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← Who are you, really? The puzzle of personality

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Showing Revision 11 created 07/07/2016 by Brian Greene.

  1. What an intriguing
    group of individuals you are ...
  2. to a psychologist.
  3. (Laughter)

  4. I've had the opportunity
    over the last couple of days

  5. of listening in on some
    of your conversations
  6. and watching you interact with each other.
  7. And I think it's fair to say, already,
  8. that there are 47 people in this audience,
  9. at this moment,
  10. displaying psychological symptoms
    I would like to discuss today.
  11. (Laughter)

  12. And I thought you might
    like to know who you are.

  13. (Laughter)

  14. But instead of pointing at you,

  15. which would be gratuitous and intrusive,
  16. I thought I would tell you
    a few facts and stories,
  17. in which you may catch
    a glimpse of yourself.
  18. I'm in the field of research
    known as personality psychology,

  19. which is part of a larger
    personality science
  20. which spans the full spectrum,
    from neurons to narratives.
  21. And what we try to do,
  22. in our own way,
  23. is to make sense of how each of us --
  24. each of you --
  25. is, in certain respects,
  26. like all other people,
  27. like some other people
  28. and like no other person.
  29. Now, already you may
    be saying of yourself,

  30. "I'm not intriguing.
  31. I am the 46th most boring person
    in the Western Hemisphere."
  32. Or you may say of yourself,
  33. "I am intriguing,
  34. even if I am regarded by most people
    as a great, thundering twit."
  35. (Laughter)

  36. But it is your self-diagnosed boringness
    and your inherent "twitiness"

  37. that makes me, as a psychologist,
    really fascinated by you.
  38. So let me explain why this is so.
  39. One of the most influential approaches
    in personality science

  40. is known as trait psychology,
  41. and it aligns you along five dimensions
    which are normally distributed,
  42. and that describe universally held aspects
    of difference between people.
  43. They spell out the acronym OCEAN.
  44. So, "O" stands for "open to experience,"
  45. versus those who are more closed.
  46. "C" stands for "conscientiousness,"
  47. in contrast to those with a more
    lackadaisical approach to life.
  48. "E" -- "extroversion," in contrast
    to more introverted people.
  49. "A" -- "agreeable individuals,"
  50. in contrast to those
    decidedly not agreeable.
  51. And "N" -- "neurotic individuals,"
  52. in contrast to those who are more stable.
  53. All of these dimensions have
    implications for our well-being,

  54. for how our life goes.
  55. And so we know that, for example,
  56. openness and conscientiousness
    are very good predictors of life success,
  57. but the open people achieve that success
    through being audacious
  58. and, occasionally, odd.
  59. The conscientious people
    achieve it through sticking to deadlines,
  60. to persevering, as well as
    having some passion.
  61. Extroversion and agreeableness
    are both conducive
  62. to working well with people.
  63. Extroverts, for example,
    I find intriguing.
  64. With my classes, I sometimes
    give them a basic fact
  65. that might be revealing
    with respect to their personality:
  66. I tell them that it is virtually
    impossible for adults
  67. to lick the outside of their own elbow.
  68. (Laughter)

  69. Did you know that?

  70. Already, some of you have tried
    to lick the outside of your own elbow.
  71. But extroverts amongst you
  72. are probably those
    who have not only tried,
  73. but they have successfully
    licked the elbow
  74. of the person sitting next to them.
  75. (Laughter)

  76. Those are the extroverts.

  77. Let me deal in a bit more detail
    with extroversion,

  78. because it's consequential
    and it's intriguing,
  79. and it helps us understand
    what I call our three natures.
  80. First, our biogenic nature --
    our neurophysiology.
  81. Second, our sociogenic or second nature,
  82. which has to do with the cultural
    and social aspects of our lives.
  83. And third, what makes you
    individually you -- idiosyncratic --
  84. what I call your "idiogenic" nature.
  85. Let me explain.

