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08/04/2020 - 13:00

Interest predicts direction in life better than personality

Interest has more impact on our life goals than personality according to a new study involving a researcher from the University of Iceland. The results were recently published by the Journal of Research in Personality and covered by Forbes, the widely-read business magazine, last month. 

"Student and career counsellors have the role to assist people in finding a job that suits them and is fulfilling. The rationale for the research was to get a step closer to understanding the factors that impact career development for young people; our focus in this study was was thus on relationship of interest and personality to people's life goals," says Sif Einarsdóttir, professor of career counselling and guidance at the University of Iceland, who was one of the researchers. 

What are life goals? "Life goals reflect where you are heading generally in life and are based on your values - what is most important to you; e.g. economic values, social contribution or political impact, relationships, religious beliefs, education and hedonism (to have fun). These are indicators of the direction individuals generally choose in life and influence their decisions and behaviour. If we know what impacts this main direction - broad life goals - we can improve career counselling and guidance. We are all different and we do not look for the same things in our lives and careers. Some people value material wealth, while others wish to be influential in their communities, or place most emphasis on being of use to others," Sif points out.     

The dominant theory of personality assumes five basic traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. The relations of these traits to life goals on the one hand, and interest on the other, were tested in the study. Interests are in this context divided into six main categories: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional.  "Theories indicate that interest has an even bigger impact on our goals or directions in life than our personality and therefore we started out with the main objective to test whether this interest explained variations in life goals better than personality," says Sif about the study, the first one to empirically test this.      

In order to achieve this the research team surveyed 1,350 Icelandic high school students and just under 400 American college students on their interests, personality traits, and life goals.  

"Student and career counsellors have the role to assist people in finding a job that suits them and is fulfilling. The rationale for the research was to get a step closer to understanding the factors that impact career development for young people; our focus in this study was was thus on relationship of interest and personality to people's life goals," says Sif Einarsdóttir, professor of career counselling and guidance at the University of Iceland, who was one of the researchers. 

The results showed that interest predicts life goals twice as well as the five personality traits. "Furthermore, interest showed stronger relations with life goals than personality.  This means that interest has more influence on life goals such as aesthetic, social, economic and educational values and hedonism than personality," Sif says and adds:  "Combined, personality and interest have a big impact on life goals. For example, interest and personality explain around 40% of social goals, the most important factors being social interests and agreeableness. Extroversion, conscientiousness, and enterprising interest were most important in explaining economic and political goals, while openness and artistic interest were behind aesthetic goals," says Sif, and emphasises that the results among the Icelandic and the American students were very similar.    

When asked Sif says that these conclusions show how important it is to take both interests and personality into account when counselling people concerning their education and careers, "so that as many as possible find a field where they feel good and can flourish. This is always our main goal in career counselling and guidance. People's life goals differ. Not everyone is looking for the same thing," she says.  

In addition, Sif points out that in Iceland student and career counsellors have used interest inventories in assisting students to pick studies and careers. "This study supports this practice," she adds. 

As stated above the business magazine Forbes discussed the study. "It is interesting that Forbes interest in this article is more focused on work psychology and human resource management; we point out that corporations and institutions should in the light of this study consider the interests of their employees alongside personality traits when making decisions in HR, for example in hiring and determining professional development," Sif concludes. 
 

Sif Einarsdóttir