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Why You Can't Rely on SLOAN Type Descriptions

For anyone who has read the rest of this big 5 wiki it will be obvious that the big 5 is not a typology system. The system is based on the study of 5 independent traits and their sub-traits or "facets". It is only in recent years that the typology community has appropriated the big 5 and attempted to transform it into something that more closely resembles a system like the MBTI, complete with letter codes (SLOAN) and type descriptions. The website that originated the SLOAN notation system that PDB currently uses also included descriptions of the 32 SLOAN types. This wiki already includes a lengthy article that covers the many issues with these descriptions and the reasons why they fall short of being the ideal way to understand the big 5 ("Are SLOAN and OCEAN Different Systems?" in the SLOAN chapter). However, there appear to be other SLOAN type descriptions floating around. This article will assess one of these descriptions and explain why it is a sub optimal resource for understanding the big 5.

The following description is associated with the SLOAN type RCOAI:

"With a good mind, a strong wit, and a creative brain, [you are] genuine and easy-going, but prefer being alone. You are studious and diligent, but get embarrassed when people praise you for it. You would rather improve yourself and focus on helping others."

Let's look at each of these elements and assess the degree to which they accurately represent this type and the big 5 in general.

"Good Mind": This is meaningless, perhaps not quite a Barnum Statement but it's certainly not a helpful descriptor when trying to distinguish one type from another. If RCOAIs have a "Good Mind", which SLOAN types are we to suppose must have a comparatively "Bad Mind"? It's not at all apparent which big 5 trait is being referred to here.

"Strong Wit": Google offers 2 definitions of "wit". 1. "the capacity for inventive thought and quick understanding; keen intelligence." Inventive thought suggests high openness. Quick understanding and keen intelligence however would seem to be more relevant to I.Q. than to a personality trait and so are not especially relevant to the big 5. Definition number 2: "a natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humour." There is nothing in the standard trait descriptions that suggests a propensity for humour. This definition of the word "wit" also appears to be non-relevant. Overall the term "wit" is an ambiguous one, which for the most part describes traits that are not directly identified with any big 5 trait. As such it is an odd and inappropriate choice of word for a big 5 type description.

"Creative Brain": Creativity is suggestive of high Openness, although why it needs to be specified that creativity is located within the Brain (where else would it be located?) is unclear.

"Genuine": This suggests a high score for Honesty, a facet of agreeableness and so is appropriate for this type. 

"Easy-Going": As with "wit" this is a poor choice of word due to its ambiguity. Merriam-Webster: "relaxed and casual in style or manner". This description fits with the low neuroticism of this type but simultaneously clashes with the Orderliness, Dutifulness, Achievement Striving, Self-Discipline and Cautiousness of High conscientiousness (XXOXX). What score would we expect an "easy-going, relaxed and casual" person to get for those 5 facets of conscientiousness? Would we predict an above average or below average score? This is a common issue with these SLOAN type descriptions. Because they strive to summarise a person with a few words they use ones like "Wit" and "Easy Going" that describe traits in a very far ranging and non-specific way, in a way that can unintentionally cover 2 or 3 traits at once, or traits that have nothing to do with the big 5 and so do more to confuse than clarify.

"Prefers Being Alone": This fits with low Extraversion, but it is worth pointing out that Gregariousness is only one of the 6 facets of Extraversion. It is perfectly possible for someone to score low on every facet of Extraversion except Gregariousness, meaning that the implication that all RXXXX types (or all RCOAIs) prefer being alone is not an accurate one. This vague description also tiptoes into Barnum Statement territory as virtually everyone prefers to be alone at one point or another, so it is a description that could be applied to an excessively large proportion of the population and thus is not useful for distinguishing between types.

"You are Studious": This is perhaps a reference to high Conscientiousness. Students with high conscientiousness are perhaps more likely to be described as "studious" than those with low conscientiousness. However, this does not account for the fact that individuals with high conscientiousness who have no need to be studious (e.g. someone who has a mentally non-challenging job) are not likely to be described this way. Perhaps the description presumes that a combination of high openness and high conscientiousness suggests a person who pursues an intellectual line of endeavour and works hard at it and would therefore be accurately described as "studious". This line of reasoning makes sense but it is nonetheless a speculative one. The presumption that XXOXI types will be "studious" is perhaps a likely definition but is far from being a necessary one. Ultimately there is nothing in the big 5 scores described by RCOAI or in the combination of those scores that necessarily implies that such an individual must be studious.

