(Updated Jan. 2021)
Modern career centers offer numerous tools to identify or clarify an individual’s values (V), interests (I), and personality (P) characteristics. While the specificity of such assessments is undoubtedly useful, it’s also important to understand how values, interests, and personality overlap and converge with each other. This theoretical convergence, for which we will employ the acronym—”V-I-P”—will constitute our focus in this post.
I’ve long been interested in the theoretical overlap among various personality taxonomies. But it wasn’t until I revisited Shalom Schwartz’s “Theory of Basic Human Values” that I was struck by its parallels with John Holland’s “RIASEC” theory of career interests. I was already well-acquainted with the interrelations between Holland’s themes and the Myers-Briggs personality preferences, but when I witnessed the overlaps between Schwartz and Holland, I couldn’t help but suspect that values, interests, and personality were, in effect, hailing from a common psychological foundation—one which could be modeled theoretically.
Visually, Schwartz’s values are typically arranged on a circle or pie graph, whereas Holland employed a hexagon to illustrate his career interest themes. Despite these slight geometric differences, both theorists arrived at the same basic conclusion: some values / interests are similar and correlated, whereas others are quite different, even contrary, to one another. Hence, both theorists situated similar values / interests near or adjacent to one another on their diagrams, while locating opposing values farther away or opposite each other. For instance, Holland placed the Artistic and Conventional interest themes on opposite sides of his hexagon, illustrating that these two domains have little in common.
Later in this post, we will elaborate on Holland and Schwartz’s theories with an eye toward how they converge conceptually and visually. Before doing so, however, we will set the stage by analyzing and diagramming the work of Jung / Myers-Briggs.
II. The Jungian / Myers-Briggs Personality Taxonomy
Like Holland and Schwartz, Jung, Myers and Briggs thought in terms of conceptual opposites. And while Jung and Myers-Briggs didn’t, to my knowledge, employ circular diagrams to depict their typological concepts, their endorsement of dichotomous opposites makes their work amenable to visual representation in the same fashion as that of Schwartz and Holland. According to Jung’s basic framework, thinking (T) and feeling (F) oppose each other, as do sensing (S) and intuition (N). In keeping with Holland and Schwartz’s method of situating opposites across from each other, Jung’s T-F and S-N pairs can be represented as follows:
In positing these conceptual opposites, it’s implied that T is more similar to, or compatible with, its S or N neighbors than it is with F. In the same way, N is more easily partnered with T or F than it is with S. This is fleshed out in Myers-Briggs’ theory, where the auxiliary / secondary function is viewed as the natural helper or companion to the dominant function, while the inferior / fourth function is considered less compatible and more prone to conflict with the dominant.
In addition to the T-F and S-N dichotomies, we will also be incorporating Myers-Briggs extraversion (E) – introversion (I) and judging (J) – perceiving (P) into our V-I-P theory. However, we must first do some preliminary work to determine their proper placement on our circle. Following Schwartz and Holland’s method of grouping similar elements adjacently, we must consider the degree to which E, I, J and P are conceptually similar to, and correlated with, T, N, S and F.
Let me start by saying that there are a number of different ways this might be accomplished. Moreover, it appears difficult to completely eliminate subjective assumptions when choosing an approach, especially when trying to represent numerous personality elements in only two dimensions. That said, my preferred approach entails three concerns that, in my view, can give us a model that is both scientific and elegant: 1) Incorporation of Big Five and Myers-Briggs correlative data; 2) General coherence with the models of Schwartz and Holland; 3) Consideration of neuroscientific evidence regarding the specialized roles and duties of the two brain hemispheres.
The University of Minnesota’s Colin DeYoung is currently one of the top Big Five researchers in the world. In one of his most important papers, Cybernetic Big Five Theory, he synthesizes a vast amount of research and demonstrates how the Big Five can actually be viewed in terms of two higher-order factors: “Stability” and “Plasticity.” Plasticity, according to DeYoung, is comprised of Big Five extraversion and openness. Moreover, both extraversion and openness are closely associated with dopamine, which DeYoung elsewhere calls the “neuromodulator of exploration.” Hence, DeYoung may have just as easily used the term exploration to describe the joint purpose of extraversion and openness.
