“The individual’s pattern of thought reflects his personality and is not merely an aggregate of opinions picked up helter-skelter from the ideological environment.” -Adorno1
As the above quote suggests, our political views are less determined by our social environment than we might think. Research suggests that our personality, as described by taxonomies such as the Myers-Briggs or Big Five, significantly predicts and informs our political preferences.2
Before exploring the relevant links between personality and political preferences, we need to first spell out the key relationships between the Myers-Briggs and the Big Five. Building on the seminal work of Carl Jung, Myers and Briggs developed a personality framework and assessment (MBTI) based on four dichotomous pairs (E-I, S-N, T-F, J-P). The Myers-Briggs has been shown to consistently correlate and overlap with the leading academic model of personality, the NEO-PI, or what is more commonly known as “The Big Five.”3 The dimensions of, and primary areas of overlap between, these two taxonomies are as follows:
Big Five Openness, Myers-Briggs Intuition (N) & Political Liberalism
Research has consistently shown that the most powerful predictor of political liberalism is a preference for intuition (N) on the Myers-Briggs and high levels of openness on the Big Five. Openness, as described by the Big Five, is comprised of six facets—openness to actions, values, feelings, fantasy, aesthetics, and ideas. According to Wikipedia:
Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, open to emotion, sensitive to beauty and willing to try new things. They tend to be, when compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are also more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.
Similarly, Myers-Briggs intuitives are known to be creative, reflective, and imaginative, exhibiting abstract and unconventional modes of thinking.4 They also tend to emphasize the “big picture,” making broad connections, and seeing the whole before the parts / details. Although these descriptors aren’t explicitly employed by the Big Five, they are pointed to by the fact that open individuals typically exhibit a breadth of abstract interests (e.g., art, science, literature, politics, etc.).
In their article, The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives, Dana Carney and her colleagues provide an excellent overview of the known personality traits of liberals and conservatives, including the following (abridged) list of liberal characteristics:
The Liberal Personality
Eccentric, sensitive, individualistic
Open, tolerant, flexible
Creative, imaginative, curious
Desire for novelty, diversity
Open-minded / open to experience
In view of the striking similarities among liberalism, intuition, and openness, one is almost tempted to accuse personality theorists of patterning their constructs around liberal individuals. However, what is in my view more likely is that these constructs are capturing core truths about human personality that can’t help but manifest in the political sphere.
Big Five Conscientiousness, Judging (J) & Conservatism
Although somewhat weaker than the link between openness and liberalism, research has also found significant and consistent correlations between judging (J) / conscientiousness and political conservatism.5 According to Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham, authors of the book, Personality and Intellectual Competence:
Conscientiousness is associated with responsibility and persistence. This factor includes…competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and deliberation. Conscientious individuals are best-identified for their efficiency, organization, determination and productivity.6
Conscientiousness tends to correlate with Myers-Briggs judging (J), although this relationship is less robust and reliable than that observed between openness and intuition. Many type enthusiasts associate judging with a preference for closure, which is interesting insofar as it represents the opposite of Big Five openness. This helps us understand why Big Five openness not only correlates with intuition, but also with perceiving (although not as strongly). For this reason, the Myers-Briggs NP types (ENTP, ENFP, INTP, INFP) typically score highest in openness and lowest in conscientiousness.
Let us now return to Carney’s article for a list of common characteristics of political conservatives:
The Conservative Personality
Reliable, trustworthy, faithful, loyal
Careful, practical, methodical
Obedient, conformist, concerned with rules / norms
Closed-minded / less open to experience
In perusing this list, those familiar with the Myers-Briggs may have noticed its striking resemblance to characteristics exhibited by the SJ personality types (i.e., ESTJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ISFJ). In addition to being responsible and persistent, SJs typically exhibit a strong need for order, consistency, and stability in their lives. In direct contrast to NP types, they commonly feel threatened by change and novelty, which helps explain their preference for conserving what is most familiar and comforting to them.
Introversion (I) & Extraversion (E)
Of all the personality variables, the introvert-extravert distinction may be the least politically consequential. However, personality research has frequently demonstrated a correlative clustering of the E, N, and P preferences, as well as the I, S, and J preferences. Similar conceptual overlaps have been noted among Big Five extroversion, openness, neuroticism, and low conscientiousness. In light of these clusters, we might predict that extraverts, who on the whole are inclined to be more open and less conscientious than introverts, will be more disposed to liberalism and introverts to conservatism.
