Modelling Individual Differences—Introducing the Objective Personality System
This is a model of my mind. More specifically it is a model of my temperament. At least, that’s according to the new Objective Personality System.
There is perhaps nothing more important for us to be able to model than our own minds. Humanity has been grappling with this challenge for thousands of years. Over the centuries a plethora of personality systems have been put forward to assist us in understanding and articulating who we are. In particular, these systems attempt to expose how and why individual minds differ. Common themes appear to be emerging within the assortment of personality theories, just with varying terminology and definitions. Yet, a comprehensive model of personality has yet to be established. Without a core set of accepted ideas, personality psychology struggles to gain recognition as a true science. At the same time, we continue to struggle to understand why we behave the way we do. That could all be set to change with the introduction of the Objective Personality System (OPS).
Edit—The aim of this piece is to leave you with 3 questions:
What if there really are types of brain?
What predictions could be made about an individual based on their temperament?
What if new demographic groups were established based on temperament?
The Objective Personality System has been in development since 2013 and was introduced to the public in early 2018 by its creators Dave Powers and Shannon Rene, who are based in Portland, Oregon.
The pair started out on a mission to prove the existence of Carl Jung’s cognitive functions. This work was inspired by their experience with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular personality assessment which was built on Jung’s theory. They had employed the concepts of the MBTI in marketing campaigns for their business and achieved consistent results. Consequently, the pair were convinced that there must be something to Jung’s theory. This was in spite of the fact they were aware that the MBTI’s validity and reliability had been called into question.
Dave & Shannon began by typing celebrities against the 16 MBTI types in double-blind tests and comparing their results. They quickly realised that the critiques of the MBTI had a point as they struggled to get a match rate of over 50%. Subsequently, they dedicated thousands of hours of practise to improve their typing. Along the way they gained a clearer conceptualisation of how Jung’s functions manifested in the behaviour and life outcomes of individuals. They then devised their own definitions of how the functions worked, which they would employ in their typing. Over time their match rate began to improve. They also started to notice more patterns in their observations. Sub-types within the 16 types proposed in the MBTI appeared to be emerging. Dave & Shannon began formulating a new system to define and organise their new findings. Thus, the Objective Personality system was born.
The name ‘Objective Personality’ has been chosen to highlight that the creators are trying to move away from the pseudoscience reputation of the MBTI. Having been in the MBTI community for many years, they had seen how the ideas surrounding the assessment had become confused by loose anecdotes and inconsistent definitions. The couple have made it clear that they aim to stick to “some form of the scientific process” in developing their system. It should be noted however, that Dave & Shannon are not personality psychologists, they are enthusiasts. While they have taken steps to move to a more scientific approach, some have argued that they fall short of a truly scientific methodology. Nevertheless, that does not make their system invalid.
The Objective Personality System provides a model of temperament, that is, innate personality. Specifically, it appears to model individual differences in; judgement, perception, motivation, awareness, extroversion, learning and memory. The model is built on Carl Jung’s theory of cognitive functions, much like the infamous MBTI. Like the MBTI, the system implies the existence of temperament types. However, the OPS expands upon the original 16 types proposed by Myers & Briggs, dividing each into 32 sub-types thus creating a spectrum of 512 types. Additionally, any type can be in 1 of 4 mental states (the so called ‘Animals’) at any given time. Hence, the OPS is an active model that attempts to illustrate how an individual’s personality varies throughout the day.
For each of the 512 types the OPS provides a singular interconnected model of temperament. These types are not completely distinct as they are defined by the combination of the same core modules; the function stack, the human needs, the ‘Animal’ cycle and the sexual modalities. The function stack is the core of the model. The stack is made up of 4 functions. [Edit: Each function symbolises a specific mental process. The model shows 2 pairing functions relating to perception and another pair relating to judgement. Each pair has a ‘savior’ function and a ‘demon’ function, with the savior functions (in colour above) being more pronounced.] Each function stack also has a dominant function which is said to significantly influence how one orientates themselves in the world. Innate motivations, and the differences in how each type prioritises them, are modelled through linking these functions to 4 human needs. The ‘Animals’ relate to extroversion. They denote 4 different mental states an individual can be in, defined by how the individual is engaging with their internal and external environment. The model identifies the order in which each type prefers to cycle through these mental states. The sexual modalities make a connection with the colloquial terms, masculine side and feminine side. Each function in a stack has a sexual orientation; masculine or feminine. The masculine functions are associated with stubbornness and assertiveness while flexibility and withdrawal characterise the feminine functions. Differences in learning and memory are also linked to the modalities. Within each type, the form of these core modules is defined by 9 interlinking dichotomies. This gives the system a modular framework. Hence, it can be also be used to divide a population into 2 types, 4 types, 8 types etc.
