Human Behavior Study Identifies Four Basic Personality Types

Summary: 90 percent of the population can be classified into one of four main personality types, and of those, 30 percent fall under the envious personality type, a new study reports.

Source: Carlos III University of Madrid.

A study on human behavior has revealed that 90 percent of the population can be classified into four basic personality types: optimistic, pessimistic, trusting and envious. However, the latter of the four types, envious, is the most common, with 30 percent compared to 20 percent for each of the other groups.

This is one of the main conclusions of a study recently published in the journal, Science Advances by researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, together with colleagues from the universities of Barcelona, Rovira i Virgili and Zaragoza. The study analyzed the responses of 541 volunteers to hundreds of social dilemmas, with options leading to collaboration or conflict with others, based on individual or collective interests.

Specifically, this work is part of game theory, a branch of mathematics with applications in sociology and economics, which examines the behavior of people when they face a dilemma and have to make decisions. These decisions will have different consequences which will also depend on what the other party involved decides to do. “Those involved are asked to participate in pairs, these pairs change, not only in each round, but also each time the game changes. So, the best option could be to cooperate or, on the other hand, to oppose or betray ….. In this way, we can obtain information about what people do in very different social situations”, explained one of the authors of the study, Anxo Sánchez, who is a professor in GISC (Grupo Interdisciplinar de Sistemas Complejos / Interdisciplinary Group of Complex Systems), which is part of the Department of Mathematics at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M).

According to Yamir Moreno, who is the coordinator of the Cosnet group (Grupo de Redes y Sistemas Complejos / Networks and Complex Systems Group) at BIFI (Instituto de Biocomputación y Física de Sistemas Complejos / Institute of Biocomputation and the Physics of Complex Systems) at the Universidad de Zaragoza, and also president of the Sociedad de Sistemas Complejos (Complex Systems Society), “The results go against certain theories; the one which states that humans act purely rationally for example, and, therefore, they should be taken into consideration in redesigning social and economic policies, as well as those involved in cooperation”. He goes on to say that, “these types of studies are important because they improve existing theories on human behavior by giving them an experimental base”.

After carrying out this kind of social experiment, the researchers developed a computer algorithm which set out to classify people according to their behavior. The computer algorith organized 90% of people into four groups: the largest group, accounting for 30%, being the Envious – those who don’t actually mind what they achieve, as long as they’re better than everyone else; next are the Optimists – who believe that they and their partner will make the best choice for both of them – on 20%. Also on 20% are the Pessimists – who select the option which they see as the lesser of two evils – and the Trusting group – who are born collaborators and who will always cooperate and who don’t really mind if they win or lose.

There is a fifth, undefined group, representing 10%, which the algorithm is unable to classify in relation to a clear type of behavior. The researchers argue that this allows them to infer the existence of a wide range of subgroups made up of individuals who do not respond in a determined way to any of the outlined models.

Anxo Sánchez explains this with an example of a specific dilemma: Two people can hunt deer together, but if they are alone, they can only hunt rabbits. The person belonging to the Envious group will choose to hunt rabbits because he or she will be at least equal to the other hunter, or maybe even better; the Optimist will choose to hunt deer because that is the best option for both hunters; the Pessimist will go for rabbits because that way he or she is sure to catch something; and the hunter who belongs to the Trusting group will cooperate and choose to hunt deer, without a second thought.

Experiment based on citizen participation

The study is based on an experiment organized by Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Citizen Science Office, within the framework of the DAU festival, also in Barcelona. “One of main principles of this study is the fact that the experiment has been developed in such a way to encourage the participation of citizens within the framework of one of the city’s public activities,” explains Josep Perelló, leader of the group, OpenSystems in the Condensed Matter Physics Department at Universitat de Barcelona, and also coordinator of the Barcelona Citizen Science Office. In this sense, “the results have been shared with the participants, thus, the subjects of the study become active participants in the research”, concludes the researcher.

“The really funny thing is that the classification was made by a computer algorithm which could have obtained a larger number of groups, but which has, in fact, produced an “excellent “rating in four personality types,” explains Yamir Moreno. Jordi Duch, a researcher at Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, and one of the authors of this study, goes on to explain, “This type of classification algorithm has previously been used with success in other fields, such as biology. However, its application to the study of human behavior is quite revolutionary, given that previous works prefixed the behaviors expected before the experiment was carried out, instead of allowing an external system to then automatically give us information about which groupings were most logical.” This is of capital importance because it isn’t something imposed by the researchers. The objective of using mathematics was precisely to guarantee impartiality,” adds Anxo Sánchez.

