Personality & Values: Traits are what we’re born with, and values are what we become

August 19, 2016

While making a private visit to The Hague, I managed to interview dr Pierce Howard and Jane Mitchell Howard of The Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, Charlotte NC, on their recent book ‘Values at Work’. Being experts in personality, the Howards elaborated on the differences between personality & values. They also shed their light on how to get an indication of someone’s integrity based on a blend of Big5 traits. They were critical about new developments of adding integrity as a seperate scale to the original Big5’s.

Time-sequenced questions and transcript of the interview below.

Questions

  • 00M17 Mrs. Howard and Dr. Howard, you are experts in the field of mind brain research and personality, can you give an introduction of yourself and your center?
  • 01M01 You recently wrote a book about values. What can you say about the current role of values in life and in the workplace?
  • 02M19 Being an expert on personality as well, how would you describe the difference between personality traits and values?
  • 04M17 Integrity is becoming more and more a vital dimension in many organizations and jobs. How can that be covered by the Big Five Model and what is your take on the HEXACO that argues to have a dimension of integrity included in the sixth dimension humility and honesty scale?
  • 07M43 You’ve been studying and applying Big Five theories from the early ‘80s. What have been the big developments in the theory and more specifically, what lies ahead of us?
  • 10M27 All these new developments in pharmaceuticals and computer technology in and around the workplace, what can we see ahead in terms of dehumanizing or even human obsoleteness?
  • 12M43 Some believe that the times of questionnaires are over and that we can distill personalities from analyzing the social data. What is your take on this?
  • 14M20 Now, that artificial intelligence is being overtaken by artificial cognition, how far do you think are we removed from artificial personality? And what is it that makes you think so?
  • 16M23 To what extent do you think stuff as opposed to humans can assume personality? To what extent can it be matched to the personalities of people?
  • 18M05 How can personality and big data play out for example in the process of buying durable goods like a house?

Transcript

00M17 Mrs. Howard and Dr. Howard, you are experts in the field of mind brain research and personality, can you give an introduction of yourself and your center?

Jane Mitchell Howard: We have been together as business people since 1986. When Pierce decided to write a book about the brain in the late 1980s, literally we stumbled over the research that was coming about, all about this new Five-Factor Model of personality that was coming globally. And as he wrote about this, we decided that it was too important to ignore. So Pierce has been more of the research arm of our center. I had been more of the manager and the applier with businesses and industries that we have worked with.

01M01 You recently wrote a book about values. What can you say about the current role of values in life and in the workplace?

Dr. Pierce Howard: Values are the basis of motivation. There are two kinds of motivation. I would refer to them simply as true motivation and false motivation. False motivation is that instigated by fear, the so-called carrot and the stick. False motivation is prompted by the fear of a beating for example or a demotion or firing whereas a true motivation is motivation in which what was expected of one matches their values. So if you value materialism and you get high pay, you’re motivated to get lots of money to support your material values.

On the other hand, if you are interested in beauty as in this lovely garden back here in the studio and in the gallery, if you’re interested in beauty, salary may not be of appeal to you. You may be able to satisfy your needs in other ways. So, values are the carrot and false values are the stick.

02M19 Being an expert on personality as well, how would you describe the difference between personality traits and values?

Dr. Pierce Howard: I see the person, the self, as comprising 5 elements: behavioral traits, mental abilities, values, physical characteristics, and memories or experiences. This accounts for 99% of who we are as individuals.

The difference in traits for example and values is a person maybe outgoing or sociable, gregarious. Or they may on the other hand, be solitary, private. That is who they are. It’s how they’re built. But it may not be important to them. What they do with their solitude reflects their values, what is important to them.

So if I’m a solitary person and I play soccer all the time and I go out and I practice my kicks or I’m a tennis player and I go out and I practice my serves for hours, I’m being solitary but I’m being very active. So my value for activity and being busy is reflected there.

On the other hand, I may be a solitary person. And with my solitude, I read and I read and I read and I express my value for intellect. Or if I’m solitary, I may express my value for helping or altruism by finding ways of doing things for others in my solitude.

So personality traits are who we are. It’s how we’re different from others but our traits aren’t necessarily important to us. Values are what’s important.

We’re born with traits. We acquire our values. That’s another big difference.

04M17 Integrity is becoming more and more a vital dimension in many organizations and jobs. How can that be covered by the Big Five Model and what is your take on the HEXACO that argues to have a dimension of integrity included in the sixth dimension humility and honesty scale?

Jane Mitchell Howard: Essentially, integrity is coming from a blend as he might be defining that defining that scale. If someone who is very calm, who is low in what we call need for stability, what the literature refers to it often to as neuroticism or negative emotionality. And it’s also comprised of someone who is high in agreeableness or accommodation who does what they’re told, who adheres to the rules.

