What Makes Some People So Insensitive?


As revealed in the Watson et al., study, the domain of extraversion has the greatest relevance to understanding what leads people to profess their views too assertively. The facets within that domain include assertiveness (dominating and being the center of attention), sociability (enjoying the company of others), positive emotionality (being cheerful and enthusiastic), and experience seeking (enjoying intense sensations). Yet, even this more fine-tuned approach can miss some of personality’s nuances, Watson et al. argue. The “nuances,” as suggested by FFM co-creator Robert McCrae, are “the distinctive types of content subsumed within facets” (p. 2). Other researchers believe that there’s an intermediate level between domains and facets known as “aspects” that combine related facets into unique types of traits.

If all of this seems overly theoretical and academic to you, go back and consider what it means to be high on some of the extraversion facets. Do they really capture the quality of being overly frank? If you take the aspect approach, you might put enthusiasm and assertiveness together in one grouping that would produce that eagerly opinionated person who comes out with potentially intrusive personal comments. However, from Watson et al.’s perspective, this won’t get to the heart of the matter.

A better way to understand how extraversion can lead people to overstep their bounds is by dividing its “communal” or prosocially-oriented variety, from the “agentic” variety, or that more individualistically oriented version that leads individuals to assert themselves in ways that other people resent. People high in communal extraversion should be well adapted because they’re outgoing enough to be interested in people and nice enough to express that interest in positive ways.