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Ever since I decided to pare down the personality section of my Intro Psych course to modern day theories of personality and their accompanying research, I have been on the lookout for interesting content to add.
The journal Psychological Science recently published a fascinating – to me anyway – article on the relationship between one’s own personality and the ideal personality characteristics of particular jobs and the impact that relationship has on income (Denissen et al., 2017).
Jaap Denissen and his colleagues used Big Five trait data from 8,458 individuals who all had full-time work for the previous year. For each job held by the participants, occupation experts identified the ideal Big Five traits a person in that job should have. Take a look at the ratings for each job, available through the Open Science Framework (OSF).
Before sharing these data with your students now would be a good time to remind them that “psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.” Your students’ personality traits will not definitively determine their future income, but if we know their personality traits and the job that they may have, we can figure the probability of them having a certain level of income.
After covering the Big Five, can your students assign the same traits to jobs as this study's experts?
Which job goes with which level of the trait, one is high and the other is low? Answers at the bottom of the post.
- Prison guard
- Religious professional
- Financial manager
- Farm hand
Curious to know the ratings the experts assigned for professors in higher education? All ratings are on a 7-point scale; higher numbers mean more of the trait is expected by the job.
Emotional stability: 5.8
Now, that’s all really interesting, right? But here’s where it gets downright fascinating.
Looking just at the extraversion response surface analysis (RSA) below, people who were high in extraversion (“actual personality”) and were in a high extraversion job (“demanded personality”) had the highest income (vertical axis; green is higher income and orange is lower). Those who were in mismatched jobs (low extraversion person in a high extraversion job or vice versa) had lower income. And those low in extraversion in a low extraversion job also had lower incomes. In other words, those who are lowest in extraversion will have the lowest incomes as compared to their fellow moderate and high extraverts, regardless of the amount of extraversion demanded by the job. (For more on this topic, see Susan Cain’s book Quiet.)
[Figure reprinted with permission of the author. For this and the RSA figures for emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, see the supplemental materials in OSF. For the RSA figure for openness, please see the original article, also available in OSF.]
Emotional stability shows essentially the same pattern. High emotional stability people earned the most money in high emotional stability jobs, e.g., firefighter. Low emotional stability people earned less money in high emotional stability jobs. Ask students to consider why this might be; invite students to share their thinking.
For conscientiousness, same thing, except that jobs that require high conscientiousness generally provide higher incomes. High conscientiousness people in high conscientiousness jobs made the most money. Low conscientiousness people in high conscientiousness jobs still made money, just not as much as their high conscientiousness counterparts. Who made the least money in the conscientiousness arena? High conscientiousness people in low conscientiousness jobs. Again, give your students a couple minutes to think about why that may be. For those high conscientiousness employees, perhaps “perfection is the enemy of the good.” In all fairness, though, there are no low conscientiousness jobs, just lower conscientiousness jobs. The lowest jobs came in at 5.17 (again, max score is 7).
High openness people in high openness jobs, e.g., actor, had higher incomes than low openness people in high openness jobs. Again, ask students to consider why this may be.
That leaves agreeableness. Who made the least money in this trait? High agreeableness people in low agreeableness jobs, e.g., prison guard. Who made the most money in this trait? Low agreeableness people in moderately low agreeableness jobs, e.g., taxi driver. One last time, ask students to consider why this may be.
Alternatively, if you want to give students some practice in reading graphs, divide the class into small groups of 3 to 4 students each. Give each group a different trait RSA. Ask each group to briefly describe the graph, perhaps prompt with something like, “What is the relationship between a person’s personality trait and the trait demanded by the job in terms of the impact that relationship has on income?” Walk through the RSA for one trait first, and then distribute the other four traits to the groups.
Denissen, J. J. A., Bleidorn, W., Hennecke, M., Luhmann, M., Orth, U., Specht, J., & Zimmermann, J. (2017). Uncovering the Power of Personality to Shape Income. Psychological Science, 95679761772443. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617724435
- Actor (high)
- Bookkeeper (low)
- Prison guard (low)
- Religious professional (high)
- Financial manager (high)
- Decorator (low)
- Firefighter (high)
- Embroiderer (low)
- Farm hand (low)
- Actor (high)
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