Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Race differences in personality: I found an interesting British study (Journal of Occup. and Organizational Psych. 2002. 75, 255-76) that examined racial differences in personality. The sample included university students: 324 whites, 56 blacks (Caribbean, African and other), 47 Asians/Indians (Pakistani, Bengladeshi, Indian), and 30 Chinese. Three personality tests were used. They are all self-reports:

Let's just hit the larger differences. Compared to whites, blacks have more managerial potential and are: less sociable, more prudent, and more service-oriented. Compared to whites, Chinese folks have more clerical and managerial potential and are more ambitious, prudent, service-oriented, and geared toward school success. Compared to whites, Asians have more managerial potential and are more ambitious, prudent, and oriented toward school success.

Compared to whites, black are more indecisive, relaxed, emotionally controlled, and more likely to give socially desirable answers. Chinese are more influential, emotionally controlled, active, data rational, achieving, methodical, and are less decisive, relaxed and sociable. Asians are more influential, empathic, innovative, data rational, achieving, and methodical.

Compared to whites, blacks are warmer but have less stamina. Chinese people are more competitive, limelight-seeking, and have less stamina. Asians are more risk-taking.

Some of the results for Chinese and Asian students seem plausible, but many black-white differences don't square with other types of data; in fact, they seem just the opposite. I'd like to see personalities assessed by others--perhaps by spouses, close friends, or experts, with a mixed-race population as the reference group. Or measurement through experimental manipulation would be interesting. Keep in mind that the sample is university students, so the range of personalities is restricted. Also--it would be nice to know how many students are immigrants.

UPDATE: In connection with this post, it is interesting that black Americans rate themselves as the smartest in self-assessments of intelligence, while Asian Americans rate themselves as least intelligent.


  1. Thanks for digging this out and summarizing. It confirms my impression - which is probably just common sense - that self rating only works for homogenous groups with the same evaluation standards.

    After all, self rated personality uses as many raters as people being rated - which does not happen with other types of research.

    Indeed, the surprising thing is that the variable of self rated personality works so well when it does. Most of the classic studies use highly homogeneous groups - for example volunteer college students at a particular college. The fact that in such a situation personality self ratings actually do generate useful and meaningful information suggests that these groups have extrememly homogeneous standards of evaluation.

    But studies like this one, and international studies of self rated personality, show that when the 'controls' of the raters are removed (i.e. when the group of self-raters becomes itself highly heterogeneous - because the raters are no longer carefully selected such that they are homogeneous), then the results are useless/ meaningless.

    However, this is itself an interesting piece of negative information. When a self rated personality study generates 'nonsense'; one likely explanation is that there is relatively large heterogeneity among the study population - which is itself an interesting observation.

  2. What instrument was used to measure these people?

    I would love to see the racial differences on the MMPI.

    Anybody seen those?

  3. he he

    I just googled the MMPI racial differences and found this gem.


    Examination of Racial Differences on the MMPI-2 Clinical and Restructured Clinical Scales in an Outpatient Sample

    Florida State University, joiner@psy.fsu.edu

    The current study examined the possibility of differential predictive accuracy of selected Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory—Second Edition (MMPI-2) clinical and Restructured Clinical (RC) scales in a group of Black and White mental health center clients. Results indicate that Black clients scored higher than White clients on one non-K-corrected clinical scale and 4 RC scales. All these differences produced medium effect sizes and were clinically significant according to Greene's (1987) criterion. These differences, however, were not accompanied by differential predictive accuracy of the scales in Black versus White clients. Although additional research is needed, especially on the RC scales, this study indicates that the MMPI-2 is not a biased predictor of symptomatology for Black versus White test takers."

    Did you get that?

    Yes, races have differences.


    No, the problem is not the test.

  4. link to MMPI study


  5. I've noticed the Swedes v. Danes problem in self-rated personality tests, where Swedes and Danes show up on opposite ends of all the countries in the world on some factor. It's kind of like how people in Minnesota will tell you they are nothing at all like those people over in Iowa.

  6. "In connection with this post, it is interesting that black Americans rate themselves as the smartest in self-assessments of intelligence, while Asian Americans rate themselves as least intelligent."

    Interesting, not surprising. It also contradicts the notion that lack of intellectual self-esteem depresses black test scores.


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