Image credit: http://www.psychologium.com/

Soon, Prescriptive Personalities?

  1. Our personality is a direct product of:
    a. our genes
    b. our interpretation of our environment
  2. Given the huge number of devices, these “personality influencers” can be monitored.
  3. We should be able to connect (1) and (2) to:
    a. predict how people shape up
    b. prescribe means to better personalities

Let me elaborate my hypothesis.

Part 1: We are a direct product of our interpretation of our environment

What is personality? Can we define “personality” or a “trait”?

“I would like to order myself a Conscientiousness personality in a gravy of Extraversion garnished with Neuroticism”

The price of a diamond is largely determined by cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. Similarly, can we measure a personality in terms of a few variables?

The answer is surprisingly, yes.

Contemporary psychiatrists have largely converged (a miracle in its own right) on describing a personality through 5 different traits — Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Think of each as an independent variable that a person can be scored on. 
Note: a few theories suggest these variables can be reduced to just three, while others suggested that the number is actually six.

Briefly, take a look at characters that might capture the essence of each variable:

Openness to experience: folks high on this variable seek diverse experiences and generally are intellectually curious.
Conscientiousness: Folks like Monica from FRIENDS are well organised and are probably stubborn.
Extraversion: Talkative, assertive and borderline attention-seeking folks score high on this variable
Agreeableness: Friendly and cooperative folks score high here. Borderline submissive. Isn’t that Cinderella?
Neuroticism: Subject to negative emotions (anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability), emotionally unstable

Now, any personality is a combination of scores of each of the variables.

At this point you are wondering how it works. What determines how agreeable or extrovert a person is? Why are a few folks more open to change than others?

Is personality genetic? Or could it be environmental conditions such as poverty or weather? In other words, nature vs. nurture? 
Turns out, both have a significant impact.

Genetic nature explains the major chunk, between 42% and 57%, of the variation in each of the variables. This explains why a few newborn babies are inherently calm and others are more fussy and difficult to manage. Did somebody say inheritance of happiness? Time for a disclaimer: we only know that the personality could be ‘genetically influenced’. We do not know which genes cause what behaviour. However, my money is on Science winning this hunt.

We, however, do see that kids of same parents grow up differently. In many cases, twins turn out to have vastly different traits. So, what is the other half at play?

The other half has a plethora of factors — gender, cultural exposure, education, birth order, hormones, major life events such divorce or dear ones and so on. However, the key point here is that all of these factors are observable in nature.

Key takeaway: 50% of personality is “genetic” and the other half is defined by “external factors”.

Part 2: Given the huge number of devices, these “personality influencers” can be monitored

Given wearables and home automation (Alexa, Google Home…), a lot of data on social events can now be gathered. This audio data can tell a lot, such as mood by the tone of voice. And then, we have Elon Musk talking about Neuralink. All these gadgets will be able to capture most of the information on the external factors.

That is data on one-half of personality, next half is genetics.

The good folks in white lab coats will isolate the genes that define behaviour. Then, understanding any personality would only be one genetic test away.

Science will identify the genes that cause various traits.

But if science is to surprise us, who knows, we might not need a medical test to understand genetic makeup. We could understand genetic makeup through exhibited traits such as body build, voice, hair and eye colour, frequent diseases, and other medical conditions. Say, reverse engineer genetic makeup from environmental data.

Either way, we will have enough data to understand both the genetic and external factors. We can then assimilate them.

What next? Magic!

Key takeaway: We should be able to measure personality at near real-time.

Part 3: Predict and Prescribe personalities

As with all predictions, I am most likely gonna miss

Once we understand personalities at a massive scale, we could predict individual cases with decent probability, just like predicting an outcome based on a regression model. So what are the possibilities? 
Among the infinite…

Proactive mental health care: We will step in before a person slips into Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Anxiety Disorders or Post-traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), all based on real-time analysis of events. We can help people reduce emotional instability through preventive health-care. For example, a teacher can better deal with a child who scores very low. Speaking of education…

Revolutionary teaching methods: Yes! We can finally group kids better. Peer learning has more impact than formal classroom training. We could form a homogeneous or heterogeneous group of kids for learning activities. Put an ego-centric child among a group of philanthropic ones and we could build better humans from childhood. Speaking of building better humans…

DIY Personality: We can design games to build personalities. For example, we can better design activities to nudge an individual along, say, ‘Extraversion’. We can then prescribe activities based on aspirations. Surely an artist wouldn’t survive if low on ‘Openness to experiences’. Just like gyms deliver on fitness goals, we will see institutions crop up that deliver on personality goals. Speaking of goals…

Matches made in heaven: Dating sites will have a ball! What if 100% of the suggested matches end up in marriages, assuming that is the end goal of every relationship? LinkedIn would be able to find employees that better fit jobs. 
“Need a program manager? Here is a candidate high on Conscientiousness.
Need a maître d’hôtel? Here is a candidate high on agreeableness.”

The emotional well-being of individuals is the bedrock of a happy society. 
I wonder how we could catalyse this utopian future!