Correlation of personality traits

To me, the casual observer, it seems that there are certain personality traits that correlate. That is, these traits are often, if not usually, found together, but these traits on their surface have nothing to do with one another.

Are there psychological or sociological studies that attempt to detect bona fide correlation of personality traits? Are there true correlations of disparate personality traits, or is this perception merely confirmation bias and stereotyping?

Ex. 1: I am in a discussion group of people who are fans of a humor contest in the Washington Post. There seems to be a preponderance of people who:
Have a slightly twisted sense of humor (a lot of people don’t “get” what is so funny)
Enjoy scatalogical/sexual humor (such as what you might hear in a middle-school bathroom)
Like puns
Are grammar/spelling/usage nazis (and I say this in the most affectionate way)
Seek order (some people joke about being OCD but although that conveys the idea, this is not true OCD)
Are introverts

Ex. 2: Nerds
Good at math/computers
Poor social skills

We usually recognize two major political wings, and people of each group tend to have other traits that don’t seem related to the core political views that define them (government that acts for social and economic equality vs. small government that lets capitalism determine results). I hasten to add that this is not a black/white division but there seems, to me, to be a correlation of certain traits/tenets. I am not trying to start a debate about the veracity of these perceptions, but state they are simply perceptions and I am wondering of any study that confirms or belies them.

Ex. 3: Liberals
Predominant in the entertainment industry
Overly sensitive
Support environment over industrialization that would benefit the economy
Develop righteous indignation on behalf of other people who may not be all that offended
Predominant on the Straight Dope Message Board, which is not a political board

Ex. 4: Conservatives
Pro-gun ownership
Conspicuously patriotic

(Full disclosure: I am more liberal than conservative)


Most generalities, ncluding this one, are odious.

So, you’re saying that this has been formally studied and it has been found that correlation of unrelated personality traits is specious? Or, you just don’t like the question?

Looks like the kind of claptrap that you see on Facebook - “What kind of personality are you?”

For a liberal, the OP sure misses the point when describing liberals.

Yes, there are tons and tons of studies like this. From the past century, at least. Way more than can be contained in any post. The quality of the studies varies.

The member sure misses the point of my post. My description of liberals is merely an illustrative example that there are certain traits that appear on the surface to be unrelated but that are perceived to be commonly found in the same people (kind of like calico cats are nearly 100% female). You can replace that description with anything you prefer, or delete it altogether. I do not intend to debate “what is a liberal.”

Wait. Let’s be clear here. Are you saying that you simply picked stereotypes for the four examples in your OP, and they may or may not have any basis in reality?

Steven Pinker (I think it was in The Blank Slate but it may have been How the Mind Works) discusses the phenomenon you describe, where opinions on one issue are highly correlated with opinions on seemingly completely unconnected issues, leading to clustering into “conservative” and “liberal” factions. I seem to remember he postulates an explanation based on personality. Sorry this is annoyingly vague, but my main point is that you are not alone in observing this phenomenon and it may not be mere stereotyping.

Cooking with gas:

Okay, I think this is the core question you are asking, since you said that you really don’t want to debate the examples.

The answer to that question is “More than yes, of course.” That is, there are psychologists studying aspects and versions of it; politicians (especially) studying it intensely; sales organizations and various industries studying it; artists studying it; and so on.

Yes also, there are “true correlations” of seemingly disparate personality traits.

AND there are massive “confirmation biases” being ladled over the top of it all as well.

There are different motivations for why people try to identify such real or imagined correlations. And there are real correlations between the motivations behind those seeking to CLAIM there are “true correlations” about the particular people they are busy pointing at, who they want to get you to despise or support.

But more than all of the above, YES, there are lots of claimed correlations that are actually politically-inspired lies.

I’m all in favor of clarity. My examples were merely to try to illustrate my question. I have no intention of verifying these specific examples. I chose them only because nearly everybody reading them would be familiar with such descriptions, whether they interpret them as possibly correlated traits or stereotypes with no basis in fact.

In hindsight it would have been cleared had I omitted the examples altogether.

Precisely. That reflects a perfect understanding of my question, thanks.

Slight hijack, dog breeders, pigeon racers and race horse breeders all report personality traits linked to certain physical characteristics that would be seemingly unrelated. Facial feature traits are the most commonly reported as well as skull shape. Very possibly true in humans as well.

For example, has there ever been a study that concluded: “Study xyz determined that 78% of the U.S. population say that their favorite color is blue. Of this group, 63% say that their favorite participation sport is bowling. Of the other 22% having other favorite colors, only 5% say that their favorite participation sport is bowling. This correlation is statistically significant.”

