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There are no Introverts or Extraverts

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Here’s another one of those curious articles about personality and psychology that keep popping up all over the place in major news outlets these days.

This one is from Inc. magazine that recently published an article titled, “There is no such thing as Introversion and Extroversion [sic].”

Really? They seem to be very widely used terms. So, what’s going on here? Perhaps a bit of insight into the situation might be in order.

The field of personality testing, such as it is, is littered with personality traits, e.g. introversion and extraversion, each claiming to measure a specific aspect of a person’s personality, people’s outwardly observed behaviours. Some of these have been extremely well tested and validated, such as the introversion extraversion scale (a part of the NEO or Big 5) researched and validated by Messer’s Costa and McCrae. Yes, unfortunately, the very one our Inc. writer seems to be most upset about.

But, and this is perhaps where our Inc. magazine writer is going with his article, do these personality traits when taken individually or together actually add up to an understanding of person and what makes them tick? In his article the clearly frustrated writer appeals to us to abandon the introversion/extraversion scam (and perhaps this trait based approach in general), telling us, no more, this approach is flawed.

Herein lies the problem.

Observing a monkey, or measuring its personality, cannot lead you to understand the nature of the monkey nor its mind or motivations. It can only lead you to observations and your own speculative conclusions about what you may have seen or measured. Unless you have a model of how monkeys think, a theory of monkey mind that has been validated and correlated with all other validated scientific observations of monkeys, until then, you have only your own labels and ideas about how things actually work.

This is an issue that is plaguing psychology and more specifically the psychology of individual differences, or personality testing as it is commonly known. This approach to understanding people has been misinterpreted by the lay public as validation that an observer, or personality test, can understand the workings of another’s mind. The label becomes the explanation rather than a shorthand descriptor. This is garbage of the worst kind and not what any self-respecting psychologist would agree to.

The only way to understand another’s mind is if we understand the fundamental patterns or structures that shape human thinking—amounting to an a priori theory of mind—and can measure them in a given individual. Only such an a priori theory, of which there are none in traditional trait-based personality testing, can be used to predict human behaviour and intention.

After 22 years of working on such a theory and publishing it—the theory of MindTime, my colleagues and I sympathise with the author’s frustration at the abuse of personality trait labels. The damage they can do in our post truth era is obvious. They get in the way of people developing a true understanding of people and their thinking (perceptions, motivations, needs, preferences, thought patterns and processes). Now that we have an a priori theory that scientists can hang their hat on, perhaps we can give up on this limited and limiting old approach?

Inc. magazine article link: http://www.inc.com/joshua-spodek/there-are-no-such-things-as-introversion-or-extroversion.html

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