As illustrated in this paper by Adrian Furnham and colleagues, Big Five extraversion and openness correlate positively with Myers-Briggs extraversion (E), intuition (N), feeling (F), and perceiving (P). Moreover, data from the MBTI® Step II™ Manual Supplement demonstrate positive correlations between N, F, and P. In addition, ENFP is by far the most common of the Intuitive (N) types in both males and females. Taken together, this suggests that the E, N, F and P preferences tend to cluster together, perhaps due to their shared interest in exploration. I realize that DeYoung associates Big Five agreeableness (which correlates with MBTI feeling) with Stability rather than Plasticity. But it’s important to remember that, despite their overlaps, agreeableness and MBTI feeling have important differences. Moreover, the degree to which thinkers versus feelers are seen as stable versus plastic depends on what is being referenced. For instance, positive correlations between feeling and Big Five neuroticism suggest that feelers are less stable / consistent, emotionally speaking, than thinkers. DeYoung’s Cybernetic theory associates agreeableness not with emotional stability, but with social / interpersonal stability. He then associates neuroticism with emotional (in)stability. Regardless, all things considered, I think my decision to link feeling with Plasticity / Exploration is equally, if not more, compelling than associating it with Stability.
This NFP clustering (as well as its STJ opposite), also makes sense in light of what we know about the two brain hemispheres. Namely, the right hemisphere is known (see Iain McGilchrist’s tome, The Master and His Emissary, for the most comprehensive and up-to-date exploration of modern hemispheric neuroscience) to be more intuitive (N), empathetic / feminine (F), and receptive (P), while the left is more precise (S), analytical / masculine (T), and focused (J). This is why STJs (i.e., ISTJ and ESTJ) are usually viewed as the most “left-brained” personality types and NFPs (i.e., ENFP and INFP) the most “right-brained” of the types. The fact that the correlational data mentioned earlier beautifully reflect what we know about the two hemispheres is in my view quite compelling. I well aware of arguments claiming that the left and right-brained descriptors are overly reductive and simplistic, but it’s really not all that different from describing a person as “Stable” or “Plastic.” In fact, there’s a lot about the left hemisphere that relates to Stability and about the right that ties into Plasticity. The only thing that doesn’t fit, which we’ve already addressed, is DeYoung’s decision to associate agreeableness with Stability rather than Plasticity. I’m willing to argue, with McGilchrist, that the two hemispheres assume different roles and specializations for a reason, namely, evolutionary advantage. And extrapolating to the personality level, there’s no a priori reason to believe that similar clusters of attributes wouldn’t manifest in a way that reflects the brain’s most obvious anatomical division of labor.
When this in mind, we will proceed by situating the I, S, T, and J preferences on the left side of the diagram (corresponding to the left brain hemisphere) and the E, N, F, and P preferences on the right (corresponding to the right hemisphere). It’s worth noting that the T and J preferences, in being situated farthest left, can be viewed as the most characteristically left-brained, while F and P can be seen as the most right-brained. We can then use geometric logic to arrange the 16 types in accord with their four preferences. These placements will find further validation as we examine the work of Holland and Schwartz:
III. Personality Type & Holland Career Interests
Developed in the late 1950s, The Holland Occupational Themes are still widely used today in universities and career counseling centers across the world, not to mention the U.S. Department of Labor. While Holland’s chief concern was understanding the relationship between personality and vocation, he actually referred to his six themes—Realistic (R), Investigative (I), Artistic (A), Social (S), Enterprising (E), and Conventional (C)—as personality types. In the 1973 edition of his book, Making Vocational Choices, he observed that “if vocational interests are an expression of personality, then it follows that interest inventories are personality inventories.”
Again quoting directly from his book, the descriptions of Holland’s types / themes are as follows:
Realistic: “A preference for activities that entail the explicit, ordered, or systematic manipulation of objects, tools, machines and animals.”
Investigative: “A preference for activities that entail the observational, symbolic, systematic, and creative investigation of physical, biological, and cultural phenomenon in order to understand and control such phenomena.”
Artistic: “A preference for ambiguous, free, unsystematized activities that entail the manipulation of physical, verbal, or human materials to create art forms or products.”
Social: “A preference for activities that entail the manipulation of others to inform, train, develop, cure or enlighten.”
