Saturday, May 16, 2015

problems with measuring personality

At lunch we were discussing Big Five traits (a common 5-dimensional categorization of personalities, measuring openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and this reminded me of the strange phenomenon in my Myers-Briggs categorization that I've noticed over time. In 8th grade I first scored INTP - entirely Introverted vs Extroverted,  strongly iNtuitive vs Sensing,  entirely Thinking vs  Feeling, and borderline Perceiving vs Judging. Nowdays I'm only mostly I and slightly J. I've only taken the Big 5 test recently so I unfortunately don't know the trend, but I assume something similar would have happened.

I don't feel like my personality has changed so this has puzzled me. But now I think I understand the source, and it is concerning with regard to the use of Big 5 in research (mostly in psychology but more frequently as control variables in economics.)

If people are free to maximize their utility of time use,  the marginal utility of any activity should be equal at the bliss point. Obviously we work with many constraints, so I don't expect this to be exactly true*, but I expect it to be closer to true the more freedom of choice we have.

In 8th grade I had no choice but to spend 8 hours a day around people and to follow the strict schedule of activities in general. This was far too much human interaction for me and I would nearly always opt for alone time when given the chance. Nowdays I've carefully engineered my life to have as little compelled socializing as possible, and will usually opt to go to any party friends of mine might have. Similarly,  in San Francisco Matt used to not believe me when I said I was more introverted than him, because I was usually the one wanting to go out and do stuff after work and on weekends. But I mostly worked at home alone,  while he spent 10 hours a day in an open plan office. I would (/did) have a nervous breakdown in that environment.

Along with having more freedom to be alone, I also have more control over my schedule and environment. So while previously the rigid structure and organized environment imposed on me was more than enough, I now realize that I do generally like having a plan and an organized approach to things, hence P became J.

I can't think of what might have suddenly given me more freedom to trade off S/N or T/F, so I'm not surprised those have remained steady.

What does this mean for using these scores in regressions? My first thought is that asking about marginal preferences to measure averages will make people look less variable than they are and will understate the importance of personality. But that's on average. I bet there are plenty of circumstances in which the measure is actually biased.

*but maybe surprisingly close since we should really be equating the marginal present value of activities,  not immediate happiness, which makes work and sleep seem a lot more attractive.


Akhil said...

This is a really interesting idea. Maybe changes in the scores along with changes in time use could be useful for measuring those marginal utilities?

Lydia Ashton said...

Can you give an example of Econ studies using these as controls? I am yet to see one.

Vera L. te Velde said...

Yeah exactly. I've been vaguely mulling over possibilities and haven't had any brilliant ideas, so I'd love to hear if you do :)

Vera L. te Velde said...

I searched my article database and most hits are from psychology and sociology journals, so I may have a biased perception due to being such a behavioral economist. But, a couple titles from economics:

"Data Collection in a Flat World: Strengths and Weaknesses of Mechanical Turk Samples"
"Heterogeneous preferences for altruism: gender and personality, social status, giving and taking"
"Temporal view of the costs and benefits of self-deception." (Sort of more psychology - Dan Ariely and coauthors)
"Experiments on Emergent Leadership, Lying Aversion, and Reciprocal Altruism: The Importance of Context"
"Hey look at me: The effect of giving circles on giving"
"Fostering and measuring skills: Interventions that improve character and cognition"

Lydia Ashton said...

Thanks for the list! I will look through these.