Image shows a person holding up a happy face drawing and a mad face drawing.
A new research have disclosed that mankind can be categorized in four basic types of personality: pessimistic, optimistic, envious and trusting. image is credited to UC3M.

“Previously, the experiments were performed by dozens of people. Now, with this platform, it is possible to significantly increase the volume of participants in the study, as well as being able to test using the heterogeneous population; this also allows us to record much more specific data on how the participants behave during the experiment. This has opened up the door to setting up much more complex tests than those that have been carried out so far in this field”, says Jordi Duch.

In the same way, the research results shed light in relation to what moves the collective or individual interest in the processes of negotiation, and as such, it is useful for the management of business, organizations or for political reformulation. Furthermore, it also serves to open the door to improving machinery, to make “robots more humanized”, concludes Anxo Sanchez.

About this psychology research article

Source: Francisco Javier Alonso – Carlos III University of Madrid
Image Source: image is credited to UC3M.
Original Research: Abstract for “Humans display a reduced set of consistent behavioral phenotypes in dyadic games” by Julia Poncela-Casasnovas, Mario Gutiérrez-Roig, Carlos Gracia-Lázaro, Julian Vicens, Jesús Gómez-Gardeñes, Josep Perelló, Yamir Moreno, Jordi Duch and Angel Sánchez in Science Advances. Published online August 5 2016 doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600451

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Carlos III University of Madrid. “Human Behavior Study Identifies Four Basic Personality Types.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 7 October 2016.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Carlos III University of Madrid. (2016, October 7). Human Behavior Study Identifies Four Basic Personality Types. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved October 7, 2016 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Carlos III University of Madrid. “Human Behavior Study Identifies Four Basic Personality Types.” (accessed October 7, 2016).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Humans display a reduced set of consistent behavioral phenotypes in dyadic games

Socially relevant situations that involve strategic interactions are widespread among animals and humans alike. To study these situations, theoretical and experimental research has adopted a game theoretical perspective, generating valuable insights about human behavior. However, most of the results reported so far have been obtained from a population perspective and considered one specific conflicting situation at a time. This makes it difficult to extract conclusions about the consistency of individuals’ behavior when facing different situations and to define a comprehensive classification of the strategies underlying the observed behaviors. We present the results of a lab-in-the-field experiment in which subjects face four different dyadic games, with the aim of establishing general behavioral rules dictating individuals’ actions. By analyzing our data with an unsupervised clustering algorithm, we find that all the subjects conform, with a large degree of consistency, to a limited number of behavioral phenotypes (envious, optimist, pessimist, and trustful), with only a small fraction of undefined subjects. We also discuss the possible connections to existing interpretations based on a priori theoretical approaches. Our findings provide a relevant contribution to the experimental and theoretical efforts toward the identification of basic behavioral phenotypes in a wider set of contexts without aprioristic assumptions regarding the rules or strategies behind actions. From this perspective, our work contributes to a fact-based approach to the study of human behavior in strategic situations, which could be applied to simulating societies, policy-making scenario building, and even a variety of business applications.

“Humans display a reduced set of consistent behavioral phenotypes in dyadic games” by Julia Poncela-Casasnovas, Mario Gutiérrez-Roig, Carlos Gracia-Lázaro, Julian Vicens, Jesús Gómez-Gardeñes, Josep Perelló, Yamir Moreno, Jordi Duch and Angel Sánchez in Science Advances. Published online August 5 2016 doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600451

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  1. Each of the four personality types are one man’s opinion after some limited pool was selected for research outcomes. The study’s collateral information has great validity and interest to minorities and non inclusive parties in the fabric of society and the dominant culture that funds such epic research. It is professional protocol and understanding when conducting interactive research, that the unintended deliverables and outcomes always, generate significant interest and further study. Envious was dominant but also quite predictable, even from just a human nature point of view, because it is dominant in each of us. Trusting and envious, on the the hand, had no relational relationship understanding, with each other, as did the optimist and pessimist. Trusting and envious are the extremes of the personalities types, but each class of those personality types line up with the same exceptions as does the optimist and pessimist personalities. Not really revolutionary when applied to the notion of to two plus two equals four, which is always divisible by two, as is in this theory paper when they are grouped by their type and then group themselves by their research definition and become split as equals of two when and can also be added and divided by two, as the notion of two plus two. Simplicity with a mental twist!!!

