Is There Scientific Evidence that the Factions of Divergent are Meaningful?

There’s a little bit of Gilderoy Lockhart in all academics. Every once in a while, I am vain enough to do a Google search to see if anyone is talking about my research. Imagine my delight when, last January, I ran across two conference papers, from 2014 and 2015, by Brazilian psychologist Dr. Bruno Campello de Souza. Souza, and colleague Dr. Antonio Roazzi, apparently tried to match people’s Divergent Factions (as determined by the relatively simple 7-question Faction quiz published in the e-book) with the Five Factors and numerous other traits such as IQ, values, and professions. They also, to my delight and surprise, cited my Hogwarts Professor post as a reference, which, I believe, is a first.

While my understanding of the 2014 paper was limited–it’s in Portuguese–the 2015 paper had apparently partially confirmed my idea, linking Candor with Extroversion, and Erudite with Openness to Experience. Abnegation, interestingly, linked not only with Conscientiousness, but also with Agreeableness and Stability. The latter fits nicely with my characterization of the old Dauntless at the Stable end of the Neurotic domain, and the new Dauntless at the Instability end. Remember Tobias’s theory that bravery and unselfishness are the same thing and his remark that he could have just as easily been in Abnegation? Dauntless did not link with Neuroticism, but that did not surprise me, given that split nature of that faction, and its tendency to attract both the highly stable (Tobias) and unstable (Eric, Al, Peter). Amity did also not line up with Agreeableness, but you can’t have everything. 

Souza and Roazzi have recently published a full article about their Divergent research in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology. They show that a person’s Faction selection can predict not only certain Big Five traits, but also professions, values and experiences. For example, Erudite was associated with IQ, success at work, technology, and appreciation of knowledge and beauty. Abnegation was linked to tradition, religiosity, emotional suppression, and careers in commerce. Amity members were were drawn to agrarian and arts careers, while valuing belongingness and pleasure. Candors reported being entrepreneurs, and having the best relationships with co-workers. And our brave-hearted Dauntless? They treasured power, prestige, and sex, while favoring autonomous work.

Souza and Roazzi also argue that, rather than duplicating the Five Factors, the Factions of Divergent form their own unique model of human personality that could be of potential use to social scientists, particularly those interested in work choices. They conclude:

This suggests that the basic premises underlying the origin and nature of the Factions, that is, as psychosocial responses to the existential threats of selfishness, aggression, duplicity, cowardice and ignorance, might be a valid basis for the development of a new approach to human personality, one with concrete implications for people management in organizations, among other possibilities.

Could it be that Ms. Roth, an undergraduate psychology minor–albeit one “obsessed” with personality testing– has inadvertently created a personality model of potential scientific interest, particularly to industrial/organizational psychologists? And with a 7-item test, no less? If so, there are going to be a lot of PhD’s out there turning pea-green with envy.

There is, of course, precedent. Dr. Laura Crysel of Stetson University found that Rowling’s Pottermore Sorting Hat Quiz predicted some personality traits, with Ravenclaws being associated with need for cognition, and Slytherin with the Dark Triad traits. And, multiple personality models, including the Big Five, owe their existence to studies driven by the lexical hypothesis, which predicts that all important personality traits should be encoded in our language. This would make writers and personality psychologists natural allies.

One of today’s best-known personality psychologists, Dr. Robert McCrae, made exactly that argument in a recent paper arguing for the use of the Five Factor Model as a literary analysis tool. But, McCrae and colleagues choose to test their idea on such esteemed literary characters as Goethe’s Faust and Voltaire’s Candide. If a different, but scientifically validated, model turns out to be hiding in plain sight in a popular contemporary young adult dystopian trilogy, that will be an accomplishment in which any Erudite, or Ravenclaw, can take pride.

More research is needed, of course, and I, for one, cannot wait to see it.

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