A Reexamination of Human Personality From A Biblical Perspective (Part Four)

In the previous investigation of human personality from a Biblical worldview, the subject sought to answer the question as to why different people require different hobbies and interests and make different decisions. The conclusion is that the reason why people do these things underscores that a person is created in God's image and has been given the ability to reason and make decisions. These abilities make the qualities that human beings possess unique from the rest of creation. Furthermore, when people have different attitudes and perspectives, they are usually informed by the philosophy they have adopted or what others taught them. What they have believed also influences how a person makes decisions and what interests they pursue. The last article concluded with several questions to explore related to this topic of human personality: If, from a Biblical outlook, everyone has the same personality, what do personality assessments measure?

When it comes to personality assessments, there are many out there. An author mentioned in an article that there are 2500 personality assessments in the United States alone. However, there are several personality instruments that researchers, counselors, and other organizations use predominantly. One assessment is the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Inventory). The philosophy behind the MBTI came from Carl Jung, who was a colleague of Sigmund Freud. Carl Jung, who developed the theory of personality, believed there were eight personality types. Katherine Briggs, who created the MBTI, received the idea by meeting her future son-in-law Clarence Myers. Intrigued by his thinking and different perspective, Katherine Briggs read and research Carl Jung and his theories concerning personality. Katherine, adopting and building on Carl Jung's work, her daughter Isabel, and her son-in-law expanded the personalities from eight to sixteen. Their reasoning for the expansion of personalities came from observing different people in different situations. Employers use this personality assessment to analyze people for the positions they desire to fill in their business or organization.

A second personality measurement found in the mainstream is known as the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ). Hans Eysenck created this assessment, a German psychologist whose research focused on the temperament of human beings, which he was convinced was primarily genetic. Eysenck used statistics to recognize what he believed were two dimensions of personality: extroversion and neuroticism. He later added a third dimension which was named psychoticism. This questionnaire is a self-assessment which consists of 100 questions that are labeled "yes" or "no." Each question on the EPQ focuses on each of the three personalities. Since then, there were later revisions that resulted in a revised questionnaire (EPQ-R) in 1993. The later revision included the dimensions Extroversion-Introversion, Neuroticism, Toughmindedness, and a Lie Scale to assess the honesty of the participant's answers. This measurement is used for research, career counseling, or companies seeking employees, and vocational programs.

A third personality assessment is The Big Five Personality Traits, which derives inspiration from Eysenck's personality observations. The origins of The Big Five Personality Traits began with two psychologists who, in the 1930s, collected over 18,000 words from the Webster's New International Dictionary that they believed described personality. From these words, they pulled out adjectives that described non-physical qualities resulting in a 4,500-word list of what they believed were observable traits in human beings. In 1946 another psychologist maned Raymond Cattell used one of the first computers, and from that 4,500-word list of adjectives, they created 181 bundles of personality traits. Upon asking people which 181 groups they saw in the world, the 181 groups were reduced to 16 groups. In the 1960s, two researchers, Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, observed Raymond Cattell's research and created a five-factor survey. Their research concluded that personality is seen in five categories and named them Surgency, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Culture. Over time these five categories were modified to the following: Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion-Introversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This assessment test, much like the Eysenck Questionnaire, is utilized mostly for employers seeking employees and career counseling.

A fourth personality assessment that is popular is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The assessment was developed in 1937 by Starke R. Hathaway, a psychologist, and J. Charnley McKinley, a neuropsychologist located at the University of Minnesota. The MMPI was different from the previous assessments, as a trained person scored this inventory. In 1942 they published their findings from their MMPI, and full recognition of the MMPI became mainstream in the late 1950s. Since then, it has gone through several revisions, and there have been several generations of the MMPI since its inception (MMPI-2, MMPI-A (for adults), and MMPI-RF). This personality test is used for various purposes such as employment and government positions and entrances in post-graduate degree programs (such as doctoral programs). This assessment is also used in clinical or medical settings to assess and diagnose if a person has abnormalities in thinking and behavior.

