The Envious Majority
You probably think of yourself as a nice person who treats others well. And it’s likely that you try to surround yourself with similar kinds of people. So it might surprise you that, according to new research, the most common basic personality type is actually envious.
The study, which took place at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Spain, found that there are four basic personality types into which 90 percent of us would be classified, and the type to which most of us belong is: Envious.1 The subjects were 541 men and women of varying ages and backgrounds recruited at a fair in Barcelona. They were presented with a range of social dilemmas that had numerous options designed to lead to either collaboration or conflict with other individuals. As incentive, they were able to earn tickets by playing that were redeemable in local stores.
The researchers employed game theory, which is a form of applied mathematics, to analyze people’s behavior and decision-making choices. The participants were partnered with others during many of the tasks, but these partnerships repeatedly changed. The scientists created a computer algorithm that used the participants’ answers to a multitude of behavior-related scenarios to classify them into a particular personality category. The four basic personality types into which the algorithm placed almost everyone were:
Based on the volunteers’ decisions in the various situations, the most common classification was envious, at 30 percent. Optimistic, pessimistic, and trusting all tied at 20 percent each. The remaining 10 percent of subjects made incongruous choices that led the computer to consider them unclassifiable.
The motivation behind each of the different groupings is interesting too. For example, the envious appear to be less concerned with how much success they achieve, as long as they are performing better than others. The optimists, meanwhile, tend to feel that they will work well with their partner to come to a decision that is best for both of them. In contrast, the pessimists feel that no choice may really be ideal, but they select the least risky option. Finally, the trusting subjects are those who truly enjoy collaboration and believe that working well with others is more important than a particular outcome.
While these categorizations are obviously limited and only examine behavior in certain fictional contexts, the results can be applied to some larger aspects of our personalities and how we might react in reality. In some ways, it’s possible the design of the experiment might lead to certain honest behaviors that we feel freer to express as we are working with a stranger to make our decisions. In other words, without worrying about what someone will think of what we do, we can do exactly as we want.
In real life, however, most of the people we come into contact with regularly are our family, friends, and coworkers. One would hope that for the majority of us, all of our decisions are not totally self-serving. We obviously take our own interests into account, but would probably be more likely to make a choice that would also benefit a colleague we work closely with every day, for instance, than we might to help out a random partner in a computer situation. So hopefully, in our daily lives, fewer of us are envious types than the findings would suggest. On the other hand, being envious doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily help other people be successful…as long as you end up even more successful. In a sense, then, even envious types can work towards win-win scenarios—again, as long as they can ensure a bigger win for themselves. For envious types, everything truly is relative.
It’s important to take a close look in the metaphorical mirror every now and then to consider your behavior toward others. Even from a purely selfish perspective, it is good for you to help other people. A 2013 study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania showed that people who are committed to volunteering are at lower risk for hypertension.2
In general, it’s much easier to maintain close relationships when you are nice and likeable. And our social bonds may be vital to our health. A 2016 study at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that people with strong connections to others have lower health risks and greater longevity.3 So if you see a little of yourself in that envious personality type, work harder to shore up your abilities in collaboration and trust. Or at the very least, look to establish win-win scenarios—even as you look to win a little more.
- 1. Poncela-Casasnovas, Julia; et al. "Humans display a reduced set of consistent behavioral phenotypes in dyadic games." Science Advances. 05 August 2016. Accessed 19 September 2016. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/8/e1600451.
- 2. Sneed, Rodlescia S. and Cohen, Sheldon. "A Prospective Study of Volunteerism and Hypertension Risk in Older Adults." Psychology and Aging. June 2013. Accessed 20 September 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3804225/.
- 3. Yang, Claire; et al. "Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 19 January 2016. Accessed 20 September 2016. http://www.pnas.org/content/113/3/578.abstract.