Soulless to soulfull -- how to describe the full range of human personality?
January 31, 2011 3:08 AM   Subscribe

Everything from awkward to convival, from fastidious to capricious. I am looking for a book (or a website, if it exists) about the complete range of human personality.

Surely someone has written a book outlining the sphere of human conduct by this point? I'm looking for a book that can give me the broad outlines of the entire sphere of human personality. Everyone, from the type-A personality who has become a celebrity all the way down to the invisible awkward person who is invisible to society.

Is there a book that at least gives the outlines from one side to the other of what people see as different personalities? I find in asking this question that I don't care so much about what is 100% accurate but rather what is seen by society as commonplace. Has anyone written about how people filter down into various adjectives? I'm imagining someone in a hotel room in the late 30's disseminating this body of work through their knowledge of phrenology or something. Despite that, for this exercise I would still value an account of the various ways human personality manifests itself.

Again, I'm not looking for a completely accurate and life-changing account of the range of human personality, what I'm looking for is more in terms of what the societal range of human experience filters down into when it comes to personality. Think of it as a list of adjectives.
posted by malapropist to Human Relations (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly what you're looking for, but the DSM sorta' does this from a dysfunctional point-of-view.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:29 AM on January 31, 2011

You could check out anywhere that focuses on one of the schools of thought about personality types (Meyers Briggs, True Colours, What Colour is your Parachute, etc).

The Meyers Briggs is probably a good place to start.
Check out, I've just recently stumbled upon it myself for a career development class.

Theres also a very brief self test for your Meyers Briggs Type at It's obviously not as accurate as a test administered by someone who is trained in this sort of thing, but it'll give you a good place to start at typelogic, or anywhere else your search takes you.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 5:52 AM on January 31, 2011

I seem to remember that the Five Factor Model of personality was derived from a comprehensive list of adjectives, consolidated to eliminate redundancy and account for differences of degree, then experimentally verified.

With this model, there are five traits which each person has to greater or lesser degree; the overall personality is the combination of these traits. It doesn't give you a list of personality labels outright, but you could, for example, imagine a person of high extraversion, high neuroticism, low agreeableness, high conscientiousness, and low openness, and come up with your own description that way.

If you consider only high or low values for each factor, that's 2^5 or 32 possible combinations. Of course, I consider myself, for example, as having neither high now low agreeableness, more of a medium value, implying 3 possible values for this factor. If there are three values for each factor, then that's 3^5 or 243 values...

I know you said you weren't looking for a completely accurate account, but this is at least where you could start to know all possibilities are covered. If it makes you feel any better, the Five Factor Model isn't necessarily the one true model; it's under debate.

I don't think a "completely accurate" model exists, and anyway it would depend on what you meant by "personality" -- only those traits that are inherited? The behavior of a person under "normal" circumstances, or under stress?
posted by amtho at 6:34 AM on January 31, 2011

The Myers Briggs Model that FuzzyLumpkins mentions and the Five Factor Model that amtho mentions are both attempts to describe the range of human personality. The Myers Briggs dimensions were inspired by the psychological philosophy of Carl Jung whereas antho is correct that the Five Factor Model was derived by studying a comprehensive list of adjectives. The Five Factor Model is the currently accepted model of human personality among academic psychologists today.

Although there are five dimensions to the Five Factor Model, each dimension does not describe a single trait. The model is sometimes called the Big Five Model because the dimensions are designed to be overly board. Extraversion, for example, includes personality traits such as talkativeness, gregariousness, and chattiness, but it also includes emotional positivity and a tendency to like loud music. These different traits often co-occur, but it is also common to find an extravert who likes quiet music or who is less gregarious than others. The idea behind the Big Five is to apply some broad structure to personality rather than to create an exhaustive list of traits.

The history and nuances of the Five Factor Model sound like it may be something you are interested in. I'd head away from Wikipedia for this and read this chapter by Oliver John and colleagues and the associated associated web-page. It will get a little more technical than Wikipedia, but these are people who have wrestled with some of the toughest theoretical and measurement issues related to the Five Factor Model.
posted by eisenkr at 7:39 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Enneagram is a system that aims to describe the whole range of human personalities as well. There are authors that focus on the spiritual aspects of the Enneagram, and authors that focus on the psychological aspects. I have found it personally very enriching, in understanding my own personality, and understanding those of the people I interact with and care about. There is a test online that can suggest which personality type one is, but beyond that it is not very informative. Further research (there are countless books on the Enneagram) is necessary to really understand it and what it describes.
posted by joshers13 at 12:47 PM on January 31, 2011

I think this may be the perfect book for you.... It's called The Normal Personality and its premise is that there are many different "normal" personalities, but often personalities are seen as abnormal by people who don't have the same personality as the person they are judging. For the author, personality is rooted in values, so a person can be "normal" and be what others would consider avaricious, or a person can be "normal" and be only interested in their family. It's a lot more detailed and thoughtful than I can express right here, right now, but I found it very useful for thinking about the range of human behaviour, and human differences.

In a slightly different vein, you might want to check out Carl Jung's description of personality types; he coined introverted and extroverted, and subdivided these into sensing, thinking, feeling and intuiting. Myers-Briggs came from his ideas, but reading his original writing on the types is like reading literature; it's detailed, meaningful, full of paradox and complexity, and profound. Introverted and extroverted are terms, btw, that have been a bit distorted since his formulation of them, and it's enlightening to encounter their original meaning.
posted by PersonAndSalt at 1:14 AM on February 2, 2011

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