There are several points to note when observing these popular personality assessments, which are defined below:

  1. When it comes to personality assessments, which assessment should one adopt as the standard to inform us of the personality of human beings, and how would one determine if the observations and the assessments made about personality are accurate? Carl Jung wrote there were eight personalities, and the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory stated there were 16 types. The MMPI was revised to include adults in its analysis with the MMPI-A. Eysenck had two personalities at its inception and then later added another personality. Is Eysenck's Personality Questionnare right in defining human personality, or is the Myers-Briggs accurate in observing the personality of human beings? There seems to be some confusion as to the number of personality types that human beings possess, and how to determine which assessment gives us an accurate reading of the personality of human beings seems to be absent.

  2. Genetics may underscore one's tendency for a particular behavior. However, it may not indicate a person's unique personality but their behavioral response in a specific context. For example, an article written by David Nield wrote there is a relationship between personality and genetics using The Big Five Personality Traits as a grid to examine the participants' genetic information. However, several questions ought to be asked: Are there contextual environmental components (such as being around friends that are welcoming vs. being around strangers that are non-welcoming) that contribute to a person's behavior? Could a person have "openness" due to other factors (e.g., dealing with anxiety, growing up in a big family)? How do the researchers know that The Big Five Personality Traits is even the proper assessment to observe as a grid to interpret the genetic information since there are 2500 personality assessments in the U.S. alone? It would appear that researchers and others may be imposing the qualities found in the Big Five on the observations and the conclusion of that observation of the genetic data.

  3. The information that one studies concerning personality assessments are still narrow because humanity, although resourceful and smart, is limited in physical faculties and abilities. In the same written by David Neild who established personality and genetics are closely associated cited a study in which researchers observed genetic variants in human beings and concluded The Big Five Personality Traits might have merit. However, the researchers in the study admitted that this was a small sample size whose participants were from Great Britain. Thus despite their findings, the researchers were limited by people, country, and culture.

  4. The instruments themselves are self-assessments and are limited only to the time the participant takes them. These points bring up some important questions: Since a person's faculties and abilities are limited, how do we know their self-assessment is accurate? Does their answer consider external factors that could have influenced their answers when the participants completed the assessment (e.g., time, energy, motivation, comprehension and understanding of the question, their philosophy concerning human beings)? Since a person taking the personality assessment is limited in function and ability, they cannot recall in every instance how they behaved in the manner the surveys ask them. Therefore, they must give general answers to the personality assessment. The one participating in the assessment must rely on their own evaluation, limited as it is, that they have answered the questions genuinely. However, the participant cannot be certain that the personality assessment measured their type of personality. This same point also goes for non-self-assessments such as the MMPI.

  5. All personality tests come from theories regarding human personality. The challenge with these personality assessments is that researchers' observations to build human beings' behaviors establish these personality theories. No one has seen a personality, so those who study personality construct a composite using a person's conduct. Furthermore, this composite is built from their limited faculties and abilities. The challenge is that these theories run into the same problem as the previous points-How does a person know that these theories observe the personality of human beings? Once more, a person cannot be certain that what is measured is human personality.

So what do personality tests measure? Based on these particular points, it would be safe to conclude that these tests do not measure a person's unique personality but the frequency or infrequency of human behaviors and conduct in a given environment. Personality assessments only give a general and possibly subjective snapshot of a person's actions within the participant's thoughts in how they have conducted themselves in a given context. In other words, the accuracy of the personality test depends upon the limited facilities and abilities of the human beings who take them, since all human beings do not possess all knowledge of themselves. From the Biblical perspective, since human beings are created in the image of God and are distinct from the animals in terms of nature, purpose, and function, humanity has the ability to think, feel, respond, and conduct themselves in specific environments. The different motivations for why humans exhibit different behaviors in certain environments are a mystery to outside observers, since a person cannot know the personal thoughts of others. However, the reality that two people can respond in two different ways in the same environment underscores that humans are unique creatures, not from one another, but from all of the other things God has made.

There is one final question that ought to be considered in light of the topic of human personality? Why does this perspective of personality matter from the other outlooks of human personality? This question will be investigated and answered in the next article.

Until Next Time...

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

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