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The five factor personality model: Follow your genes or fight them?

Updated on November 9, 2013

If half your personality is inherited and the rest is partly determined by your physical and mental competencies what can your do about it? Should you use your personality and go with the flow or change it? When do you HAVE to change it? What moral responsibility is left for your actions?

Once you know your personality you can decide whether you like it or not and whether you are willing to make the effort to change it. You can go with it or against it. You can reframe the disadvantages as advantages and nuance the advantages. However sometimes you need to do something and some people (psychopaths and schizophrenics for example ) need restraining for the good of others or their own good.

Broad Strokes

The five factors are like broad brush strokes. They give the same broadd predictive power that lets us predict how an Englishmen a Russian and Frenchman will react to a situation (The basis of many jokes, some politically incorrect and hilarious) but two people who measure identically on the five personality traits may well have completely different lives. Someone low on agreeableness and high on extraversion might become a barrister or a draw satirical cartoons for. Low agreeableness and low conscientiousness could lead to a career as a bouncer or an investigative journalist.

Behaviour patterns

At a lower level there are characteristic behaviour patterns: different people explore different outlets for the same dominant traits. A high extraversion scorer could be a social success, a polar explorer or a stuntman. A high Neuroticism scorer could become a scientist, accountant or a clerk. A high openness scorer could become an artist or discover innovations that lead them to create a novel new business. These arise because two people with the same personality scores will view the same outlet for their dominant trait differently. One will love skydiving, another will hate it but love public speaking.

Personal Stories

At the bottom level is the personal narrative we construct to explain our life and sometimes to cope with it. The same events can be construed in different ways. Career failure can be seen as an escape from stress and a way to make time for what you want. An example is Ueshiba the founder of Aikido who never succeeded in business but became known as one of the finest martial artists of the 20th century. Edison had a way of reframing his narrative in this way by saying he had not failed but only found a thousand ways that did not work

With or against the flow?

The broad brush strokes of the five dominant traits do not change much with time though there tend to be statistical shifts in various personality populations as age experience and responsibility tame youthful extraversion and impulsiveness. The medium brush strokes of the characteristic behaviour patterns allow more change. You will have a lot of ways to go with or against your basic traits. If you are low on conscientiousness which can lead to addictions, alcoholism, or chronic gambling you can choose to arrange your life to avoid these risks. Instead of gambling you may take up computer games. You can choose to make a drink a reward for a task well done. On the positive side you can take up a career or hobby where things happen unpredictably and you have ot think on your feet and change plans on the fly. If you are low in agreeableness you can take up a job where this is an advantage, or avoid situations where you will come into conflict with others.

Going against the grain will not be easy. You are fighting genetic and often subconscious programming and urges.

Reframing and action

The fine brush strokes of the personal life story give most flexibility. The low extraversion scorer can see themselves as a peaceful self contained person with no need to seek out thrills. The high IQ High Neuroticism scorer can see themselves as ice to the extravert's fire bringing the extravert back to earth. Much of your life can be reframed in this way.

However there are times things need to be done. If your Neuroticism is causing depression you need to find ways to deal with that. If your low agreeableness means you pick fights with strangers, or police you have to do something about it. If your high openness means you are losing touch with reality you may need ways to anchor yourself. And if your personality is causing legal or other problems you need to find ways to avoid these problems but still be yourself. Fortunately society today is so varied there is almost always a niche for you

And finally whicl you may not be able to control your peronality you ARE responsible for your actions. You should avoid niches for criminals or addicts (though computer game addicts can make good money) and try to head for niches that will not harm others.

A couple of techniques

Some people have made changes to aspects of their personality through religion or art. One convicted gangster became a noted scupltor having learned the techniques while in prison, while a reluctant homosexual found trusting in Jesus led to him becoming heterosexual. In another country he might have resigned himself to trusting other gods with the same result. However joining a cult or religious community is probably a bad way to go

Meditation, Neurolinguistic programming and other techniques may also prove useful.

next Neuroticism the lethal protector


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