By A.J. Drenth
Modern career centers offer multiple 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 is 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 model of career interests called “The Holland Occupational Themes,” or what is more colloquially called the “Holland Codes” or “RIASEC” model. I was already well-acquainted with the interrelations between Holland’s themes and the Myers-Briggs personality preferences, but when I witnessed the striking overlap between Schwartz and Holland, I couldn’t help but suspect that values, interests, and personality were, in effect, hailing from a common psychological foundation that could be modeled theoretically.
Visually, Schwartz’s values are typically displayed on a circle or pie graph, whereas Holland employed a hexagon to illustrate his interest themes. Despite these slight geometric differences, both theorists seemed to arrive at the same basic conclusion, which was that certain values / interests are quite similar or compatible, whereas others are rather 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, indicating that these domains had little in common.
Later in this post, we will elaborate and provide visuals for Holland and Schwartz’s theories with an eye toward how they converge theoretically. 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 and Myers-Briggs came to conceive of their subject matter, in this case personality types and preferences, in terms of conceptual opposites. And while they didn’t explicitly 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 or 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 is 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 considered more readily compatible with T or F than it is with S. This is fleshed out in Myers-Briggs’ theory, where the auxiliary function is viewed as the natural helper or companion to the dominant function, while the inferior function is considered less compatible and more apt to conflict with the dominant.
In addition to the T-F and S-N dichotomies, we will also be incorporating the judging (J) – perceiving (P) preferences 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 discern the degree to which the J and P preferences are conceptually similar to (and different from) T, F, S and N respectively. While there are a number of different ways this might be accomplished, we will invoke the leading academic model of personality, commonly known as “The Big Five,” for assistance.
Let’s start with the notion, commonly employed in Myers-Briggs circles, that judging involves a preference for closure and perceiving a desire to keep things open. With this in mind, we will turn to the Big Five domain, openness, for further insight.
Big Five openness is known to significantly correlate with Myers-Briggs intuition (N). As discussed in my post, Big Five Openness & Myers-Briggs Intuition, openness also empirically correlates with feeling (F) and perceiving (P), the latter of which shouldn’t surprise us if conceived as “keeping one’s options open.” All told, this suggests that the N, F, and P preferences tend to co-occur in open individuals, a notion which finds empirical support in the fact that roughly half of all intuitives test as one of two types—INFP or ENFP.
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 to be more intuitive (N), empathetic (F), and receptive (P), while the left is more precise (S), analytical (T), and focused (J). This is why we consider STJs (i.e., ISTJ and ESTJ) the most “left-brained” personality types and NFPs the most “right-brained” of the types.
When this in mind, we will proceed by situating J between S and T on our diagram, and P between N and F. This placement will find further validation as we examine the work of Holland and Schwartz.
We these preferences in place, we proceeded to employ a geometric technique to approximate the respective positions of the types within our circle. This involved drawing a triangle between the 3 preferences (e.g., NTJ), then determining its centroid, which is basically the center of the triangle. If you’d prefer to use more of an “eyeball technique,” simply identify which side of the circle has two of your type’s preferences. Then, think of your type’s third preference as a magnet that pulls the third point of your triangle a little ways toward itself.
The fact that NFJs and STPs, have two preferences on the side opposite their J-P preference is why INFJs end up closer to the P pole and STPs closer to the J pole. However, please don’t take this to mean that NFJs are actually Ps or that STPs are Js. Moreover, the fact that these types are closer to the center of the circle is neither good nor bad, but merely suggests that their preference combinations are less common than those of other types, producing what amounts to a geometric cancelling effect within this particular model.
Finally, for reasons we will touch on later, we will not be including the introversion (I) – extraversion (E) dichotomy in our V-I-P theory, as it failed to fit cleanly with the other two models we’re incorporating.
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, like Schwartz, 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 work maps onto our earlier depiction of the Myers-Briggs preferences / types:
There is still some disagreement among Holland theorists regarding whether the Realistic domain has more to do with hands-on activities, such as operating heavy machinery, which is more in the wheelhouse of thinking (T) – perceiving (P) types, or performing more systematic work, such as formal science, which thinking (T) – judging (J) types are generally better suited for. Regardless, most jobs in this domain are well-handled with the skills and abilities associated with the T preference.
