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The Puzzle Of Personality – The Coaching Room

Who are you, really? The puzzle of personality | Brian Little

The following article is derived from the accompanying video. It is provided as an additional resource for your reading convenience.


In this Ted Talk, Dr. Brian Little explains the differences between introverts and extroverts and explains why our personalities may be more malleable than we think.

Little tells his audience, “I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of days of listening in on some of your conversations and watching you interact with each other. And I think it’s fair to say, already, that there are 47 people in this audience,at this moment, displaying psychological symptoms I would like to discuss today.And I thought you might like to know who you are. But instead of pointing at you, which would be gratuitous and intrusive, I thought I would tell you a few facts and stories, in which you may catch a glimpse of yourself.”

“I’m in the field of research known as personality psychology, which is part of a larger personality science which spans the full spectrum, from neurons to narratives. And what we try to do, in our own way, is to make sense of how each of us –each of you –is, in certain respects, like all other people, like some other people and like no other person.” Little explains.

He goes on to say, “Now, already you may be saying of yourself, “I’m not intriguing. I am the 46th most boring person in the Western Hemisphere.” Or you may say of yourself, “I am intriguing, even if I am regarded by most people as a great, thundering twit.” But it is your self-diagnosed boringness and your inherent “twitiness” that makes me, as a psychologist, really fascinated by you.”


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Little explains why this is so. “One of the most influential approaches in personality science is known as trait psychology, and it aligns you along five dimensions which are normally distributed, and that describe universally held aspects of difference between people.

They spell out the acronym OCEAN.



“O” stands for “open to experience,” versus those who are more closed.

“C” stands for “conscientiousness,” in contrast to those with a more lackadaisical approach to life.

“E” — “extroversion,” in contrast to more introverted people.

“A” — “agreeable individuals,” in contrast to those decidedly not agreeable. And

“N” — “neurotic individuals,” in contrast to those who are more stable.”


Little shares that, “All of these dimensions have implications for our well-being, for how our life goes. And so we know that, for example, openness and conscientiousness are very good predictors of life success, but the open people achieve that success through being audacious and, occasionally, odd.”

“The conscientious people achieve it through sticking to deadlines, to persevering, as well as having some passion. Extroversion and agreeableness are both conducive to working well with people.” Little says.


He relates that, “Extroverts, for example, I find intriguing. With my classes, I sometimes give them a basic fact that might be revealing with respect to their personality: I tell them that it is virtually impossible for adults to lick the outside of their own elbow.

Did you know that? Already, some of you have tried to lick the outside of your own elbow. But extroverts amongst you are probably those who have not only tried, but they have successfully licked the elbow of the person sitting next to them. Those are the extroverts.” Little laughingly says.

“Let me deal in a bit more detail with extroversion, because it’s consequential and it’s intriguing, and it helps us understand what I call our three natures.” Little says.

“First, our biogenic nature — our neurophysiology. Second, our sociogenic or second nature which has to do with the cultural and social aspects of our lives. And third, what makes you individually you — idiosyncratic — what I call your “idiogenic” nature.”

Little explains that  “One of the things that characterizes extroverts is they need stimulation. And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting: loud noises, parties and social events here at TED — you see the extroverts forming a magnetic core.”

He continues by saying that “They all gather together. And I’ve seen you. The introverts are more likely to spend time in the quiet spaces up on the second floor, where they are able to reduce stimulation — and may be misconstrued as being antisocial, but you’re not necessarily antisocial.”

“It may be that you simply realize that you do better when you have a chance to lower that level of stimulation. Sometimes it’s an internal stimulant, from your body.”


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Little tells his Ted Talk audience that “Caffeine, for example, works much better with extroverts than it does introverts. When extroverts come into the office at nine o’clock in the morning and say, “I really need a cup of coffee,” they’re not kidding –they really do. Introverts do not do as well, particularly if the tasks they’re engaged in –and they’ve had some coffee –if those tasks are speeded, and if they’re quantitative, introverts may give the appearance of not being particularly quantitative. But it’s a misconstrual. So here are the consequences that are really quite intriguing: we’re not always what we seem to be.”


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Dr. Brian Little is a Professor and expert on well being and human personality in the field of motivational psychology.


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