Monday, June 15, 2009

Does Personality Matter?

Bryan Caplan:
I finally found the time to read "The Power of Personality: The Comparative Validity of Personality Traits, Socioeconomic Status, and Cognitive Ability for Predicting Important Life Outcomes." [PDF] It's a meta-analysis, so you've really got to trust the authors to be confident in the results. But if the world works the way the authors say it does, all social scientists ought to be paying attention.

According to this article, you can measure personality with a simple survey, then use it years or decades later to make good predictions about mortality, divorce, and occupational status. The research team usually reports results from studies with decent control variables, but of course the quality of past research varies...

Overall, I'm inclined to believe these results. In my experience, people are highly yet predictably different in their preferences. Since luck usually averages out in the long run, it seems like these predictable differences should lead to large average differences in people's lives. The fact that prominent personality specialists will stick their necks out and make these generalizations makes me marginally more confident in my initial intuitions.

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