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The Layers of People You’re Not Seeing

red onions
red onion layers

Bite the Bullets (A quick summary if you don’t want to read the whole article)

  • Personality types are high level summaries of combining personality trait details
  • Personality traits are categories of tendencies
  • Personality facets are sub-categories of each trait, and where the deepest insights are found

Savor the Summary

The world of personality information is like an onion with many layers. The first thing you see is the skin, but to get the most out of an onion you need to remove the skin and chop it into smaller, edible pieces. Maybe pushing this analogy too far, “personality types” are the skin on the onion, “personality traits” are the thick layers you see when cutting an onion in half, and “personality facets” are what you see when looking at a layer of the onion under a microscope. 

Just like an onion, each layer of personality information has a purpose, and in this article we’ll go through what each layer is and how they can benefit you.

Personality Types

Personality types are the most commonly provided personality results on the internet. However, they are also the least useful and least relevant to you as someone who is trying to understand yourself and/or grow. 

To start, your type is determined by first calculating if you score “high” or “low” in each personality category (meaning, if you score above or below the middle score in the range). The results of combining these “high” and “low” scores is your personality type. One problem with this approach is that many people score near the middle for at least one category, such as being extraverted versus introverted. While this result indicates that the person is equally extraverted and introverted, being provided results that say, for example, that they are only extraverted can be misleading and also just feel wrong. 

The second reason that personality types aren’t the most helpful when trying to understand yourself is that they provide a simple overview of how you are when all parts of your personality are interacting. Meaning, it is an oversimplification that gives you something easy to grab on to, but is not likely to not be very accurate (e.g. multiple types may resonate with you). 

This is great if it is ONLY used as a starting point of getting to know yourself. A high level summary is always nice to have before diving deeper into dense information. However, people often stop at this layer of information for a few reasons. 

  • They are satisfied with the results (given that they are vague enough to fit most people), 
  • They give up on personality because the results are inaccurate, or
  • This is the only layer of information associated with the test they took (e.g. MBTI)

If you are looking for deeper, actionable insights, you’ll need to advance to the personality traits layer (at a minimum).

Personality Traits

Arguably the most scientifically backed way to understand your personality is through testing it using the Five-Factor Method (FFM or “Big 5”). This method tests you on five personality traits and lets you know how you “score” with respect to each trait (see “Trait Results Summary image below). For example, “the more of a trait people have, the more likely they are to show the behavior it disposes toward, and thus the more frequently we are likely to see it” (25). 

As opposed to how types toss you into either the “high” or “low” score bucket, traits are typically scored with respect to the population. For example, while your type results may simply say “you are extraverted”, your trait results may reveal that you are “more extraverted than 53% of the population.” While both are technically true, the trait results provide more precision regarding the magnitude to which you express different parts of your personality.

Beyond the score, the results text for traits are commonly provided in three buckets instead of two: “low”, “neutral”, and “high”. While this may seem like a subtle difference, the “neutral” bucket gives people in this group significantly more accurate results and recommendations as compared to being told they are purely “high” or “low.”

But even personality traits have their limitations, and this is where facets come into play.

Personality Facets

While traits are a layer deeper than types, people are often underwhelmed by both of these layers. For example two friends, Steve and Germaine, may score 75% in extraversion but they behave very differently in social settings. This isn’t because the trait results are inaccurate. Rather, it is due to each trait having multiple aspects (also known as facets), and the friends differ in those aspects.

In Steve and Germaine’s case, extraversion is most commonly associated with being socially outgoing. However, this is only one aspect of extraversion that is referred to as the “gregariousness” facet. Another common facet of extraversion is “warmth,” which defines how friendly and intimate someone is. So although they have the same trait scores, Steve may score higher in gregariousness and Germaine higher in warmth (see “Extraversion” image below). 

Depending on the test you take, there are most likely between two and six personality facets per trait. Regardless, the facet level of detail is often where people begin to feel they receive the most accurate results and relevant recommendations.


The world of personality information is like an onion with many layers. Types are the skin, traits are the thick layers, and facets show you those layers under a microscope. While the most common type of personality test out there only provides the skin (MBTI), Sophonaut delivers the whole onion, providing more detail the deeper you go into the results.

Having this information has been proven to provide a few major benefits:

  • Significantly improve the ability to develop habits that stick, 
  • Help people get the most out of their strengths, and
  • Increase the quality of relationships.

If you are interested in getting on the fast track to achieving any of these benefits, check out our current program offerings which are built on top of our personality test.

The Mind-Body Connection


In this video, go on a walk with me, Peter DePaulo, while I talk about the connection between our behavior and our bodies. It turns out that you can change the way you think by changing what you do to and with your body. You can also change your body’s reactions to things by changing the way you think! It’s a crazy two way street.

