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Why are Some SLOAN Types Better Than Others?

It has been noted by many PDB users that unlike other systems (Enneagram, MBTI) SLOAN types don't appear to be equal and some seem objectively "better" than others. This page will explore this issue.

The Baseless Assumption That "All Types are Equal"

Firstly we have to acknowledge that the claim made by other systems that "all types are equal" is nonsense. What does it even mean for all types to be equal? Equal how? Equal on what metric? Are all types assumed to be equally good at mathematics? Stand up comedy? Acrobatics? Repairing cars? Putting out burning buildings? The answer might be "No, different types are good at different things, the point is that it all balances out", to which the logical response would be "How? How do you know that? What study have you conducted to compare INTPs and ESFJs, to see where they do and don't excel? And when they excel at different things, how many things do they each excel at? To what degree do they excel? How are you balancing the value of the areas where they excel? Is a juggler of equal value to a heart surgeon?" If we think about the claim that "all types are equal" for more than a few minutes we quickly see that it is an extremely vague assertion made without evidence. The purveyors of these systems seek to categorise us without offending us - "us" being their target market. All types are not equal, or at least, no one in the history of mankind has devised a robust way of studying this claim that would lead us to conclude that the claim was in any way justified.

This clarifies that we should not expect types to be (in a very general and vague sense) equal. But it doesn't answer the question of why certain specific SLOAN types seem to be "better" than others. To clarify this issue we need to think carefully about where personality comes from and what purpose it serves.

Nature vs Nurture

The method scientists use to calculate the degree to which our personality is determined by our genes is Twin Studies. Scientists can apply a battery of questions to various pairs of individuals. These pairs may be: Identical twins; Non-identical twins; Siblings; Adopted Siblings. They may also be: Raised in the same home; separated at birth and raised in totally different homes. The various possible combinations of these pairs offer subjects where 100% or 50% or 0% of their Genes or Environments are shared. The most famous form of twin study is to compare two identical twins separated at birth, in which case 100% of genes are shared and 0% of environment is shared. You could then compare those twins to their adoptive siblings or to siblings who may be the natural progeny of the adoptive parents. The point is that there are many opportunities for scientists to study pairs of individuals in such a way that can tell us a lot about how much of our personality is determined by our genes. The numbers will vary from trait to trait but the general pattern is that most aspects of an individual's cognitive composition can generally be chalked down to a very rough 50/50 split of genes and environment. Over recent decades the trend appears to be to ascribe more and more significance to Genes so that a 60/40 split (mostly genetic) is now considered a more realistic figure for the heritability of a trait like I.Q.

Palaeolithic Brains

What this all points to is that we have very good reasons to assume that "half" or "more than half" of our big 5 type is due to our genes rather than our environment. What we now need to bear in mind is that the human environment in the past two thousand years has changed much, much more than human genes have. The operating system that you are currently running was developed through a fish, lizard, rodent, primate ancestry and optimised for an agrarian, war-ridden, tribal era that enjoyed none of the institutions that we currently take for granted. Bank accounts, modern dentistry, roads, prisons and democratic representation: None of these things existed in the era when our brains attained their contemporary format.

The dramatic differences between our current society and the society of 1,000 years ago is germane to this issue because an individual's capacity to meet the demands of their civilisation is the prime metric by which we assign success and failure. Health, long life, wealth, social status and offspring. These have always been the core measures of success in an individual and it is no coincidence that they are also very strong predictors that the individual's genes will be passed on to future generations. But if the overriding forces and trends that regulate our societies are changing over the course of centuries, it does not necessarily follow that the traits that predicted success in 2,000 B.C. will be the same traits that predict success in 2,000 A.D.

Evolutionary Psychology

Every aspect of human personality must have an adaptive function otherwise it would not exist. If, for example, there had never been any evolutionary advantage to men experiencing the emotion of sexual jealousy (e.g. feelings of hostility towards other men showing an inappropriate interest in one's spouse) then men of today would never experience this emotion because it would never have evolved in the first place. Every position on the spectrum of the five personality traits must be advantageous in some way, otherwise it would not exist in human personality today. However, this does not mean that every personality trait is advantageous in the general sense. It means that every personality trait must have been advantageous at some point in our not too distant ancestral pastIt does not follow from this argument that every single personality trait is still advantageous today.