Enterprising: “A preference for activities that entail the manipulation of others to attain organizational goals or economic gain.”
Conventional: “A preference for activities that entail the explicit, ordered, systematic manipulation of data, such as keeping records, filing materials, reproducing materials, organizing data…to attain organization or economic goals.”
Now recall that Holland understood the adjacent themes on his diagram to be similar or compatible, and distant themes to be dissimilar or less compatible. For example, the Realistic theme is viewed as compatible with the Conventional and/or Investigative theme. This is also implied in Holland’s use of the word “systematic” to describe all three of these domains. With this in mind, let’s now consider how Holland’s theory maps onto our earlier depiction of the Myers-Briggs preferences / types:
Realistic: S, T
Individuals with Realistic interests enjoy hands-on work, often involving machines (e.g., repairing vehicles, tinkering with computers, construction). They may take up careers in technology or learn a trade. They’re often said to prefer working with “things” more than people. Considering the concrete, object-oriented nature of Realistic work, we can associate it with both the sensing (S) and thinking (T) preferences. While some Realistic work is more formal and structured (J), such as mechanical engineering, operating machinery in real-time (e.g., a bulldozer) requires more fluid (P) reasoning. We’ll thus abstain from giving this domain a J-P label.
Investigative: I, N, T
In the Investigative theme, Holland clearly saw a merger of the systematic (T) and symbolic / creative (N), which fits nicely with our personality model. Investigative work also requires the ability to focus and think deeply about something for extended periods of time. Thus, it’s also apt to favor Introverts (I).
Artistic: N, F, P
In his description of the Artistic theme, Holland emphasizes the unsystematic approach taken by divergent-minded creatives, which squares well with what we know about NFP types (i.e., ENFP / INFP), not to mention artists in general.
Partly due to its name, this career theme is commonly associated with extraversion (E), which fits well with our diagram. However, the thrust of this domain, as Holland suggests, involves helping or teaching. Thus, it really has more to do with the caring and people-oriented nature of the feeling (F) preference than it does with extraversion.
Enterprising: E, S
Enterprising careers such as business, sales, and marketing are largely the domain of extraverts (E) and sensing (S) types.
Conventional: S, T, J
If the Artistic theme best represents right-brain functioning, the Conventional domain most clearly exemplifies that of the left hemisphere. Holland’s use of descriptors like explicit, ordered, and systematic all point to left-brain operations, including the sensing (S), thinking (T) and judging (J) preferences.
IV. Schwartz’s Theory of Values
The final precursor to our V-I-P theory is Schwartz’s theory of values, which recognizes 10 basic human values (enumerated below). His theory also entails what he calls “value priorities or hierarchies,” which reference the relative importance of each value to the individual. To determine an individual’s value hierarchy, Schwartz considers the degree to which each value serves as “a guiding principle in life.”
As touched on earlier, Schwartz discovered that some values are similar or compatible, whereas as others are dissimilar or conflicting. Moreover, as we saw with Holland’s interests, Schwartz’s values, including their circular ordering, can be theoretically aligned with the Myers-Briggs preferences / types:
You may have noticed that our diagram includes only 8 of Schwartz’s 10 values. This is because I opted to combine the adjacent values of hedonism and stimulation, simply calling them “stimulation.” I also grouped conformity and tradition under the “tradition” concept. My reasons for doing so were partly aesthetic, partly pragmatic, and partly due to the significant overlap / similarity of these values (which Schwartz himself acknowledged).
Stimulation: N, T, P
Stimulation: “Excitement, novelty, and challenge.”
Hedonism: “Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.”
There seems to be a fair amount of overlap between Schwartz’s conception of the hedonism and stimulation values. In Hedonism and Happiness, Ruut Veenhoven suggests that “hedonism is reflected in… a trait called ‘sensation seeking,’ which is the tendency to pursue varied and intense experiences.” I tend to agree with Veenhoven and suspect that hedonism and stimulation can be consolidated into a single value called either “stimulation” (as used in our diagram) or sensation-seeking (not to be confused with the Jungian sensation / sensing).
