My Favorite Things: How Does Your Personality Influence What You Like?

Posted inCreative Voices

What do your favorites tell you about your “personality?”

In the 21st century we have come to see our “personality” as an organizing principle that makes its way through the world in a more or less persistent, coherent manner. Personality is a style of being-in-the-world that is both a result of our experiences and a design element in creating those experiences.

Over thousands of years, philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists have proposed countless models to explain the mystery of this unified “self” that we experience ourselves to be. Theorists from Aristotle to Freud and beyond have described the essential elements of an individual’s personality. Over the last 40 years, psychologists have settled on a model that describes each individual’s personality as a blending of weighted tendencies on each of five scalar traits, or factors. Each factor is scored on a five-point scale from – – to ++, varying from exhibiting very little of the trait to a great deal. The model is called the Five Factor model, and the elements, the Big Five Personality Traits. They are:

Openness to Experience (all definitions from Wikipedia)

Openness to experience is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, open to emotion, sensitive to beauty and willing to try new things. They tend to be, when compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are also more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.


Conscientiousness is a tendency to display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations. It is related to the way in which people control, regulate, and direct their impulses. High conscientiousness is often perceived as being stubborn and focused. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability. High scores on conscientiousness indicate a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior.


Extraversion is characterized by breadth of activities (as opposed to depth), (a surge of positive energy) from external activity/situations, and energy creation from external means. The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy interacting with people, and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals. They possess high group visibility, like to talk, and assert themselves. Extraverted people may appear more dominant in social settings, as opposed to introverted people in this setting.

Introverts have lower social engagement and energy levels than extraverts. They tend to seem quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less involved in the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; instead they are more independent of their social world than extraverts.


The agreeableness trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, kind, generous, trusting and trustworthy, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature.

Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being and are less likely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their skepticism about others’ motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentative or untrustworthy.


Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability, or is reversed and referred to as emotional stability. According to Hans Eysenck’s (1967) theory of personality, neuroticism is interlinked with low tolerance for stress or aversive stimuli.

Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening. They can perceive minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. They also tend to be flippant in the way they express emotions. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood.

Given that this model has become the most widely used tool in psychological research into personality, it stands to reason that one’s Five Factors profile would express itself in the objects that an individual chooses as their favorites. But how might that work?

Take, for instance, the car someone drives. What does it tell us about the owner’s Big Five profiles?

What do you think? Openness To Experience: is a Lamborghini or a Toyota owner someone who is more open to experiencing art, emotion, adventure and unusual, unconventional ideas? We can never be certain on the basis of one data point, but the Lamborghini owner would probably score higher on Openness than the Toyota owner.

How about Conscientiousness? Which of the two owners would be more likely to score high on measures of self-discipline, focus, and planning? Which would likely be more flexible and spontaneous. Again, with the Big Five as a rough guide, most of us would probably put the Lamborghini owner as Low Conscientiousness and the Toyota owner as High.

You get the idea.

We use objects to “design” and curate the kinds of worlds in which we’re comfortable. Some of us are “a place for everything and everything in its place” people (high Conscientiousness) and love to go to our favorite restaurant monthly (low Openness to Experience). We just “feel better” when things are that way. Put us in a crowd of strangers and some of us come alive (high Extraversion) and others look for a quiet corner.

Others are always on the lookout for the next new thing. They are easily bored when not with others and seek out stimulation. You might think their place is a mess but they swear they can put their hands on anything they need in a minute… and don’t really care what you think.

Sometimes our personality-driven preferences are difficult to see, because they are the mechanisms that we use to get us through our daily lives comfortably. But, like many things, the results of our preferences, the kinds of people, places, and things that we choose as our favorites, tell us a great deal about ourselves, about our personalities.

Take a look around at your favorite things and see what they tell you about your Big Five Personality profile.

And then, if you’re interested, here’s a free Big Five Test for you to take to see your actual profile.

What did your favorites tell you about your Big Five profile?

And, what did your Big Five profile tell you about what makes your favorites, favorites?

Tom Guarriello is a psychologist, consultant, and founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He’s spent over a decade teaching psychology-based courses like The Meaning of Branded Objects, as well as leading Honors and Thesis projects. He’s spearheaded two podcasts, BrandBox and RoboPsych, the accompanying podcast for his eponymous website on the psychology of human-robot interaction. This essay was originally posted on Guarriello’s Substack, My Favorite Things.

Header image by Ivana Cajina.