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This chapter is from the book

Beyond Synonyms and Antonyms

Does this mean that we can identify the essential building blocks of personality by simply getting a list from a dictionary and then lumping together the synonyms and antonyms from a thesaurus? Can we base a nomenclature of personality on the analysis of professional lexicographers? Or can we use a more open-source approach that pays attention to the ways ordinary people employ words to describe personalities?

The answer psychologists settled on was both. First, professionals reduced the list to a more manageable number—about a thousand. Then they asked ordinary people to use these words to describe themselves and their acquaintances. To get an idea of the way this was done, please apply the ten words in the following list to someone you know well. In expressing your opinion, use a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 indicating that the person ranks very high, 1 indicating that the person ranks very low, and the other numbers indicating that the person falls somewhere in between.



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7



1 2 3 4 5 6 7

I have no way of knowing what numbers you selected. But chances are good that they will have a characteristic relationship: The numbers you picked for the first five items probably are similar, and the numbers you picked for the second five items probably are similar. Furthermore, I can say with confidence that most people who give someone a certain score for outgoing give them a similar score for bold, talkative, energetic, and assertive; and that the score they give someone for reliable is likely similar to the one they give for practical, hardworking, organized, and careful. Even though none of the words in each quintet are synonyms, people who are ranked a certain way on one word from each tend to get similar scores on the others. In contrast, people's scores on the first quintet are independent of their scores on the second quintet. This implies that these non-synonymous words are grouped together in our minds because each refers to some aspect of a related component of personality.

Could any other words be lumped together with outgoing or reliable to flesh out these two big categories? How many other groupings like this would be discovered if people were asked to make judgments using all the thousand words that the original list was pared down to? And what statistical techniques would be needed to identify these categories? In making the list, Allport set the stage for research on these questions.5

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