And it’s also comprised of someone who is focused on the goal, what we could call consolidation, what is often called conscientiousness in the literature about the Big Five.

Dr. Pierce Howard: Yes. Deniz Ones a Turkish-American researcher, when she was at the University of Minnesota, did a huge meta-analysis of people who had taken Big Five test on the one hand and had also taken integrity test on the other like the stamp and honesty scales and things like that. And she found a multiple R of 0.99, which is outrageously high between the scores on integrity test and scores on N, A, and C, that Jane just mentioned, low N, high A, high C, correlate 0.99 the scores on integrity tests.

So we regard integrity as a blend of those three traits. If you have all those three traits together, a person with those three traits is likely to have a reputation for integrity.

Now, one thing that differs The Big Five from other personality test is that every dimension is positive. It has a positive end on both ends. High E is a good thing, low E is a good thing, et cetera. There are no bad scores The Big Five.

Costa McCrae who have develop the most prominent test of Big Five, the NEO PI-R, they had deliberately eliminated any aspect of personality that was valuating as a good thing or a bad thing.

So for example, beautiful is not in there. Ugly is not in there. Worthless is not in there. Worthwhile is not in there. Those are valuating terms, good or bad.

The Big Five, none of the scores are good or bad. It’s just who we are. HEXACO has ignored that requirement for measuring personality and they have added the sixth dimension, which is basically a positive valance and negative valance or in their terms, honest and dishonest.

Well, it’s certainly desirable to be honest and undesirable to be dishonest. And we would not regard that as a personality trait, but more as something other than that.

07M43 You’ve been studying and applying Big Five theories from the early ‘80s. What have been the big developments in the theory and more specifically, what lies ahead of us?

Jane Mitchell Howard: Technically, when the Five-Factor Model first emerged when high-speed computers enabled people to rapidly do research and not have to get in line to the mainframe of the universities in the Psychology Departments. When this Five-Factor Model emerged, it came out globally. It was being found everywhere.

The impressive development since that time has been the relationship between the Five-Factor Model and what we are now learning about biology. What’s in our chemicals? What’s in our hormones? And those very chemicals and hormones contribute to the person that we are since most of our personality is directly inherited. It’s part of the genes.

So, I would say that’s a very significant aspect of personality in that we are who we are because of our genetics.

Dr. Pierce Howard: People who have a higher level of oxytocin tend to be more comfortable in relationships and becoming intimate and in exploring the minds of others. They get into the minds of others more easily. In fact, one of the – and this would be related to the trait of extroversion. So people who have more oxytocin tend to be more extroverted.

An interesting line of research has to do with autism spectrum in which we are finding that if you take an atomizer with oxytocin in it and squirt oxytocin in the nostrils of people with autism spectrum, that they show remarkably positive increases in their relational behavior.

So this leads to two dramatic points directly to your question. One is in terms of identifying personality, we are now working on a biological personality test. We, I mean, the research community not CentACS, but we are working on a way to test from spit or blood a person’s DNA and by looking at their biochemical structure, we can estimate their scores on the Big Five.

The other dramatic point that we would make is, an ethical point, and that is the possibility that we can alter people’s personality by taking pills or taking shots.

10M27 All these new developments in pharmaceuticals and computer technology in and around the workplace, what can we see ahead in terms of possibly dehumanizing or even human obsoleteness?

Dr. Pierce Howard: I would make two comments. One, the challenge of the 21st century is to put to the right person in the right job. If you put a person whose mental abilities, whose behavioral traits, his values, his physical characteristics, and his experiences fit the requirements of the job or the marriage or whatever the context is that we are putting them in, if the person fits the demands that are being made upon them, that’s a happy marriage.

And machines are not going to be able to take a look at a person’s job. Machines are in my opinion, machine workers, robots, et cetera, can do two things. They can do repetitive work that humans don’t like to do so much but they can also substitute for humans, making decisions that humans might be better at if we had the right – if we have the right humans in the job.

The second part of this is I don’t think that machines of any sort are a threat to the viability of humans long term. I think the biggest threat has been identified by E.O. Wilson, the Harvard entomologist, who wrote a book called Consilience. And in that book, he said the biggest threat to world peace is not machines, it’s not bombs, it’s not politics, it’s not religion, it is groups and cultures that refuse to accept evidence. Simple evidence. It is that evidence that something is true or not true, desirable or not desirable, healthy or unhealthy. And cultures that refuse to allow their citizens to follow the paths of evidence are the biggest threat to them.