Big Five Agreeableness & Thinking (T) / Feeling (F)
Agreeableness, as defined by the Big Five, involves a tendency to be trusting, compliant, altruistic, modest, and honest. Agreeableness typically correlates with the Myers-Briggs feeling (F) preference, which is commonly described in terms of making decisions with the heart rather than with impersonal logic. Research suggests that nearly two-thirds of F types are female. We also know that women are more likely to identify as politically liberal than men. We would therefore expect to find more F types among liberals and more T types among conservatives.
The following diagram summarizes many of the key links we’ve discussed between personality and political preferences:
Based on this, we might predict the ENFP personality type to be the most politically liberal and the ISTJ to be the most conservative, with the remaining fourteen types falling somewhere in between. Keep in mind that because the S-N preference is the most politically potent, it would not at all be unusual for a type like an INTJ to be politically liberal or an ESFP to lean conservative.
The Role of Personal Growth
While studying personality types and traits can certainly take us a long way in understanding and predicting political preferences, we should not overlook the important contribution of personal growth in this respect. According to Jung, as we move toward middle age, we (should) begin to develop different parts of our personality that help us become more balanced and whole. In theory, these changes would also be reflected in our political views and may precipitate a move toward the political center. While we may continue to instinctively lean toward one side, this may be tempered by a broader understanding of the world and society. With that said, the fact that liberals are generally more open to change would seemingly make them more likely to moderate than their conservative counterparts.
Learn More in Our Books:
My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions
The 16 Personality Types: Profiles, Theory & Type Development
Openness, Myers-Briggs Intuition, Big Five, IQ Correlations
Creativity & Personality Type: Myers-Briggs, The Big Five, Art & Science
Myers-Briggs / MBTI in the Age of the Big Five
- Adorno, et al. The Authoritarian Personality. 1950, p. 176.
- Carney, DR. et al. “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind.” Political Psychology. Vol. 29. 2008.
- Furnham, A. The Big Five vs. The Big Four: The Relationship between the MBTI and NEO-PI Five-Factor Model. Personality and Individual Differences. August 1996.
- Briggs Myers, et al. MBTI Manual. Third Edition. CPP. 1998.
- Carney, DR. et al. “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind.” Political Psychology. Vol. 29. 2008.
- Chamorro-Pemuzic, T, Furnham, A. Personality and Intellectual Competence. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 2005.
Bamboo Me says
I thought it was interesting how you said that the most likely type to be liberal is ENFP, with ISTJ as probably the most conservative. I am an xNFP and would consider myself a libertarian socialist as I score in the fairly extreme section of the bottom left quadrant of the Political Compass. My boyfriend is an ISTJ, and although his parents are fairly conservative (along the lines of centre-right), he scores as centre-left (liberal, likely to support Bernie Sanders, etc.). His sister (ENFP) and brother (ISFP) share similar and more leftist views.
I think that perhaps NPs are more likely to explore different points of view and change their beliefs as a result once they become independent, because of their dom/aux Ne. I’ve also read that scoring high on authoritarianism is not simply a quality of right-wingers, but also left-wingers as well: for example, people who scored higher on this characteristic were more likely to support Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary. Here we’re talking about tolerance and being open-minded and supporting diversity (in race, gender, sexuality) as a characteristic of liberalism, but I’m also wondering: are there any cognitive functions that could possibly correlate with support for economic equality?
A.J. Drenth says
Tolerance, diversity, and economic equality might all be placed under the umbrella of “fairness,” which, according to Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory, comprises one of liberals’ primary moral concerns. Haidt also suggests that liberals value care as a moral foundation, while conservatives place more emphasis on authority / respect, purity, and in-group loyalty. Typologically speaking, N, in combination with a healthy dose of F, seems most likely to engender a concern for economic equality.
“scoring high on authoritarianism is not simply a quality of right-wingers, but also left-wingers as well: for example, people who scored higher on this characteristic were more likely to support Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.”
You did not share the instrument used for this measure, but It appears to be a measure of people who demand that everyone believes as they do regardless of their politics, rather than an indicator of political preferences.
The correspondence between political affiliation and type should be readily apparent to any student of personality, a more difficult question is accounting for the close equality of the (for example) U.S. electorate and yet much higher percentage of extraversion and sensation. In other words, why an equal amount of political liberals if intuition is a minority? Just looking at the electorate map (again in the U.S.) shows liberalism at the affluent coasts, it appears that economics (and probably peer group) plays an equally large component.
