Personality Quiz: BIo-Shock

This column originally appeared in The Observer Magazine/Guardian Online

We can measure a particularly key aspect of your personality with just seven questions. Please rate the following on a scale from 1 (very false) to 4 (very true):

  • (1) If something bad is about to happen, I’m usually afraid or nervous;
  • (2) I get quite hurt by criticism or getting told off;
  • (3) I get quite worried or upset when somebody seems to be angry with me;
  • (4) I usually get quite worked up if I think something unpleasant is going to happen;
  • (5) I worry when I’ve done badly at something important;
  • (6) I am more fearful than my friends;
  • (7) I worry about making mistakes.

Add up your scores to measure your behavioural inhibition system. This system – one of two major aspects of Jeffrey Alan Gray’s biopsychological theory of personality – is involved in avoiding things that are boring, painful, new and scary, and otherwise unpleasant. The average score for the BIS is around 18 for men and 21 for women. People with a high score on the BIS are particularly sensitive to such unpleasantness, and go out of their way to avoid it. They also show particularly high levels of anxiety when escape from such a situation is difficult or impossible.

Interestingly, two recent studies have found evidence that left-handers score higher on this questionnaire than right-handers. Similarly, left-handed marmosets are more fearful of approaching new food than right handers, and freeze for longer when they hear an eagle. This is because the brain systems responsible for the BIS are largely in right hemisphere, which is dominant in left-handers.

Carver, C. S., & White, T. L. (1994). Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology67(2), 319.

Davidson, R. J. (2004). Well-being and affective style: neural substrates and biobehavioural correlates. Philosophical Transactions-Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences, 1395-1412.

Braccini, S. N., & Caine, N. G. (2009). Hand preference predicts reactions to novel foods and predators in marmosets (Callithrix geoffroyi). Journal of Comparative Psychology123(1), 18-25.

Hardie, S. M., & Wright, L. (2014). Differences between left-and right-handers in approach/avoidance motivation: influence of consistency of handedness measures. Frontiers in Psychology, 18(5), 520-535.

Beaton, A. A., Kaack, I. H., & Corr, P. J. (2015). Handedness and behavioural inhibition system/behavioural activation system (BIS/BAS) scores: A replication and extension of Wright, Hardie, and Wilson (2009). Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, (ahead-of-print), 1-19.

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