This Is What Makes a Person Fun
A scientific account of having a “fun” personality.
Posted Oct 04, 2018
I hate to break the news to you, but life is short. And as you get older, the years do seem to go by more quickly.
Given this fact of life, there really is not a lot of time to be hanging out with people who are just no fun!
While nearly everyone would likely agree with this sentiment, from a behavioral scientific perspective, you just have to ask: What exactly does it mean to be “fun” or “no fun"!?
Personality psychologists, such as Nettle and Clegg (2008), often frame the essence of our personality structure as mapping onto five superordinate traits — the Big Five personality trait dimensions. Decades of quantitative research on human personality functioning has, in fact, shown that pretty much all personality-related attributes map onto one of the Big Five personality trait dimensions, which are as follows:
- Extraversion — The tendency to be outgoing and high in social energy (versus introversion)
- Neuroticism — The tendency to be anxious and to experience various negative emotional states (versus emotional stability)
- Open-mindedness — The tendency to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking (versus closed-mindedness)
- Conscientiousness — The tendency to be diligent, meticulous, and organized (versus having a disorganized nature)
- Agreeableness — The tendency to be friendly and supportive of others in one’s world (versus disagreeableness)
Importantly, each of these dimensions is exactly that: a dimension with people scoring anywhere on a continuum, with most scores near the mean (average) on each dimension.
Given how ubiquitous the Big Five personality traits are in characterizing human dispositions, perhaps it would be helpful to think of the idea of having a “fun” versus “no fun” personality in terms of the Big Five trait dimensions.
To help guide this process, consider the work by Nettle and Clegg (2008) that documented which end of each of these trait dimensions is considered relatively attractive in romantic partners. While this idea is not exactly the same as “fun,” it might be a useful starting point to think about this basic idea.
Nettle and Clegg’s (2008) analysis, which summarizes much past research on the topic of how personality traits play out in the domain of mating, essentially suggests that the following ends of each of these trait dimensions are relatively attractive:
- Extraverted people are, all things considered, more attractive than introverted people.
- Emotionally stable people are, all things considered, more attractive than neurotic others.
- Open-minded people are, all things considered, more attractive than those who are closed-minded.
- Conscientious others are, all things considered, more attractive than those who are generally disorganized.
- Agreeable others are, all things considered, more attractive than the disagreeable among us.
So perhaps someone who is outgoing, emotionally stable, conscientious, open-minded, and agreeable would be described as fun.
Perhaps. However, the characteristics of an ideal mate are not always fully consistent with what we might think of when we conjure up a fun person. You might want something a little different in a platonic friend from what you would want in a mate. We can all think of plenty of disagreeable people, for instance, who are hilarious. Or you might have that highly neurotic friend who just cracks you up all the time (Think: George Costanza). On the flip side, we can probably think of someone who is extremely conscientious who, well, is just a total snooze-fest!
When it comes to how the Big Five relates to whether someone is “fun,” then, it may be the case that “fun-ness” extends beyond these five basic trait dimensions.
Have a Sense of Humor!
Over the past few years, research on understanding personality from an evolutionary perspective has demonstrated that the Big Five, in fact, are not all there is to it. Work on the topic of humor and creative abilities, for instance, has shown that these attributes are not fully predicted by the Big Five traits, yet they are importantly related to various outcomes in social relationships (see Kaufman et al., 2008).
When it comes to a sense of humor, we tend to like people in our worlds who are strong in terms of both humor production and humor reception. In other words, we like people who are good at both making jokes and getting jokes. Let’s face it: Someone who doesn’t get the joke is just no fun!
Creativity, which is related to a sense of humor as well as to general intelligence (see Geher & Miller, 2008), is similar. We are deeply entertained by highly creative people, including high-caliber musicians, artists, comedians, actors, dancers, storytellers, architects, and so forth. Creative people have been found to be high in emotional intelligence, which is a key factor in social relationships (see Geher, Betancourt, & Jewell, 2017). In short, highly creative people are fun, and we like them!
Basic Attributes of the Fun Personality
Based on the reasoning here, it seems that there are several key ingredients to having a fun personality — as follows:
- Extraversion — Because extraverts are exciting and are easy to talk to
- Open-mindedness — Because open-minded people are up for all kinds of things
- Humor Production — Because someone who can make you laugh is worth having around
- Humor Reception — Because we like it when someone gets the joke
- Creativity — Because the highly creative among us keep us entertained
Life is too short to surround yourself with boring people! Nearly by definition, we like others who are fun. They make us laugh. They make us smile. And they keep us entertained for all kinds of reasons. Interested in living a richer life? Stuck in a rut? Find some creative, outgoing, funny people, and have some fun!
Facebook image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Geher, G., Betancourt, K., & Jewell, O. (2017). The link between emotional intelligence and creativity. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality.
Geher, G., & Miller, G. F. (Eds., 2008). Mating Intelligence: Sex, Relationships, and the Mind’s Reproductive System. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Kaufman, S.B., Kozbelt, A., Bromley, M.L., & Miller, G.F. (2008). The role of creativity and humor in human mate selection. In G. Geher & G. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nettle, D. & Clegg, H. (2008). Personality, mating strategies and mating intelligence. In G. Geher & G. F. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system (pp. 121-135). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.