A.J. Drenth says
Very good point. As you indicate, if N types make up roughly 25-30% of the population, why are we seeing a more or less equal left-right distribution? A couple thoughts: If SJs, as Si users, are concerned with conserving what is familiar to them, then those raised in liberal households / communities may well opt to continue in that tradition. While SPs are generally less concerned with upholding traditions, they do tend to absorb and adopt the views of those around them (this is particularly true of ESPs). We might therefore expect a higher percentage of S types self-identifying as liberals in predominantly liberal regions of the country which would explain, at least in part, the discrepancy.
Also, the 30% is of the entire population, not “of those who vote”. Perhaps a greater percentage of Ns vote?
“If SJs, as Si users, are concerned with conserving what is familiar to them, then those raised in liberal households / communities may well opt to continue in that tradition.”
Very important point, A.J. My wife is an ISTJ, but she was raised in a very liberal household. (As it happens, her parents are also SJs, an ISTJ and an ESTJ.) She has a conservative temperament, but is very liberal politically. Much of the reason is that she upholds the liberal tradition her parents taught her. I, an INTP, have ended up being more conservative politically than her.
Another thing I’ll throw out there is that I’ve noticed a lot of SPs being drawn to Trump. I believe Trump himself is an ESTP. I think many are attracted to his spur-of-the-moment speaking style and ostentatious wealth among other things.
This makes a lot of sense, viz. Si preserving what’s “mine.”
I would think most Ti dominants would gravitate toward parties which are principally minarchist, i.e. “small government.” An ISTP friend of mine and I (INTP) have shockingly similar political philosophies (“shocking” simply because our views are so peculiar to us and it’s hard to believe that any two people, quite independently of one another, could have developed so many of the same ideas), and we both identify ourselves as this or that kind of anarchist. He is more active and vocal about politics, I think, because of the auxiliary Se; e.g., as a matter of sheer practicality he’s a member of the Libertarian Party. I, on the other hand, don’t get involved—a member of no party, a non-voter, and a philosophical anarchist—and am more concerned with certain theoretical aspects of politics (e.g., the constants and constraints of geopolitics; balance of power; the originary meaning of the Constitution; or the like).
I think INTPs in particular tend to have fairly “weird” non-mainstream politics, but I personally haven’t observed any trend with respect to size of government. I have INTP friends who are on the left (i.e. Marxist) and also on the right. For my part, when I was younger I was into Ayn Rand and anarcho-capitalism. Then I became a technocratic liberal for several years. Now I’m more of an agrarian distributist with somewhat conservative social views.
Given all that, I don’t really buy the idea that one type is going to fit into one political category or another. However, every type will have a unique way of expressing and embodying their political views. As you said, your friend is more “active” about his politics than you are. I tend to care much more about understanding what’s going on in politics that pushing for a particular view.
Thanks, yeah, I think we’re more or less in agreement.
I agree with Bill…. ‘of those who vote’ matters …. so many people do not vote and are politically silent on many matters. I, for one, did not vote for either mainstream candidate last year because Trump nor Clinton represented me. I understood I was essentially ‘wasting’ my vote because most of the country didn’t see things ‘my’ way… which was that if enough of us ‘fed up’ people rallied together, we could make enough difference to convince ‘people’ that we need a third real party for us moderate thinkers…
I am, not surprisingly, an INFJ
I fully believe in social justice, and in my mind, that includes unborn human rights (which would put my in the ‘conservative’ camp) but I am also for LGBT rights even if they don’t align with my religion (because I am fully aware not everyone shares my religious beliefs and it is not the job of the state to force that). I am also for more moderate fiscal policy that neither L or C views maintain. Same goes for international relations and trade… Where are the people that don’t fit in? Not in politics because they don’t see the value in people tearing them apart limb by limb. The only people ‘able’ to fit into today’s political sphere to represent the rest of us are those with INTENSE personalities that seemingly don’t give a flying F about anyone but themselves…thereby really all just being the same. Cold, heartless, and crazy. All of them. Libs, GOP, whatever….until there is a solid third party, SO many of us in the minority will be on the sidelines politically….
sorry for my typical INFJ ellipses rambling post.
