Personality Traits in Software Testing

I have lots of little and major projects going on at the moment. One of them is to write a chapter for an up coming book on the cost of testing. My chapter is complete thankfully, but as I was researching my topic, I came across this article on Personality Traits in Software Engineering. I found it quite enlightening and somewhat entertaining read.

Naturally, I was interested in what it had to say on the subject of software testers, in particular, the difference between software testers and developers.

Apparently there are the “Big Five” of personality traits. They are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness to experience.

This study added another personality trait or factor Cognitive Ability. Personally, I question whether you can call that a personality trait, but for the purposes of this post, lets accept that as a given.

Testers on the whole came out pretty well rounded. Here’s the breakdown:
Neuroticism: Low
Extraversion: Medium
Conscientiousness: Medium
Openness To Experience: High
Cognitive Capability: High
Agreeableness : High
So, on average we are an agreeable bunch of people, open to experience (see below) with a high cognitive capability. A hearty clap on the back fellow testers, we all knew we were pretty special.

Developers were pretty similar, but the major difference is they scored low in the openness to experience trait. Here are their scores:
Neuroticism: Low
Extraversion: Low
Conscientiousness: Medium
Openness To Experience: Low
Cognitive Capability: High
Agreeableness : High

So what is openness of experience?  Well the paper describes it as:

“This is the tendency to enjoy new intellectual experiences and ideas. Its components include imaginative, curious, unconventional, broadminded and cultured”

I can live with that!

So there you have it folks, proof that testers and developers are different and bring different traits to the table.

But lets finish this blog post on a positive note.

Both developers and testers rate well in cognitive ability and agreeableness and we both scored low on the neurotic scale. Thats a good thing! It means were both pretty smart and easy to get along with people.

Lets give both teams the respect they deserve for that.


Neuroticism:– This is the tendency to experience unpleasant emotions relatively easily. Its components are anxiety, hostility, depression, self-consciousness, and impulsiveness.
The opposite is emotional stability or self-control.
People who are high in this factor have the following features:-
  • They are faced with effect of decreasing cognitive and performance capacities (Mathews et al., 1991)
  • They have increasing probability of errors
  • They are more distracted from the task at hand (Hansen, 1989)
  • They have tendency to experience greater stress symptoms
  • They tend to be pre-occupied with their anxieties and worries
  • There is also evidence that they do not seek active control of the environment (Judge, 1993)

Extraversion:– This is the tendency to seek simulation and enjoy the company of other people. Its components include warmth, sociable, assertive, energetic, adventurous, and enthusiastic.

People who are high in this factor have the following features:-

  • They are sensitive to monotony (Thiffault & Bergeron, 2003)
  • They are high sensation seekers and have a greater tendency to take risks (Jonah,1997)
  • They demonstrate significantly poorer performance on vigilance tasks (Koelega,1992)

Conscientiousness:- This is the tendency to show self-discipline, to be dutiful, and to strive for achievement and competence. Its components also include self-discipline, consultative, competence, order, dutifulness and thorough.

People who are high in this factor have the following features:-

  • They are always thorough in decision-making style (Clarke & Robertson, 2005)
  • They follow rules and regulations (Arthur & Doverspike, 2001)
  • They are interested in goal targeting and systematic approach
  • They are always interested in providing adequate cost-benefit analysis and contingency planning (West et al., 1993)
  • They are less vulnerable to cognitive failures

Agreeableness:- This is the tendency to be compassionate towards others and not antagonistic. Its components include pleasant, tolerant, tactful, helpful, trust, respectful, sympathetic and modest.

People who are high in this factor have the following features:-

  • They are generally easy to get along with (Hough, 1992)
  • They are salient in situations that involve interaction or cooperation with others (Barrick & Mount, 1991)
  • They are less aggressive
  • They are emotionally stable
  • They are trustworthy and compliance (Clarke & Robertson, 2005)

Openness to experience:– This is the tendency to enjoy new intellectual experiences and ideas. Its components include imaginative, curious, unconventional, broadminded and cultured.

People who are high in this factor have the following features:-

  • They have positive disposition towards learning (Salgado, 2002)
  • They tend to be liable to rule violations, experimentation and improvisation (Clarke & Robertson,2005)
  • They are less suitable for safety critical tasks

Cognitive Ability:– This is a factor added to the big five factors because of the requirement of SE. It has the following components:-

  • Abstract level thinking:- This is the ability to conceive an idea or concept without any relation to any practical instance. It can be simply put as theoretical analysis.
  • Mindset:- A fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretation of the situation. It typically has to do with the collective responses and interpretation of the situation by individuals.
  • Analytic:- This is reasoning or capable of reasoning in clear and consistent manner.It is reasoning and or acting from a perception of the parts and interrelations of actions.
  • Concentration capability:- This is the ability to provide constant and productive undivided attention to events.
  • Expressiveness:- Ability to present one’s ideas in acceptable forms to others.
  • Visualisation capability:- The ability to provide a technique or method for seeing the unseen. It is also the ability to use metal model to describe or represent events.

From “An Improved Assessment of Personality Traits in Software Engineering” (2007)  A. S. Sodiya, H. O. D. Longe, S. A. Onashoga, O. Awodele,  L. O. Omotosho

By Anne-Marie Charrett

Anne-Marie Charrett is an internationally recognized expert in software testing and quality engineering.
She keynotes at international conferences on the topic of Quality, Coaching, and Leadership.
Ex-Head of Engineering at Tyro Payments where she transitioned testers to a quality coaching model
Consultant on Quality Engineering, developer of the quality operating model. Invented and rolled out a consulting model for quality engineering.
Consulting across FinTech, Media, Government, Insurance, Banking & Telco Sectors
Creator and Lecturer of Enterprise Software Testing course at UTS Australia. Co-developed a coaching model aiming to transfer testing skill and know-how using the Socratic method.
B.Eng (Hons) Electronic Engineering (I really am a quality engineer!)
Based in Sydney, Australia works – internationally.

5 replies on “Personality Traits in Software Testing”

Very interesting! Kinda expected that high Openness To Experience was common in testing.
A tester without curiosity doesn’t go too far.

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