12M43 Some believe that the times of questionnaires are over and that we can distill personalities from analyzing the social data. What is your take on this?

Jane Mitchell Howard: Technically, social data is another source. All sources have some sort of error of measurement. We think the best option to combine the sources, to pull many sources together in order to really have an excellent look at that individual.

Dr. Pierce Howard: You know for example paper and pencil q or internet-based q they have various sources of error But social media do too. If you were to look for example on my iPhone and look at all the applications on my iPhone and try to infer my personality from the apps, I mean I have over a hundred apps on my iPhone. You don’t know which apps are on there that my grandsons and granddaughters put on my iPhone. And you may assume that Angry Birds for example, reflects my personality well it doesn’t. It reflects my grandson’s personality.

And the same thing goes for Facebook and LinkedIn. There may be things on there that I like because it’s good for business but that’s not the real me. And I may endorse something on LinkedIn because I think it’s good for CentACS but it doesn’t reflect my values.

14M20 Now, that artificial intelligence is being overtaken by artificial cognition, how far do you think are we removed from artificial personality? And what is it that makes you think so?

Dr. Pierce Howard: A very difficult question. It’s abstract. It’s complex. There’s no answer to it. I think that number one, machines serve people. And as new machines are introduced in the society, they seem at first to be the master of the person. But over time, the person becomes the master of the machines.

It’s very much like Marshall McLuhan once talked about hot media and cold media. And new machinery is like hot media. It seems to have answers to all of your needs and questions. Then the old machinery is less complete as it were.

It’s like in the town of Shakespeare when you had candles on the stage and not electric lights. And the language in the play had to describe whether it was day or night as it was hard for the audience to know whether it was day or not. So the language in the play needed to do that.

Today, the language in the play does not need to say whether it’s day or night because we’ve got lighting and it’s obvious what’s day and night.

So, the new technology is hot. And the old technology is cold. The old technology draws you in more. So as technology gets older, we become – when we become a little more fond of it, we have to work harder to identify them.

Machines master people early in their appearance on the stage. But over time, I think people master the machine.

16M23 To what extent do you think stuff as opposed to humans can assume personality? To what extent can it be matched to the personalities of people?

Dr. Pierce Howard: Well, we recently had a man from China in Charlotte who specializes in working with an automotive manufacturers. And he was talking about Volvo going through a rebranding process in the last 10 years.

In the US, people who buy Volvos it is almost 80%, 90% sure that they are a democrat. They are liberal. They are progressive. Volvo advertised safety. Their cars were said to be like tanks on the highway. You couldn’t have hurt them. You can crash them and you’ll survive the crash.

So who wants that? It’s a person that’s not interested in power. They’re not interested in materialism. They’re not interested in status. They’re interested in safety. They want to keep their kids safe, their family safe and they buy a Volvo.

And apparently, Volvo has thought that that was confining their marketplace by having such a brand personality. And as a result of trying to broaden the brand personality of their cars, apparently sales had decreased and they are having second thoughts now about that rebranding process and whether they should go back to the safety image.

18M05 How can personality and big data play out for example in the process of buying durable goods like a house?

Dr. Pierce Howard: It’s very interesting. There is a professor at New Mexico State University and he is urging that we stop using demographics as a basis for selling stuff. For example, the car dealers in the town that I am from, Charlotte in North Carolina. The car dealers have traditionally assumed that you look at whether the person is male or female for a particular kind of car. Females wouldn’t be interested in this particular Honda. Do you remember that?

Jane Mitchell Howard: Yes, I didn’t like it a bit.

Dr. Pierce Howard: And that, males wouldn’t be interested in this kind of a car, in this sort of thing. And he says that we should not be using demographics like male, female, young, old, that sort of thing, as a basis for targeting customers for products. He says that we should be using The Big Five, personality traits, as well as mental ability, intelligence. And I think he is on the money. Businesses don’t take individual differences into account.

Jane Mitchell Howard: There’s another key way that research is done often in the marketing arena, and that is that marketing firms will call in a focus group. In fact, I’ve been asked and participate in focus groups by marketing companies. And they don’t take the personality of the people being interviewed and the focus groups into account. They will have people with opposing views on the product or how the product functions or how they might use the product in their daily lives. But they don’t stop to find out what is the personality of the person being interviewed for that particular product.

And so, I think to the extent that we can estimate that personality before we do our market research that would vastly enhanced the capability of marketers.

Interview Peter van der Bel, founder & curator of The Centre for Applied Product Personality Research

CaPPr likes to thank Ellen Cleydert of Het Cleyne Huis in The Hague for kindly hosting this interview in the wonderful sculpture garden.