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Personality and learning style connections.


Student success always has been a primary goal of every teacher, yet it can be a challenging mystery to solve. As a reflective practitioner, a teacher would consider the evidence of such success and propose the underlying causes of that success. However, before understanding students, teachers need to understand the personality and learning style connections in themselves. This article investigated that relationship using instruments from research by Myers and Briggs, and Dunn and Dunn. The statistical results from this investigation indicated that there was a relationship between a teacher's personality and his/her learning style, both of which need to be considered before investigating the mystery of how, when and why students learn.


There has been as much studying about what goes on in a classroom as the actual studying in the classroom. Why do certain students learn better in a lecture hall than in a laboratory setting? Why do some students come alive only during a class discussion? In the past, teacher responses such as "Johnny is the studious type; he can listen to a lecture for hours" and "It is just Shirley's outgoing personality; she likes to talk about anything" seemed to settle the issue for the given moment, but it never went much further.

In the past decades, there has been a revisiting of the cognitive processes of learning. No longer are educators merely concerned about what students learn, but of equal importance is the how, when, and why students learn, in other words, their personalities and learning styles (Fuller, 2004). Much research has investigated a variety of theories of development, and their impact on the educational success of a child. Often, the starting point is Piaget's Stages of Development.

Piaget's renowned theories on human development explored how and why mental abilities change over time. These concepts were based on the assumption that the child, and therefore his or her brain, was a living active organism. The Theory of Cognitive Development builds on this premise by stating that a child's intellect progresses through a series of stages, each of which involves the development and cultivation of new information and skills. There is a distinct connection between the learner and the learning.

This same idea has been embraced in recent years using the concept of brain-based learning. Caine and Caine (1990) offer twelve principles of brain-based learning as well as the implications of each on the classroom teacher. Of these twelve, the first, "The Brain Is a Parallel Processor," and the twelfth, "Each Brain Is Unique," provide the strongest support for educators' understanding of personalities and learning styles. Principle one recognizes that the brain is constantly multi-tasking (Ornstein and Thompson, 1984). This implies that learning facts is occurring in the midst of abstract imaginings, reactions, and emotions. How a person is feeling impacts what a person is thinking and, subsequently, learning. Principle twelve proposes that the unique personality of each individual is greatly influenced by learning. "Because learning actually changes the structure of the brain, the more we learn, the more unique we become" (Caine & Caine, 1990, p. 69). One's learning process could be described as an educational fingerprint, similar to others but still separate and distinct.

It seems that the fictitious teacher's off-hand comments about a student being studious or talkative influencing his or her classroom performance should not be regarded as casual statements, were not so casual. Recent research supports the connection among learning, personality, and learning styles. For example, a driving force behind this connection has been Rivier College faculty member Kenneth Bell. A former automobile mechanic, Bell proposed that the most fascinating engine is the brain and how it functions. His studies in psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, and comparative psychology have provided Bell the opportunities to discover first-hand how different students learn differently. Much of his work has focused on learning styles and the brain's role in this endeavor called learning.

Teachers' understanding of these concepts is crucial to student success, both academic and personal. Before we can understand others, we need to understand ourselves. Therefore, in graduate education programs, efforts should be made to involve students in different experiences that would allow them to understand themselves better. In this way, they can be better equipped to work with the students in their own classrooms.

One such approach would be to administer personality and learning style inventories to these students. For example, at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, in Baltimore, students in some Learning Theory and Practice courses are required to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory and Dunn and Dunn's Productivity Environmental Preference Survey.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most widely used and highly valid and reliable tools for identifying personality types (Capraro & Capraro, 2002).This instrument was based on the work of Carl Jung, who originally coined the phrase "psychological types" in his work in the 1920s. This work inspired Myers and Briggs to create this inventory, which differentiated between extraversion/introversion, intuition/sensation, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Crucial in the understanding and appreciation of these descriptions is the realization that one is not purely better than another; rather, it is dependent on one's preferences. One is better than another for a particular individual (Quenk, 2000).

Keirsey and Bates researched results from the Myers-Briggs inventory and determined that certain classifications could be made: sensate perceiving (SP), sensate judging (SJ), intuitive thinker (NT), and intuitive feeler (NF). One whose score indicates sensate perceiving is characterized by the need to be free, impulsive, and unrestricted, actively involved in a great many activities. "He must drive the bulldozer, fly the plane, fire the gun, toot the horn, wield the scalpel, brush or chisel." (Keirsey & Bates, 1984, p. 32). In another realm, the sensate judging prefers a hierarchical structure in most everything. He or she has a desire to belong, to be useful, and to be responsible. Characteristic of this classification is the ability to thrive in a well-ordered, quiet, organized atmosphere, with directions and expectations clearly delineated.

