On her Harper Collins website, Divergent and Insurgent author Veronica Roth declares, “I’m interested in psychology, especially as it relates to personality, brain chemistry, and group dynamics.” Each of the five Factions of Roth’s dystopian society corresponds to one of the personality dimensions described in the Five Factor Model of human personality. This model has its roots in 1960′s research by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal, through which they identified five measurable dimensions that could be used to describe most variations in human personality. Their work remained largely ignored for 20 years, but was rediscovered in the 80’s and 90’s by a variety of independent research teams. Today, the Five Factor Model is one of the main driving forces in personality research. The component domains, often called the “Big Five Factors,” are today known as Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Psychology students often find the mnemonic OCEAN useful for remembering them.
When the characteristics of the Big Five are held up against the traits typical of the five Factions of the Divergent world, a near-perfect correspondence is apparent. Many of the phrases listed in tests used by researchers to measure the different personality domains could just as easily be used by Roth to describe her Factions. Let us visit each Faction, and each Factor in turn. Spoiler note: I will discuss some of the key plot points of both Divergent and Insurgent; do not continue if you do not want them spoiled.
Openness is considered the inventive or curious dimension; its polar opposite is consistent or cautious. This factor is also called “Intellect” by some researchers; this is obviously the element emphasized by Roth in the Erudite Faction. People scoring high in tests of Openness are intelligent, curious about new ideas, creative, appreciative of art and readily challenge convention. These traits are an clear match for the people of Erudite, who read voraciously, are adept at research and teaching, choose their members and leaders via IQ test scores and invent all manner of handy gadgets. Tris betrays her affinity for Erudite even before her aptitude test begins, with her curiosity about Tori’s tattoos. We even see a hint of their art appreciation, in the form of the blue glass statue in Tobias’s room, a gift from his Erudite-born mother that he, at age sixteen, left behind on his dresser as a final raised middle finger at his abusive, Abnegation father. Erudite’s physical elements: a headquarters with lots of glass windows, an open eye for their symbol and clear water in their Choosing Ceremony cauldron all convey a need for clarity. Their “openness” to new ideas comes through in their willingness to question convention; the Erudite Faction was the first to challenge the society’s assumption that only Abnegation can be trusted to run the government. The Erudite leaders also were willing to go to war to avoid the mission decreed for them by Edith Prior’s generation, demonstrating their utter disdain for doing thing their grandparents’ way. Finally, it would be expected that the Erudite would develop a particular animosity against their polar opposite, the cautious and conservative Abnegation Faction.
*If the following phrases accurately describe you, a personality psychologist would likely rate you high in Openness.
- I have a rich vocabulary.
- I have excellent ideas.
- I am quick to understand things.
- I love to think up new ways of doing things.
- I love to read challenging material.
Abnegation embodies Conscientiousness, the dimension originally called “Dependability,” known for being efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going or careless. High conscientiousness is associated with self-discipline, careful planning, an organized environment and high concern with conforming to expectations or outside standards. As we see from the very start of the series, the Abnegation are concerned with duty, orderliness and routine. They live in identical, unadorned homes and wear drab grey clothing to deter attention from others. They seek to keep the city streets repaired and distribute supplies to the needy Factionless people of the city. They compose the majority of volunteers for essential tasks like aptitude testing. Within the home, children take their turn in preparing meals, washing dishes and speak only when spoken to at the table. Even their haircuts are scheduled at regular intervals. When we glimpse into Caleb’s bedroom, just as his stack of books alerts us to his affinity for Erudite, his unmade bed demonstrates his unsuitability for Abnegation. Most important, Tris’s constant self-questioning and ultimate decision that she can never measure up to the selflessness standards of her birth Faction is what ultimately clinches her decision to transfer. But, as Tris also notes, she never fully leaves her old Faction behind. When learning knife-throwing, she remembers her mother’s advice in knitting: “Haste will not help.” Her careful scrutiny of Four’s technique and unhurried practice earns her taunts from Peter but pays off when she is the first to hit the target. She performs the thankless task of cleaning up the blood in the Dauntless initiate dormitory after Edward is attacked. Tobias recognizes her ability to observe details when he asks for her help in reading the situation when he is negotiating an alliance with the Factionless.
