Marina Tulin, Bram Lancee, and Beate Volker, “Personality and Social Capital,” Social Psychology Quarterly, 2018
Harry Potter sorting hat on a stool.
Photo by Suzelfe, Wikimedia Commons CC

Do you belong in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin? Consulting the sorting hat may help you make sense of who you are, but psychologists typically distinguish personality differences using a different set of categories. The Big Five identifies a set of five broad personality traits –extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and agreeableness — that are known to be stable over a person’s lifetime. Recent research considers whether those personality traits can predict how good someone is at forging beneficial social connections, which matters because hobnobbing with the right crowd is an effective means of getting ahead. After all, who would Ron Weasley be without Harry and Hermione?

In their study, Marina Tulin, Bram Lancee, and Beata Volker analyze data from a survey of over 1,000 Dutch adults from different neighborhoods to find out whether people’s personalities can predict their social networks. Controlling for age, gender, education, and migration background, they looked to see if certain personality traits predicted having social networks with contacts in many different types of employment and with more prestigious jobs.

Extraverts were more likely to have diverse social ties and to feel that their networks were highly supportive. The researchers believe this is likely due to extraverts’ comfort in social settings, which offers opportunities to meet a large variety of people, as well as their willingness to nurture existing ties. Openness to experience was also an important predictor, likely because of open respondents’ tendency to prefer social contexts with more diversity and novelty.

Whereas sociologists typically explain what happens in the social world as effects of forces at the group or society level, psychologists tend to look at the individual level. In comparing the social networks of extraverted individuals who are open to new experiences to those of their introverted and routine-loving peers, this study combines ideas from sociology and psychology. And it gives us a new appreciation for our Hogwarts House by helping us to understand how the combination of personal characteristics and social world shapes important outcomes across the life course.