The two classifications for intuition are as distinctly different as those previously described for the sensate. An intuitive thinker desires the ability to be able to understand, control, predict, and explain reality. Intelligence and the acquisition of such are the two most highly prized values for an intuitive thinker. For an intuitive feeler, however, one's pursuit is to live a life of significance, not necessarily one of intelligence. Self-realization is critical for this type of personality, which includes a notion of integrity, genuineness, authentic communication, and harmony. All these categories of SP, SJ, NT, and NF describe definite personality characteristics that play an important role in every learner (Kroeger, Thuesen, & Rutledge, 2002; Keirsey, 1998).

In regard to learning styles, Dunn and Dunn created instruments to measure different characteristics of learning preferences, the Learning Styles Inventory and the Productivity Environmental Preference Survey, the adult version. These inventories have been credited as having substantial reliability and face and content validity (Dunn & Dunn, 1998). The Dunn and Dunn model proposed that there were twenty-one elements involved in one's learning style divided into environmental, emotional, sociological, physical, and psychological stimuli. Dunn and Dunn stated that students, regardless of age, are impacted "by their (a) immediate environment, (b) own emotionality, (c) sociological needs, (d) physical characteristics, and (e) psychological inclinations when concentrating and trying to master and remember new or difficult information or skills" (Carbo, Dunn, & Dunn, 1991, p. 2). The resulting scores determined not only one's preference for each of the twenty-one elements, but also the individual's perceptual strengths. Knowing whether a student in class was visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic certainly could and should impact how a lesson was being taught. Before adjusting the lesson, however, Dunn and Dunn strongly encouraged the teacher's appreciation of his or her own strengths.

Dunn and Dunn proposed that it was necessary to examine one's multidimensional characteristics to determine one's specific learning strengths, which is the reason for their comprehensive model of learning style (Dunn & Griggs, 2000). Learners could be categorized in terms of perceptual strength or in terms of processing inclinations. The four perceptual strengths were auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. These descriptors were clearly indicative of the categories they represented. The only distinction might be between tactile and kinesthetic. Tactile learners preferred the hands-on approach, whereas much more movement and physical activity were needed for the kinesthetic learners.

The processing of information was the other consideration necessary in determining one's learning preference in their model. An analytic learner was often associated with preferring a traditional classroom. Therefore, the elements of an orderly, organized, lecture-type lesson in a quiet, brightly lit classroom with formal seating would best accommodate an analytic learner. A global student liked distractions such as sound, soft lights, informal design, and peer interaction. This type can engage in multiple tasks simultaneously and often may begin an assignment in the middle and work backwards.

Dunn and Dunn's theory also proposed that most everyone possesses all the possibilities in terms of perceptual strengths and information processing techniques. Individual preferences were the determining factors for identifying one's learning style. With these realities, it seemed apparent that there were definite connections between the personality types defined by Myers-Briggs and preferences of the learning styles theory of Dunn and Dunn.

However, were these relationships really what they appeared to be? Was it coincidence? The following data collection and analysis provided some answers to these questions.


All 318 subjects were enrolled in different sections of the Learning Theory and Practice course offered during the academic years 2001-2004. Every student took the Myers-Briggs Inventory and the Dunn and Dunn Productivity Environmental Preference Survey. For the most part, those enrolled were teachers in a Masters degree program.


The inventories were given during the first class session of the each course participating in the study. The instructor secured appropriate testing conditions to insure the validity and reliability of the instruments. When test results were obtained, an explanation of the different scores was presented to each class.

Data Analysis

Using the SPSS program, the test results of the 318 subjects were entered. The Myers-Briggs information was divided into the following categories: SP (sensate perceiving), SJ (sensate judging), NT (intuitive thinker); and NF (intuitive feeler). For the Dunn and Dunn instrument, the determinations were not as obvious considering the twenty-one elements highlighted in the inventory. Therefore, the categories of interest were the perceptual strengths (auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic) and the information processing mode (analytic and global).

