Take the Quiz: What's Your Personality Temperament?

There are four main traits of temperament and two subsets of each. Which are you? 

 

the brain

What is a personality? It’s something everyone knows but when we’re held on the point, we find difficult to define. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” With the Nature vs. Nurture debate, each side has weighed in now and then on how personality is formed. Which is more important has been debated for centuries. 17th philosopher John Locke was convinced that the human mind was a “Tabula rasa” or blank slate at birth, a concept first introduced by Aristotle. It was experience that formed personality, they argued.


According to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, PhD, personality breaks down into two essential forces, culture and temperament. Culture is how we’re conditioned to act growing up. Temperament is biological. What Dr. Fisher has discovered she calls, “Traits of temperament.” She’s a senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, chief science adviser for Match.com, and a research professor at Rutgers University.

Dr. Fisher spent four years digging through the medical literature and examining anything associated with personality. This included studies on genetics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, sexual reassignment surgery, brain architecture, and neurotransmitters. Soon she recognized a pattern. Dr. Fisher found that there was a “host of personality traits linked with four brain systems. The dopamine, testosterone, estrogen/oxytocin, and serotonin systems.”

With the help of a statistician, she took the data and developed a personality questionnaire. She told me in a recent phone interview that, “It’s the first questionnaire in the world that started from the knowledge of neural circuitry and then proven with brain-scanning studies.” It’s also the first to link brain activity to what she calls traits of temperament.

Dr. Helen Fisher. Anatomy of Love.

The four traits of temperament are Explorers, Builders, Directors, and Negotiators. Note that any of these can pertain to a man or a woman. Each temperament has its own traits and is driven by a particular neurotransmitter or hormone.

Explorers are curious and energetic. They’re driven by dopamine—the pleasure neurotransmitter. It gives us a sense of elation, accomplishment, and reward. Pretty much anything that gives us pleasure from food to alcohol to sex gooses dopamine production. Explorers are thrill seekers who are open-minded, creative, and cerebral. They crave adventure and novelty, and are easily bored. They may be impulsive and lack introspection however, as they are forever outward looking.

Builders are cautious. They’re driven by serotonin which gives us a sense of relaxation, belonging, and comfort. They’re sociable, follow the rules, and are respectful. These folks are meticulous, orderly, methodical, good with numbers, and may be religious. They are creatures of habit and practice self-control. Dr. Fisher calls this type “cautious/social norm compliant.”

Directors are driven by the testosterone system. They are honest, confident, assertive, and analytical. As a result of receiving fetal testosterone, they have a tendency to understand math, music, computers or any “rule-based systems.” They also have higher visual-spatial perception, which may make them good at sports. These are detail-oriented. Directors become experts in a certain field, but may not have too many interests beyond that. They may lack empathy or sensitivity, be less verbally astute, less understanding of others emotions, and give less eye contact. They also may prone to being flooded by their emotions, making them prone to outbursts, particularly of anger.

Negotiators received a hearty helping of prenatal estrogen. Estrogen is closely related to oxytocin, the “calm and cuddle” hormone. This type is trusting, generous, imaginative, social, and open-minded. They’re also very nurturing and empathetic. Negotiators have excellent verbal skills. Dr. Fisher calls them, “prosocial/empathetic.”

Explorers are the creative types, mostly expressing dopamine. Getty Images.

14 million Americans have taken the questionnaire via Match.com and Chemistry.com, along with several other thousand people from over 40 countries. To take the quiz yourself, click here. She and a colleague placed subjects in a brain scanner after taking the questionnaire. Say the subject self-identified as a risk-taker who is curious and energetic.

“Sure enough, we put them in the brain scanner, and that whole brain pathway for the dopamine system became very active.” She and her colleague also saw more activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the tiny region at the base of the brain where dopamine is produced. They had similar findings with serotonin. Those who were testosterone driven showed more activity under an FMRI in areas of the brain developed in the womb by fetal testosterone. They saw the same pattern among the estrogen-driven.

Her new research looks into what degree each of these brain systems is expressed in different people. “We’re not all dopamine. We’re not all serotonin,” Dr. Fisher said. “We’re not all a negotiator. We are a combination of all of them. But we express some more than others. And that’s what creates our basic personality.” Another advantage to her questionnaire, besides it being tied to hard science, is the fact that it doesn’t cubbyhole people. Rather, it shows what level of each system they express.

Now, she and a colleague have created a second generation questionnaire called the NeuroColor Temperament Inventory. It’s part of a company she’s started called NeuroColor. It’s based on her first generation work. But this incarnation is “designed to be used in the business community.” She said, “Each of these four broad styles of thinking and behaving…breaks down into two subsystems.”

Two subsets of personality traits can make those who are alike different in other ways. Getty Images.

Subsets of Personality. “A lot of people are both. But not everybody.”

Testosterone System subsets (Directors): Systems-thinking, and tough-minded and direct. Some who express testosterone for instance are system’s thinkers. They’re engineers, mathematicians, or scientists, but they aren’t so tough-minded. Women who are testosterone driven tend to be this way, according to Dr. Fisher.

Estrogen System subsets (Negotiators): Empathetic and inclusive, and contemplative and contextual. “I have found quite a few men who are empathetic and inclusive, but are not contemplative and contextual. What I mean, I'm estrogen-driven. I ruminate. I think over and over. I’ll think about the context. ‘He meant this because of this.’” Men however who are she tends to find, miss the context and don't often contemplate. 

Serotonin System subsets (Builders): Prudent and principled, and concrete and methodical. “These people aren’t incredibly interested in theory. They want the facts. They want the details. They want to go step-by-step. They want to be careful. They are not risk-takers.”

Dopamine System subsets (Explorers): Curious and energetic, and inventive and future-oriented. “I know very many people who are very curious and energetic, but they’re not inventive. They’ll read novel after book, they want to go to the opera or the symphony, and they want to travel all over the world. They read poetry but don’t write it.”

Estrogen expressing men tend to be empathetic and inclusive. Getty Images.

Dr. Fisher said, “There’s people like Steve Jobs. I think he was very tough-minded, but I’m not sure he was a systems thinker. He was designing things. But he wasn’t down in the basement writing code. Einstein I think was both tough-minded and direct. So it begins to break down into substyles. And we’re getting much more granular.”

As for future plans, she’ll keep digging and developing a more sophisticated understanding of our temperament. “The future lies in going directly to the genetics, again. We’ve got 63 genes that we want to study.” Though we know some genes related to personality traits, she wants to know the whole combination and how they interact. “We’ll eventually be able to really map personality,” she said.  

To take the 1st generation questionnaire yourself, click here

To learn more about where behavior emanates from in the brain, click here: 

Iron Age discoveries uncovered outside London, including a ‘murder’ victim

A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.

Photo Credit: HS2
Culture & Religion
  • A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
  • The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
  • An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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