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Can What He Does Tell Me About Who He Is?

A reader recently sent in a comment about the men she was meeting online. She noted that, compared to other occupations, a majority of men who reported having MBAs misrepresented their custody arrangements with their kids (i.e., they claimed to have custody for less time than they actually did), and that lawyers were more likely to report being separated (versus divorced). I’m not sure whether these lawyers were more honest about their marital status than other guys or whether they were more likely to be separated in general, but she does pose an interesting question:

Do our career choices reflect our personalities, and if so, can our careers say something about how we operate and present ourselves in our intimate relationships? In other words, if I meet an MBA, can I draw conclusions about what he is like as a person and how he will act in a future relationship with me?

Unfortunately, there is not much direct evidence that can answer this question. Researchers have extensively used personality preferences to examine career path selection.1 The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one measure of personality based on the theory that people have different preferences in the way they judge and perceive the world.2 For example, you may prefer reading a book to watching movies. You can do both, but you probably prefer one over the other. In one study, researchers found that thinking types, who are individuals that prefer rational decision-making styles over intuitive gut-feeling inferences, are overrepresented in the biological sciences (e.g., biology).3 Another study of dental hygiene students found that they were more likely to be sensing-judging types, or people who have a preference for basic facts and being decisive, than other personality types.4

Does personality impact mate selection? Why, yes it does. People match up with others similar to themselves.5 For example, I am what can be characterized as a Type A personality, or someone who is competitive, extroverted, has a strong drive to work, a need to be efficient with my time, and (on the negative side) can be hostile or aggressive when frustrated.6 Individuals like myself tend to be very ambitious and choose competitive careers, such as business, law,  or consulting, which may be a reason I am digging The Consultant right now.

If personality types reflect preferences, how do they operate in day-to-day interactions? Although understanding personality types helps people understand each other better, some organizational psychologists (psychologists who study work environments) argue that it does not impact the processes that work teams use to make decisions.7 In other words, a guy may be a sensing type, but it does not mean he will only stick to the basic facts of an argument in our conversations with each other. Therefore, personality may help understand a potential mate’s preferences, but the way it manifests in a conversation or long-term relationship remains largely unknown.

So back to the reader’s question: What is it about people in certain careers presenting themselves in particular ways in their online profiles? It may be the case that the type of men who choose such careers (i.e., MBAs and lawyers) are the same type of men that are apt to try to stretch the truth, or outright lie, in their online profiles. Self-presentation theory suggests that people want to create a positive impression in the eyes of others and the self.8 Type A personalities tend to be driven towards self-perfectionism,9 and strive hard to present themselves in a very positive light. If the ultimate goal is to get a date, Type As may be more motivated than other personality types to portray information in whatever way best reaches that goal of getting you out to dinner. If that means misrepresenting custody arrangements to appear more available to a potential partner, then so be it. Just another of the many things I am learning to look out for!

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

1Pulver, C. A., & Kelly, K. R. (2008). Incremental validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in predicting academic major selection of undecided university students. Journal of Career Assessment, 16, 441-455.

2The Myers & Briggs Foundation, http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/

3Blackford, S. (2010). Psychological types of bioscience doctoral research students and postdoctoral researchers in western Europe. Journal of Psychological Type, 70, 87-94.

4Paige, B. E. (2000). Psychological types of dental hygiene students. Journal of Psychological Type, 52, 32-35.

5Tyler, P. A. (1988). Assortive mating and human variation. Scientific Progress, Oxford, 72, 451–466.

6Glass, D. C. (1977). Stress, behavior patterns, and coronary disease. American Scientist, 65, 177-187.

7Kuipers, B. S., Higgs, M. J., Tolkacheva, N. V., & de Witte, M. C. (2009). The influence of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator profiles on team development processes: An empirical study in the manufacturing industry. Small Group Research, 40, 436-464.

8Leary, M. R. (1996). Self-presentation: Impression management and interpersonal behavior. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

9Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., Blankstein, K. R., & Dynin, C. B. (1994). Dimensions of perfectionism and Type-A behavior.  Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 477-485.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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