Apr 1, 2009

The Math of Predicting Marriage Success

I came across a remarkable study that could open up some avenues of empirical research into socionic phenomena. 

Some British researchers learned to predict with 94% accuracy whether a new couple would get divorced or not in the next four years based on data from just 15 minutes of conversation. 

I highly recommend this radio discussion transcript from 2004. Basically, they would film newlyweds discussing a contentious topic such as family finances and attach point values to various displays of positive and negative emotion, such as humor or contempt. "Marriage success" was defined simply as remaining together after four years. The more positive a couple's points, the greater their chances of staying together. Successful couples, they found, had up to five times more positives than negatives, whereas unsuccessful couples had an equal number or more negatives than positives. 

Furthermore, by looking at the data and observing couples, they were able to distinguish five general patterns of interaction: (source)

Stable couples
1. "the validating couple" -- calm, intimate, companionable, like to back each other up
2. "the avoiders"-- do their best to eschew conflict. 
Unstable couples
1. "the hostiles" -- neither person wants to talk about contentious issues
2. "the hostile-detached couple" -- one is fiery and argumentative, and the other isn't.
Borderline couples (can go either way)
1. "the volatile couple" -- romantic and passionate, but have heated arguments 

If you're interested in learning about their methodology and findings in depth, their book The Mathematics of Marriage is available online at Google books. 

Brain Chemistry and Typology

Evolution of typologies and thought systems in general

It seems that brain chemistry is the current typological fashion, somewhat like the concepts of "information" and "information processing" in the mid-20th century. The idea of personality types is ancient, but with each new period of philosophical or scientific development it seems that the types are reformulated in contemporary terms, leading to an evolution and inevitable drift of the types themselves through cumulative subtle changes in descriptions and emphasis. 

Today a dominant philosophical/cultural trend is the increasing scientific understanding of how the brain functions. More and more, you hear words like "serotonin" over the church pulpit and in everyday conversation. Typologists realize that in order to remain culturally relevant, they need to somehow respond to the dominant trends in psychology and philosophy, much like the Pope feels pressure to formulate some sort of official stance on issues such as AIDS and climate change. 

An important effect of the need to remain culturally relevant is that thought systems evolve to encompass ever more phenomena. For instance, sects founded on a few narrow doctrinal principles over time expound views on virtually all culturally relevant matters. Or, limited typologies such as the forerunner to the Enneagram gradually evolve into general typologies of personality. If there's a greater market for a system of general personality types than for a system of, say, vices and how Christian hermits can overcome them, then why not try to break into that market? If other typologies offer relationship descriptions, then why don't we add some on, too? These are classic examples of memetic competition among overlapping thought systems. 

Personally, I am most sympathetic to science and less so to thought systems based on imagination and mental constructs. I feel that science memes are more lasting and tend to build on each other and generate permanent, tangible progress, whereas other kinds of thought systems basically run around in circles with a periodicity of 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years, or whatever with almost no innovation. When innovations in thought systems do occur, it seems to often be the result of an "injection" of scientific, or factual knowledge. But I digress... 

Typological applications of brain chemistry

If any readers are aware of other typologies that have attempted to link brain chemistry to personality types, please leave me a note. 

1. Helen Fisher's types (discussed in depth in previous post) -- based on neuroscience from the outset, but with the choice of four types possibly influenced by millenia-long typological traditions. Uses 2 neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) and 2 hormones (testosterone and estrogen).

2. Enneatypes. See article "The Enneagram and Brain Chemistry" which links the 9 enneatypes to 3 different neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinepherine) and 3 different levels thereof, which technically produces 27 types, but only 9 are given. 

3. Keirsey Temperaments. According to a poster at the enneagraminstitute.com forum, the book The Edge Effect "ties in neurotransmitters in the brain with the four Keirseyan temperaments (NF, NT, SP, SJ). Naturally, that means he focuses on four neurotransmitters: acetylcholine, dopamine, seratonin, and GABA."

