There are hundreds if not thousands of traits psychologists use to describe someone’s personality. A person can be gentle, nervous, modest, or conscientious. Someone can be demanding, independent, vain, or risk-taking.
Which traits are most likely to be found in psychologically “healthy” individuals? A team of researchers led by Weibke Bleidorn of the University of California, Davis attempted to answer this question in a new paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They found that high levels of openness to feelings, positive emotions, and straightforwardness, combined with low levels of neuroticism, were most indicative of a healthy personality.
“Scholars have been interested in characterizing a healthy personality prototype since the beginning of the scientific study of personality,” state Bleidorn and her team. “The father of modern personality trait theory, Gordon Allport, distinguished the ‘mature person’ based on their intentional pursuit of long-term goals. [...] Erik Erikson famously claimed that Sigmund Freud described the healthy person as someone who can love and work.”
Bleidorn and her team added a contemporary twist to this age-old question. In their first study, they recruited 137 personality experts to rate which of 30 commonly used personality traits would appear in psychologically stable individuals. They found that experts rated openness to feelings, warmth, positivity, and straightforwardness as the traits most likely to appear in well-adjusted individuals. Hostility, depressiveness, vulnerability, and anxiousness, on the other hand, were rated as least likely to be found in well-adjusted individuals.
Below is the full list of personality traits, ranked high to low on their likelihood of describing a psychologically “healthy” individual:
- Openness to Feelings
- Positive Emotions
- Openness to Values
- Openness to Aesthetics
- Openness to Ideas
- Openness to Fantasy
- Openness to Actions
Next, the researchers repeated this exercise with a group of undergraduate students. They found a high degree of consistency between the ratings of the personality experts and the undergraduates, suggesting that the personality traits associated with psychological health can be identified by laypeople and experts alike.
The researchers then put their profile of the psychologically “healthy” individual to the test. They did this by measuring how well their “healthy” profile lined up with other psychological dimensions such as well-being, self-esteem, aggression, and narcissism. Examining survey responses from over 3,000 individuals, they found support for their predictions: Psychologically healthy individuals scored higher on psychological dimensions associated with superior psychological functioning (e.g., self-esteem, self-concept clarity, and optimism) and lower on dimensions associated with psychological dysfunction (e.g., exploitativeness, aggression, and antisocial behavior).
The authors conclude, “Similar to Carl Rogers’ portrayal of the ‘fully functioning’ person, the psychologically healthy person can be characterized as being capable to experience and express emotions, straightforward, warm, friendly, genuine, confident in their own abilities, emotionally stable, and fairly resilient to stress. [...] This research integrates a number of historical threads in the literature on optimal human personality configurations and provides a practical means for future research on this important and interesting topic.”
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Bleidorn, W., Hopwood, C. J., Ackerman, R. A., Witt, E. A., Kandler, C., Riemann, R., ... & Donnellan, M. B. (2020). The healthy personality from a basic trait perspective. Journal of personality and social psychology, 118(6), 1207.