I have come across a number of personality theories. There are even disciplines of personality theories, dividing these theories according to the assumptions they are based upon. The most accepted/used theories seem to be Big 5 and Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). However, I assume these theories use traits to determine people's personality types too.

For example, the Big 5 traits seem to be of very limited scope. Also, measuring traits like introversion and extroversion using some random questions which have polar opposite choices seems to be a fitting into a box sort of thing. There seems to be no scientific method while testing to determine whether people fall into one region or other for all the defined traits.

By scientific determination, I mean one could use methods like the one laid out in "Cerebral Blood Flow and personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study" to determine between, say, introversion and extroversion traits. I am not sure whether the other traits have such methods researched enough to distinguish between them.


  • Are there any personality theories that are based purely on scientific grounds?

  • Are there any existing personality theories (that are being researched) that could one day be backed up by scientific research? I think the Big 5 might come under this category, but any evidence to the above regarding any theory will be appreciated. Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ To Everyone: I have broken this question down into four others - cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/1555/… cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/1554/… cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/1553/… cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/1556/… Please take a look. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2012 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JeromyAnglim: I have changed the question. You can check out edits to see the changes I made. $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2012 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ I've cleaned up the comments on this question because they were outdated after the question was split up. If anyone wants their old comments let me know, I can copy and paste them back. $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Aug 17, 2012 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @ForbiddenOverseer "Purely based on scientific grounds" is not a well-defined statement. Intuition is an intrinsic part of science and you cannot go without it (you need to ground every theory somewhere). Perhaps what you mean is personality traits based less on ah hoc assumptions. $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2012 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ Psychology is defined as scientific study of behavior (e.g. overt/covert). It is considered science because of the method. Personality is one of the fields in psychology that followed scientific method and supported by empirical evidence. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2016 at 4:42

3 Answers 3


What you may be interested are personality traits caught by some statistical correlations, rather than 'manually' merged by an author's intuition.

One of such tools is 16 Personality Factors.

The 16 Personality Factors, measured by the 16PF Questionnaire, were derived using factor-analysis by psychologist Raymond Cattell. This article summarizes the analysis that resulted in the 16 factors and allowed the development of the questionnaire, as well as the relation between the 16 factor theory and the popular five-factor personality theory.


This statement has become known as the Lexical Hypothesis, which posits that if there is a word for a trait, it must be a real trait. Allport and Odbert utilized this hypothesis to identify personality traits by working through two of the most comprehensive dictionaries of the English language available at the time, and extracting 18,000 personality-describing words. From this gigantic list they extracted 4500 personality-describing adjectives which they considered to describe observable and relatively permanent traits.

(from Wikipedia: 16 Personality Factors and 16PF Questionnaire)


The Enneagram Personality Theory is a non-trait-based personality theory that could be (though, to my knowledge, hasn't yet been) evidenced in a predictive manner through scientific research.

Many authors exist, but Riso and Hudson are the ones who bring it from a quasi-spiritual concept to a contemporary personality theory.

The concept posits that there are nine essential "types", which are driven by distinct motivations. Every individual can be said to "have" all nine types in different proportions, but there is a single, defining motivation that drives a person from birth to death.

  1. The desire to be good and right (vs the fear of being wrong)
  2. The desire to be loved (vs the fear of being unloved)
  3. The desire to be valuable (vs the fear of being worthless)
  4. The desire to be unique (vs the fear of being without identity)
  5. The desire to have mastery (vs the fear of being incompetent)
  6. The desire to have support (vs the fear of being without guidance)
  7. The desire to be satisfied, comfortable, and have fun (vs the fear of being bored, in pain, or deprived)
  8. The desire to be safe and protected (vs the fear of manipulated or harmed)
  9. The desire to be at peace (vs the fear of being in conflict)
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, not the best example of a scientific, objective theory (judging mostly from the Wikipedia link), but good summary of it anyway. Welcome to CogSci BTW! $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2014 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I specified that it has yet to be validated, but could be. The question specified both categories, and the Enneagram fits the latter. $\endgroup$
    – Attackfarm
    Jul 23, 2014 at 1:55

Are there any existing personality theories (that are being researched), that could one day be backed up by scientific research?

Jung's two Attitude Types and four functions have been the study of some research attempting to find a physical basis in the brain.

In the misnamed book The Introvert Advantage, Chapter III, The Emerging Brainscape: Born to Be Introverted, the author mentions some research basing Introversion and Extraversion on pathways in the brain.

In Neuroscience of Personality: Brain Savvy Insights for All Types of People, the author attempts to show a correlation between neuroscience and the Jungian functions.

Whether or not these researches will bear fruit is not known at this time. However, considering the interest and ongoing research, it may very well one day be backed up by scientific research.


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