Personality Types Theories


Personality Tests


Classifying, modeling, and measuring personality

Principal Metaphors

While Personality Types Theories offer confident commentary and advice to educators with regard to learners’ personalities, they rarely address “learning” in any focused way. Consequently, it’s not unusual to encounter a diversity of metaphors. In our reading, across explications of Personality Types Theories, the most commonly invoked notions were consistent with the Attainment Metaphor and the Acquisition Metaphor:
  • Knowledge is … goal or object
  • Knowing is … reaching (a goal) or obtaining (an object)
  • Learner is … a traveler or a recipient
  • Learning is … getting (somewhere or something)
  • Teaching is … directing or delivering


Ancient, but broad academic interest emerged in the 1920s


Personality Types Theories comprise dozens of perspectives and tests focused on defining, componentizing, and quantifying personalities, typically by focusing on distinguishing traits (compare: Identity Discourses). Most Personality Types Theories include considerations of, assessments of, and/or inferences on an individual’s attitudes and habits around learning. Well-known and popular models and measures include:
  • Four Temperament Theory (Hippocrates, ~400 BCE) – four personality types – Sanguine (highly social, enthusiastic, busy), Choleric (independent, ambitious, extroverted), Melancholic (analytical, feeling, introverted), Phlegmatic (relaxed, caring, open-minded) – often overlapping or shared, and once seen as “bodily fluids,” the ratios of which determine personality
  • Woodworth Personality Data Sheet (Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory) (Robert S. Woodworth, 1910s) – based on research into psychological disturbance, this test was developed to identify army recruits at risk of suffering shell shock
  • DiSC Model of Behavior (W.M. Marston, 1920s) – behavior assessment tool centering on four personality traits: Dominance, influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness
  • Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (K.C. Myers, I. Briggs, 1920s) – assessment of 16 perceptual and decision-making types, generated according to distinctions of Extroversion–Introversion, Sensing–Intuition, Thinking–Feeling,Judging–Perceiving
  • Rorschach Inkblot Test (Hermann Rorschach, 1920s) – a projective test of personality, based on an observer’s interpretations of vague images
  • Strong Interest Inventory (E.K. Strong, 1920s) – career assessment tool based on inventory of interests
  • Thematic Apperception Test (Office of Strategic Services, 1930s) – a projective test of personality, based on an observer’s interpretations of ambiguous images of people, originally designed to assess susceptibility to becoming a traitor
  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (Starke R. Hathaway & J.C. McKinley, 1940s) – a questionnaire-based test that generates measures on self-perception of physical well-being, motivation, agency, emotional control, and sociality
  • Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF Questionnaire) (Raymond Cattrell, 1940s) – an attempt to identify the basic components of human personality (e.g., warmth, reasoning, dominance, liveliness, sensitivity, and others)
  • Abjective Check List (H.G. Gough, A.B. Heilbrun Jr., 1950s) – tool using adjectives to identify personality traits
  • FIRO-B (W. Schultz, 1950s) – measure of Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation – i.e., desired interaction based on three interpersonal needs: affection/openness, control and inclusion
  • Holland Codes (J.L. Holland, 1950s) – typology of careers and vocations based on personality types
  • Big Five Personality Types (OCEAN Model) (Ernest Tupes & Raymond Christal, 1960s) – a model designed to study the relationship between personality and academic behavior that’s organized around five key traits: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism
  • Birkman Method (R. Birkman, 1960s) – assessment of personality, social perception, and occupational interest
  • Personality and Preference Inventory (Max Kostick, 1960s) – a personality test used to evaluate one’s preferred work styles
  • Aptitude–Treatment Interaction (L. Cronbach, R. Snow, 1970s) – a model of pedagogy, focused on matching the teacher’s practices to the learner’s aptitudes
  • Enneagram of Personality (O. Ichazo, C. Naranjo, 1970s) – typology of nine interconnected personality types
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter (David Keirsey, 1970s) – self-administered assessment of 16 personality types, generated according to distinctions of Concrete–Abstract, Cooperative–Abstract, Informative–Directive, Expressive–Attentive
  • NEO Personality Inventory (P. Costa, R. McCrae, 1970s) – assessment of one’s “Big Five” personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness
  • Personality Assessment System (J.W. Gittinger, 1970s) – descriptive model of personality, based on the hypothesis that personality is a result of differential aptitudes that are modified by long-term learning
  • Process Communication Model (Taibi Kahler, 1970s) – a test aimed at identifying personality structures, based on the premise that each person’s communication styles arise in a unique combination of six personality types: Imaginer, Promoter, Rebel, Harmonizer, Persister, Thinker
  • Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (D.R. Riso, R. Hudson, 1970s) – personality measurement indicator
  • Socionics (Aušra Augustinavičiūtė, 1970s) – drawing heavily on Carl Jung’s work, a model comprising 16 “sociotypes,” generated across three dimensions: Logical–Ethical, Sensory–Intuitive, and Extravert–Intravert
  • Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Model Instrument (R.H. Thomas, K.W. Kilmann, 1970s) – tool measuring one’s response to conflict
  • True Colors Test (Don Lowry, 1970s) – Based on Myers–Briggs Type Indicator and Keirsey Temperament Sorter (see above), a test that distinguishes among Green (independent thinkers), Gold (pragmatic planners), Orange (action-oriented), Blue (people-oriented)
  • Winslow Personality Test (William J. Winslow, 1970s) – a test that measures 24 personality traits asserted to be relevant to success in all professions
  • OAD Survey (Organization Analysis and Design Survey) (Michael Gray, 1980s) – a self-assessment focused on adjectives to describe oneself, generating scores of six scales: Assertiveness/Autonomy, Extroversion, Patience, Detail-Orientation, Emotional Control, Creativity
  • Empathy-Quotient–Systemizing-Quotient Test (EQSQ Test) (Simon Baron-Cohen & Sally Wheelright, 2000s) – a test based on the hypothesis that there are two modes of information processing – empathizing and systemizing – that are often associated with feminine and masculine traits and brain types
  • HEXACO Personality Inventory (Michael C. Ashton & Kibeom Lee, 2000s) – an assessment that generates a personality profile, based on six domains: Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, eXtraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience
  • Newcastle Personality Assessor (Daniel Nettle, 2000s) – a measure of personality along five dimensions of the Big Five Personality Types (see above)
  • Personality Inventory for DSM-5 (R.F. Krueger, 2010s) – a self-rated assessment for adults that offers measures of five personality trait domains: negative affect, detachment, antagonism, disinhibition and psychoticism