*If the following phrases accurately describe you, a personality psychologist would likely rate you high in Conscientiousness.
- I am always prepared.
- I pay attention to details.
- I like to tidy up.
- I love order and regularity.
- I follow a schedule.
Tupes and Christal originally gave the name of “Surgency**” to the domain now called Extraversion, which is represented by the Candor Faction. Extraverted people are outgoing and energetic as opposed to solitary or reserved. Extraverts are talkative, comfortable interacting with strangers and thrive in the attention of others. We see this in the school cafeteria, where the Candor boys are enjoying a friendly argument, emphasizing their points with “wide gestures with their hands.” Christina, who becomes Tris’s best friend in her initiate class, hails from this Faction, and relentlessly tries to pull Tris out of her reserved, Abnegation shell. For instance, when applying eyeliner to Tris for her first trip to the tattoo parlor, Christina answers Tris’s objection that she will never be pretty with “Who cares about pretty? I’m going for noticeable!” High extraversion scores are also associated with an eagerness to join in high-energy or thrill-seeking activities; this likely explains the high percentage of Candor transfers in Tris’s Dauntless initiation class. In the Candor Faction, sharing your thoughts with others is not just a choice, but a requirement. Children are trained to recognize body language associated with deception. A Candor will confront another person at any hint of withholding the truth, even if the person’s motivation is simple politeness. Candor initiation involves lie detector tests and, eventually, the complete sharing of a person’s deepest secrets through a truth serum interrogation. Not even the outgoing Christina was willing to undergo that; it would be sheer torture for a person with any sort of introvert tendencies.
*If the following phrases accurately describe you, a personality psychologist would likely rate you high in Extraversion.
- I am the life of the party.
- I feel comfortable around people.
- I start conversations.
- I talk to a lot of different people at parties.
- I know how to captivate people.
The peace-loving Amity Faction corresponds to the Agreeableness personality domain. Agreeable people show friendliness and compassion rather than coldness or unkindness. Certainly the Amity compound, with its lush gardens and orchards and happy, banjo-strumming inhabitants who greet each other with hugs, superficially seems to epitomize the ideal peaceful society. The top priorities of Agreeable people are conflict reduction, social harmony, kindness to others and fostering relationships, but these emphases often come at the expense of leadership skills. The reaction of the Amity to the attacks in Roth’s series clearly illustrates these tendencies. On the one hand, they are the angels of mercy after the attack on Abnegation, warmly greeting the refugees with “Let us take care of you.” When the Dauntless and Factionless attack Erudite, a subset of Amity led by Johanna Reyes moves in and tries to provide medical help to the injured on both sides. On the other hand, they are devoid of any sort of formal leadership. Their insistence on lengthy discussion and reaching consensus on every decision, even when war is breaking out, renders them incapable of choosing a side and puts them on a futile quest for “neutrality” even when there is clearly an aggressor who should be stopped. As Tobias says, “They don’t care about efficiency. They care about agreement.” Ultimately, their emphasis on harmony at all costs makes them ineffective protectors of those who most need their help.
*If the following phrases accurately describe you, a personality psychologist would likely rate you high in Agreeableness.
- I love to help people.
- I have a good word for everyone.
- I am on good terms with nearly everyone.
- I know how to comfort others.
- I feel others’ emotions.
There is one Faction left: Dauntless and one of the Big Five dimensions left: Neuroticism. Hold on a second! Courage = neuroticism? Do I dare characterize the brave souls of Tris’s chosen home, the sometimes brutal, but always courageous soldiers of the Pit, who strive to fear no fear but fear itself, as neurotic?
Yes, I do. The connection is more complicated and not as obvious as the four, but it is there. I will elaborate on the Dauntless-Neurotic integration in the second part of this post, assuming I am not blinded by butter knives or tossed into a chasm first.
*All personality test items are adapted from the International Personality Item Pool, one of several tests developed by psychologists to measure people’s tendencies in the Big Five domains. Complete test and scoring key are available on the website.
**If Roth ever decides to write a book with a Candor protagonist, this would make a very good title.