Authored by Robert Chen • 
November 17, 2017
 • 2 min read

What is it?

Personality refers to a person's patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It is what makes a person different from others. Some people are outgoing while others are more reserved. Some people are anxious and fearful while others are courageous and brazen. Some people have wild imaginations while others are realistic. Some people are conscientious and focused while others are indifferent. Some people are sympathetic and cooperative while others are difficult to deal with.

There are many ways to think about personality, but this is what we propose, based on the commonly used Five Factor Model of personality1. There are domains, or spectrums through which personality can be described:

How is it measured and studied?

Personality is a qualitative trait. There is no right or wrong answer. Most ways to measure personality are via survey-based methods. They are usually not timed (in contrast to tests measuring things like attention or memory.) There are many ways others have proposed to categorize personality, and each of these ways usually describes personality from several different angles.

Personality is a subjective trait, and there are many ways to measure it. The most common way researchers describe personality is through qualitative scales. These are usually assessed in people via systematic questionnaire methods2


The most common personality scales are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator3 , the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory4,5,6, and the Five Factor Model7,8.

Behavioral Tests:

Systematic questionnaire methods -- The most commonly used way to measure someone’s personality is with various questionnaire methods. These questionnaires consist of a series of questions given to the person and are aimed to assess their personality from various angles. Some examples of questionnaire methods are shown below.

  • 16PF: 16 Personality Factor Scale
  • BDHI: Beck Depression and Hostility Inventory
  • BIS/BAS: Behavioral Inhibition/Activation Scale
  • EPQ-R: Eysenck Personality Questionnaire
  • KSP: Karolinska Scales of Personality
  • NEO: Neuroticism Extraversion Openness Scale
  • SRQ-AD: Self-Report Questionnaire of Anxiety and Depression
  • SSS: Sensation Seeking Scale
  • TCI: Temperament and Character Inventory
  • TPQ: Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire
  • Myers-Briggs Type Inventory
  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory

Genetic Association

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been used to associate genetic variants with personality traits. The personality traits are usually obtained via questionnaires given to the study subjects. Each of these questionnaires gives people a profile of personality based on several different criteria. The profile would highlight several different aspects of personality. Each of these aspects is pinned against a genetic variant, and a P-value and odds ratio are computed for the genetic variant. This process is repeated for all genetic variants for which information has been collected. The genetic variants that have the strongest associations with the personality trait are noted. An example of a GWAS study was one conducted by Terracciano et al. in 2010, which involved 3,972 individuals and found that certain genes such as BDNF (which encodes brain derived neurotropic factor) and CDH23 (which encodes cadherin) are related to extraversion9. For more information about genetic studies for certain personality traits, please navigate to the pages for each respective sub-domain of personality.

Scientific Citations

1.McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(1), 81.
2.Munafo, M. R., Clark, T. G., Moore, L. R., Payne, E., Walton, R., & Flint, J. (2003). Genetic polymorphisms and personality in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Molecular psychiatry, 8(5), 471-484.
3.Myers, I., & Myers, P. (2010). Gifts differing: Understanding personality type. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
4.Butcher, J. N. (1989). Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology.
5.Hathaway, S. R., & McKinley, J. C. (1951). Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory; manual (Revised).
6.Camara, W. J., Nathan, J. S., & Puente, A. E. (2000). Psychological test usage: Implications in professional psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31(2), 141.
7.Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American psychologist, 48(1), 26.
8.Costa, P. T., & MacCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO personality inventory (NEO PI-R) and NEO five-factor inventory (NEO FFI): Professional manual. Psychological Assessment Resources.
9.Terracciano, A., Sanna, S., Uda, M., Deiana, B., Usala, G., Busonero, F., ... & Distel, M. A. (2010). Genome-wide association scan for five major dimensions of personality. Molecular psychiatry, 15(6), 647-656.
Editor's Choice
Emails worth reading.

Once a week, we'll send you the most compelling research, stories and updates from the world of human enhancement.