science and what is assumed to be true based on our random and subjective experience. The following 101 series explores the most consensual contemporary conceptualization of personality, the creative steps scientists took to arrive at this conceptualization using the lexical hypothesis, the specificities of this contemporary conceptualization by looking at each one of the Big Five traits, and the implications of each trait for individuals and societies.
The Personality 101 series is divided into 5 chapters:
Personality 101: Agreeableness and Extraversion
Personality 101: Emotional Stability
Personality 101: Openness to Experience
Personality 101: Agreeableness and Extraversion
Two traits in the Big Five Personality Theory reflect the social aspect of personality: agreeableness and extraversion. Agreeableness is the tendency to treat others in a compassionate, prosocial, and caring way. Extraversion refers to the tendency to be oriented towards the social and material world. In this article, these traits will be introduced along with a brief explanation of how they influence behaviors, emotions, and cognitions.
A Son says to his Mother: “Mother, today I fought with my friend.” His mother says: “Why did you fight with your friend?” “Because he demanded something of me, and I would not give it to him.” “Why did you not give it to him?” “Because it was mine.” “My son, you now have your possessions, but you do not have your friend. Which would you rather have?” “My friend.” “Then give freely, trusting that you will also be given what you need.” (Veronica Roth – Amity, n.d.)
In general, agreeableness appears to be positively related to social behaviors with a positive connotation like conflict resolution, expressing feelings and emotions, and helping behavior; and negatively related to maladaptive social behaviors like prejudice, and stigmatization (Graziano & Tobin, 2009, p.50).
As it turns out, agreeableness maps onto the major motivational system of communion, or the desire for unity, intimacy, and solidarity with others (Wiggins, 1991). This means, for instance, that persons low in agreeableness would have fewer problems endorsing potentially destructive interpersonal tactics —like manipulation— than persons high in agreeableness. Therefore, agreeableness is linked to the positive resolution of conflict, presumably motivated by its underlying desire to get along with others (Graziano & Tobin, 2009, p. 50).
The foundational motivation to get along with others makes agreeable persons less prone to competitiveness and more prone to harmonious group interactions (Graziano et al., 1997). This preference has also been explained through interdependency, which means that individuals low in agreeableness tend to view themselves as less interdependent with other group members and thus, they respond with more competitive behaviors relative to their high agreeable peers (Graziano et al., 1997). Agreeable persons, instead, transform competitive situations into cooperative ones.
Of all the Big Five traits, agreeableness is the only trait correlated with both of the major aspects of prosocial emotions, namely empathic concern —the compassion felt toward someone else in need (Niezink et al., 2012)— and personal distress —the uneasiness felt due to someone else’s distress (Singer & Lamm, 2009). Agreeableness has also been connected to prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering. This means that a person high in agreeableness, as compared with a less agreeable one, will not only help people in their close social circle but show these kinds of prosocial behaviors towards strangers in need (Graziano, Habashi, et al., 2007).
Their disposition towards compassion, communion, and unity may also explain why individuals high in agreeableness report less negative reactions to most commonly prejudiced groups, like homosexuals, Jews, and Hispanics, as compared to their peers (Graziano, Bruce, et al., 2007). It may also explain why they report greater ease in seeing the world through others’ eyes.
From a developmental perspective, research shows that agreeableness manifests itself as early as childhood. Children with high agreeableness, for instance, displayed less negative affect when receiving an undesirable gift than children with low agreeableness (Graziano & Tobin, 2009). All these findings conclude that agreeableness is linked to greater responsiveness and regulation of negative emotions.
Almost every adult in the western hemisphere has used the word extraverted sometime in their life. This must be one of the most common psychologically originated words used by non-psychologists. One of the reasons for its popularity is the influence it has on privileged life domains such as social and romantic relationships, as well as socioeconomic status. As it turns out, extraversion predicts effective functioning and well-being across a wide variety of domains (Ozer & Benet-Martínez, 2006), be it in the cognitive performance domain (Matthews, 1992), the social domain (Eaton & Funder, 2003), or the socioeconomic status domain (Roberts et al., 2007).
