Friday, June 8, 2018

The Big Five + Johari Window: Creating the Holy Grail of Personality Tests

As for personality tests, there are many options to choose from but which will guide us to the truth about ourselves? Meyers-Briggs? What kind of Ice-Cream are you?

Grouping and Sorting

We like to group and sort. At a young age, we learn this skill. But it doesn't mean that the world fits the models we create so nicely! And that's just it—we create models as substitutes when reality is beyond our comprehension.

Models help us communicate more easily with others. Imagine explaining a bird, for example, by iterating the entire set of species within the bird family. We didn't really get the classification of planets right until we found such an outlier that we had to redefine what it means to be a planet!

Binary Choices

We seen to like binary choices - 'A' or 'B'. A-B testing is the common paradigm for proofing a new feature design in application development. We default to two political parties in the US almost to a fault! I've noticed that my children respond more readily with binary choices. It's just easier to reason about!

The trouble is, binary choices are mis-leading. If you have two compasses, and they're slightly different, which do you follow? Either you need a third compass to prove out the faulty one, or you need to just pick one and go with God!

Is it accurate? When you move beyond the fervor of political campaigning, can you thoughtfully agree with everything on one platform vs another? Am I an INTP or an ENTJ? I've come out with both! Sometimes I align with E and sometimes I. Sometimes I'm Perceiving other times Judging. Seems logical that I straddle the line on those two factors.

Finally, with Autism they've done away with binaries. It isn't as if one is either autistic or not autistic. It really that we're all autistic to varying degrees. It's just another way of thinking 😔.

Beyond Binary Lies a Continuum

As it is with many things, our personalities lie on a continuum. If we take something like the Big Five, and rate each of the five traits on a continuum we will have a closer model of reality.
There is, however, a specific problem I want to address in how we collect the data. Self-selected ratings are prone to bias. Therefore, those surveys you take for yourself are highly prone to error. They may tell you more about how you perceive yourself or how you'd like to perceive yourself than how you actually are. And what good does that do you? After all you know yourself anyways, right??


Besides the self-affirming nature of those questionnaires, the sample size is way too small—it's one! Thankfully we have social networks of friends who are generally willing to participate in social games. If only we can make it enough of a joy to participate in the game, that they'll readily participate. 50-100 question surveys aren't very rewarding! Enter Johari.

Making it a Game

The Johari Window model is kind of like a game. The subject and his/her friends, relatives, and colleagues choose adjectives that best describe the subject. The intersection of those choices fall into four quadrants: Arena, Façade, Blind Spot, Unknown. They're classified by whether or not the adjectives are chosen by the self and others.

The adjectives in a Johari Window are generally good traits such as "cooperative", "intelligent", and "friendly". There's an inverse called the Nohari Window which uses negative traits like "Stubborn", "Quarrelsome", and "Dense".

Combined, the Johari and Nohari Windows can give you a pretty decent view of how you perceive yourself compared to how others perceive you. The tricky part is to get enough participation to get a well-rounded view.

If you're interested in doing your own Johari Window, this one at is pretty darn straightforward. There are some other fun things at including this personality test.

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If I were a NetHack monster, I would be a unicorn. Most people are only after one thing - I try to maintain a quiet and respectful distance until I feel sure that I can trust someone.
Which NetHack Monster Are You?

How about that...I'm a Unicorn after all! And here I was all along thinking I was a Bridge Troll.

And... if you haven't lolled off into Kevan-land by now, I'll be getting to the point soon.


Getting participation for something unfamiliar or that's going too much out of one's way is challenging. As previously mentioned, social media can help with this. It has familiarity, where an unfamiliar and poorly designed website can make others standoffish. You've got to expend some social capital on getting folks to participate.

That's not good. We want to build social capital with these exercises, rather than spend it!

Combining FTW

I'm thinking of combining concepts from the Big Five (or six, or whatever) with concepts from the Johari/Nohari Window.

This will work like this:

  • Use traits from the Big Five or HEXACO or some other number of traits
  • Present adjectives that fit with each trait (positively and negatively correlated)
  • The subject participates and asks for participation from acquaintances
  • From each trait group, participants choose 3 adjectives to describe the subject
  • There are two questions about the participant's relationship with the subject
    1. What type of relationship (choose all that apply): business, friend, family, acquaintance
    2. Scale of 1-10, how well do you know the subject
  • The subject answers the same 2 questions about each participant.

Additional Setup Details

Adjectives in each trait group vary in scale. For example, for the trait "Openness" some adjectives might be as follows:
  • accepting
  • progressive
  • open-minded
  • close-minded
  • conservative
  • curious
  • dull
  • intolerant
  • tolerant
Another option is to use emoji or some other visual indicator which is more culturally neutral to represent the adjectives.


The strength and number of times each adjective is chosen are combined to give the rating scale for each trait. For example, if the traits given for Openness were selected as follows:


The subject would be considered low in Openness (-57.5).

Besides the ratings scale, the quadrants of the Johari Window can be brought into the model to provide more useful information to the subject. The concept of "known to self" and "known to others" is powerful in realizing how well we know ourselves and how we present ourselves to others.

In our example of Openness, we can also see that the subject did not pick any adjectives which are positive indicators of Openness. Therefore, the subject is not blind to this trait. This is the Arena quadrant of the Johari Window.

Anonymity and Sample Size

Two must haves in order for this to achieve useful accuracy are anonymity of the participants and large enough sample size of participants. They support each other. Large sample size secures anonymity. Anonymity allows more people to participate without fear. Additionally anonymity allows one to be more candid with their responses.


A diverse sample is also important to get a more holistic view. The subject will be known in different ways by different people. This is the nature of relationships.


By combining concepts from the Big Five and the Johari Window, a better personality test can be created. What's more, is that this type of test will find more willing participants because of the fun nature of choosing a few adjectives rather than using something like a Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, neutral, etc.). This test is not strictly self-reporting, therefore not as subject to bias.

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