To further quote this poster ("Patrick"), "I did a little Googling, and it seems there are actually ten or more known neurotransmitters. But of course fans of four-type systems will pick four, and enneagram fans will go for three or nine." Exactly my thoughts. While we like the idea of there being 2 x 2 (4) or 3 x 3 (9) or 4 x 4 (16) combinations because it makes for much easier subcategorization, it is unclear whether nature actually needs us to have such a tidy number of important neurotransmitters rather than, say, 6, 11, 17, or 26. 

The attempts to link the Enneagram and Keirsey temperaments strike me as amateurish, and the article linking Enneagram to neurotransmitters seems to suffer from trying to immediately relate new entities (neurotransmitters) to existing thought structures (Enneatypes) without learning about the new entities in sufficient detail first. Lofty language such as "We hereby propose a theory of personality whereby high, medium, and low activity of each of these three neurotransmitters systems are distributed in an enneagrammitically logical way" only serves to cement that impression. But this is, of course, just a hypothesis, and hypotheses are often like that. 

In any event, attempts to link type and brain chemistry will probably grow more sophisticated as more information from research becomes available. 


Right now, many people are testing the waters by suggesting hypotheses about the correlation between brain chemistry and personality types. Based on my experience studying religions and the history of their interaction with science, I would predict that either the neuroscience ends up radically changing the typology, or the typology abandons attempts to correlate types with brain chemistry altogether. Ultimately, typology and neuroscience are driven by different and often incompatible approaches; one has a system in mind and needs "meat" to put on the bones of that system, whereas the other has no system in mind, just a collection of observed facts, and begs some systematic explanation. In practice, it seems, typologies are rarely willing to give up their systems, nor science -- its facts. 

For a perfect illustration of this quandary, read the article "Enneagram and Science" at wagele.com.

Helen Fisher's Types: Explorer, Builder, Director, Negotiator

In a previous post I wrote of a personality and matching test at Chemistry.com that was developed by researcher Helen Fisher. We are already seeing some possible patterns in how her types correspond to socionic types, and I encourage readers to take the test if they haven't already and share their results in that post. 

The best introduction to Fisher's research is this half-hour interview with her by Nicole Simon. Here Fisher talks about the history of her research, her main findings, and the types themselves. Each type is supposedly related to one of four chemicals that broadly influences personality: dopamine (a neurotransmitter), serotonin (neurotransmitter), testosterone (hormone), and estrogen (hormone). 

Explorer: (more dopamine expression) -- risk-taking, curious, creative, impulsive, optimistic and energetic

Builder: (more serotonin expression) -- cautious but not fearful, calm, traditional, community-oriented, persistent and loyal

Director: (more testosterone expression) -- very analytical, decisive, tough-minded; they like to debate and can be aggressive

Negotiator: (more estrogen expression) -- broadminded imaginative, compassionate, intuitive, verbal, nurturing, altruistic and idealistic

(descriptions taken from Fisher herself in Time article)

These types have a fairly clear biological basis:

There was a great deal of data that people vary in terms of their expression of dopamine and norepinephrine, serotonin, estrogen and oxytocin and testosterone. I culled from the academic literature all of those data points that show that these particular brain-chemical systems are related to certain aspects of personality. And I saw constellations of temperament traits that seemed to be associated with these chemicals.

Why Fisher did not include the neurotransmitter norepinephrine or the hormone oxytocin in her system is unclear. Perhaps the related personality traits were less obvious or fundamental. In the interview she states that people have been talking of 4 types for thousands of years, and she feels there's a reason for that. This is another case of the form of an idea being more lasting than its content (which I talked about in the previous post on the Enneagram) -- in this case, that there are four types. How these types are defined has varied widely. And is the four-based system an actual attribute of nature, or simply how our logical, order-seeking brain would like to see things? 

Fisher attaches a second type to the first as a sort of auxiliary feature, creating a system of 12 possible combinations. 