Investigative: T, N
In the Investigative theme, Holland clearly saw a merger of the systematic (T) and symbolic / creative (N), which fits perfectly with our personality model. This theme serves as a nice example of the complementary nature of adjacent personality functions, in this case, T and N.
Artistic: N, P, F
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, not to mention artists in general.
Partly due to its name, this career theme is commonly and in our view, mistakenly, associated with extraversion (E). The thrust of this domain, as Holland suggests, involves helping or teaching. It really has more to do with the caring and people-oriented nature of the feeling (F) preference than it does with extraversion.
Enterprising: S, E
Enterprising careers such as business, sales, and marketing are largely the domain of S types (although N types may end up here as well, often out of necessity). Such individuals often prefer extraversion, although we omitted the E-I domain from our model due to apparent incongruities between Holland’s and Schwartz’s models.
Conventional: S, J, T
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.
IV. Schwartz’s Theory of Values
The final contributor to our V-I-P theory is Schwartz’s theory of values, which recognizes 10 basic human values (enumerated below). Schwartz’s theory also includes what he calls “value priorities or hierarchies,” which reference the relative importance of each value for the individual. To determine an individual’s value hierarchy, Schwartz assesses the degree to which each value serves as “a guiding principle in life.”
As touched on earlier, Schwartz also found 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. We opted to combine the adjacent values of hedonism and stimulation, simply calling them “stimulation.” We also grouped conformity and tradition under the “conformity” concept. Our reasons for doing so were partly aesthetic, partly pragmatic, and partly due to the significant overlap / similarity of these values, which I will elaborate below. Schwartz himself also recognized significant overlap between these values.
Power / Achievement: E, T, J
Power: “Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.”
Achievement: “Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.”
EJs are the most dominant and forceful of all types. Moreover, the T preference, to the extent that it relates to a sense of personal agency, dominance, and masculine energy, further strengthens the desire for power and achievement. As stated earlier, we omitted extraversion (and introversion) from our model. At this point, we can better understand why. Namely, extraversion’s placement in Holland’s model would likely be at the bottom of our circle (coinciding with the Enterprising theme), whereas it would need to be placed at the top or in our upper-left quadrant to comport with Schwartz’s theory.
Stimulation / Hedonism: E, 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 hedonism and stimulation. 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 could be consolidated into a single value called either “stimulation” (as used on our diagram) or sensation-seeking (not to be confused with the Jungian concept of sensation / sensing)—which is a well-established psychological construct.
That said, a study called The Big Five Personality Factors and Values found that both hedonism and stimulation correlated with extroversion (E), but only stimulation correlated significantly with openness. And as we’ve seen, openness corresponds to N and P on the Myers-Briggs. Thus, Schwartz may have been trying to differentiate between a sensory (S) type of pleasure—hedonism—and one rooted more in the mind and imagination (N)—stimulation.
The elephant in the room here is the role of T in these two values. Research has consistently shown that men, the majority of whom are T types, exhibit higher levels of sensation-seeking than women. It therefore stands to reason that T will better correlate with hedonism and stimulation than F will.
Taken together, we’d expect the ENTP personality type, in particular, to strongly value stimulation, and to some extent, hedonism. Low-arousal theory and ADD have also been empirically linked to sensation-seeking, as well as to the E, N, and P personality preferences.
Self-Direction / Universalism: N, 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 we just discussed, Big Five openness (and by association Myers-Briggs N and P) is significantly associated with both self-direction (.48) and universalism (.47), which is consistent with what we know about the Myers-Briggs NP types. The INTP is likely the most autonomous / self-directed of the 16 types, followed by the INFP and ISTP 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 value is rather straightforward in that we would expect feeling types to be most strongly engaged in enhancing the welfare of others by way of direct care and involvement.
Conformity / Tradition / Security: S, J
Conformity: “Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.”
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.”
As indicated on our diagram, conformity 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.
V. Our 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 will conclude that your patience paid off as you see how the aforementioned theories of values (V), interests (I), and personality type (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 between 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.