  2. Hate the envious group. Which is pretty much the people running our country and world. They don’t care how much everyone has, all they care is that they have more.
    If a project increases everyone’s wealth by 10% and theirs by 5%- they don’t want it. Simply because it means other people get closer in wealth. All they care about is how far ahead they are.
    They should all be dropped off an overpass into on coming traffic.

  3. I owned a auto repair shop in LA. I came in on a Sat, and there was a station wagon full of what I considered they owned. Eventually a family showed up and explained their situation. Just moved to LA and both had new jobs, the reason they moved. By the time got to LA, all 6 of them, made it with just enough for first and last months rent, plus security which adds up to a lot of money. Their car needed repairs and they had no money. I gave them credit and fixed their car on a promise to pay, basically on a hand shake. They met all their promise’s and eventually as their lives got better and they bought better cars, but always came to me for anything that had to do with their vehicles. A lot of my customers said I was to trusting and had to some from the mid-west which I did. I don’t know why I trusted him and his family but I was right. I rarely got burnt but not for too much money. I trust people on varying levels. I only have to friends that is allowed in my house when I am not there. But helping people in dire need and the relief they get is a pleasure far more than the disappointment that comes up short on their promise’s. The motto I installed in my family was, “You do what you can when you can”. If I can possibly help a person and I have the knowledge or the skill or cash to help, as long I have known you for a while. I have been in need myself and people helped me so I always try to help others when I can. It’s my way of paying back good intentions that was done for me from others.

  4. ‘Envy’ is a negative term for a very healthy aspect of personality which we all have to a varying degree. That is, the hard-wiring we have to accomplish more and more in our lives, thus advancing the human species. Envy, wanting what we don’t have, is one of the forces that pushes us ahead in this world (evolution).

  5. Is this really a neuroscience result? I.e. could there be some meaningful correlation between the four given personality types and some stable groupings of neurostructural and/or neurochemical types? My instinct (not as a scientist but as a computer professional) is that these and any other personality types are products of beliefs, and that beliefs, in turn, are normally products of our experiences alone. I therefore see personality types as something that should be studied from the perspective of belief systems and structures (e.g. how experiences form and sometimes change our beliefs). Though I do realize that malfunctioning brains can have abnormal effects on what beliefs we adopt by distorting some experiences, a study of normal personality types, it seems to me, should be doable mostly on the dimension of the effects of beliefs upon deliberate behavior. To ‘deliberate’ is usually taken to mean to decide, and most normal brains, I believe, have had sufficient experiences to conclude, at an early age, that correct beliefs are necessary for effective self-interest in the real world. That makes for a near-universal motive to decide correctly on what to believe, and our only means of attempting to adopt only correct beliefs is to base our decisions on what we have already decided is true, i.e. our current belief set at the time of each decision. Consider also that a decision to do something may be seen as a decision that it will have been worth doing, so that all decisions may be thought of as ending in beliefs, even if only briefly held.

  6. There is only two, soft heads who will believe in any study and there are the hard heads those who are very hard to sway to any ideas under the sun.

  7. another study that attempts to place people in a box where the lid can be closed and they can be ignored because we think that we figured them out.

  8. Let’s see some international replication and subject samples drawn from differing types of venues. Then, we’ll talk. So far, so good though. It’s a nicely done study to build upon.

  9. Congratulations — you just reinvented Myers-Briggs. Your optimists, pessimists, trustings and envious are SPs, NTs, NFs and SJs.

  10. Perhaps I fall into the 10%. I would say my real ‘personality type,’ as suggested in this article, is determined by the situation I’m facing as well as the other ‘players.’ When there is a chance of a big loss that would be very stressful or result in death, I tend to be ‘pessimistic,’ opting for the safer alternatives. In more normal situations with colleagues or friends, I tend to be ‘trusting.’ In general, I’d say I’m ‘optimistic.’ When I was much younger, I was often ‘envious,’ but am not that way at all now. In the laboratory situation described above, I’d probably be ‘trusting.’
    And I suspect more than 10% of the population exhibits different ‘personalities’ in different situations.

  11. Only two types of people: Those who think you can divide them into four groups and those who don’t.

  12. Were the 541 Spanish? If they were Australian, I guess less than 10% would be pessimists. I don’t see the need for 541. If you sample well, use parametric tests and ask the ‘right questions’ 100 subjects should suffice for 4 categories, (or maybe 120 to satisfy the requirements for homogeneity of variance) Personally, I think there are only two kinds of people, those who categorise people into two groups, and those who don’t

  13. The more we learn the more we relize we dont know is still the majority. Is that good or bad? We cant even agree on that question. But I feel as long as we realize there is much for us to learn is a good thing in deed.

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