To determine the strength and direction of the relationships among the variables, Pearson's correlation coefficient was used. A correlation matrix was generated to present the correlation coefficient between each possible pair of variables.

Of the 318 subjects, 36 were sensate perceiving, 122 were sensate judging, 62 were intuitive thinkers, and 98 were intuitive feelers. The first correlation was to determine the relationship between the Myers-Briggs categories and the perceptual strengths of Dunn and Dunn. Only one pair achieved a strong correlation at the .05 level of significance, intuitive thinker and tactile (+.74). The other correlations that achieved significance at the .05 level were moderate at best: sensate perceiving and auditory (+.61), sensate perceiving and tactile (+.54), sensate judging and visual (+.56), intuitive feeler and auditory (+.58), and intuitive feeler and tactile (+.49).

A number of factors could have contributed to these results. For instance, Dunn and Dunn's categories for perceptual strengths are very specific and exact, not allowing for much room for interpretation. In addition, Durra and Dunn clearly indicate that a person possibly could have more than one perceptual strength. This statistical test only accounted for the first strength; the unrecognized secondary and possibly tertiary strengths may have created some interaction that lessened the results.

The second Dunn and Dunn variable considered was the information processing method: analytic versus global. In this instance, when looking to obtain correlations between this variable and Myers-Briggs, the results were much more conclusive. There was a very strong correlation between intuitive feeler and global, (+.85, p<.05). Closely following were the correlations between sensate judging and analytic (+.76, p<.05) and intuitive thinker and global (+.73, p<.05). A moderate correlation existed between sensate perceiving and analytic (+.63, p<.05). All correlations achieved significance at the .05 level.

Generally speaking, there was a strong relationship between the intuitives (thinkers and feelers) and the globals. In addition, there was a relationship between the sensates and the analytics, although not as strong as the first pair. Qualities found in the distinct categories clearly complement, if not overlap, each other.

Conclusions and Recommendations

As the correlations indicate, there is a connection among the different personality types and learning styles. For example, an intuitive thinker's desire to understand, control, predict, and explain a situation is accommodated in the tactual learner's preference to have hands-on involvement in the learning process. Those elements of control and hands-on experiences complement one another. In terms of Dunn and Dunn's information processing method, the global learner who enjoys the "big picture" and interaction with others seems to connect with the intuitive feeler's characteristic of authentic communication.

From this research, it appears that the Dunn and Dunn model of learning theory has a strong and obvious connection with the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. This relationship would allow a researcher to conclude that the connection among learning, personality, and learning theory is one necessary for teachers to consider when investigating the how, when, and why students learn.

Future study could include administering the inventories to a broader population of teachers, not just those pursuing Masters degrees. The collection of this data possibly would strengthen the results indicating the value of teachers understanding themselves as a prerequisite to understanding their students. It is the duty of every educator to get a handle on his or her students' educational fingerprints. The evidence is there!


Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (1990). Understanding a brain-based approach to learning and teaching. Educational Leadership, 48, (2), 66-70.

Capraro, R. M., & Capraro, M. M. (August, 2002). Myers-Briggs types indicator score reliability across studies: A meta-analytic reliability. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62, (4), 590-602.

Carbo, M., Dunn, R., & Dunn, K. (1991). Teaching students to read through their individual learning styles. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Druchniak, C. (Summer, 2003). A look under the hood. Rivier Today, 25, 36.

Dunn, R., & Griggs, S. (ed) (2000). Practical approaches to using learning styles in higher education. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

Dunn, R., & Dunn, K. (1999). The complete guide to the learning styles inservice system. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Fuller, C. (2004). Talkers, watchers, and doers. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press.

Keirsey, D. (1998). Please understand me 11: Temperament, character, intelligence. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Co., Inc.

Keirsey, D., & Bates, M. (1984). Please understand me: Character and temperament types. California: Gnosology Books, Ltd.

Kroeger, O., Thuesen, J., & Rutledge, H. (2002). Type talk at work: How the 16 personality types determine your success on the job. New York: Dell Publishing, Co., Inc.

Ornstein, R., & Thompson, R. (1984). The amazing brain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Quenk, N. L. (2000). Essentials of Myers-Briggs type indicator assessment. New York: Wiley.

Sister Nancy C. Gilchriest, SSND, College of Notre Dame of Maryland

Gilchriest, Ed. D., is the Education Department Chairperson and Assistant Professor of Education at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland
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Author:Gilchriest, Nancy C.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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