I really don’t know about this. I have thought about it. But although I consider myself a philosophical anarchist, by most people’s standards I would be labeled a conservative. (But bear in mind that I consider the entire American political system to be “liberal” in its core; there has been little TRUE conservatism in the U.S. since the days of Jefferson and Madison, and by the 1860’s, when the political establishment became officially a divide between Republican and Democrat, what you had was two essentially “liberal” parties.) An ENFP friend of mine is about as “conservative” by today’s definition as one could imagine; other ENFP’s I’ve known are quite definitely “liberal” by today’s definition. Similarly, I know INTJ’s who are very conservative, and others who are very liberal. I am an INTP and have met maybe one or two of my own kind in “real life” (i.e. not on the Internet), and whereas I would probably be considered by most “conservative”, one of the others I used to know was about as “liberal” as liberals get, and the other could care less about politics. The issue in many cases is ideology. Many people have a very “bandwagon” approach to the political dimension; they assume that if Party A believes x-y-z, and Party B believe p-q-r, well, then, obviously if you believe x, then you must by default also believe y and z, belonging, thus, to Party A. But what if one believes p, x, and z, in that order? Well then they say you’re a so-called “moderate.” This all hinges on the assumption that all that exists is a Left and a Right. But the reality is that one may reject the Left-Right paradigm altogether; may, indeed, reject the entire notion of political “parties” wholesale. Frankly I think this is where MOST people “live”; and these are people who realize that politics is not the end-all be-all of human existence. Those who cling to party politics tend to be politically obsessed—i.e., ideologues. Anyway, I digress. I can’t say I really have an overarching point to make here except to say that I don’t think this is something that is quite so theoretically clean-cut. I am what one would call an “eccentric”, but I don’t believe that governments should conduct affairs the way I do personally. An entire country should not be held hostage to the whims, fancies, and fads of individuals or factions. One more thing: as for the whole “liberal” and “conservative” thing, outside of the ideologically-driven persons and groups, the very meanings of liberalism and conservatism are highly variable. As I said at the outset, I consider myself essentially a “philosophical anarchist.” I am relatively certain, however, that what I MEAN by anarchism is highly unlikely to conform to what common opinion would understand it to mean, and it would take me several pages to explain precisely how I define that term. I guess what I am saying (at least what I am saying here as my final point, if I have one) is that I don’t believe we can classify political positions en masse, as it were, by such neatly delineated means as personality theory.
I think you and the paper authors may be viewing the parties a bit too statically when really they’re in constant flux, and both seem to have made especially significant movements in recent years. Probably in the mid 20th century the two parties generally seemed more N vs SJ. Around that time there was probably a slight NFP leaning to the Liberal party, but it seems like recently there has been a rapid shift towards J in that party too. I’m an INFP who didn’t follow politics too closely until recently, but I generally supported Democrats because the NF leaning was close to my values; however recent events have shown me that the party has shifted dramatically through NFJ towards identity politics and authoritarianism that seem more FJ than N. These qualities fly in the face of my personal liberties values, so I would probably consider myself another “classic liberal / libertarian” that doesn’t have a home right now. I agree what’s probably needed is another party to emerge from scratch and do a reboot to broader, more inclusive progressive ideals.
It is quite true what you say about flux in the parties. Many of the things that contemporary Republicans stand for are what 19th-century Democrats stood for. And, to a CERTAIN extent, vice versa; e.g., 19th-century Republicans were big on centralization and concentration of power in Washington, much as the Democrats have been in the past few decades.
…actually, I shouldn’t so much say “contemporary” Republicans but rather late-20th century Republicans.
“The party has shifted dramatically through NFJ towards identity politics and authoritarianism that seem more FJ than N”
It’s interesting that you say FJ because I think that identity politics is actually a manifestation of Te-Fi. First, it is not at all about social harmony (what you would expect from Fe) but rather about “calling out” and other divisive forms of rhetoric. It’s “you’re either with us or you’re a Nazi.” Contrast to Obama’s rhetoric in 2008, which was heavily Fe, about bringing the country together. Second, it is based on subjective offense, whereas Fe cares about objective offense. A common identity politics talking point is that no one else can understand the plight of oppressed groups, which sounds very Fi to me. The authoritarian elements, to me, seem more like Te protecting Fi than Fe.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
Tony Davies says
INFJ mixed race male probably more libertarian however in this current clime I support President Trump. The thing with being a dominant perceiver is being able to sift the chaff from the wheat, and it is in this line of thought that I say just because one political group ‘says’ they are open and inclusive does not necessarily make it so. The way I see this problem is that the left has magnified their inclusion and openness to the point of exclusivity. They in fact are not inclusive and open and that is where I have the biggest problem with the left. It is actually very difficult to be as truly open and inclusive as a dominant perceiver would try to function. Openness and inclusion should not mean simply let everything in ‘unchecked’ which is how the Democratic party left has been operating . It should mean I am open to exploring everything and selectively choosing the best or most relevant from amongst everything which is how President Trump wants to operate and why I support him. It does NOT make me xenophobic, racist or whatever.