"Diligent": This is effectively a synonym for "Conscientious" and so is a perfectly valid inclusion here, although it adds little to the understanding of someone who already knows that (XXOXX) means "Conscientious". It's effectively re-stating information. In the event that the reader of this description doesn't know what conscientiousness is, it does nothing to fix the rather severe deficit in their understanding of the big 5.

"Get embarrassed when people praise you": Here we have the worst sin that this description commits. The propensity for feeling embarrassment is a facet of neuroticism. An XCXXX type is presumed to have low neuroticism and accordingly a low score in the facets of neuroticism like awkwardness. By presenting embarrassment as one of the primary identifiers of an RCOAI this description is actually defining this type in a manner that is the opposite of what their SLOAN code suggests. This would be the equivalent of describing an XXUXX type as "highly organised". A "Calm" type can be highly susceptible to feelings of embarrassment if it is an outlier in their scores for Neuroticism but it is still the opposite of what we would predict for the typical XCXXX type. Furthermore it begs the question of where the author of this description is getting their information. If they have included a description that is the opposite of what we would expect from the most relevant trait (low neuroticism) then it suggests that they have some body of data that demonstrates that RCOAIs are typically embarrassed when praised. What is this data? The study of the big 5 as 32 distinct personality types is a highly obscure one. It also is a line of enquiry that chooses to ignore the fact that big 5 traits are distributed amongst a population on a bell curve, making the high/low dichotomy of the 32 types a completely counter-intuitive way to represent that statistical reality. Is this claim based on actual data or is the author merely sharing their own personal interpretation of how an RCOAI behaves? The Similar Minds description for RCOAI makes no reference to the embarrassment of this type so it seems that the author's own imagination is the most likely source for this information.

"Improve Yourself": This perhaps correlates with the Achievement Striving facet of Conscientiousness although it is not self-evident that those with a high score in this facet are necessarily focussed on self-improvement as the specific form of achievement towards which they strive.

"Helping Others": This fits with the Altruism facet of High Agreeableness.

So let's summarise the information that this description has given us about RCOAIs:

3 meaningless or vague statements that either have nothing to do with the big 5 or that describe more than one trait and so confuse matters unnecessarily: Good Mind, Strong Wit, Easy Going.
5 statements that do accurately and precisely describe some aspect of the relevant traits but which do so within the context of a very incomplete set of definitions: Creative, genuine, prefers being alone, diligent, helping others.
1 statement that is arguably non-specific enough to qualify as a Barnum Statement: Prefers being alone.
3 statements that are not directly implied by any traits and so appear to be speculative in nature rather than being based on actual data: Studious, embarrassed when praised, improving yourself.
1 statement that appears to directly contradict a basic assumption that we should be able to make about this type: Tendency to feel embarrassed.

We can describe this description overall as being a mix of statements that are vague and confusing, insufficiently informative, seemingly based on complete speculation and in direct contradiction of certain valid assumptions. At its best the description managed to accurately clarify a few aspects of this type, namely:

Inquisitive types are creative.
Accommodating types are helpful and genuine.
Organised types are diligent.

Although that information is appropriate to this type, the description failed to associate the information with any of the relevant big 5 traits. An uninformed reader knows that RCOAIs are more likely to be creative. What they haven't been told is that an RCOAI is about as likely to be "creative" as all the other 16 XXXXI types. A PDB user might use these descriptions to make the following argument:
"Character X is creative, helpful, sincere and diligent, just like the description for RCOAI, so they must be RCOAI!"

The problem with this line of argument is that it is an argument for all 4 XXOAI types, not for RCOAIs in particular. Furthermore, it offers a very incomplete definition of those traits. "Diligent" is just a synonym for conscientiousness and so is effectively the same as saying "I think this character has high conscientiousness" which is an assertion, not an argument. Saying that the character is helpful and sincere implies a high score for 2 of the 6 facets of Agreeableness but tells us nothing about the other 4 facets: Trust, Compliance, Modesty and Compassion. A person can be "helpful and sincere" but still be XXXEX if they have low scores for the other 4 facets of Agreeableness.

A PDB user relying on this description for their typology votes is therefore relying on a confused jumble of incomplete and misleading information and is unlikely to be able to assess someone in an insightful or accurate manner if their understanding of the big 5 begins and ends with descriptions of this nature. This is why SLOAN type descriptions are a dead end when it comes to understanding and using the big five. Try not to rely on them and instead base your understanding of this system on the descriptions of the individual traits and facets. You can find these elsewhere in this wiki.

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