  86. One of the things that characterizes
    extroverts is they need stimulation.
  87. And that stimulation can be achieved
    by finding things that are exciting:
  88. loud noises, parties
    and social events here at TED --
  89. you see the extroverts
    forming a magnetic core.
  90. They all gather together.
  91. And I've seen you.
  92. The introverts are more likely
    to spend time in the quiet spaces
  93. up on the second floor,
  94. where they are able
    to reduce stimulation --
  95. and may be misconstrued
    as being antisocial,
  96. but you're not necessarily antisocial.
  97. It may be that you simply realize
    that you do better
  98. when you have a chance
    to lower that level of stimulation.
  99. Sometimes it's an internal
    stimulant, from your body.

  100. Caffeine, for example, works much better
    with extroverts than it does introverts.
  101. When extroverts come into the office
    at nine o'clock in the morning
  102. and say, "I really need a cup of coffee,"
  103. they're not kidding --
  104. they really do.
  105. Introverts do not do as well,
  106. particularly if the tasks
    they're engaged in --
  107. and they've had some coffee --
  108. if those tasks are speeded,
  109. and if they're quantitative,
  110. introverts may give the appearance
    of not being particularly quantitative.
  111. But it's a misconstrual.
  112. So here are the consequences
    that are really quite intriguing:

  113. we're not always what seem to be,
  114. and that takes me to my next point.
  115. I should say, before getting to this,
  116. something about sexual intercourse,
  117. although I may not have time.
  118. And so, if you would like me to --
  119. yes, you would?
  120. OK.
  121. (Laughter)

  122. There are studies done

  123. on the frequency with which
    individuals engage in the conjugal act,
  124. as broken down by male, female;
    introvert, extrovert.
  125. So I ask you:
  126. How many times per minute --
  127. oh, I'm sorry, that was a rat study --
  128. (Laughter)

  129. How many times per month

  130. do introverted men engage in the act?
  131. 3.0.
  132. Extroverted men?
  133. More or less?
  134. Yes, more.
  135. 5.5 -- almost twice as much.
  136. Introverted women: 3.1.
  137. Extroverted women?
  138. Frankly, speaking as an introverted male,
  139. which I will explain later --
  140. they are heroic.
  141. 7.5.
  142. They not only handle
    all the male extroverts,
  143. they pick up a few introverts as well.
  144. (Laughter)

  145. (Applause)

  146. We communicate differently,
    extroverts and introverts.

  147. Extroverts, when they interact,
  148. want to have lots of social encounter
    punctuated by closeness.
  149. They'd like to stand close
    for comfortable communication.
  150. They like to have a lot of eye contact,
  151. or mutual gaze.
  152. We found in some research
  153. that they use more diminutive terms
    when they meet somebody.
  154. So when an extrovert meets a Charles,
  155. it rapidly becomes "Charlie,"
    and then "Chuck,"
  156. and then "Chuckles Baby."
  157. (Laughter)

  158. Whereas for introverts,

  159. it remains "Charles," until he's given
    a pass to be more intimate
  160. by the person he's talking to.
  161. We speak differently.
  162. Extroverts prefer black-and-white,
    concrete, simple language.
  163. Introverts prefer --
    and I must again tell you
  164. that I am as extreme an introvert
    as you could possibly imagine --
  165. we speak differently.
  166. We prefer contextually complex,
  167. contingent,
  168. weasel-word sentences --
  169. (Laughter)

  170. More or less.

  171. (Laughter)

  172. As it were.

  173. (Laughter)

  174. Not to put too fine a point upon it --

  175. like that.
  176. When we talk,

  177. we sometimes talk past each other.
  178. I had a consulting contract
    I shared with a colleague
  179. who's as different from me
    as two people can possibly be.
  180. First, his name is Tom.
  181. Mine isn't.
  182. (Laughter)

  183. Secondly, he's six foot five.

  184. I have a tendency not to be.
  185. (Laughter)

  186. And thirdly, he's as extroverted
    a person as you could find.

  187. I am seriously introverted.
  188. I overload so much,
  189. I can't even have a cup of coffee
    after three in the afternoon
  190. and expect to sleep in the evening.
  191. We had seconded to this project
    a fellow called Michael.