Socionics and Fisher's types

From the summaries given by Fisher, it appears that each of these four chemicals corresponds at least somewhat to more than one socionics category:

Dopamine: extraverted intuition, extraversion, irrationality

Serotonin: rationality, introversion, sensing

Testosterone: logic, sensing

Estrogen: ethics, intuition

So, a common type for an ILE might be "EXPLORER/director," for IEE - "EXPLORER/negotiator," for IEI "NEGOTIATOR/explorer," for ILI "NEGOTIATOR/director," for LSE "DIRECTOR/builder," etc.

Fisher says that Explorers are the rarest type (8%), and builders the most common (>40%). 

Fisher identifies herself as an EXPLORER/negotiator. 

Type development

Fisher says that while our natural propensities are genetically determined, much of our brain chemistry is dependent on situational factors, and our type may change or become more or less evident. This is a different view than socionics, but not necessarily a conflicting one, since the two typologies are based on different principles. 

I find this possibility intriguing. I would say that my "Explorer" type fully awakened only at the age of 23 under the influence of a host of external factors. If I had remained in the situation I was in, I might be a different type today or simply a less obvious Explorer. If you find a natural Director working away at a dull job and make him the coach of a college football team, the experience could trigger a metamorphosis in him and a long-term change in his career direction. 

Before a string of deeply "exploratory" experiences (spending extensive time abroad in Slovakia and Russia), I was a star math student planning on majoring in math in college. After spending 3 years abroad speaking two different foreign languages and being exposed to new ways of life, however, I could no longer focus my mind on math. It simply did not provide the rewards I had now come to expect from my activities: experiencing new things, seeing new places, meeting new people, and perfecting and applying my language skills. I think all these activities had activated my dopamine system in some way such that my brain had become reliant upon dopamine stimulation, which I could not get from mathematics. The propensity for this "dependency" was certainly built into my system to begin with. Had I had been a different "Fisher type" to begin with, my experiences abroad may not have had such a lasting impact on my path in life. The vast majority of people who went through the same experiences I did returned to life in the U.S. with only slightly modified career plans at most. 

Intertype attraction

I have found conflicting views on which types attract which, seemingly from Helen Fisher herself. One view is that each type is attacted to its own. The other view is that Explorers and Builders attract (despite there being 5 times more builders) and Directors and Negotiators attract. My type profile (I am EXPLORER/negotiator) said I "tend to naturally gravitate to EXPLORER/director." 

The conflicting statements on mutual attraction suggest that the correlation is weak or borderline, and that Fisher herself is not entirely sure yet. But she may not be able to say that outright, since she is being paid by these matchmaking websites to provide a matching algorithm. Correct me if anyone has read her latest book and has more information.


I think the study of chemicals and their effects of personality is a high-prospect direction of inquiry. It is based on a body of scientific research and lends itself to empirical study, meaning that strangers can work on research all at once and build on each other's findings with ease -- quite the opposite of socionics or the Enneagram, where people have to communicate closely and extensively to transfer knowledge. 

Emerging patterns of correlation between socionic types and Fisher's types open up the possibility of discovering the roots of certain socionic categories in brain chemicals. The four Fisher focuses on are not the only chemicals known to influence personality, but certainly some of the most important and best researched ones. 

Commentary on the Enneagram of Personality

I have written a bit on the Enneagram of Personality over at Wikisocion, and here I will compile my writings into a single piece. 

Enneagram basics

(slightly adapted from Wikipedia)

Although mostly understood and taught as a typology (a model of personality types), the Enneagram of Personality is also taught in ways intended to develop higher states of being, essence and enlightenment. Each of the 9 personality types associated with the Enneagram represents a map of traits that highlights patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. By learning one’s type and the patterns and habits associated with that type, one can use the Enneagram system as an effective tool for self-understanding and self-development.

Adherents of the theory believe that each Enneagram personality type, or style, is based on a pattern of where attention goes. They believe that by learning about what kinds of things one habitually attends to and puts energy into, one can observe oneself more accurately and develop more self-awareness, and that by enhancing one’s self awareness with the help of the Enneagram, one can exercise more choice about one’s functioning rather than engaging in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior in an automatic, habitual, unconscious way.

