Factory Settings

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today’s post is about cognitive science. But it’s also about love, in ways that will become clear.

In this post, I will regurgitate what Jordan Peterson has said about the Big Five personality traits, and then I will have a comment about them. If you doubt my word, or want to hear the same things said in a much more detailed, professional, and actually egg-headed manner, please feel free to watch the JP video below.

I have posted before about the MBTI, a personality typology which some people find insightful, but which was developed by amateurs. The MBTI makes a lot of intuitive sense to many people, but it was still made up. And it is not the only one with this problem. Peterson points out in this video that most personality typologies started as a theory which the developers then tried to apply to actual people. Not so with the Big Five. These are personality traits that emerge naturally from data. (JP says that much more convincingly than I do, of course.) They vary among individuals within every culture, and they are fairly stable throughout a person’s life. These traits are on a continuum, not binary. Each of us comes into this world falling at a certain point on each of these continua. As we mature, we expand our range along the continuum, but we are never going to move our set point from one end of a continuum to the other.

The Big Five Personality Traits

This will be easier to understand if we look at the Big Five.

Extraversion

Neuroticism

Agreeableness

Conscientiousness

Openness (to new experiences)

Very extraverted people draw energy from being around others. Very introverted people are drained by this. (This is the only trait from the Big Five that shows up, with the same terminology, in the MBTI.)

People with high neuroticism are more susceptible to negative emotion.

People with high agreeableness want to please others. Less agreeable people are less motivated to please others and more motivated to reach their own goals.

People with high conscientiousness are more industrious and more orderly than people without.

People with high openness tend to be creative types. They are also more likely to be politically liberal. (I am high openness, but due to a long personal journey, not politically leftist. My politics are spite of my temperament. This does mean that typical conservative arguments often don’t appeal to me.)

The Big Five and the Sexes

This is an aside, but Peterson often refers to the Big Five traits when talking about average differences between men and women. Women are, on average, more agreeable than men, higher in neuroticism, and slightly higher in conscientiousness. It is easy to see why these traits would flow from being designed to be moms. Even a greater tendency to negative emotion is an advantage when you’re taking care of preverbal children and you have to be sensitive to their distress.

These Are Factory Settings

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It’s easy to see how a person could feel inferior by virtue of having any given one of these traits. It’s also easy to imagine how people who are proud of their trait could think there is something seriously wrong with people on the other end of the continuum.

  • Why don’t you want to be around other people?/ Why can’t you ever entertain yourself? (Extraversion)
  • Why are you so sensitive?/so insensitive? (Neuroticism)
  • Why are you so domineering?/so wishy-washy? (Agreeableness)
  • Why are you so lazy and irresponsible/so uptight and controlling? (Conscientiousness)
  • Why are you such a stick-in-the-mud/a hippie? (Openness)

Relax, people.

All of us have character flaws. And sure, they fall along the fault lines of our Big Five traits, no doubt. But having any given one of these traits is not the same thing as having a sin nature. Conversely, not a single one of these traits will make the bearer a perfect person, either. These are just the factory settings.

And now we get to the love.

I was thinking about these traits as I sat in a Sunday School lesson about the love of God. To be specific, I was bemoaning that my natural tendency is to be low in conscientiousness. This has often caused me trouble with loved ones who are higher in conscientiousness. How can that be a good thing? Why didn’t God set my natural conscientiousness level a little higher? What was He thinking?

In a move typical of people who are high in openness but low in conscientiousness, I was lost in my thoughts rather than paying close attention. But then, the topic of the Sunday School lesson abruptly broke in upon my consciousness.

He loves me.

He loves me, and He made me, and, for some reason, He chose to make a person who is a bit low in conscientiousness. In fact, He chose to make people with all different Big Five factory settings. Ergo, all of these factory settings are by design. He must think we need all kinds.

Ergo, He likes your settings. Even if someone else doesn’t. Even if no one else does.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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8 thoughts on “Factory Settings

    1. *Googles Paul Bernardo*

      “Canadian serial rapist and killer from 1987 – 1990”

      Well, at least you didn’t mention a certain German dictator. But then again … you basically did.

      I assume Bernardo’s crimes were coming from some kind of sexual obsession. Sexual taste develops over time. It has elements of experience, will, and compulsion. It is waaay more complex than factory settings.

      Hence, “Having one of these traits is not the same thing as having a sin nature [but we all have a sin nature, and if we let it get away from us we become Paul Bernardo]. And none of these traits bestow perfection on the bearer [so as to guarantee we don’t become Paul Bernardo].”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Love seeing you touch on the Big Five! I’d never heard of them until Jordan Peterson myself, and I was pretty interested in MBTI before that point, so you and I seem to have similar interests in terms of psychology/personality theory!

    I was just thinking that using the Big Five might be a really great framework for writing characters–what do you think? You could use them like sliders: high on openness and low on extraversion, for example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we must have similar interests! I do like the MBTI as well and I’ve posted about it before, though I know that some people hate it with the hatred of a thousand suns.

      I think the Big Five would work well for anyone who sits down and designs their characters beforehand using personality typologies. I’m pretty pantsy, so I doubt that would work for me. I get a sense of a character, observe how they behave in the story, and then after the novel is done, I’m able to figure out their MBTI or their Big Five or whatever. If I tried to assign them a type before writing, they would probably change personality on me mid-stream. 🙂

      Like

  2. Pingback: The Big Five and the Odd Couple – Out of Babel

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