Voters Choose Politicians by Similarity to Their Own Personality

Research examining people’s perceptions of politicians suggests voters go for candidates with similar personalities to their own.

Research examining people’s perceptions of politicians suggests voters go for candidates with similar personalities to their own.

The evidence comes from studies of both American and Italian voters in recent presidential and prime ministerial elections. Perceived personality might even influence voters more than a politician’s programs or policies.

The research, conducted by Professor Gian Vittorio Caprara and colleagues from the University of Rome and R. Chris Fraley at the University of Illinois, was published in the Journal of Political Psychology. It examined both American and Italian voters in Presidential and Prime Ministerial elections respectively:

  • John F. Kerry versus George W. Bush in 2004: 6,094 American voters completed questionnaires on their own perceived personalities and those of the presidential candidates. The results showed that people perceived themselves as having more similar personalities to their preferred candidate.Kerry was perceived by voters as more open-minded than Bush, and voters who voted for Kerry felt the same way about themselves. Bush was seen as particularly agreeable and conscientious although the results were less clear-cut than those for Kerry. The authors suggest Bush benefited from a ‘positivity bias’ because he was the incumbent.
  • Romano Prodi (centre-left) versus Silvio Berlusconi (centre-right) in 2006: The same personality survey of 1,675 Italian voters showed they perceived themselves as more similar to their preferred candidate.Burlusconi was seen as more energetic and outgoing (extraverted), which is how those voting for him saw themselves. Prodi, however, was seen as more friendly and, similarly, his supporters saw themselves as more agreeable.

These findings are in line with previous studies that have found voters are, on average, less influenced by policies and programs than they are by their personal similarity to the candidates. Similarities in attitudes are particularly important in promoting liking, so that people vote for those who share similar attitudes to their own. This study extends these finding to personalities.

To social psychologists this makes perfect sense as there is a long history of research into how similarities promote liking. People are more inclined to like those who have similar values, beliefs and even share demographic variables with themselves.

Of course politicians and their campaign advisors know very well that voters often choose on the basis of personality. The question for them is: how can the candidate appear to be all things to all people?

From their study the authors suggest that the most important personality characteristic for candidates to exude is agreeableness. This is because it is agreeableness that people are most likely to rate highly in themselves. If people’s voting choices are really heavily swayed by perceived similarities in personality then it is agreeableness that should win out at the polls.

The study was published in the journal Political Psychology (Caprara et al., 2007).

Can You Change Your Personality? Lord of the Rings vs. Schindler’s List

Self-help gurus talk as though personality change can occur as predictably as the story arc of a Hollywood hero.

Liam and Viggo

Self-help gurus talk as though personality change can occur as predictably as the story arc of a Hollywood hero. Psychologists fall into this trap as well. Research on student’s views about intelligence implies that if we want to change ourselves, all we have to do is change our beliefs about what is possible. Similarly our culture through the media, the self-help industry and some psychologists promotes the idea that change is an easy, everyday process, if only we could really want it. In fact our culture has become obsessed with technologies of the self, our ability to easily reinvent ourselves, to become, as it where, new people.

Continue reading “Can You Change Your Personality? Lord of the Rings vs. Schindler’s List”

Personality or Situation? The Psychology of Individual Differences

What are more powerful: our personalities or the situations in which we find ourselves?

What are more powerful: our personalities or the situations in which we find ourselves?

So far in this series on the top ten psychology studies, the research has lumped us all together in one group and asked what psychological research says about all of us. The studies have asked questions about how people’s emotions, memories and perceptions work.

What they haven’t asked is what can psychologists tell us about the systematic differences between people? To answer this question I have to break the pattern just this once and include two studies, from two apparently warring factions of personality psychology.

Eysenck and the personality

The first is one of the earliest studies in a long line of research by Hans Eysenck. Eysenck was influenced by Greek philosophy in his search for human personality. The Greeks thought there were four categories of person: the melancholic , the sanguine, the choleric and the phlegmatic. Eysenck, instead of thinking people could be pigeon-holed this neatly suggested people could be described on a sliding scale of each of these factors. He had a hunch that personality differences between people could be described on two ‘dimensions’. “Extraversion is the degree to which a person is outgoing and neuroticism is the degree to which they are emotionally stable (or not).”These dimensions were introversion versus extraversion and neuroticism versus stability. Extraversion is the degree to which a person is outgoing and neuroticism is the degree to which they are emotionally stable (or not).

If you imagine these two dimensions at right angles to each other then you have a big cross with four quadrants on which everyone’s personality falls somewhere. For example, if you are highly introverted and highly neurotic, you are an extremely anxious person. On the other hand if you are highly neurotic but extraverted then you would be an hysteric (Hampson, 1988).

Eysenck (1944) tested this theory by using information from 700 patients at a military hospital. He asked their treating psychiatrists to rate patients on a number of scales which included ‘degraded work history’, ‘sex anomalies’ and ‘dependent’ along with a host of others. From these he used a technique called factor analysis from which these two dimensions of introversion/extraversion and neuroticism/stability emerged.

“Eysenck made an exciting, bold statement…”When you think about it, Eysenck made an exciting, bold statement: every human’s personality can be classified on just two sliding scales. Since then personality theory has moved on and now theorists have settled on five sliding scales. This scale is going strong and appears to describe some of the systematic ways in which people differ. Well it would do, if there wasn’t one rather large fly in the personality psychologist’s ointment: the situation.