Types are named "One", "Two", "Three", etc. A secondary type, or "wing" can be present and is generally supposed to be one of the two types adjacent to the base type. This allows for a manageable diversity of types (roughly 18) similar to that of socionics or the MBTI. 

As you can see from the description above, a self-perfection concept is more strongly built into the Enneagram of Personality than into socionics or Myers-Briggs Typology. Along with each type, there are different levels of development that show the type at its best and its worst. Further type differentiation is possible through the application of three subtypes: self-preservation, sexual, and social. 

Scientific criticism

All categories of the Enneagram are fundamentally qualitative and thus subject to divergent interpretation. The advantage of this is that the Enneagram of Personality is safe from scientific inquiry and cannot be disproven. By comparison, socionics has elements of a scientific system (concepts such as "information processing" and the claim to predict relationships to some degree) and a general prescientific bent, which makes it vulnerable to eventual debunking (or proof through scientific evidence). The Enneagram is in about the same position as the writings of Nostradamus; nothing is unequivocal, and after-the-fact interpretation provides enough intrigue to ensure the longevity of the idea system in the minds of curious inquirers.

Just to be clear, I don't intend to say that the Enneagram is worthless. On the contrary, for some people it can be very useful as a guide for self-improvement. The difficulties I mention become evident when people try to get together and discuss the Enneagram and discover that each person understands it a little bit differently, and these cumulative differences of interpretation and experience make conveying conclusions and knowledge extremely difficult. The Enneagram is far more easily applied personally than in groups of strangers.

I have read a few different sets of Enneatype descriptions, and each was different, placing more or less emphasis on different aspects of each type. Depending on which set of descriptions people resonate with more, their type identification will differ as well. 

Possible correlations with socionic types

This is a hotly debated topic, and I'm sure many people will disagree with me, but here are some parallels I saw between Enneatype descriptions from Wikipedia and socionic types as I see them. If I were basing my assessment on a different set of descriptions, I might see different correlations. I'm not totally set on these, but these were my initial thoughts:

One — EII, IEI
Two — ESI, EII
Three — LIE, EIE, LSE, ESE
Four — ILI, IEI
Five — LII, LSI
Seven — IEE, ILE, ESE, EIE
Eight — SLE, SEE, LSI, ESI
Nine — SEI, SLI

My own Enneatype would be "7w1." Read how I came to that conclusion here. This time, I was basing my self-typing on a different set of descriptions, but one that seems compatible with those at Wikipedia. 

Historical roots of the Enneagram

This is the really interesting part. What follows is a direct quote from my post at Wikisocion:

OK, I tracked down the supposed Plato connection through the thread at metasocion.com. First observation: it's not Plato, but the neoplatonic movement of the IV century AD, and the role of the 9 passions was proposed by people who were not necessarily part of the platonic tradition — Christian hermits living in the deserts:

It was Evagrius who was to reveal that the Christian aesthetics of the Byzantine deserts had discovered that 9 passions − anger, pride, vainglory, envy, greed, incontinence, gluttony, lust and acedie, distorted human perception and consigned the human search for the divine to the banal and ordinary.

So, the link to Plato himself is extremely tenuous, or simply nonexistent.

The article is mistaken about the term "aesthetics." They mean ascetes who practiced an ascethic lifestyle of self-denial. It doesn't make sense otherwise. Here's more on ascetism and the "desert fathers" who practiced it in the IV century. So the original "9 passions" were formulated in the context of trying to purge oneself of earthly desires and unite with God through a hermit lifestyle. Each person who chose this path encountered different obstacles on his pursuit of self-denial and godliness, depending on his personal makeup. That's where the basic idea of the Enneagram came from, and the idea of transcending the weaknesses inherent to each type.

