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How Do Personality and IQ Connect?

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Personality and IQ have traditionally been viewed as distinct domains of human functioning. However, research over the past three decades suggests that IQ is a personality trait.

Personality and IQ have traditionally been viewed as distinct domains of human functioning. However, research over the past three decades suggests that IQ is a personality trait. In an excellent book chapter in The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, personality neuroscientist Colin DeYoung points out that many personality traits involve cognitive processes and abilities. It's just that IQ is primarily measured with ability tests, whereas personality tests are primarily measured with questionnaires. But this is more a reflection of a lack of ingenuity on the part of psychologists than a real difference in domain of human functioning.

It's theoretically possible to measure personality traits through ability tests. For instance, agreeableness could be measured through tests of perspective taking, conscientiousness could be measured through tests of self-control, and neuroticism could be measured through measures of emotional self-regulation. Viewing IQ as a personality trait is helpful because it puts IQ in perspective. We can take a birds eye view of all the many fascinating ways we differ from one another in cognitive processing, emotion, and motivation, while seeing where IQ fits into that bigger picture.

To help us see that picture, I analyzed data from the Eugene-Springfield community sample, which consisted of 478 mostly White participants from Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 85 years, and spanned all levels of educational attainment. The sample consisted of 199 males and 279 females. While the sample isn't ethnically diverse, it does have a pretty good range of IQ and personality, so we can get some sense of how IQ relates to personality in the general population. The IQ test that participants took consisted of 15 multiple-choice items that measured knowledge and abstract reasoning. The personality test measured 45 dimensions of human personality.

Consistent with prior research, IQ was most strongly related to openness to experience. Out of 9 dimensions of openness to experience, 8 out of 9 were positively related to IQ: intellectual engagement, intellectual creativity, mental quickness, intellectual competence, introspection, ingenuity, intellectual depth, and imagination. Interestingly, IQ was much more strongly related to intellectual engagement and mental quickness than imagination, ingenuity, or intellectual depth, and IQ was not related to sensitivity to beauty.

Out of 45 dimensions of personality, 23 dimensions were not related to IQ. This included gregariousness, friendliness, assertiveness, poise, talkativeness, social understanding, warmth, pleasantness, empathy, cooperation, sympathy, conscientiousness, efficiency, dutifulness, purposefulness, cautiousness, rationality, perfectionism, calmness, impulse control, imperturbability, cool-headedness, and tranquility. These qualities were not directly relevant to IQ.

8 dimensions of personality outside the openness to experience domain were positively related to IQ, including organization, toughness, provocativeness, leadership, self-disclosure, emotional stability, moderation, and happiness-- although the correlations were much smaller than with intellectual engagement and mental quickness. IQ was negatively related to orderliness, morality, nurturance, tenderness, and sociability, but again, the negative correlations were much smaller than the relationships among IQ, intellectual engagement, and mental quickness.

Given this data, where does IQ fit into the personality puzzle? While this is just a single dataset, it is consistent with other studies suggesting that the most relevant personality domain is openness to experience, particularly the dimensions that reflect the ability and drive for conscious exploration of inner mental experience. This is certainly an important slice of personality, but at the same time these findings illustrate that there are many more ways we differ from each other in cognition, emotion, and motivation that are not well measured by IQ tests.

© 2014 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved.

image credit: istockphoto

Note: Thanks to Colin DeYoung for providing me with the Eugene-Springfield dataset. For more correlations between IQ and personality, see the supplementary data [1, 2] for the paper "From madness to genius: The openness/intellect trait domains as a paradoxical simplex", authored by Colin DeYoung, Rachael Grazioplene, and Jordan Peterson.

If you're interested in the finer details of my analysis, see below. Correlations with IQ in parentheses. * = p < .05; ** = p < .01. Note that I changed some of the IPIP AB5C facet names to better reflect the content of the items.