Normally, when personality assessments are taken, users take a quick questionnaire before being given a descriptive profile based on their results. These profiles are generally vague and full of loose anecdotes. Assessment takers often aren’t made aware of the underlying theory which underpin the personality assessment. This is one reason why personality tests have a bad reputation. Dave & Shannon have yet to construct any descriptive profiles for the 512 types. But those who have been typed can use the definitions given for each part of the system to try and gain a better conceptualisation of their personality. From there, users can build up their own conceptual model of how the whole system works and how the different parts interact. As personality is an abstract concept to grasp, every student of the Objective Personality System will have a slightly different interpretation of the model. The phrase “speaking OP” is often used by students to reflect how the system provides a new set of vocabulary for communicating about behaviour. Dave & Shannon strongly discourage getting carried away with using loose anecdotes of behaviour and life outcomes that are associated with parts of the personality model.
The current assessment process for mapping an individual onto the 512-type spectrum remains as a double-blind observational test. That is, two assessors try to type a subject independently by studying their behaviour and life outcomes, before comparing results. Naturally, while conducting an assessment the assumption has to be made that the model is valid. Each assessor scores the subject against 9 binary ‘coins’. The 9 binary coins represent 9 dichotomies that exist within the OPS (e.g. Thinking vs Feeling). The first 5 binary coins identify the subject’s function stack. The order of the subject’s ‘Animal’ cycle is determined by another 2 coins. The last 2 coins reveal the subject’s sexual modalities. These binary coins are not independent of one another, instead they overlap in order to build a single interconnected model.
[Side note: Importantly, the overlapping of the coins means that even though certain dichotomies are represented by a binary coin, the overall system suggests these dichotomies would likely manifest on spectra (for example with Sensing vs Intuition).]
Dave & Shannon have highlighted that the process of typing is challenging and that it is easy for one’s natural biases to lead them astray. Typing is therefore seen to be a skill that requires significant practice. The pair recognise their own assessments as educated guesses rather than fact. Between the two of them, they claim to have a 90%+ match rate down to the 512-type level. Aspiring assessors must pass the OPT-100 to be deemed as being of a good enough standard. The OPT-100 requires 2 assessors to type 100 individuals independently and select the same type out of 512 for at least 90 of the 100. The pair do not currently support the use of self-report questionnaires as their experiences have led them to believe they are often ineffective. Both genetic testing and AI assessors are being considered for future assessments.
The system is in the early stages of development and neither its predictive validity nor construct validity have been formally evaluated. The reliability of the assessment process is also yet to be tested. As Dave & Shannon are the only ones who have passed their own OPT-100 test, their typing results cannot be compared against that of others. However, there are individuals within the OPS following who are working to pass the OPT-100. In addition to their claimed match rate in double-blind testing, Dave & Shannon have presented further anecdotal evidence in support of their model. They have noted that subjects often look the same as others given the same type (even though appearance plays no part in the typing process). Moreover, they report LGBTQ+ subjects tend to cluster around certain types. The pair are aware that this by no means proves their theories but share these findings as suggestions that they might be onto something. For now, in order to assess the system, we will have to rely on our own subjective impressions.
Checking the OPS against other psychological models and theories, particularly different personality models, for any concurrence of ideas may provide some indication of its validity. That said, it is also important for a new model of personality to be clearly distinct from those that already exist. Otherwise, it is unlikely to have any utility above and beyond the models that are already in use. The Five Factor Model (Big 5) is the most evidenced model of personality and hence provides a useful benchmark.
One important distinction between the Objective Personality System and the Five Factor Model (FFM) is the different approaches used in their formulation. The OPS takes a ‘model first’ approach whereas the FFM takes an ‘assessment first’ approach. Meaning that the FFM was constructed based on the responses from a population sample to an assessment. The assessment was a questionnaire designed using the lexical hypothesis. The respondent data was put through a statistical analysis to identify trends and correlations in the answers given. The model was then created based on the patterns identified in the data. Therefore, the model assumes that the questionnaire is able to accurately capture an individual’s personality traits. That is, the model is defined by the assessment. The OPS approach differs in that, the model was constructed first (based on essentially guesswork). Having spent thousands of hours observing people’s behaviour, Dave & Shannon built up the model by adding new theories which matched the behavioural patterns they consistently observed. The assessment process was then updated with the model, with each assessment starting with the assumption that the new model is correct. In this case then, the assessment is defined by the model.
The depth of the OPS makes it quite different from certain personality systems. It is common for personality systems to only focus on one or two aspects of personality such as motivation or learning. The OPS however attempts model at least seven facets of personality. Moreover, the system provides a single interconnected model of personality which indicates how these different facets interact with one another. Personality can be modelled on the behavioural level or on the mental level (cognition and emotional patterns) — or both. Many personality models focus purely on behaviour. The Objective Personality System attempts to dig deeper by presenting a mental model. The model provides an illustration of the mind and the states in which it can be in. Dave & Shannon have not yet theorised which functions relate to which brain regions.