A study called The Big Five Personality Factors and Values found that stimulation correlated significantly with Big Five openness, which is known to correspond to N and P on the Myers-Briggs. Research has also linked sensation-seeking with lower conscientiousness (P). Finally, we know that men, the majority of whom are T types, are significantly higher in sensation-seeking than women. Locating stimulation between T, N, and P thus appears consistent with the evidence.
Self-Direction & Universalism: N, F, P
Self-Direction: “Independent thought and action—choosing, creating, exploring.”
Universalism: “Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.”
According to the Big Five values study just discussed, Big Five openness is significantly associated with both self-direction (.48) and universalism (.47), which is consistent with what we know about the Myers-Briggs N / NP / NFP types. We’d expect NFPs, who are characteristically open and empathetic, to value universalism most strongly.
Benevolence: “Preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact.”
This values-personality overlap is rather straightforward in that feeling (F) types are the most strongly engaged in enhancing the welfare of others by way of direct care and involvement. Insofar as extraverts are more outwardly directed, we might expect a small contribution from extraversion (E) as well.
Tradition & Security: S, J
Tradition: “Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture or religion provides.”
Security: “Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.”
Conformity: “Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.”
As indicated on our diagram, tradition and security are in many respects the opposite of the self-direction and stimulation values. The former are associated with the S and J preferences, the latter with the N and P preferences.
Power & Achievement: T, J
Power: “Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.”
Achievement: “Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.”
Both power and achievement can be seen as driven by a desire for status, to be at the top of one’s professional or social hierarchy. Research suggests that valuing status and dominance is strongly associated with the androgen testosterone. In the paper, “The Role of Testosterone in Social Interaction,” the authors concluded that “the role of testosterone in human social behavior might be best understood in terms of the search for, and maintenance of, social status. More generally, it contributes to dominance behaviors.”
Moreover, we know that men generally have six to seven times the serum testosterone levels of women. So while some people may be inclined to associate power with extraversion, in light of its strong link with testosterone, male gender (and by extension, Myers-Briggs thinking) should be considered the primary factor. Indeed, a number of CEOs (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg) are clearly introverts. Insofar as judging (J) is linked with determination and work ethic, it also plays an important role in power and achievement.
Some may object to the proximity of achievement and Holland’s Realistic domain on the diagram. We might ask, for instance, whether construction workers are really all that concerned about achievement. To this I would argue that they may in fact be, but are simply doing their best to achieve in accord with their personal talents and interests. We should also keep in mind that not all Realistic careers are trades related. Higher status STEM careers involving technology and engineering are often categorized under this domain as well.
V. The VIP Theory: A Synthesis
Acknowledging this to be a rather lengthy and involved post, I applaud those of you who have made it this far. Hopefully, you’ll conclude that your patience paid off once you see how the aforementioned theories of values (V), interests (I), and personality (P) come together in our V-I-P theory:
Our theory illustrates how values, career interests and personality type are not separate and unrelated aspects of the human mind, but rather are closely intertwined and overlapping. It recognizes that our psychological preferences tend to cluster together, thus allowing for some measure of predictability among them. If we know a person’s personality type, for instance, we can hypothesize what her Holland career themes or basic values might be. This model can also help us clarify or consolidate our self-understanding by revealing how various aspects of our psychology are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
VI. Addendum: Incorporating the Enneagram
Since many of our readers also enjoy studying the Enneagram personality model, following the original publication of our V-I-P theory we decided to add this section on the Enneagram types. To understand the placement of the various Enneagram types on the diagram below, it may be useful to consult our post on Enneagram – Myers Briggs / MBTI correlations.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that, when incorporated into our V-I-P model, the Enneagram types ended up being ordered very differently than is conventionally done. This could mean one of two things. It may be the case that the Enneagram’s founders had no intention of positioning similar types adjacently in the manner of Schwartz and Holland. Or, it could indicate a fundamental flaw in Enneagram theory. I don’t know enough about the history of the Enneagram to decide for sure, but the weight of the evidence, as synthesized and illustrated in the V-I-P model, appears to be stacked against the conventional ordering of the Enneagram types. I realize that reordering the Enneagram types in this sort of fashion would obviously be quite inconvenient for Enneagram theorists, requiring a total reworking of the “wings,” lines of integration, etc. While I doubt that such a project will ever be undertaken, I nevertheless enjoyed the process of viewing the Enneagram types through the lens of our V-I-P theory.