Personality Types Theories


Character Types
Personality Tests
Personality Trait Theory
Type Theory


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):
  • Trait – a quality of one's personality that is consistent across a range of contexts
Importantly, the following pairs are generally treated as synonyms across Personality Types Theories:
  • Character or Personality – the totality of one's observable personality traits (compare: Identity, under Identity Discourses)
  • Character Analysis (formerly: Characterology) – a branch of Psychology focused on character and personality
  • Character Structure or Personality Structure – the organization of one's traits in an enduring character
  • Character Type or Personality Type – the category or categories into which one falls, based on the sorts of tests and taxonomies mentioned below
Most Personality Types Theories draw on or echo the serial work of Carl Jung, who was among the first to formally identify personality types and functions:
  • Psychological Functions (Cognitive Functions) (Carl Jung, 1910s) – mental processes that one tends to manifest regardless of circumstance and that are thus aspects of one’s personality. Jung suggested four main Functional Types and two Attitudinal Types:
    • Functional Types (Quaternity) (Carl Jung, 1930s) ­– four personality types, based on which of four functions dominates the conscious ego. These four functions are divided into two sets of two: Irrational Types (comprising Intutive Type and Sensation Type) and Rational Types (comprising Thinking Type and Feeling Type)
    • Attitudinal Types (Carl Jung, 1930s) – two sources of motivation and idea formation: Extraversion (most influenced by the external environment) and Introversion (mostly experienced in the mind
Personality Types Theories typically include considerations of, assessments of, and/or inferences on an individual’s attitudes and habits around learning. Most can be classified as:
  • Factor Theory of Personality – any strategy to characterize personality as a set of measurable components, principally used to study differences among individuals. (Contrast: Field Theory of Personality, in Identity Discourses.) Several Factor Theories of Personality are mentioned below.
Well-known and popular models and measures (listed chronologically) 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
  • Physiognomy (discussed by Aristotle, 300s BCE) – a pseudoscience founded on the conviction that the one’s character can be assessed from one’s physical body
  • 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
  • Cattell’s Personality Trait Theory (Raymond Cattell, 1950s) – an assessment of personality based on 16 “source traits”: abstractedness, apprehension, dominance, emotional stability, liveliness, openness to change, perfectionism, privateness, reasoning, rule-consciousness, self-reliance, sensitivity, social boldness, tension, vigilance, warmth
  • Eysenck’s Dimensions (Hans Eysenck, 1950s) – a theory of personality types based on three dimensions: Psychoticism, Extraversion, and Neuroticism
  • 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
  • Sheldon’s Constitutional Theory of Personality (William Sheldon, 1950s) – the hypothesis that body types are correlated to dispositions, temperament comprises components that are determined by the three main body 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)
  • Type A / Type B Personalities (Meyer Friedman, Ray Roseman, 1970s) – two personality types: Type A (competitive, achievement-oriented, multitasking, aggressive) and Type B (easygoing, little need to show off abilities or prove superiority). Associated constructs include:
    • Type D Personality (Johan Denollet, 1990s) – one who exhibits “distressed” emotional and behavioral patterns, typically associated with limited self-expression, suppressed social interaction, and increased risk for chronic stress-related medical conditions
  • Winslow Personality Test (William J. Winslow, 1970s) – a test that measures 24 personality traits asserted to be relevant to success in all professions
  • VALS(Values and Lifestyle Survey) (Arnold Mitchell, 1970s) – a proprietary questionnaire used to differentiate among adults according to variations across two dimensions: Resources and Primary Motivation. Nice types are identified: Belongers, Achievers, Emulators, Societally Conscious, Experiential, Sustainers, I-Am-Me, Survivors, integrated. VALS™ is popular marketing and consumer-trend researchers.
  • If...Then Profiles (Walter Mischel, Yuichi Shoda, 1980s) – a strategy for describing personalities that accounts for differences in behaviors across situations (by inserting if–then clauses), but that retains the premise that personalities are self-contained and essentially fixed. (Contrast: Identity Discourses.)
  • 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
  • Cultural Intelligence (Cross-Cultural Competence; Cultural Agility) (Christopher Earley, 1990s) – one’s ability to operate within and across cultures. Associated constructs include:
    • Cultural Quotient (Ang Soon, Linn Van Dyne, 2000s) – a formal scale intended to measure Cultural Intelligence
  • 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
  • Jungian Type Index (T. Ødegård, H.E. Ringstad, 2000s) – test of individual usage/preference of psychological functions
  • 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. For example, many tests are marketed with the unsubstantiated promise of affording educators and employers valuable insights on students and workers. Perhaps even more troubling, the thinking that underlies Personality Types Theories infuses emergent efforts to “model” and “digitally clone” real people:
  • Archetype-Based Modeling (of Persona) (Ao Guo, Jianhua Ma, 2010s) – an approach to modeling individual personalities (and potentially of digitally cloning those personalities) that's based on Big Data (i.e., the information made available by smartphones, wearables, and other digital traces; see Technology-Mediated Individual Learning). Archetype-Based Modeling is derived in part from Jungian Archetypes (under Psychoanalytic Theories) and the Jungian Typology (see above).

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
  • Archetype-Based Modeling (of Persona)
  • Attitudinal Types
  • Big Five Personality Types (OCEAN Model)
  • Birkman Method
  • Cattell’s Personality Trait Theory
  • Character
  • Character Analysis (Characterology)
  • Character Structure
  • Character Type
  • Cultural Intelligence (Cross-Cultural Competence; Cultural Agility)
  • Cultural Quotient
  • DiSC Model of Behavior
  • Empathy-Quotient–Systemizing-Quotient Test (EQSQ Test)
  • Enneagram of Personality
  • Eysenck’s Dimensions (Eysenck’s Theory of Personality)
  • Factor Theory of Personality
  • FIRO-B
  • Four Temperament Theory
  • Functional Types (Quaternity)
  • HEXACO Personality Inventory
  • Holland Codes
  • If…Then Profiles
  • Jungian Type Index (Jungian Typology)
  • 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
  • Personality and Preference Inventory
  • Personality Assessment System
  • Personality Inventory for DSM-5
  • Personality Structure
  • Personality Type
  • Physiognomy
  • Process Communication Model
  • Psychological Functions (Cognitive Functions)
  • Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator
  • Rorschach Inkblot Test (Inkblot Test)
  • Sheldon’s Constitutional Theory of Personality
  • Sixteen Personality Factor (16PF) Questionnaire
  • Socionics
  • Strong Interest Inventory
  • Test of Attentional and Interpersonal Style
  • Thematic Apperception Test
  • Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Model
  • Trait
  • True Colors Test
  • Type A / Type B Personalities
  • Type D Personality
  • Winslow Personality Test
  • Woodworth Personality Data Sheet (Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory)
  • VALS (Values and Lifestyle Survey)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Personality Types Theories” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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