Big Five Personality Traits May Influence College Major: Choose Wisely

Study
Big five personality traits may determine if you hit the books as a pre-med or English major. Pixabay Public Domain

College students are constantly asked what their major is by peers, friends and family — but according to a recent study review, the answer may lie in their personality.

Certain personality traits correlate with certain major choices, but Anna Vedel, a psychologist from Aarlus University in Denmark, wasn't sure if this idea was based on actual science. So she decided to analyze 12 studies published between 1992 and 2015 that all together involved a total of 13,389 college students. The results? Major-related stereotypes might be true.

Vedel found major differences among students in different academic fields when it came to the "Big Five" personality traits, according to Pacific Standard. These are the traits psychologists believe make up the five major dimensions of personality: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

Beginning with extraversion, Vedel found law, political science, economics, and pre-med students generally scored higher than those studying the arts, humanities, and other sciences. Openness, hallmarked by creativity and a broad range of interests, was a top trait for humanities, arts, psychology, and political science majors. They also scored higher on the trait than their peers, while engineering, law, economics, and science majors generally scored on the lower end.

Perhaps unsurprisingly agreeableness, which includes the tendency to be altruistic and trusting, was where law, business, and economics majors scored lower than everyone else. Economics and business majors did, however, score lowest in neuroticism, where arts and humanities majors scored consistently higher. Lastly, conscientiousness was not arts and humanities majors’ strong suit, with those students scoring lower than their peers focused on other academic fields.

The research raises questions about causation: If significant personality group differences exist among majors, does that mean people with certain traits are drawn to certain majors, or that the environment of the major breeds characteristics?

"Two of the included studies measured the student’s personality just after enrollment," Vedel wrote. "These studies found personality group differences corresponding perfectly with the results from the other studies (which are typically administered well into their college educations). This supports the interpretation that (these differences) are pre-existing, and not a result of socialization process."

Vedel said the results could be used "to guide students in their choice of academic major, based on the student's scores on the big five personality traits."

Source: Vedel A. Big Fiver personality group differences across academic majors: A systematic review. Personality and Individual Differences. 2016.

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