Self-Interest and Personality Type Part I: Looking Out for Number One

If you have ever traveled by air, you’ll be familiar with the following safety instruction: If the airplane loses pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above your seat… Put your own mask on first before helping others.

It’s a standard safety measure with a perfectly logical rationale: in a true emergency, a sudden loss of pressure in an airplane cabin will cause you to lose consciousness within a matter of seconds. If you put your own mask on first, you have a good chance of saving two lives: yours and that of the person sitting next to you. Even if that person has already passed out, they’ll still receive oxygen quickly. If, however, you attempt to put the other person’s mask on first, you might save that person, but not yourself (especially if that passenger is incapable of helping you in return) – or you might pass out before securing the other person’s mask, ultimately saving no lives.

Some people hear this instruction and think, Got it. Will do. Many people, however, find it disconcerting, despite its logical basis and life-saving intentions. It feels uncomfortable to be told to save yourself. It seems to go against the basic principles of helping those in need, of not being selfish. Some people may even feel offended: How dare you tell me not to save the life of my child? My elderly parent? Or even the sleeping stranger next to me? Of course I would save them first. No question.

Although this is an extreme example, it provides a useful framework for thinking about the concept of self-interest as it relates to personality type. We asked our community to agree or disagree with the statement, “You look after yourself first, and others come in second.” While just 40% agreed on average, one personality trait clearly led the way: the Thinking trait. Thinking personality types agreed with our statement at a rate 31% higher than Feeling types (58% vs. 27%, respectively).

So, which personality types are more likely to look out for number one, and which are more likely to put others first? We study the data in more detail below.


Analysts (61% agreeing)

A majority of Analyst personality types, all of whom share the Thinking trait, agreed that they look after themselves first and put others second. But it’s important to understand that this result doesn’t equate to an inherent selfishness among Analysts or to an uncaring attitude toward others. Rather, it’s an indication of just how logically and rationally these personality types approach life.

Analysts usually consider the logical aspects of a situation before they think of emotional concerns, and they may take the view that putting themselves first ultimately puts them in a better position to help others when needed. Analyst personalities are also naturally independent, and there is simply a certain degree of self-reliance and self-interest that goes along with that.

The Intuitive personality trait has some influence here too – Intuitive types were 6% more likely than Observant types to agree with our statement (40% vs. 34%). Being constantly absorbed in your own ideas may result in a slightly higher tendency to put your own interests first, whether consciously or not.

Of all the personality types, Architects (INTJ) were the most likely to agree that they look out for number one (63%). Ambitious, confident, and strategic, Architects always have a plan and like to be in control – an approach that leaves little room for others’ ideas and emotions. Since Architects thrive in independent situations where they can pursue their creative motivations, putting their own interests ahead of others’ can become second nature to them.

Explorers (36%)

Explorers, as a group, agreed at a much lower rate, but they were the most divided Role on the topic of self-interest. Explorers with the Thinking personality trait, like Virtuosos (ISTP) (60%) agreed at rates approaching those of Analysts, while those with the Feeling trait showed a much lower inclination to put themselves first.

As Observant, Prospecting personality types, Explorers are practical yet spontaneous. They often thrive in crisis situations, risking their own safety to help others. At the same time, their curiosity and intense desire to experience life sometimes steer them toward a more self-interested lifestyle, seeking thrills or indulging in personal satisfaction without showing much consideration for other people.

That said, Entertainers (ESFP) agreed with our statement at the lowest individual rate (24%). Entertainers sometimes get a bad rap as being self-absorbed, perhaps because they’re more willing than most personality types to put both their talents and their flaws on display. But Entertainers are also generous, highly social, sensitive to others’ needs, and ready to encourage and support others whenever the opportunity arises. 

Sentinels (33%)

Sentinels also showed a sharp division between Thinking and Feeling personality types. Sentinels’ Observant trait makes them pragmatic enough to recognize that sometimes they have to put themselves first to create the order and stability they so firmly value. Yet their Judging personality trait compels them to put their duties and responsibilities first, which is why, as a group, they prefer to prioritize others’ interests and well-being most of the time.

Consuls (ESFJ) tied with Entertainers as the least likely personality type to agree that they look out for number one (24%). Consuls and Entertainers are alike in that they genuinely enjoy making other people happy and will devote a great deal of energy to that goal. Consuls, as Judging personalities and altruists, are perhaps more accustomed to routinely putting their own needs on the back burner in order to help and serve others.

Diplomats (29%)

Sharing the Feeling personality trait, Diplomats proved to be the most likely to consider the needs of others as equal to their own, and to place the needs of others before their own. Diplomats are group-oriented by nature, believing in the ideals of working together for the common good, treating people fairly, and helping those in need. Their strong sense of empathy makes it difficult for them to put themselves first, even at times when it would truly be in everyone’s best interest for them to do so.


Confident Individualism, Social Engagement, People Mastery, and Constant Improvement (42%, 38%, 36%, and 36% agreeing)

For members of the Confident Individualism Strategy, self-reliance and independence are not just desirable – they’re more like core values. So it’s not surprising to see this Strategy agree at the highest rate that they look after themselves first, even if their agreement was still in the minority. 

Overall, though, the Mind and Identity personality aspects had virtually no influence on this survey: Introverts were just 1% more likely than Extraverts to agree with our statement (38% vs. 37%), while Assertive personality types were 2% more likely than Turbulent types to agree (38% vs. 36%).


For some people, particularly those with the Thinking personality trait, looking out for number one is simply the most natural, rational thing to do. When that airplane’s oxygen masks drop, these individuals understand that putting their own mask on first puts them in the best position not just to help themselves, but to help others too.

For others, especially those with the Feeling trait, prioritizing their own interests runs counter to deeply held values related to responsibility, empathy, and selflessness. Putting their oxygen mask on before helping others just feels wrong – even if they realize that, logically, it’s the best course of action.

Grappling with the doubts and emotions – above all, the guilt – that can result from putting ourselves first is the subject of our next article on self-interest and personality type, coming soon.

What about you? Do you tend to put yourself first, or others? How does your personality type come into play? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Further Reading

What’s Wrong with Ferris Bueller? Rule Bending by Personality Type

Machiavellian Personality Types Part I: Justifying the Means