500 Introverts

I am leading a discussion group for some of our new first years. One class a week the have a seminar on a general psychological topic of their choice and I am there to ‘facilitate’ their discussion. It’s a delicate balance between admitting my ignorance or lecturing dogmatically on diverse topics well outside my (cough cough) expertise. Be it psychoanalysis, attachment theory or whatever, i have probably only ever read the same undergraduate texts as them. But they will sit there assuming I know it all. (I’ve even explained that there’s a prize for any who catches me lying.) Part of the reason is that I am not very good at coming up with open-ended questions or thought provoking examples that provoke debate (and make them do most of the work)

Yesterday we were discussing theories of personality and I dreamt up what i thought was a good thought experiment. I was trying to explain that whilst personality traits aren’t necessarily defining of an individual, they do on average mean something. Take Introversion versus Extroversion.. Most people would probably say they are sometimes a little one, sometimes a little the other. If I tell you that in the next room is someone who scored as either an introvert or extrovert on a test of personality, you might have difficulty determining which they were.

Now imagine it is a room with 500 introverts or 500 extroverts. I bet everyone could tell almost instantaneously they entered such a room. The students weren’t as convinced as me but they’re wrong and I’m right.

What I forgot to suggest was doing the same experiment with the other “Big Five” personality dimensions

500 neurotics vs… 500 non-neurotics
500 conscientious type vs.. 500 of the unconscientious
500 people with an openness to new experiences vs.. 500 conservatives
500 agreeable people vs.. 500 disagreeable, argumentative types

I think it would work fairly well in each of thoes cases too..


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