Are personality differences real? An introduction to personality neuroscience.

When I started working on the initial technology behind Crystal in 2014, it was purely a curiosity project. Like most people, I was curious to know more about my own behavior...

Why do I act the way I do, and can I change it?

As I followed that question down the rabbit hole, I learned about all the personality models available to us - DISC, 16-personality, Big Five, Enneagram, etc - and what they measured. I was skeptical, but compelled in an almost existential way. These are some of the most fundamental questions people can answer for themselves.

As the product developed, and people joined me in asking these big questions, Crystal quickly became my full-time job. To many of them, the idea instantly understanding something new about themselves AND the most important people in their lives was compelling enough to sign up and share.


There was a problem though...

As we started to grow, the business outstripped my knowledge of psychology, which was quite shallow at the time. I was a big DISC enthusiast, so I could answer all the WHAT questions, like their behavioral style and preferences. But as soon as the conversation turned to the WHY and HOW questions about why we should even trust personality models like this, I often resorted to some form of “because lots of people trust it.”


While that response was usually enough to sell our product, it drove me crazy. The same questions would keep me up at night…

Is our technology detecting real differences or are we just getting lucky?

Am I selling confirmation bias?

If personality differences are just confirmation bias… am I selling snake oil?

That question burned at the heart of our company for a while. I needed to find the answer.


This journey took me through the work of philosophers like Aristotle and Kant, then through that of psychologists like Jung and Marston. Eventually, I ended up in a new fielded called Personality Neuroscience.

brainGet ready for lots of stock brain animations to keep things interesting.

Personality neuroscience seeks to understand the underlying biological causes of personality differences, and it is changing how we understand our behavior, emotions, motivations, and unique ways of thinking.

This is where we should have started in the first place, but this field is still so new that even in the past 4 years, the research landscape has changed drastically.

So, are personality differences real?

The answer is almost definitely yes.

Also the findings are still preliminary in nature and not yet well-supported enough to be considered fact, the evidence is very strong that our personality differences come from both geneticand environmental forces. These forces cause slight variations in how our brains are contructed and connected.

In this series of articles, I’ve drawn from the latest in personality neuroscience research to explain what we know about those differences. I'm hoping we can learn together to get closer to answering these big questions...

What makes me behave the way I do?

Why am I so stressed out all the time?

What can I do to change my behavior?

In Part 2, we'll start with a brief overview of personality models, and what humanity has learned from over 2,600 years of observation and clinical research.

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