Mind & Body

Do You Have a "Healthy" Personality? Find Out With This Psychology Scale

For decades, scientists have tried to define the ideal human personality. In 1955, psychologist Gordon Allport hypothesized that it involved "maturity," or an ability to focus on long-term goals. In 1970, Abraham Maslow suggested it might involve "self-actualization." More recently, though, personality scholars have been relying on five traits, nicknamed the Big Five, to define human personalities. What does a "healthy" personality look like in Big Five terms?

What Does "Health" Mean?

The Big Five, or the Five Factor Model (FFM), is a surprisingly powerful tool for mapping personality. Research has shown that people's Big Five profiles hold stable over time, which means the Big Five really can capture underlying personality, not just momentary mood. Big Five profiles reliably predict important life outcomes, too, like self-esteem and work performance.

But researchers have so far mostly used the Big Five traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — to define personality disorders. In a recent study, a team of researchers set out to do the opposite: They wanted to use the Big Five to define a psychologically healthy person.

This is not just a "normal" person, or a person without "pathological personality functioning," they specified. A psychologically healthy person is actively mentally healthy: happy in good times, resilient in bad, and unlikely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

To start their study, researchers asked more than 100 experts in Big Five research to outline a healthy Big Five personality. Every Big Five trait contains six sub-traits, so these "healthy" personalities were more nuanced than a simple five-factor plan. Once they had all the expert estimates, the researchers combined them into a "consensus profile."

The "consensus profile" ultimately involved high openness to feelings (a sub-trait of openness), warmth and positive emotions (both sub-traits of extraversion), and competence (a sub-trait of conscientiousness). It also scored low on angry hostility, a sub-trait of neuroticism.

Next, the researchers tested their "consensus profile" of a psychologically healthy person — which they still stress is a "first draft" — on a group of roughly 3,000 people. Their goal? To make sure that it corresponded with other established measures of psychological health. They found that it held up to testing; a healthy personality correlated with self-control and wasn't linked with, you know, psychopathy.

So, how healthy is your personality?

The Quiz

You can find out by taking this quiz from psychology researcher Scott Barry Kaufman, which consists of 20 statements. For instance: "I feel comfortable with myself"; "I cheat to get ahead"; and "I handle tasks smoothly" all appear on the quiz.

A five-item Likert scale follows each statement, with possible responses ranging from "Strongly Agree" to "Strongly Disagree." (Yes, "Neutral" is an option.)

When you reach the results page, it'll give you an overall personality health score and highlight a few of your best traits, followed by a few traits you could work on. It's hard to change your personality, of course, but knowing you're unhealthily prone to angry hostility, for instance, might make you think twice before flying into a rage. As with any online test, take the results with a grain of salt, but at the very least you'll finish it feeling a little more self-aware. More self-awareness is always a good thing.

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Ever wonder why personality tests are so popular? Check out "The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing" by Merve Emre. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice May 1, 2019

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