Are scientists different?

news · 9 years ago
by Emese Dobos
This has always been a constant source of debate from scientists’ as well as non-scientists’ point of view. The concept of the „mad scientist” has been around since science itself exists, however, it is always interesting to consider whether the difference that other people (i.e. non-scientists) might percieve comes from purely a difference in IQ levels, personality traits or maybe something else. And, obviously, is the perceived difference still true when we look at a bigger population of scientists? (And not just the one or few that we personally know.) Personality traits The latter question led to research focused on the personality traits of scientists (vs. other occupations). One of the many studies confirming this widely accepted presumption report that „hard” scientists score higher in openness, intrinsic motivation, and tough-mindedness but have significantly lower scores on six traits: assertiveness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, optimism, and visionary style. Although the differences may be statistically significant in a huge sample, they are not always noticable on the individuals’ level. INTJ - a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is very popular to assess one’s personality traits throughout the internet, probably because the test itself is very easy to use and is easily accessible. In Chemjobber’s blogpost – despite being  ’not much of a believer in psychology’ – these personality types are being discussed with the general conclusion that introversion seems the only personality trait which may describe chemists in general.

However, INTJ (one of the 16 profiles determined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) has been linked with and pre-labelled ’The Scientist’ personality type which might have an impact on how scientists actually think about themselves (especially in the early stages when they choose their profession.)

To provide an example, I would like to share an insider story from ChemAxon. As gift  - to celebrate ChemAxon’s 15th birthday  – colleagues were given customized mugs the label/tag for which they could choose themselves. One colleague ordered the mug with the label „INTJ” which idea became so popular that the mug miraculously went missing.

Social identity theory describes a perceived membership in a relevant social group which enables people to think of themselves as a part of a certain group with focus on the common characteristics and exaggerating differences from the other group(s). Despite the fact that social identity theory as well as the self fulfilling profecy are normally used to describe attitudes towards less fortunate social groups and/or ethnicities, it may well be used to demonstrate how in this case society (and scientists within) form a list of certain attributes which are closely related to „being a scientist” – which are reinforced by society (so that the stereotype may evolve into a self-fulfilling prophecy).

So maybe it’s the other way round?

One might argue that some may look at these traits as something that is ’required’ in order to become or be a good scientist. Although the question is very much like the chicken and egg problem, it may be hypothesized that  society has found a way to categorize this occupational group which may well effect the individual’s behaviour who may not be that introvert after all.

Do you think scientists are different?