+ keyed Am the life of the party.
  Talk to a lot of different people at parties.
  Start conversations.
  Love large parties.
– keyed Don't talk a lot.
  Keep in the background.
  Am quiet around strangers.
  Don't like to draw attention to myself.
  Bottle up my feelings.
  Keep my thoughts to myself.
+ keyed Make friends easily.
  Am open about my feelings.
  Act comfortably with others.
  Radiate joy.
  Warm up quickly to others.
– keyed Am hard to get to know.
  Am a very private person.
  Avoid contacts with others.
  Keep others at a distance.
  Reveal little about myself.
+ keyed Automatically take charge.
  Can easily push myself forward.
  Try to lead others.
  Turn plans into actions.
  Stick up for myself.
  Am always busy.
  Come up with a solution right away.
  Do a lot in my spare time.
  Know what I want.
– keyed Let myself be pushed around.
  Am not highly motivated to succeed.
  Need a lot of time to do things.
POISE (.052) 
+ keyed Feel comfortable around people.
  Am comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
  Have a lot of fun.
  Am not embarrassed easily.
  Love life.
– keyed Often feel uncomfortable around others.
  Find it difficult to approach others.
  Retreat from others.
  Give up easily.
  Only feel comfortable with friends.
+ keyed Take charge.
  Know how to captivate people.
  Express myself easily.
  Am the first to act.
  Never at a loss for words.
– keyed Have little to say.
  Have difficulty expressing my feelings.
  Wait for others to lead the way.
  Am afraid to draw attention to myself.
  Let others make the decisions.
+ keyed Dare to say anything.
  Am not afraid of providing criticism.
  Boast about my virtues.
  [Know no limits.]
  [Know how to get around the rules.]
  [Can take strong measures.]
  [Don't mind being the center of attention.]
  [Make demands on others.]
– keyed Can't stand confrontations.
  Wait for my turn.
  [Hate to seem pushy.]
+ keyed Act wild and crazy.
  Am open about myself to others.
  Let myself go.
  Disclose my intimate thoughts.
  Laugh my way through life.
  Express childlike joy.
  Joke around a lot.
  Like to amuse others.
– keyed Seldom joke around.
  Prefer to deal with strangers in a formal manner.
+ keyed Do most of the talking.
  Talk too much.
  Speak loudly.
  Make myself the center of attention.
  Like to attract attention.
  Never stop talking.
  Make a lot of noise.
  Demand to be the center of interest.
– keyed Speak softly.
  Dislike talking about myself.
+ keyed Can't do without the company of others.
  [Enjoy being part of a loud crowd.]
  [Enjoy being on the go.]
– keyed Like to be alone.
  Seek quiet.
  Enjoy silence.
  [Don't like crowded events.]
  [Dislike neighbors living too close.]
  [Amuse myself easily.]
  [Go my own way.]
+ keyed Sympathize with others' feelings.
  Respect others' feelings.
  Take others' interests into account.
  Like to be of service to others.
  Appreciate the viewpoints of others.
– keyed Feel little concern for others.
  Am not interested in other people's problems.
  Am indifferent to the feelings of others.
  Take no time for others.
  Can't be bothered with other's needs.
WARMTH (-.042) 
+ keyed Am interested in people.
  Make people feel at ease.
  Know how to comfort others.
  Inquire about others' well-being.
  Take time out for others.
  Make people feel welcome.
  Show my gratitude.
  Make others feel good.
  Feel others' emotions.
– keyed Am not really interested in others.
  Rarely smile.
MORALITY (-.131**) 
+ keyed Would never cheat on my taxes.
  Respect the privacy of others.
  Like harmony in my life.
  [Try to follow the rules.]
  [Respect authority.]
– keyed Don't care about rules.
  Turn my back on others.
  Only talk about my own interests.
  Overestimate my achievements.
  Scheme against others.
  [Act at the expense of others.]
  [Break rules.]
+ keyed Am easy to satisfy.
  Have a good word for everyone.
  Am on good terms with nearly everyone.
  Trust others.
  Respect others.
  Trust what people say.