However, its popularity is frequently accompanied by misconceptions and misrepresentations. This is a common problem in the dissemination of scientific discoveries: many of the concepts that have been transmitted to lay people have had to be watered down in some way or another to make them more easily digestible. One of the risks that this approach entails is that of being misunderstood. Despite this misunderstanding, however, and the plethora of definitions that might exist in everyday language, science can not allow itself to experience this situation. Psychology needs to have clearly and precisely defined words and problems to make significant progress.
The definition of extraversion that will be used here is the one that the questionnaires created by using the lexical approach and factor analyses processes give. Every personality questionnaire defines extraversion by using a specific set of questions. For instance the HEXACO —a personality taxonomy that stands for six personality traits: Honesty, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness—, conceives extraversion as an active engagement in social endeavors while it is composed of four attitudes: expressiveness, liveliness, sociability, and social boldness. In the Five Factor Model, however, the attitudes are warmth, gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, excitement seeking, and positive emotion. This article works by having in mind the integration and the common features of these definitions. A noteworthy recognition, although not inspired by the lexical approach, is the definition of Carl G. Jung. For this renowned psychologist, extraverts were individuals with a natural tendency to be more focused on the outer world and introverts were more focused on their inner mentality (Jung, 1971). The source for stimulation, happiness, and life stimuli for the former is found in the outer world, whereas for the latter is found in their inner selves.
Extraversion is strongly linked with positive affect. Its measurements correlate with trait positive affect, they also predict positive affect in separate moments throughout a day (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Spain et al., 2000), as well as momentary ratings of positive affect (Uziel, 2006). As for why extraverted persons experience more positive affect than introverts, there have been several attempts to explain this (Wilt & Revelle, 2009). A structural approach explains extraverts as possessing some quality that leads them to experience more happiness than introverts. According to the affect-threshold model, extraverts have a lower threshold for experiencing positive affect than introverts, which means that extraverts should require less positive stimulation to elicit positive affect than introverts. This explanation could be further broken down considering a level and reactivity threshold. In terms of level, extraverted people are closer to the “experiencing positive affect” level than introverts. In terms of reactivity, the experience of positive affect would be the same in both groups but the way of manifesting it would be stronger in extraverted than in introverted people.
As for the most common types of behaviors that extraverted people show, the ones that can be characterized as energetic, bold, socially adept, and secure have been found (Funder et al., 2000).
Cognitively speaking, extraversion relates to a more positive view of the world as compared with introverts. Some studies show that extraverts judge neutral events more positively than introverts do (Uziel, 2006). Even in a word categorizing exercise, extraversion will predict a categorization of words by their positive affective quality rather than their semantic quality. For example, extraverts are more likely to judge the words hug and smile —both common manifestations of positive affect— as more similar than the words smile and face —which are closer topologically speaking. This suggests that extraversion might be a protective factor against sensitivity to threat.
All these extraversion elements are related to having more economic —having a high-status career, an influential and prestigious occupation, a high standard of living and wealth, or becoming a business executive—, political —being influential in public affairs, and becoming a community leader—, and hedonistic goals —having new and different experiences, having fun, and having an exciting lifestyle— (Roberts & Robins, 2000).
In this article, the two most desirable personality traits from the Big Five have been presented. However, a note of warning should be added. These personality traits do not come without their burdens. Agreeable people may not be able to assert their desires or be decisive and demanding when they are in charge of something or leading a group of people; high agreeableness has even been shown to be negatively correlated with income (Judge et al., 2012). On the other hand, extraversion can be associated with poor impulse control, recklessness, overconfidence, and poor tolerance of boredom and monotony (Bachner-Melman & Zohar, 2014). This fact shows that, no matter how the configuration of our personalities is, the task at hand is to employ it in the best way possible according to our desires and goals.
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