Symptoms of Personality – Part 1: How Personality Dictates Your Life Experience


Bite the Bullets (A quick summary if you don’t want to read the whole article)

  • Understanding your personality traits will help you find a more enjoyable occupation, functional relationships, and provide you with a better sense of identity
  • One of the best ways to measure personality is by using the “Five-Factor Method”, also known as the “Big Five” test
  • Personality traits are your “tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions (25)”

Savor the Summary

In a year marked by tremendous changes and significantly less social interaction, many people have used this time to look inward and reflect on their life choices, asking themselves:

  • Does my job actually fit me?
  • How many of my friends are more than just “good times companions?”
  • Am I with the right partner?
  • Why can’t I create new habits that stick?

Luckily, understanding your personality traits is a “one stop shop” that can mostly answer each of these questions. And in this series, we will dig into how personality relates specifically to each of these questions, but first it’s essential to understand what personality traits are.

What are Personality Traits?

As the authors of “Personality in Adulthood: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective” describe, “traits [are] dimensions of individual differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions” (25). Put more simply, your personality makeup dictates your likelihood to think, feel, and act in certain ways. I’ll give you a minute to let this sink in…

The more you understand your personality, you’ll be better able to see how you fit in the world and how things fit you (job, relationships, activities). Arguably the most scientifically backed way to understand your personality is through testing it using the Five-Factor Method (FFM). This method tests you on five personality traits and lets you know how you “score” with respect to each trait. For example, “the more of a trait people have, the more likely they are to show the behavior it disposes toward, and thus the more frequently we are likely to see it” (25). 

At this point, I’m sure you’re itching to know what these traits are so here you go! The five personality traits are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN, to help you remember). I’ll spare you the details about how psychologists started with 18,000 traits and whittled these down to five, just know that significant effort was put into categorizing personality traits, and these five best capture the essence of most personality measures out there.  

As I mentioned previously, the FFM tests you with respect to each of these traits and you can score from low to high. The following list shows each of the personality traits with sub-descriptions which when read from left to right align with low to high scores (4). Even without taking the test, reading through the list below and mentally ranking yourself between the two “extremes” you can get a pretty quick sense of how you “score” for each trait.

  • Openness to experience
    • Down-to-earth — Imaginative
    • Uncreative — Creative
    • Conventional– Original
    • Prefer routine — Prefer variety
    • Uncurious — Curious
    • Conservative — Liberal
  • Conscientiousness
    • Negligent — Conscientious
    • Lazy — Hardworking 
    • Disorganized — Well-organized
    • Late — Punctual
    • Aimless — Ambitious
    • Quitting — Persevering
  • Extraversion
    • Reserved — Affectionate
    • Loner — Joiner
    • Quiet — Talkative
    • Passive — Active
    • Sober — Fun-loving
    • Unfeeling — Passionate
  • Agreeableness
    • Ruthless — Soft-hearted
    • Suspicious — Trusting
    • Stingy — Generous
    • Antagonistic — Acquiescent
    • Critical — Lenient
    • Irritable — Good-natured
  • Neuroticism
    • Calm — Worrying
    • Even-tempered — Temperamental
    • Self-satisfied — Self-pitying
    • Comfortable — Self-conscious
    • Unemotional — Emotional
    • Hardy — Vulnerable

Benefits of Knowing Your Personality Traits

Now that you’re familiar with the traits, the life-changing part is operationalizing them! A simple example of this is with respect to creating exercise habits. Personally, I score high in Conscientiousness and am in the middle with respect to Openness. Knowing this means I do well when on a consistent schedule and enjoy a little variety, I work out every day at the same time and for the most part perform similar exercises, but I do mix it up periodically to keep things fresh. Doing this I have found my exercise habits last much longer, and connecting it back to the idea that personality dictates tendencies is both mind-blowing and seems obvious at the same time.

At this point, it likely makes sense to do what the authors did and mention that “Traits should be distinguished from mere habits… Habits are specific learned behaviors; traits are generalized dispositions, finding expression in a variety of specific acts” (27/28). In other words, habits are a symptom of traits. Extending this idea a bit, successful relationships are also a symptom of traits and how well they pair with each other.

We will dive deeper into this idea later on in this series, but here is an appetizer regarding personality trait combinations that are more likely to lead to divorce. In a study that tracked engaged couples over 45 years and obtained their personality ratings, “Neuroticism in both husband and wife and low Conscientiousness in the husband predicted divorce.” 


Personality is a lot like DNA, but where DNA determines things like how you will look and your height, personality determines how you’ll act and perceive the world. The more you understand your personality, the closer you are to cracking your “behavioral genome,” and we look forward to accompanying you on that journey in this series. 

Also, our app that will help you determine personality traits and provide you with an in-depth understanding of what it means is now available here! The high-level results are free, but if you want facet-level details or to see what the differences between you and your closest connections mean, it is only $10. We hope the knowledge in this tool benefits you as much as it has us!

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1) Our initial understanding of events is almost always too simple to be correct, and

2) Humans respond to incentives, and we must consider the incentives that motivate who is giving us information to discern how much we can trust it.

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