Mischel and the situation

In 1968, Walter Mischel dropped a bomb on personality theory with his innocuously titled study, ‘Personality and Assessment’. Mischel thought the evidence showed tests such as Eysenck’s were almost worthless because they didn’t take into account the situation. “what is a personality test really telling us about a person?”It is clear, he argued, that people behave quite differently depending on the situation. Imagine you’re late for an appointment, you’re sitting in huge traffic jam, do you behave the same way as when you’re sitting at home, relaxed? It not, then what is a personality test really telling us about a person?

Mischel (1968) reviewed a series of studies that attempted to predict people’s behaviour from their personality scores. He found there was little consistency in people’s behaviour across situations. In fact, he concluded there was as little as 9% of agreement between the way people behaved in different situations. Or, put the other way around 91% of the differences in people’s behaviour in different situations couldn’t be accounted for by personality tests.

Situation versus personality

The work of both Eysenck and Mischel was crucial in forming what became a massive debate in psychology. Mischel’s particularly, as it made many psychologists ask what was the point of studying personality if it predicted so little. “Eysenck was saying you are what’s inside, your personality, and Mischel was saying you are what is outside, the situation.”These two studies don’t just encapsulate the debate about personality and the situation but also highlight another constant battle in psychology, between the power of internal and external forces, your own thoughts and feelings versus those of society. Eysenck was saying you are what’s inside, your personality, and Mischel was saying you are what is outside, the situation.

It doesn’t take a genius to point out they were both right in their own ways. People do seem to be different in certain aspects, for example some people are more sociable than others. But people also show remarkable similarities in certain situations, e.g. their need to conform. The trick is in finding the balance between the two, a problem at which psychology is still working hard. Nevertheless, both Mischel and Eysenck’s work gave an important insight into what it means to be human, what it means to be an individual.

Image credit: Haags Uitburo

Personality Secrets in Your Mp3 Player

Once past saying ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ to someone you’ve just met, what is next?

iPOD Hand

[Photo by Ariz]

Once past saying ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ to someone you’ve just met, what is next? How do we make friends and get to know other people? Psychologists have talked about the importance of body language, physical appearance and clothing but they’ve not been so keen on what we actually talk about. A recent study put participants in same-sex and opposite-sex pairings and told them to get to know each other over 6 weeks (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2006). Analysing the results, they found the most popular topic of conversation was music. What is it about music that’s so useful when we first meet someone and what kind of information can we extract from the music another person likes?

Continue reading “Personality Secrets in Your Mp3 Player”

Employers Relying On Personality Tests

Apparently 30% of companies in the US now use personality testing as part of the recruitment process. Is it a useful tool or load of old baloney? This article highlights some of the common advantages and disadvantages.

Like any tool, it depends how you use it. The article mainly describes their use in hiring unskilled or semi-skilled labour. I would suggest there is a feeling among management of conserving effort when hiring ‘low-level’ staff. If this is the case, then the danger is in placing too much trust in the test.

Either way, with personality testing still on the march, it’s all the more reason to find out now what you’re prospective employer will be finding out about you.

Compare Your Personality With Others

As it’s the Easter weekend you might have a few minutes for quiet contemplation. If so then try doing a personality test. This one is based around what psychologists call “The Big Five“. These are the main five traits that have been found to best describe people’s behaviour.

This particular test also gives you the sub-divisions within each trait. You may already know that you’re an extrovert for example, but how do you compare to others in gregariousness, cheerfulness or assertiveness?

There’s 120 questions in this one but it doesn’t take that long to complete. Go on, you just might learn something.
The Test

Radio 4 Series on Biology of Personality

A new series on Radio 4 presented by Judith Hann provides a good introduction to the biology of personality. In particular it focusses on and explains some aspects of the widely used five-factor model of personality. The programme also addresses the biological basis of depression and its links with personality.

One applications of these personality tests is in job selection and career guidance. Jane Howard, author of The Owner’s Manual For Personality At Work, suggests that as many as 25% of people are in the wrong job. Perhaps personality testing can help people understand their own capabilities and limitations a little better.

It’s good to hear some critical notes sounded about self-report measures of personality. Matt Ridley points out that they may only be measuring people’s self-perception. Perhaps more dangerous is the element of political correctness in the way the results are presented. One of the scales is called ‘neuroticism’, a generally well understood word. This is often translated to ’emotional stability’, a more neutral phrase that actually obscures the meaning.

There is no supporting website for this programme but you can hear the audio stream online for 7 days after the broadcast. The first programme is now available online, so listen now while you can.
BBC RealAudio stream [via Mind Hacks]

The horny newt and other tales of animal personality

The assertiveness of hyenas, the emotionalality of rats, the timidity of mice, the sociability of yellow-bellied marmots, the anxiousness of pigs, the agitatedness of cows, the obduracy of donkeys (well what else?), the fearfulness of rhinoceri, the confidence of zebra finches, and, of course, the randiness of newts.

Research into the ‘personalities’ of a variety of different animals has been going on for a century. It wasn’t until recently, however, that psychologists began to ask whether this research might illuminate the study of human personality traits.

The criticisms of this line of thinking are all too obvious. Hyenas can’t talk (only laugh), pigs are don’t have to work in open-plan offices (although they may prefer it to their current lot) and newts can’t repeatedly forget important anniversaries. So what exactly can any of these species tell us about the human personality if they don’t have to deal with human problems?

Science has always been keen to understand human kind through the study of simpler creatures. Whether we like it or not, many medical breakthroughs have been made through experimentation on animals – and let’s face it, we humans are nothing more than the third chimpanzee.

→ Article abstract
BBC News report on dog personalities
NYT article about birds

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