Personality Differences in the Real World


It’s well established that personality differences predict performance in the workplace, but do personality differences matter in the real world? Does it matter that some people are calm and sanguine in the face of negative life events, while others are at the opposite end of the pole? Recent evidence suggests it does. Several recent studies demonstrate personality predicts several life outcomes, including mortality, as well as, or better, than other factors – educational attainment, socio-economic status, and cognitive ability.

That humans vary on dimensions of personality is unsurprising. But the advent of the Big Five taxonomy of traits has enabled investigation into the impact of personality across a wide range of life outcomes.

Obviously we are familiar with the impact of personality at work: personality correlates strongly with work performance. Individuals with high scores on interpersonal sensitivity and adjustment are more likely to be seen as good team members. People who score high on sociability, adjustment, and ambition are more likely to be judged as leader-like.

But an individual’s score on a personality variable significantly influences their chances of experiencing certain life outcomes, too.

Increasing evidence shows that personality is a powerful predictor of health outcomes. A combination of low intelligence and neuroticism, for example, was a more significant predictor of mortality in Vietnam veterans than age, ethnicity, or marital status. Other studies reveal that high prudence scores protect against mortality. The well-organized and well-balanced live longer. And if you are smarter than most, then you may as well start to plan your 100th birthday!

There are several factors to which these outcomes can be attributed. First, personality affects people’s attraction to health promoting or health harming behavior, in other words, we vary in our propensity to engage in riskier types of activities. Second, we vary in our assessment of outcomes – consider the young man who recently jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge on a dare. Finally, personality plays a role in the way we organize our lives. Low adjustment types who are also low prudence are less likely to follow exercise regimes and also engage in activities that self-soothe, like abusing alcohol, for example.

Screening people for personality variables is a powerful tool for understanding someone’s approach to life and relationships. A full understanding of someone’s individual psychology is essential to help them realize their potential through managing, coaching, and counseling.

And for some of us, it’s good to know about your risk factors too.

by Dave Winsborough

Managing Director, Winsborough Limited & Guest Blogger