Humanities vs. STEM: Personality Types Weigh In on an Age-Old Debate
The arts versus the sciences. The humanities versus STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The debate about the superiority of one or the other goes back centuries, and it remains heated and often polarizing today – in academia, in professional settings, and sometimes even in conversations between friends.
What exactly are the humanities? Simply put, the humanities encompass the study of human culture, or how people understand and express the human experience. Traditionally, the humanities include such fields as art, languages, literature, music, philosophy, religion, history, and cultural studies. The humanities are distinct from disciplines that study natural processes (like chemistry and physics) and those that examine social relations and human behavior (like economics, political science, and psychology).
Preferences for different academic disciplines often begin to develop early in life. One child may have an affinity for books and storytelling, while another may opt to tinker with building toys. As we progress to college, vocational school, or other types of postsecondary education, our choices about what to study may be influenced by practical concerns about the future, like job security or flexibility of opportunities. But what role does personality type play in our academic preferences?
To explore this question, we asked our readers whether they agreed with the statement, “You prefer to study the humanities more than math or science.” Here are the results, by personality type:
It’s probably not surprising that personality types with the Feeling trait (68%) led the way, agreeing at a rate 18% higher than Thinking types (50%). But the results show significant variations between every personality trait pairing. Why might that be? Let’s study the data in more detail below.
Diplomats (72% agreeing)
Diplomats, who share the Feeling personality trait, demonstrated by far the strongest agreement among the four Roles. Feeling types seek to understand not just their own emotions, but those of others as well. The humanities help them do just that. In focusing on the human experience, the humanities allow us to feel a sense of connection to others, including people from other times, places, and cultures. This is particularly important to Diplomats, who believe that empathy and understanding are essential foundations for creating social harmony.
While both arts and sciences require critical thinking and reasoning, the humanities demand interpretation more than concrete answers, and that’s where another core Diplomat personality trait comes in: the Intuitive trait. Curious and creative, Intuitive types love to ask questions, find hidden meaning, develop insights, and imagine the future, and this type of work is central to the humanities. Diplomats appreciate anything that allows for diverse perspectives and interpretations, and many view math and science as too rigid for their liking.
This is especially true of Campaigners (ENFP) (75%), who agreed more than any other personality type that they prefer the humanities. Campaigners are creative, sociable free spirits who have a deep interest in understanding the human experience. Since they tend to be interested in personal fulfillment and social causes, Campaigners may be more comfortable than other personality types with the idea that pursuing a humanities-related career may not bring a big financial reward.
Explorers also indicated a preference for the humanities, but their agreement was notably lower than that of Diplomats. This is mainly because of their Observant personality trait, which makes them realistic and pragmatic. Many Explorers are interested in concrete, useful solutions to problems – a basic underpinning of scientific and technological pursuits.
Even so, thanks to their core Prospecting trait, Explorers are very spontaneous personalities and better than other Roles at connecting with their surroundings. This may explain why the humanities, which focus on human connections and provide plenty of room to explore different academic paths, are somewhat more appealing to Explorers as a group.
Sentinels share the Observant and Judging personality traits, a combination that makes them practical, fact-oriented individuals who value clarity, accuracy, and predictability. In many ways, STEM fields are a natural fit. Following a scientific method to prove a reasonable hypothesis falls right into Sentinels’ comfort zone. So does solving a math problem that must have one correct answer. The subjective, interpretive nature of the humanities is less appealing to many Sentinels.
Still, a slight majority of Sentinels agreed with our statement, and it should be noted that the responses of individual Sentinel personality types were more divided than any other Role. While 63% of Consuls (ESFJ) agreed that they prefer the humanities, a mere 39% of Logisticians (ISTJ) did the same. The Feeling–Thinking dichotomy is the main reason for this strong divide.
Consul personalities are all about connecting with others, and they’re known more for being sociable than they are for being cerebral. They see the humanities as offering more opportunities to find common ground with others and to build personal relationships.