– keyed Am hard to satisfy.
  Am quick to judge others.
  Insult people.
  Find it hard to forgive others.
  Contradict others.
  Criticize others' shortcomings.
EMPATHY (.087) 
+ keyed Anticipate the needs of others.
  Sense others' wishes.
  [Love to reflect on things.]
  [Try to stay in touch with myself.]
  [Work on improving myself.]
– keyed Pretend to be concerned for others.
  [Don't have a soft side.]
  [Treat people as inferiors.]
  [Am not in touch with my feelings.]
+ keyed Value cooperation over competition.
  Listen to my conscience.
– keyed Impose my will on others.
  Love a good fight.
  Seek conflict.
  Think too highly of myself.
  Tell tall stories about myself.
  Play tricks on others.
  Enjoy crude jokes.
  [Comment loudly about others.]
  [Enjoy being reckless.]
  [Do dangerous things.]
SYMPATHY (-.071) 
+ keyed Am concerned about others.
  Am deeply moved by others' misfortunes.
  Feel sympathy for those who are worse off than myself.
  [Take an interest in other people's lives.]
  [Like to do things for others.]
  [Reassure others.]
– keyed Demand a lot from others.
  Don't fall for sob-stories.
  Listen to my brain rather than my heart.
  Tend to dislike soft-hearted people.
  Try not to think about the needy.
  Look down on any weakness.
  Believe people should fend for themselves.
TENDERNESS (-.166**) 
+ keyed Suffer from others' sorrows.
  Listen to my heart rather than my brain.
  Love children's movies.
  Want to please others.
  Remember my friends' birthdays.
  Cherish mementos.
  Want to mean something to others.
  [Believe crying helps me feel better.]
  [Show my feelings.]
– keyed Don't understand people who get emotional.
  [Don't get excited about things.]
  [Don't call people just to talk.]
  [Don't care about dressing nicely.]
NURTURANCE (-.193**) 
+ keyed Have a soft heart.
  Go out of my way for others.
  Think of others first.
  Will do anything for others.
  Like to please others.
  Wouldn't harm a fly.
– keyed Make enemies.
  Oppose authority.
  Believe that I am better than others.
  Seek danger.
  Put people under pressure.
  Try to outdo others.
  Believe only in myself.
+ keyed Accomplish my work on time.
  Do things according to a plan.
  Am careful to avoid making mistakes.
  Keep my checkbook balanced.
  Like to plan ahead.
  Return borrowed items.
– keyed Often forget to put things back in their proper place.
  Neglect my duties.
  Take tasks too lightly.
  Leave my work undone.
  Do not plan ahead.
  Put off unpleasant tasks.
  Am often late to work.
+ keyed Am exacting in my work.
  Make plans and stick to them.
  Get chores done right away.
  Follow through with my plans.
  Finish what I start.
– keyed Waste my time.
  Find it difficult to get down to work.
  Postpone decisions.
  Have difficulty starting tasks.
  Need a push to get started.
  Frequently forget to do things.
+ keyed Follow directions.
  Keep myself well-groomed.
  Check over my work.
  Behave properly.
  [Stick to the rules.]
  [Appreciate good manners.]
– keyed Do improper things.
  Disregard rules.
  Do the opposite of what is asked.
  Pay no attention to my appearance.
  [Don't think laws apply to me.]
  [Make rash decisions.]
  [Say inappropriate things.]
+ keyed Am always prepared.
  Carry out my plans.
  Get to work at once.
  Am not easily distracted.
  Handle tasks smoothly.
– keyed Make a mess of things.
  Am easily distracted.
  Mess things up.
  Shirk my duties.
  Don't see things through.
  Do things at the last minute.
  Can't make up my mind.
+ keyed Pay attention to details.
  Complete tasks successfully.
  Have an eye for detail.
  Demand quality.
  Set high standards for myself and others.
  Make well-considered decisions.
  Follow through on my commitments.
  Detect mistakes.
  Think ahead.
– keyed Seldom notice details.
  Put little time and effort into my work.
  Don't pay attention.
+ keyed Purchase only practical things.
  Tend to dislike impulsive people.
  Take precautions.
  [Never splurge.]