I am not trying to perpetuate or debate stereotypes, I am looking for facts about personality traits/preferences in general.

You mean characteristics that are side effects of breeding rather than selected for by breeding? I heard a podcast on this about an experiment in the 1950s with fox breeding where they selected for the most tame/human-friendly personalities. A side effect of that selection was that the foxes preserved certain juvenile physical traits (can’t remember which ones) into adulthood.

Obviously we are not talking about a breeding program, but to the extent that personality traits might have a genetic aspect, there could be genetic traits that occur together that on the surface might seem unrelated.

I am not at all sure that the answer to my question is in genetics, but I guess it’s possible.

I ran across a book published in 2013 that addresses this regarding politics, although I can’t say how valid it is.

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives and the Biology of Political Differences,” authors John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice; John Hibbing, the Foundation Regents University Professor of Political Science at UNL; and Kevin Smith, professor of political science at UNL

CookingWithGas, do you know about this book?:

George Lakoff believes that the heart of the differences between the traditional beliefs (in the U.S.) held by liberals and conservatives is based on their different models (or frames, as Lakoff refers to them) of what a family should be. These differences result in a typical cluster of beliefs for each of the groups, where each cluster may otherwise not seem to be that much related. So he’s saying that it has nothing to do with personality traits that you’re born with but with ones that you acquire in growing up in a given family. I pass on deciding whether this is an accurate or even useful theory.

I had not heard of the book, but it sounds only tangentially related to what I am trying to learn.

The book seems to try to find a basis in conservatism vs. liberalism. I am trying to find out if there is an underlying reason for the correlation of personality traits that would seem on the surface to be unrelated, like people who are politically liberal also tend to live in cities.

That last example is not “unrelated”. Things that are common in cities but not in rural areas include diversity of cultures and races, and access to many kinds of experiences. Instead of all your classmates and work mates being white, evangelical Christian, never been out of the state, and if anything but heterosexual, hiding it, you have pretty much the opposite. If you move to a city you cannot help but be exposed to viewpoints other than your own. This is, statistically speaking, one of the main ways people become liberalized, and why colleges are cesspools of liberalism. Because when your assigned dorm mate is a gay Nigerian exile who plays in a fantastic afro pop band and can speak six languages, the certainties of your oilrigger uncle seem less … certain.

So, although there are indeed personality traits associated with the two political views (authoritarian on the right, empathetic on the left, intolerant of ambiguity on the right, ability to tolerate same on the left), I think exposure is not an insignificant factor.

The problem, CookingWithGas, is that you’re assuming a priori that a person’s political beliefs are correlated with personality traits that they are born with (i.e., that are genetically determined). Lakoff’s thesis is that a person’s political beliefs are not mostly determined by their inborn personality but by the type of family situation that they grow up with. Read the Wikipedia entry I linked to and other webpages that you can find in a search about this book and other books by Lakoff. Then maybe read the book. Lakoff is convinced that the diverse cluster of beliefs that liberals have generally in common and the diverse cluster of beliefs that conservatives have generally in common correlate with their beliefs about how families work. If you say that these clusters obviously relate to their inborn personality and not their environment and you won’t consider any other possibility, there’s nothing for us to discuss with you. Your theory might be true, but you have to at least consider whether it isn’t.

I’ve been curious about this question myself. To investigate it one needs a database, perhaps of survey answers; and simple statistical methods, like cluster analysis or principal component analysis. There are several Dopers who could do the statistics — I’d also want to make an effort, if only as a refresher course for me!

So now we just need a database. Just considering playful websites, there are plenty that have amassed copious data. In many cases almost all the questions are political, but that might work well enough. Any volunteers to make friends with a survey company, or website and get their data? :slight_smile:

One possibility is

I actually downloaded much of their data, but it was in ‘R’ format or some such. I tried some tedious procedure to end up with CSV; but it left the data in too ugly a format. Volunteers?
Data from Myers-Briggs Type Indicator might be another route, though they work with only four traits intended to be almost orthogonal. There are clear correlations when you examine MTBI histograms, for examples:

  • “Feeling-Judgemental” people are much more likely to be “Sensory” (rather than “Intuitive”) compared with the general population.
  • “Intuitive-Feeling” people are much more likely to be “Perceptive” (rather than “Judgemental”) compared with the general population.
    (Apologies to OP since many Dopers will miss the whole point and feel a need to trot out well-worn confused memes about MBTI.)