I can identify with being against the elitist left, but I continue to be flummoxed by anyone being pro-trump. It is not a political critique, but one of morality. The guy is toxic.
He lies, frauds, bickers like a middle-schooler, has no social skills beyond bullying and false bravado. His admin is full of white supremacists, his trio of bills (healthcare, tax, budget) are designed to increase the wealth gap, and he is stupid, a poor businessperson (probably the only person on earth that went bankrupt with casinos), and is deeply indebted to powers hostile to the US, bla, bla, bla…the list of his faults is long and you know all of them. The US has no elected leadership, with trump a puppet easily manipulated by flattery and slights.
A democracy argues about politics, but by any standard – the guy squatting in the WH is amoral and incompetent.
Tony Davies says
I dislike anyone co-opting their brand as open and inclusive when they’re quite clearly not, with the caveat of at least not in the dominant Ni sense. I will allow any argument, for and against, to indwell my mind for years and decades while allowing all the nuances to reveal themselves. On the other hand I will resist any forms of stereotypes in statements, generalizations from indwelling my mind.
I’m mixed race. I’ve experienced slurs against the brown race part of me and I’ve experienced the privilege of growing up in a predominately white culture. What I will not do is betray the white culture that raised and loved me, and neither will I deny my brown cultural side. This description is a simpler version of what it truly means to practice inclusion and openness. I honestly do not see the left preaching nor practicing what I’ve described. There is a dangerous swing towards doing to others what was done to me-thee. The liberal left practice of identity politics is dangerous and very unhelpful.
I am consistently INTP across several classifying assessments. I am the predicted combo of conservative/liberal dichotomy.
I would be best described as libertarian – except their constitution has no mechanism for ‘bad guys’ and those who do not play fair. Maybe, looking at their all white mostly male faces, they are the bad guys. Anyway, I think they have gotten us in a bad place politically and I am not much of a joiner anyway.
So I am an independent.
Jane L Howard says
If your analysis is correct, then as an ISFJ, I must be an anomaly. I am about as politically liberal as one can get and yet I was raised in a very conservative household and am surrounded by conservatives. I admit that the very socially liberal church I was raised in (my dad was a paid soloist in the choir so we belonged to a liberal church) and my college experiences affected my political leanings. I am a strong Si user, usually sticking to familiar routines and traditions, but in the case of politics and religion, I do not adhere to the philosophy of my family of origin.
While I agree that personality plays a significant role in whether one leans conservative or liberal, I disagree with many of the statements and conclusions expressed in this article. Based on the comments already made by other readers, I am not alone in this regard. I particularly liked what Tony (INFJ) and Carole (INTP) had to say. I am also an INTP and am very conservative. I possess most of the traits listed in the liberal personality and almost none of those listed in the conservative personality. I believe these lists are inherently flawed. Intolerance and conformity are the hallmarks of modern liberalism in America. (Just take a look at the recent Goggle diversity controversy).
As an INTP, I am ruled by logic. You could say it is my religion (I’m not religious otherwise). The liberal philosophy is filled with logical inconsistencies (yes of course, there are some on both sides, but I’m not talking about political parties, I’m talking about ideas). Why else would liberalism feel the need to rely on a “living constitution”? It’s because many times liberal policies and principals are inconsistent and contradictory. Therefore, they must constantly bend and twist the meaning of the constitution in order to make their agenda “constitutional”.
While it may be true as you say that research has shown a preference for (N) to be a strong indicator of liberalism, in my personal experience, an (F) preference is a stronger indicator (if there is any indicator at all). My ENFP brother is extremely liberal, and my ESTJ and ISFJ sisters are also quite liberal. However, my brother in particular is very intolerant of any viewpoint other than his own. He even tried (unsuccessfully) to emigrate to Canada after Trump was elected! As an INTP, I am very independent. I do not want to be controlled and I have no desire to control others. Liberalism is all about conformity and control. Conservatism is all about freedom and independence. Live and let live, but don’t force others to live the way you think they should.