Ascetism as a philosophy was preserved for centuries in Christian monastic traditions. At some point it connected with Islam through the Sufi tradition: "Sufism evolved not as a mystical but as an ascetic movement, as even the name suggests; the word Sufi may refer to a rough woolen robe of the ascetic. " [source]. A typology such as the Enneagram of the time could be a useful tool for helping understand the challenges different disciples faced on their ascetic path.

Often, in the evolution of ideas, the form is more memorable than the content. For instance, that there are 4 elements (earth, fire, air, water) as opposed to the specific interpretation of these elements. What I find is that the form of philosophical ideas such as this is more resistant to change over time than their content. In other words, although people remember the four elements from 2 millenia ago, the meaning they attribute to them isn't necessarily the same as that of 2000 years ago. That means that, in the case of the Enneagram, what may have been passed down is simply the existence of 9 types, whereas the content and interpretation of those types has almost certainly undergone considerable evolution.

Gurdjieff himself was probably not an ascetic in the sense of the early Christians. For instance, he advocated living a normal sex life. He also did not see spiritual development as taking place through overcoming moral weaknesses. It seems that by this time the 9 types had lost much of their initial content. Today, the proponents of the Enneagram are not ascetics by any stretch of the imagination, but believe in self-perfection by transcending one's weaknesses, which is a more general philosophy than ascetism. Today's Enneatypes preserve some of the form of the original 9 ascete types, but now the main emphasis has shifted from describing and overcoming vices to describing personality. If the original emphasis had been preserved, I would expect to see type descriptions that focused mainly on the 9 passions, their influence in personality, and the route for that type to overcome its particular vice. Today, when you read "the 7's vice is gluttony" tacked on to a type description, it seems like a totally peripheral aspect of the type as opposed to the central aspect that it originally was.

So that's my assessment of the Enneagram's roots. Today's enneatypes are similar in form but different in content from the original ones, which can only be understood within the context of the Christian ascetic tradition where it was born. 

Mixture of ideas in descriptions

As a result of the Enneagram's historical legacy, today's descriptions contain a mixture of esoteric-sounding tidbits and modern personality descriptions. For instance, at the end of the Sevens description at Wikipedia one finds the following morsel of wisdom:

Ego fixation: planning
Holy idea: work
Passion/Vice: gluttony
Virtue: sobriety

How these four vague concepts interrelate, and what their relationship to the rest of the description (which reads like a modern personality description), one can only guess. I personally relate to the description of Sevens, but not to these added four aspects. 

"Gluttony" was one of the vices upon which the original typology was based, and it's pretty clear in the context of the list of vices that gluttony was meant literally: pigging out on food and getting drunk. The antidote to this is to learn the virtue of sobriety -- abstaining from pigging out and drunkenness. Planning and work have no obvious connection to this and sound like a much later addition ("Ego fixations" is certainly a very modern concept). The main description itself now has nothing to do at all with gluttony. 

So, we see that the types have clearly undergone considerable evolution and are not the same as they used to be. Yet, tradition and the elusive link to antiquity dictates that these esoteric atavisms remain and continue to feed the imagination.

How to restore clarity to the Enneagram

I see today's Enneagram as a hodgepodge of modern popular perspectives on personality and some old ideas that have lost their central role. Many popular ideas about the types seem mutually exclusive or at best totally unrelated to each other. To restore clarity and consistency to the Enneagram, I would return the vices to their central position in the understanding of each type. This would probably entail a retyping of most people, since today people are basing their typings on type descriptions that have strayed far from the original nine vices. 

So, in order to restore clarity to the Enneagram, the following formulation, or one much like it, would have to be accepted as the basis for the system:

Enneatypes describe the most difficult challenges, or "vices," that a person encounters on his path to self-perfection. 

So, Enneatypes would no longer be about personality in its entirety, but about a certain specific aspect thereof. Going down the list of vices, I would no longer be a Seven ("gluttony" is certainly not my problem), but perhaps a Two ("pride" is the vice). 

Under this understanding, the descriptions should then describe the vice, the difficulties it creates, and how to overcome it. That is probably what the original system was about.