Take neuroticism. In the 21st century we are extremely safety conscious. There are guard rails surrounding steep drops. There are lifeguards on beaches. Dangerous wild animals are endangered all around the planet because local people hunt them. Our advanced medical technology also means that we need have little fear of contracting incurable diseases. Our highly efficient laws, courts, prisons and police services mean that the likelihood of being mugged, murdered or raped is dramatically lower than it would have been a few hundred years ago. People with low neuroticism seem to drift through this unprecedently safe world, rarely worried, feeling good, feeling relaxed. We look at individuals with high neuroticism, reacting too emotionally, panicking, feeling anxious and fearful of totally non-threatening situations and we think "Wow, they really drew the short straw". But we have to remember that we are all optimised for a very different world. In an unsafe world, someone with an extremely relaxed attitude towards grizzly bears, menacing strangers, cliffs and tall waves would have be much more likely to get eaten, murdered, smashed on rocks or drowned. People with very high neuroticism have been blessed with an extremely useful survival trait. It is simply unfortunate that it is not so useful today.

These examples mostly relate to the Anxiety facet of neuroticism. It is not always easy to imagine situations where all the neuroticism facets would have been advantageous but here are a few more examples:

Anger: Useful in a world without laws where predatory individuals are less likely to prey on people who will retaliate violently.
Depression: Useful during times of sickness and famine when an individual is better served by staying still and conserving their energy.
Awkwardness: Useful in tribal societies where being exiled for violating social norms can mean losing the protection of one's tribe.
Immoderation: Useful when the supply of food is infrequent and one may need to live off of one's fat reserves for long periods.
Stress: Advantageous when it motivates an individual to flee from an impossible situation (e.g. an unwinnable battle).

With a little imagination we can envision ancestral situations where supposedly positive big 5 traits would have been disadvantageous. Extraversion is a liability in a world full of infectious diseases. Conscientiousness is not so useful in a world without reliable banks and insurance policies. Agreeableness is a huge liability in a world without institutions set up to contain highly anti-social individuals. High Openness would have been a fairly useless trait when you consider that the most common profession of the past few thousand years was probably some variant of "Agricultural Labourer".

Vestigial Traits are not Useless

None of this means that certain traits were useful once and are now useless. Neuroticism generally seems maladaptive in a stable 21st century society. Conscientiousness is the personality trait that best predicts academic, financial and even relationship success. But these trends apply on average. Not every person with High conscientiousness is destined for success, nor is every person with low conscientiousness destined for failure. We can probably all think of plenty of celebrities who appear to have very low conscientiousness but this hasn't harmed their ability to become wealthy and successful in their own fields. Comedians for example very often seem to have low Conscientiousness. Although Conscientiousness may be a useful trait on average, if we apply the same thought experiment to modern day careers we can probably find numerous professions where being very structured, goal oriented and cautious is not predictive of success. Most jobs that involve charming, persuading and entertaining groups of people will probably fit this description. Even the facet anxiety may predict longevity in desirable positions with a high turnover. An overpowering fear of failure may be an unproductive source of distress in most careers but for CEOs and sports managers it may provide just the right impetus for maintaining the intensity necessary to retain their privileged positions.


If we look across a whole society we may note that certain personality traits seem to predict positive outcomes. For individuals however, whether your traits are strengths or weaknesses will be entirely dependent on how they manifest and the situations to which they are applied.

Rather than thinking that SLOAN types are unequal (and that you have one of the bad ones), keep 2 things in mind:
1. The notion that one personality type is "better" than another is vague to the point of meaninglessness. Before we can even come to such a conclusion we would have to first define exactly how we will measure this state of better-ness and that is hardly a straightforward calculation.
2. The studies that show better outcomes (academic success etc.) for certain traits tend to show subtle effects and only indicate average performance. There will be plenty of individuals with "maladaptive" traits who find success in arenas that capitalise on these traits.

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