  [Never spend more than I can afford.]
– keyed Do crazy things.
  Often make last-minute plans.
  Am easily talked into doing silly things.
  Laugh at the slightest provocation.
  Like to laugh out loud.
  [Like to act on a whim.]
  [Jump into things without thinking.]
+ keyed Do things in a logical order.
  Come straight to the point.
  Believe in a logical answer for everything.
  Get a head start on others.
  Dislike imperfect work.
  Believe in an eye for an eye.
  [Have no sympathy for criminals.]
  [Reason logically.]
– keyed Sympathize with the homeless.
  Am not as strict as I should be.
  Let people pull my leg.
  [Do things in a half-way manner.]
  [Let my attention wander off.]
  [Believe that criminals should receive help rather than punishment.]
+ keyed Continue until everything is perfect.
  Want every detail taken care of.
  Want everything to be "just right."
  Want things to proceed according to plan.
  Demand perfection in others.
  Keep a sharp eye on others' work.
  Expect dedicated work from others.
– keyed Am not bothered by messy people.
  Am not bothered by disorder.
ORDERLINESS (-.180**) 
+ keyed Like order.
  Follow a schedule.
  Work according to a routine.
  Like to tidy up.
  Do things by the book.
  Take good care of my belongings.
  See that rules are observed.
– keyed Leave my belongings around.
  Leave a mess in my room.
  Dislike routine.
+ keyed Seldom get mad.
  Am not easily bothered by things.
  Am not easily frustrated.
  Seldom take offense.
  Keep my cool.
– keyed Get stressed out easily.
  Get upset easily.
  Am easily disturbed.
  Change my mood a lot.
  Get caught up in my problems.
HAPPINESS (.116*) 
+ keyed Seldom feel blue.
  Feel comfortable with myself.
  Adapt easily to new situations.
  Look at the bright side of life.
  Am sure of my ground.
– keyed Often feel blue.
  Worry about things.
  Feel threatened easily.
  Dislike myself.
  Am filled with doubts about things.
CALMNESS (.034) 
+ keyed Rarely get irritated.
  Am not easily annoyed.
  Take things as they come.
  Accept people as they are.
– keyed Get angry easily.
  Am often in a bad mood.
  Get furious.
  Snap at people.
  Lose my temper.
  Have days when I'm mad at the world.
+ keyed Remain calm under pressure.
  Easily resist temptations.
  Rarely overindulge.
  Am able to control my cravings.
– keyed Am guided by my moods.
  Am not sure where my life is going.
  Don't know why I do some of the things I do.
  Get out of control.
  Can't concentrate.
  Do things I later regret.
TOUGHNESS (.200**) 
+ keyed Am calm even in tense situations.
  Don't lose my head.
  Know how to cope.
  Can stand criticism.
– keyed Take offense easily.
  Panic easily.
  Am easily hurt.
  Am easily offended.
  Feel crushed by setbacks.
  Become overwhelmed by events.
  Am easily frightened.
  Am easily confused.
+ keyed Keep my emotions under control.
  Let others finish what they are saying.
– keyed Demand attention.
  React intensely.
  Talk even when I know I shouldn't.
  Often make a fuss.
  Shoot my mouth off.
  Am easily excited.
  Blurt out whatever comes into my mind.
  Barge in on conversations.
  Like to gossip.
+ keyed Seldom get emotional.
  Am not easily affected by my emotions.
– keyed Get overwhelmed by emotions.
  Cry easily.
  Burst into tears.
  Am easily moved to tears.
  Cry during movies.
  Wear my heart on my sleeve.
  Have crying fits.
+ keyed (No positive items.)
– keyed Want everything to add up perfectly.
  Demand obedience.
  Keep up an appearance.
  [Love order and regularity.]
  [Am attached to conventional ways.]
  [Want things done my way.]
  [Am a creature of habit.]
  [Try to impress others.]
  [Can't stand being contradicted.]
  [Want to be told I am right.]
+ keyed Experience very few emotional highs and lows.
  Tend to feel the same every day.
  Am always in the same mood.
  Rarely notice my emotional reactions.
  [Am relaxed most of the time.]
  [Am not easily stirred.]
  [Am not disturbed by events.]
– keyed Experience my emotions intensely.