Logisticians, on the other hand – the least likely of all personality types to enjoy the humanities – are analytical, decisive, and process-oriented, attributes that serve them well in STEM fields. They also have a reputation for being inflexible in their thinking. It can be hard for them to see other points of view, an ability that is invaluable in the humanities. Logisticians take personal responsibility and stability seriously, so they may also be attracted to STEM fields because of the job security and higher salaries that these careers often offer.
Because they are so rigorously logical, we tend to associate Analysts with disciplines like math and science, perhaps more than we should. In fact, of all the Roles, the responses of individual Analyst personality types were the most neutral – meaning that they didn’t feel strongly compelled toward either the humanities or STEM.
Thinking personalities value logical, objective thinking above all else. And while it’s true that these are the cornerstones of scientific thinking, individuals in whom the Thinking trait is strongly pronounced believe that their logical approach can and should be applied to every discipline, whether it’s microbiology or music.
Furthermore, Analysts’ core Intuitive trait encourages imagination and creative impulses that may balance out their more rational, dispassionate side. For every famous Analyst scientist or inventor – Edison, Einstein, Elon Musk – there’s an equally esteemed artist or philosopher – Beethoven, Nietzsche, Mark Twain.
Social Engagement and Constant Improvement (69% and 64% agreeing)
Overall, Turbulent personality types (66%) demonstrated a higher likelihood than Assertive types (56%) to be interested in the humanities. Turbulent personalities are more emotional and sensitive to stress than their Assertive counterparts. As we’ve discussed, the humanities offer many ways to see and address problems, which can remove the pressure of finding a single right answer.
More likely, though, the appeal of the humanities for these personalities lies in the opportunity to make emotional connections and find outlets for emotional expression. Since Turbulent types also tend to be perfectionists, they may view the humanities as allowing them to pursue their need to make more of themselves.
As Extraverts, Social Engagers agreed at a slightly higher rate than Constant Improvers. The emphasis that the humanities places on the human experience is attractive to Social Engagers, who are energized by social relationships. The external stimulation that disciplines like art, music, and dance provide is exciting for these personalities too.
Constant Improvers, on the other hand, are Introverted personalities who prefer quiet minimalism in their environments. The bright lights of a stage will feel less comfortable than a cozy corner of the library. Constant Improvers probably seek personal growth from their studies more than they do interpersonal connections.
People Mastery (60%)
People Masters also tend to prefer the humanities, but not as strongly. As Assertive personalities, People Masters are self-confident and less interested in personal reflection than Turbulent types – tendencies that draw many of them to STEM fields. But their Extraverted desire for social contact and for understanding other people makes the humanities a natural fit too.
Confident Individualism (49%)
Confident Individualists proved to be neutral on the subject of academic preferences, a result that speaks more to their Assertive Identities than their Introverted Minds. Self-reliant and unconcerned about following the crowd, these personalities are happy to go wherever their interests and passions take them. More than the other Strategies, Confident Individualists as a group are confident that they can excel in whatever academic discipline – and career – they choose.
Have you ever felt like a classmate or a colleague considers your academic or professional interests – or even your very intelligence – inferior, simply because you fall on the opposite side of the humanities versus STEM debate? Have you ever treated someone that way yourself?
Although the choice between the humanities and STEM can often be polarizing, the fact that many personality types agreed with our statement at fairly neutral rates may be a sign of changing attitudes toward education. Interdisciplinary studies are growing in popularity as we learn to understand and thrive in an increasingly globalized and technological world.
The more we can unite the humanities and STEM, the better. We need engineers who can consider the human and cultural impacts of their projects, just as much as we need writers and artists who can utilize technology to communicate effectively to a wide audience. When all different personality types are drawn to a given discipline, it ensures the diversity of perspectives and approaches that is necessary to advance knowledge, push boundaries, and achieve progress.
What about you? Do you think your personality type influences your academic preferences? Let us know in the comments below!