Is there science behind the stereotypes?
Pop culture has acquainted us with a number of stereotypes surrounding college students and their majors — art students are probably down-to-earth vegans while engineers are likely extremely uptight brainiacs, right?
Now, a study by psychologist Anna Vedel of the Aarhus University in Denmark explores whether certain college majors do attract people with specific personality characteristics. Vedel looked at the results of nearly 13,400 students who had previously taken personality tests using the Big Five criteria. A good way to remember them is the acronym OCEAN:
Openness to Experience: having diverse interests, being imaginative and insightful
Conscientiousness: being organized, thorough, and planful
Extraversion: being assertive, energetic, and chatty
Agreeableness: being sympathetic, kind, and affectionate
Neuroticism: being tense, moody, and anxious
According to the research, this is what your college major says about you:
Science majors scored high for openness and extroversion, and medium for neuroticism.
Those who were pursuing a degree in law came off as one of the least positive in comparison to other majors. They showed high levels of extraversion and medium scores for neuroticism and conscientiousness, but scored low on openness and agreeableness.
Economics folks showed similar traits to lawyers, scoring high for extraversion, medium for neuroticism and conscientiousness, and low for openness and agreeableness.
Artists and humanities majors scored higher levels of openness and neuroticism (they always say art comes from suffering), medium for extraversion, and low for conscientiousness — matching with another typical stereotype about artists typically being less organized.
The engineering majors tended to show medium levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness, and low for openness.
Psychology folks showed high levels of neuroticism — maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to understanding the enigmatic workings of the human psyche? On a positive note, the psych majors also scored high for openness.
While these findings are interesting, it’s important to note that the results aren’t cut and dry — not all artists are neurotic and disorganized and lawyers aren’t all close-minded and disagreeable. There’s a lot that goes into shaping a personality, and while the Big Five personality tests have been accepted in the psychology community for decades, they aren’t 100 percent accurate at characterizing the true complexity of people.
However, Vedel still hopes that these results could help prospective students as well as tutors and teachers.
In the study’s conclusion, she writes: "By taking into account some general personality characteristics of student populations, teachers and instructors may be better equipped to the task of structuring the learning environment in a way that engages the students, makes them feel comfortable, and facilitates their learning process."