Mr. Personality

A personality expert talks character and destiny.

What type of Movie person are you? Find out what film preferences say about you.

What do your favorite movies reveal about you?

If you ever bought a dvd on Amazon you will have received their suggestion to buy another film, usually with the same actor or by the same director. Yet there is very little in common between "Meet the parents" and "Deer hunter" other than Robert De Niro, and even less between "Titanic" and "What's eating Gilbert Grape" other than Leo DiCaprio. Likewise, classifying film preferences on the basis of genre seem inaccurate because we all like some comedies, some dramas, and some documentaries (though horror and action movies may polarise people more).

So, can our film preferences reflect any salient features of our personality? I have created a very short, fun test, to address this question, which you can check out here: http://www.thefagans.org.uk/filmuses/ (the test gives instant feedback on your movie personality type). As there is surprisingly little research into this, the results will make an important contribution to the area. But why would one expect film preferences to reflect individual differences in personality? I believe there are three main reasons:

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First, film preferences reflect attitudes or evaluations that help to organise and are organised by a wider system of values or schemas. For example, if you care a lot about human rights you will probably enjoy Spielberg's "Colour Purple" or "Schindler's list" much more than if you do not care about human rights at all, whereas if you are obsessed with power and money you will probably enjoy Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" or "Scarface". However, these associations are interesting only for theoretical purposes because all successful movies are based on more or less universal themes (e.g., freedom, love, power and death), which makes personality profiling quite difficult.

Second, people use film preferences to communicate certain aspects of their personality - this may happen with or without awareness and more or less directly. For instance, the "macho man" may inadvertedly disclose his masculine personality by saying how much he enjoys watching the complete "Rambo", "Die Hard" or "Lethal Weapon" series. In fact, one could correlate people's masculinity and aggression scores (the two features of being a macho man) not only with preferences for action movies but with each of the individual features that constitute a macho man flick, namely:

* The villain has no redeeming qualities.
* Things will be blown up.
* Guns will be fired and meaningless characters will be killed.
* The main character won't say much but he will say some catchy things.
* A woman or child will be kidnapped.
* There will be hand-to-hand combat to prove who is really the toughest.
* Someone will have a very cool vehicle.

(these are taken from http://www.netshrine.com/vbulletin2/archive/index.php/t-8869.html)

Likewise, people may deliberately attempt to convey information about their personality or create a certain impression by telling us that they like certain types of movies. Most notably, if people tell you how much they enjoy arty movies (think of conceptual, independent, French cinema where the emphasis is on form rather than content) they are probably trying to tell you that they are creative, clever and cultured. There is of course a problem with this approach to studying movie preferences, which is that they would reveal only people's public self (or how they wish to be seen by others).

The third and arguably most interesting reason for linking personality and movie preference is that personality traits may predict why we watch films or what we use movies for. More specifically, this assumes that a) movie-watching fulfills key psychological functions, which vary b) from person to person, and c) from movie to movie. Yet if we identify the main functions or motives underlying film preferences, it should be possible to classify both movies and people on the basis of these dimensions, which will essentially enable us to accurately match people to the right movies. Here's a simple example: Let's assume that one of the motives for watching films is arousal or sensation-seeking, and that both films and people differ in their ability to evoke arousal and desire to experience arousal, respectively. People who are high in arousal-seeking (those with high sensation seeking or Openness scores) should be more likely to enjoy arousing movies, such as these: http://www.imdb.com/chart/horror (see in particular those movies at the bottom of the list - top movies in any category are more likely to suppress than to highlight personality differences).

So, next time you watch a movie you can work out not only why you like or dislike it but what it says about your personality. Likewise, if you are going on a date with someone who may want to work out what they are like by asking them whether they love or hate specific movies.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., is a Professor of Business Psychology at UCL and NYU. He studies online dating, entrepreneurship, and consumer preferences. more...

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