While very popular, most Personality Types Theories are incompatible with contemporary Cognitive Science, owing to their uncritical embrace of the popular assumption that personalities can be parsed into discrete and measurable factors/traits/components. Some are clear instances of Foundationalism, as they assume or assert discrete and universal constitutive elements of personality. Associated with such convictions is a tendency to ignore the cultural character of the traits foregrounded by most Personality Types Theories – that is, as some argue, these discourses tend to reflect the priorities and privileges of western culture, rather than universal qualities of humans. More condemning, perhaps, there seems to be scant correlation across models and tests, suggesting that they are not actually homing in on anything stable or definable. Even so, the enterprise of Personality Types Theories thrives, driven in large part by commercial interests, as many tests are marketed with the unsubstantiated promise of affording educators and employers valuable insights on students and workers.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Personality Types Theories are focused on delineating differences among individuals, rather than being concerned with better understanding the phenomenon of learning – and thus, for the most part, they typically maintain uninterrogated and unscientific assumptions about the complex dynamics of learning. That is, for the most part, they cannot be construed as theories of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

In the formal-education community, like Cognitive Styles Theories and Learning Styles Theories, Personality Types Theories have been most broadly and enthusiastically embraced among those directly responsible for providing preservice and in-service experiences for teachers. Thus, while it is rare to encounter a session on Personality Types Theories in an educational research conference, such foci are commonplace at teachers’ conventions. From that observation, combined with the recognition that these theories rarely interrogate the actual dynamics of learning, it seems reasonable to assume that they are for the most part better categorized as theories of teaching – that is, as discourses designed to shape how teachers perceive and treat learners.

Status as a Scientific Theory

None of the Personality Types Theories that we reviewed meet our criteria for a scientific theory. While many claim rigorous methodological standards and substantial evidence bases, decades of effort to generate empirical evidence to show their utility for improving learning have come up short.


  • Abjective Check List
  • Aptitude–Treatment Interaction
  • Big Five Personality Types (OCEAN Model)
  • Birkman Method
  • DiSC Model of Behavior
  • Empathy-Quotient–Systemizing-Quotient Test (EQSQ Test)
  • Enneagram of Personality
  • FIRO-B
  • Four Temperament Theory
  • HEXACO Personality Inventory
  • Holland Codes
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
  • Myers–Briggs Type Indicator
  • NEO Personality Inventory
  • Newcastle Personality Assessor
  • OAD Survey (Organization Analysis and Design Survey)
  • Personality and Preference Inventory
  • Personality Assessment System
  • Personality Inventory for DSM-5
  • Process Communication Model
  • Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator
  • Rorschach Inkblot Test
  • Sixteen Personality Factor (16PF) Questionnaire
  • Socionics
  • Strong Interest Inventory
  • Thematic Apperception Test
  • Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Model
  • True Colors Test
  • Winslow Personality Test
  • Woodworth Personality Data Sheet (Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Personality Types Theories” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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