“What a jerk!! He MUST be studying law!”

14 January 2015 – Yep, it seems it is the first question college students as each other:“What’s your major?”  Perhaps the most superfluous. Spend a little time getting to know them, and you’ll be able to make an educated guess.

And that’s the implication of a newly published paper, which reviews 12 studies to determine if the folk wisdom that students with specific personality traits tend to major in certain subjects is actually true.


Its conclusion – based on the answers of 13,389 students – is … yes.


Psychologist Anna Vedel of Aarlus University in Denmark reports finding “consistent ‘big five’ personality group differences across academic majors.” The largest effects, she writes in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, are found for the personality trait “openness,” which is very well-represented in people studying the arts and humanities.


The studies, which were published between 1992 and 2015, inevitably used somewhat different methodologies, and varied enormously in the size of their respective samples. But aggregate their results, and consistent patterns emerge.


To take the “big five” personality traits one at a time:


1. Extroversion (marked by sociability and assertiveness): Economics, law, political science, and pre-med students scored higher than those focusing on the arts, humanities, and other sciences. The difference between medicine and humanities was quite large, which is probably a good thing: You want your doctor to be a people person.

2. Openness (marked by creativity and a broad range of interests): Humanities, arts, psychology, and political science majors scored higher than their peers, on average, while economics, engineering, law, and other science majors tended to score relatively low.

3. Agreeableness (the tendency to be trusting and altruistic): “Law, business, and economics scored consistently lower than other groups.” No big surprise there.

4. Neuroticism (marked by moodiness, irritability, and emotional instability): Arts and humanities majors scored “consistently high” on this trait compared to all other majors, and psychology majors weren’t too far behind. Economics and business majors had, on average, lower scores than the others.

5. Conscientiousness (the tendency to be goal-oriented and not impulsive): “Arts and humanities scored consistently lower than other academic majors.” No wonder so many of those one-person shows never actually make it to the performance stage.This sort of research inevitably raises a chicken-and-egg question: Are young adults with these personality traits drawn into certain majors, or does “unique environment” of a particular department cause certain personality traits to emerge? Vedel is pretty confident of the answer.

To read the study click here.

About the Author Gregory P. Bufithis, Esq.

Gregory P. Bufithis is the Founder & Chairman of The Posse List. He has over 25 years of experience in intellectual property law and digital media in the U.S. and Europe.

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