Can you tell someone’s personality simply by their favourite books? Research suggests you can.
To understand why this is possible we have to look at the reasons for reading in the first place. Entertainment satisfies a psychological need in our lives. This includes reading. We gravitate to content that piques our interest and reinforces our values. As a result, we seek out specific reading content that reflects our identities and views. Consequently, it is safe to say that by examining the favourite books we read, again and again, we will get a good indication of our personality.
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it.” Oscar Wilde
Personality and Favourite Books Study
One study examined the correlation between personality and people’s favourite books. It used the Big Five Personality Traits which are:
Big Five Personality Traits
People with high levels of openness like new experiences and will try new challenges. Likewise, they have lots of interests and like to use abstract thinking to solve problems.
These types of people can keep their impulses under control and tend to think of others. In fact, they see the details and will plan ahead as they like to be prepared for all outcomes.
Those who rank highly in extraversion are excitable people who are assertive and feel alive in social situations. Similarly, they like being around people and have lots of friends.
If you score highly in agreeableness, then it is likely that you are a people person. Hence, you put others before yourself. In the same way, you feel empathy for the plight of others and will help where you can.
- Mood swings
Someone who is neurotic will experience emotional instability. As a result, they will worry and feel stress and not be able to cope as well as others. Consequently, they cannot relax and are not resilient.
What your favourite books reveal about your personality
So now we know more about the Big Five Personality Traits, let’s examine the study in more detail. The study used data collected via Facebook. Amongst many different categories and options, Facebook users can ‘like’ their favourite books.
In the study, a selection of the most popular of these books are given descriptive tags which cover their particular genres. For example, modern fantasy, girly fiction, family drama, manga, dark and dangerous, beach reading, and so on. These tags are then analysed to examine if there is any correlation between personality and the book genres.
The researchers found that the same clusters of book genres appeared around certain personality types time and time again.
- University Readings
- Philosophical Novels
Individuals with a high openness score prefer books that stimulate their intelligence. As such, you’ll often find them browsing the non-fiction section in book stores. Furthermore, their bookcases will be packed full of classic novels.
These are the types of people who are likely to have those beautiful arty coffee table books on display. Subsequently, they are constantly learning, studying or taking a course to better their education in some way.
Those with a low score in openness like to read stuff that’s a bit less taxing on the brain. In fact, anything mainstream will do so long as it is easy to read and doesn’t take much effort.
- Professional Reading
- Brain Food
As you might expect, conscientious people like to read content that improves their knowledge or helps them in their profession. As a result, they are constantly looking to better themselves. If they happen to like reading, this is an excellent way for them to do so.
By contrast, those with a low score in conscientiousness will opt for comedy, humour, any comical content. This is interesting as it explains why teenagers tend to have a lower score in conscientiousness than those in middle age.
- Beach Reading
- South Africa
Extroverts love people, so it is no surprise that the books they like to read reflect that. Themes include all kinds of social situations such as relationships, autobiographies, memoirs, romance even chick lit.
Likewise, extroverts also like to read about African American literature. However, this could be because African Americans tend to be more extroverted than white Americans.
People with low extraversion scores (introverts) tend to read more fantasy and science fiction books. In other word, books where they could use their imagination. The study showed that introverts preferred Japanese comic book culture such as manga as well.
- Family Drama
Those with agreeable traits enjoyed books with religious themes. In particular, agreeable people like family dramas with a happy ending. Think of The Waltons and you get the picture.
Those with low agreeableness scores prefer darker themes. For example, psychological thrillers, cult classics, books such as Lolita that were once banned are all fair game to these readers.
Another interesting find is the people with low agreeableness also like to read books about Russia, Italy and Japan. The reason for this is that these cultures also score less for agreeableness than say a country like America.
- Dark and Dangerous
- Mental Issues
Neurotic individuals’ favourite books all feature sad endings or ones with highly emotional themes. However, they also like the opposite. On the one hand, they want to read stories that are similar to their own lives, but on the other hand, they also need to escape. So they will also read books that have alternative realities.
Another interesting fact is that many neurotic individuals chose their favourite books based on the fact they thought the cover was pretty. This could be a gender thing as typically neuroticism is associated with females.
People who are stable, or have low scores on neuroticism like self-improvement books and non-fiction books.
Our favourite books tell us a lot about who we are
Although it appears that we can predict personality by our favourite books, is there any point in knowing this? Well, possibly. To illustrate, we now have a good idea of which personality traits are attracted to specific book genres.
For this reason, now that we do know this, is there is a chance that we could increase the positive personality traits by reading the genres associated with these traits? One study has looked into this. Furthermore, it found that empathy increased simply by reading the classics.
Of course, this is just the start of this kind of research. However, it does show that our favourite books can tell us so much more than who we are. It could have the power to change us into who we want to be.
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