  [Have frequent mood swings.]
  [Am swayed by my emotions.]
  [Can be stirred up easily.]
+ keyed Have a rich vocabulary.
  Use difficult words.
  Make insightful remarks.
  Show a mastery of language.
  Enjoy thinking about things.
  Try to understand myself.
– keyed Am not interested in abstract ideas.
  Will not probe deeply into a subject.
  Have a poor vocabulary.
  Dislike learning.
  Skip difficult words while reading.
INGENUITY (.200**) 
+ keyed Am full of ideas.
  Have excellent ideas.
  Carry the conversation to a higher level.
  Come up with bold plans.
  Quickly think up new ideas.
  Am good at many things.
– keyed Do not have a good imagination.
  Have difficulty imagining things.
  Can't come up with new ideas.
+ keyed See beauty in things that others might not notice.
  Take time to reflect on things.
  Make beautiful things.
  Enjoy the beauty of nature.
  Enjoy discussing movies and books with others.
  [Like music.]
  [Love flowers.]
  [Love beautiful things.]
– keyed Do not like concerts.
  [Do not enjoy watching dance performances.]
+ keyed Learn quickly.
  Use my brain.
  Excel in what I do.
  Look at the facts.
  Meet challenges.
  Seek explanations of things.
  Need things explained only once.
  [Know how to apply my knowledge.]
– keyed (No negative items.)
+ keyed Can handle complex problems.
  Am quick to understand things.
  Catch on to things quickly.
  Love to read challenging material.
  Am able to find out things by myself.
  Can handle a lot of information.
  Quickly get the idea of things.
– keyed Avoid difficult reading material.
  Try to avoid complex people.
  Don't understand things.
+ keyed Spend time reflecting on things.
  Enjoy spending time by myself.
  Live in a world of my own.
  Enjoy my privacy.
  Don't mind eating alone.
  Do things at my own pace.
  [Enjoy contemplation.]
  [Prefer to be alone.]
  [Have a point of view all my own.]
  [Want to be left alone.]
– keyed Can't stand being alone.
  Don't like to ponder over things.
+ keyed Like to solve complex problems.
  Ask questions that nobody else does.
  Know the answers to many questions.
  Challenge others' points of view.
  Can easily link facts together.
– keyed Have difficulty understanding abstract ideas.
  Avoid philosophical discussions.
  Am not interested in theoretical discussions.
  Consider myself an average person.
  Am not interested in speculating about things.
+ keyed Have a vivid imagination.
  Prefer variety to routine.
  Believe in the importance of art.
  Enjoy wild flights of fantasy.
  Need a creative outlet.
– keyed Do not like art.
  Do not enjoy going to art museums.
  Do not like poetry.
  Seldom get lost in thought.
  Seldom daydream.
+ keyed Look for hidden meanings in things.
  Like to get lost in thought.
  Think deeply about things.
  Need to understand my motives.
  [Tend to analyze things.]
  [Tend to think about something for hours.]
  [Enjoy examining myself and my life.]
– keyed [Rarely look for a deeper meaning in things.]
  [Never challenge things.]

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


VIDEO: The Results & Features of a Person with a High IQ | Jordan Peterson


    Scott Barry Kaufman is a humanistic psychologist exploring the depths of human potential. He has taught courses on intelligence, creativity and well-being at Columbia University, N.Y.U., the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. He hosts the Psychology Podcast and is author and/or editor of nine books, including Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (with Carolyn Gregoire), and Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. Find out more at http://ScottBarryKaufman.com. In 2015 he was named one of "50 groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world" by Business Insider. He wrote the extremely popular Beautiful Minds blog for Scientific American for close to a decade. Follow him on X. Credit: Andrew French


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