Thursday 28 January 2021

Jordan Peterson and my 'Big Five' personality traits

I recently came across some Youtube videos of various Jordan Peterson interviews. I had somehow remained unaware of this Canadian Academic (probably because I'm not very au fait regarding political science - I even had to think a while before working out what the acronym SJW stood for!), despite him apparently being in the news a few years ago (for a legal case about Canada's C-16 Bill that potentially makes refusing to use someone's preferred personal pronoun an act of discrimination in some situations in Canada, which Peterson argues equates to compelled speech legislation and an infringement on freedom of speech). While his views are considered anathema by many (especially militant feminists and neo-communists apparently), I thought that he had some valid points in the few interviews I watched. (But he also seems to have an exaggerated view regarding some of possible impacts of PC etc. on society, probably because university political science faculties seem to have moved towards a relatively high percentage of left-wing academics and curriculum during the past few decades).

I was especially intrigued by his explanation how the unequal outcomes in workforce participation in certain jobs (such as Nursing and Engineering) may remain persistent despite equal opportunity, simply because any small (but non-zero) difference in the average (median) gender preference/interest in "things" vs. "people" will result in significant disparities in the number of people choosing to enter (or thrive in) those fields (because those fields require a very high interest level in "things" (engineering) or "people" (nursing)).

For example, if the normal distribution of interest in "things" means that only the top 5% of the entire population has sufficient interest in engineering to want to study engineering as a career, that translates to a VERY small percentage of women being in that 5% of the general population if the average (median) level has a very slight difference and the distribution curve is the same for each gender.

Therefore, although equal opportunity is a great (and necessary) thing, equal outcomes do not always automatically result. And attempts to "force" equal outcomes may ultimately be unsuccessful (and cause undesirable side-effects in the attempt).

Peterson also has written a popular book about 12 "rules" to live by, which mirror his view that people should take more personal responsibility and aim at self improvement rather than focus on external causes for personal/societal problems. A lot of the rules seem to be fairly common-sense (eg. decide what you want to achieve, and then start taking concrete actions to make progress towards that goal), although he does get a bit more metaphysical ("meaning of life") than is to my taste. In one interview he mentioned the "Big Five" personality traits, which appear to be fairly intrinsic to an individual and are apparently fairly reliable predictors of academic and professional success etc. I had previously done a few Myers-Briggs Personality Type tests, and I think the "Big Five" traits provide similar but slightly difference measurement of the same personality factors.

I did a online "Big Five" personality trait test (cost $10 USD at and found the result quite interesting (though not unexpected):

Agreeableness: 1st percentile (i.e. very unagreeable) - compassion 1%, Politeness 7%.

Conscientiousness: 52nd percentile (pretty average) - Industriousness 44%, Orderliness 60% (my uni lecturer once called me a 'lazy perfectionist').

Extraversion: 14th percentile (very introverted) - Enthusiasm 3%, Assertiveness 47% (so I hate public speaking, but can do it if I need to).

Neuroticism:53rd percentile (pretty average) - Withdrawal 57%, Volatility 48%.

Openess to experience: 37th percentile - Intellect 72%, Openess 13%. Hmmm - explains why I like the technical/theoretical side of financial planning but not meeting/interviewing prospects/clients.

Overall, the results seem pretty accurate, and it seems that the jobs I've had (science/engineering, QA/audit/process improvement, and financial planning) were pretty suitable for my personality type. I probably would have been more successful if I was more extraverted, more open to change, and slightly more agreeable (and had a better memory!). Having average conscientiousness and pretty good IQ (somewhere around 1st or 2nd percentile according to my old Mensa test results - which means over 132 on the Stanford-Binet IQ scale and over 148 on the Cattell IQ scale) seems to have made up for my other short-comings. Unfortunately IQ isn't particularly highly correlated with great business success or wealth (it does correlate with above-average lifelong income though).

Fortunately both DS1 and DS2 are at least as smart as me, and seem to be a lot more well socialized/outgoing ;)

Peterson also says that one of the most important tasks for a parent is to ensure that their children can make (and have) lots of friends by the age of four. The fact that I was living in Hong Kong around the age of 3-4, moved to Australia from the UK at age 4, and didn't attend any pre-school probably didn't help overcome my naturally introverted nature!

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