  192. And Michael almost brought
    the project to a crashing halt.
  193. So the person who seconded him
    asked Tom and me,
  194. "What do you make of Michael?"
  195. Well, I'll tell you
    what Tom said in a minute.
  196. He spoke in classic "extrovert-ese."
  197. And here is how extroverted ears
    heard what I said,
  198. which is actually pretty accurate.
  199. I said, "Well Michael does have
    a tendency at times
  200. of behaving in a way
    that some of us might see
  201. as perhaps more assertive
    than is normally called for."
  202. (Laughter)

  203. Tom rolled his eyes and he said,

  204. "Brian, that's what I said:
  205. he's an asshole!"
  206. (Laughter)

  207. (Applause)

  208. Now, as an introvert,

  209. I might gently allude to certain
    "assholic" qualities
  210. in this man's behavior,
  211. but I'm not going to lunge for the a-word.
  212. (Laughter)

  213. But the extrovert says,

  214. "If he walks like one, if he talks
    like one, I call him one."
  215. And we go past each other.
  216. Now is this something
    that we should be heedful of?

  217. Of course.
  218. It's important that we know this.
  219. Is that all we are?
  220. Are we just a bunch of traits?
  221. No, we're not.
  222. Remember, you're like some other people
  223. and like no other person.
  224. How about that idiosyncratic you?
  225. As Elizabeth or as George,
  226. you may share your extroversion
    or your neuroticism.
  227. But are there some distinctively
    Elizabethan features of your behavior,
  228. or Georgian of yours,
  229. that make us understand you
    better than just a bunch of traits?
  230. That make us love you?
  231. Not just because you're
    a certain type of person.
  232. I'm uncomfortable putting
    people in pigeonholes.

  233. I don't even think pigeons
    belong in pigeonholes.
  234. So what is it that makes us different?
  235. It's the doings that we have
    in our life -- the personal projects.
  236. You have a personal project right now,
  237. but nobody may know it here.
  238. It relates to your kid --
  239. you've been back three times
    to the hospital,
  240. and they still don't know what's wrong.
  241. Or it could be your mom.
  242. And you'd been acting out of character.
  243. These are free traits.
  244. You're very agreeable,
    but you act disagreeably
  245. in order to break down those barriers
    of administrative torpor
  246. in the hospital,
  247. to get something
    for your mom or your child.
  248. What are these free traits?

  249. They're where we enact a script
  250. in order to advance
    a core project in our lives.
  251. And they are what matters.
  252. Don't ask people what type you are;
  253. ask them, "What are your core
    projects in your life?"
  254. And we enact those free traits.
  255. I'm an introvert,
  256. but I have a core project,
    which is to profess.
  257. I'm a professor.
  258. And I adore my students,
  259. and I adore my field.
  260. And I can't wait to tell them
    about what's new, what's exciting,
  261. what I can't wait to tell them about.
  262. And so I act in an extroverted way,
  263. because at eight in the morning,
  264. the students need a little bit of humor,
  265. a little bit of engagement
    to keep them going
  266. in arduous days of study.
  267. But we need to be very careful

  268. when we act protractedly out of character.
  269. Sometimes we may find
    that we don't take care of ourselves.
  270. I find, for example, after a period
    of pseudo-extroverted behavior,
  271. I need to repair somewhere on my own.
  272. As Susan Cain said in her "Quiet" book,
  273. in a chapter that featured
    the strange Canadian professor
  274. who was teaching at the time at Harvard,
  275. I sometimes go to the men's room
  276. to escape the slings and arrows
    of outrageous extroverts.
  277. (Laughter)

  278. I remember one particular day
    when I was retired to a cubicle,

  279. trying to avoid overstimulation.
  280. And a real extrovert came
    in beside me -- not right in my cubicle,
  281. but in the next cubicle over --
  282. and I could hear various
    evacuatory noises,
  283. which we hate -- even our own,
  284. that's why we flush
    during as well as after.
  285. (Laughter)

  286. And then I heard
    this gravelly voice saying,

  287. "Hey, is that Dr. Little?"
  288. (Laughter)

  289. If anything is guaranteed
    to constipate an introvert for six months,

  290. it's talking on the john.
  291. (Laughter)

  292. That's where I'm going now.

  293. Don't follow me.
  294. Thank you.

  295. (Applause)