The Objective Personality System is also different from many personality systems as it offers an active model of personality. That is, it attempts to model how a person’s mental state can fluctuate throughout the day. Many personality assessments return a fixed score or type to users. This suggests they are only modelling the consistencies in behaviour over longer time periods. But we know that individuals engage in different kinds of behaviours over the course of a day. For example, a person who is more introverted will still engage in activities that are associated with extroversion, just less frequently. This raises some key questions; what is happening in the mind of an individual as they transition from engaging in introverted behaviour to extroverted behaviour (and vice versa)? And, are there any consistent patterns in the way individuals make these transitions? Dave & Shannon attempt to answer these questions with the incorporation of the animal cycle in their system.
Dave & Shannon recognise that developing the Objective Personality System is likely to be a long-term project, spanning decades. They have expressed that their goal is to write evidence-based profiles for each of the 512 types within their lifetimes. They estimate this will require typing 100,000+ individuals, 100 males and 100 females for each type. Since 2014, the pair have built up a database of ~3,000 typed individuals, many of whom are online celebrities. The pair continue to concentrate a lot of their efforts on building up this database. Currently, their main focus is to try and build a strong and dedicated team. They are looking to hire ‘operators’ who will be trained to type using the OPS. Recruiting and training these individuals is estimated to take roughly 5 years. From there the new team will work out the best way forward for the OPS.
In order to avoid bottle-necking the development and application of the OPS, Dave & Shannon have stated that their system is open source. Any interested parties are encouraged to start their own businesses and research projects around the system. Dave & Shannon have been sharing their theories through an online class since early 2018. This is complimented with a YouTube channel, currently boasting ~35k subscribers. While the pair have noted that they see the wider potential for the Objective Personality system, the videos in their class generally explore the model in the context of personal growth. The classes have led to the emergence of a growing community of OPS students. Many of these students are highly engaged and dedicated to improving their own typing practice. Some have even started their own projects to support the development of the system, such as the OP-dex.
What if there really are types of brain?
[Edit: What if new demographic groups were established based on temperament?]
If the Objective Personality System is proven valid, it could have massive implications for society. So far, the validity of the Objective Personality System is yet be tested. But there is a growing community of people who are working to make this happen. The first hurdle will be building population samples of typed individuals. This presents a serious challenge as the current typing process, the double-blind test, lacks scalability. It seems for now, Dave & Shannon are focused on building an effective team with whom they can navigate these challenges. Dave & Shannon have demonstrated that they are keen to avoid the OPS from suffering the same fate that has befallen similar personality systems. By having objective standards for typing, being strict with definitions for the model and by reiterating to students the dangers of using loose anecdotes, they hope to prevent this.
[Note: At the start of this piece I presented an image which I claimed to be a model of my type according to the Objective Personality System. I would like to clarify that this is based off of my own self-typing—I have not been typed by Dave & Shannon]
Why is this relevant to EA? If the model were proven to have predictive validity, I believe it could have numerous use cases within the EA community. However, at this stage, it is looking like it might take many years for the necessary research to be done. Acquiring the necessary population samples will be no small feat. Currently, there is only one small team (Dave & Shannon’s) working to develop and test the model. Also, they have not explicitly said that they are focusing on testing the predictive validity of the model. Rather they seem to be focusing on writing profiles for each of the types. Dave & Shannon are not trained scientists, they’re entrepreneurs. They appear hindered by a lack of research skills and expertise as well as a lack of connections within in the field.
I believe there is an opportunity for the EA community to significantly accelerate the evaluation of the model. Of course, this begs the question; is there sufficient evidence to suggest that the model will have some predictive utility, that existing models do not have, that would make it worth the investment needed to evaluate the model? I have been studying and thinking about the model for over a year and I believe there is. However, I believe this to be a matter of opinion and I am keen to hear what others think.
I write this piece in the hope that it will encourage a few people to take a good look at the model and share their thoughts.
Here are some quick notes on the use cases I think the Objective Personality System could have in the EA community.
For individual use in the community
Personal and Professional Development
Decision making (e.g. career planning)
Understanding & tolerance (e.g. the reasons for the differences in cause area preferences)
For organisational use in the community
Coaching and peer support
Recruitment and organisational strategy
Improving collaboration (e.g. group decision making)
Research in certain cause areas
Institutional decision making
Community building (non-EA)
Education and IAG (Information, advice and guidance)
Social Science & Humanities Research
Future Earn to Give pathways.
Here are some relevant resources:
[HEADS UP! The tone and manner in which they present their content may be off-putting to some, but I encourage you to persevere.]
[Edit: OPS Beginner Series]