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17 September 2014
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The personality scale

By Dr Stian Reimers

The Art and Personality test
The experiment
includes a personality profile.

The study of personality is debated. There are some who have argued that personality scales do not reflect any meaningful long-term traits in individuals. Although most psychologists now believe that the notion of personality is valid and useful, personality scales only look for the most robust traits that differ across people– they don't attempt to capture the subtle nuances that make everyone unique.

In this experiment we used a version of the Five Factor Model, which is one of the most reliable scales in personality research. It has good reliability across time – people's scores don't change much over the course of a day (as moods change) and remain reasonably consistent over many years.

That's not to say personality is completely unchangeable. Most psychologists believe that experience contributes to personality as well as biological and genetic influences. And even in our experiment we found that older people were more conscientious and more agreeable than younger people.

This suggests that personality isn't completely hard-wired– after all, people's genetic make-up doesn't change as they get older so the personality differences between old and young are likely to stem from differences in life experience. What we can't tell from this experiment is whether everybody becomes more conscientious and agreeable as they get older, or whether today's older people grew up with a different set of values to younger people, which are reflected in their personalities.

What was the most popular style of painting in the test?

Do artists and scientists perceive art differently?

Find out about the art used in the test

Dr Stian Reimers, a research fellow in experimental psychology at the University of Warwick, helped the BBC design the art preference and psychology experiment.

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