What your degree subject says about your personality?

Worried that your degree reveals too much about your personality? Maybe you should be.

Research on more than 13,000 students has found links between university subjects and the personalities of the people who study them.

The researchers found a bigger link than they were expecting between personality and degree subject. Study author Anna Vedel said:

"The effect sizes show that the differences found are not trivial, far from it"

"On the more humorous side they do confirm our more or less prejudicial stereotypes of the disturbed psychologist, the withdrawn natural scientist, the cynical economist."

The big five

The study looked at the "big five" personality traits, and how they correlated with degree subjects. These are:

  • Agreeableness - The tendency to be helpful, generous and considerate - (something the lawyers, business and economics students scored lowly in)
  • Neuroticism - The tendency to be abnormally sensitive, obsessive, or anxious - (something psychologists scored highly in)
  • Extraversion - The tendency to "enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious" - something scientists scored particularly highly in.
  • Openness - Openness to experience refers to the extent to which a person is imaginative, independent, and has a preference for variety. A person who is high in openness to experience would be a creative thinker who is independent and does not like routines. Humanities, arts, psychology, and political Sciences students scored highly in this.
  • Conscientiousness refers to the extent to which a person is organised, careful, self-disciplined, and responsible. Arts and Humanities students scored lowly in this.

There are good and bad points for just about every degree subject. For example, law and business students were found to have "selfish and uncooperative tendencies" but scored highly in extraversion, meaning you'll be fun to have around at parties (even if you didn't cooperate very well whilst organising said party). Arts and Humanities students, meanwhile, tended to score highly for neuroticism, but also for openness and honesty.

Effect sizes were calculated to estimate the magnitude of the personality group differences. For all Big Five personality traits medium effect sizes were found frequently, and for Openness even large effect sizes were found regularly.


What does your degree say about your personality?

Arts and humanities

Students scored high for neuroticism and openness, low for conscientiousness and medium for extraversion. So you're neurotic and open about it, but not in an organised way, and "curious and in touch with their feelings", according to the study.

They also typically exhibited signs of anxiety and moodiness.

Economics students

Scored high for extraversion, but low for openness and agreeableness. There was a medium effect seen for conscientiousness and neuroticism. This means they are highly extraverted and sociable, though not necessarily open, honest or agreeable.

Law

Scored high for extraversion, there was a medium effect seen for neuroticism and conscientiousness and they exhibited a lower score for openness and agreeableness.

As you'd expect from people who might have to stand up in court, law students scored highly for extraversion, and were conscientious (a good quality for people who have to pay attention to the letter of the law). On the other hand they aren't very "open and honest" and weren't very agreeable either.

Engineering

Engineering students were found to show medium levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness, and lower levels for openness. Pretty good all-rounders?

Sciences

Scientists scored higher for openness (a good quality for people who need to be honest about their scientific findings to have), tended to be more extroverted than other groups and demonstrated medium levels of neuroticism.


What do the results mean?

Before you go telling your law friends how disagreeable you find them, or psychology students how neurotic they are (that'll give them something to be neurotic about), remember all these traits are found in everyone to some extent. However the study author said that the findings could help those school pupils who currently have no idea what to study at university, as well as helping academics to plan their courses:

"I'm not arguing that these results should play a major role in either guidance or selection, but it might provide some inspiration for students that are in doubt about study choices and want to make a choice based on more than abilities, for example."

"Or teachers might better understand their student population and may be able to tailor their structure to it."

The findings were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.


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