15 bits of humanity [Reiss's model of motivation]

Rohit Khare (rohit@fdr.ICS.uci.edu)
Fri, 26 Jun 1998 07:41:47 -0700

So this Reiss fellow at Ohio State believes there are 15 bits that
describe humans. They've been adminstering a 128-question battery to determine
the following common drives for humans:

Avoiding Pain & Anxiety
Fear of Rejection
Physical exercise
Social Contact
Social Prestige

This would imply 15-bit resolution in human personality, or 32K types. This
would imply a far larger number of average dates until mating convergence than
reality seems to provide.

The axes, though, are not all created equal. I think they could be sorted into
several buckets of increasing abstraction, from biological (~4m years old) to
cultural (as little as 4,000):

Physical exercise

Avoiding Pain & Anxiety
Fear of Rejection

Social Contact
Social Prestige



In which case, I suggest all I've done is sort according to the Maslovian
hierarchy of sustenance, survival, acceptance, self-esteem, and
self-actualization. Already it seems more believable, right?

And yet, the 15 are scattered like a dartboard across the pyramid... why
should they form a 'privileged frame of reference'?

They aren't a collection of root causes, only symptoms.

C. Robert Cloninger, a Wasington University geneticist and psychologist, had a
spectral taxonomy which was much more persuasively presened in Peter Kramer's
Listening to Prozac (pp 185-186). It's admittedly on the current fringe of
biopsychiatry, but it's very appealing to my need to identify, quantify, and

norepinephrine == reward dependence
serotonin == harm-avoidance
dopamine == novelty seeking

This cube positions people's tendencies along spectra from R ("highly
dependent on emotional supports and intimacy with others; highly sentimental;
crying very easily; thin-skinned; industrious, ambitious overachiever who
pushes himself to exhaustion; extremely sensitive to rejection from even the
most minor slights, leading to reward-seeking behavior such as overeating;
highly persistent in craving for gratification even when frustrated in
attempts to obtain expecteed recognition or benefits") to r ("insensitive to
rejection, socially detached, content to be alone").

H is "inhibition in the face of new people or situations; easy fatigability";
h is laid-back ("confident, carefree, optimistic, energetic, quick to
recuperate, and calm in the face of unfamiliar or threatening circumstances")

N is "Consistently seeks thrilling adventures and exploration and ins
intolerant of structure and monotony" -- decide intuitively, act and spend
impulsively, engage in a rpidly shifting series of interests and social
relaitionships and take slef-destructive risks. n is orderly organized
controlled analytical, frugal, loyal, stoical, and slow to change interests or

[these were all abbreviated quotes; the original chapter is highly recommended

I appreciate the inherent orthogonalization in this model, even if I'm
frustrated at not being able to place myself on the novelty scale, for
example. I guess I'd admit that I'm biologically RHN, morall striving for what
I think to be a more culturally acceptable Rhn.

And out pop the contellations:

Rh = "heroic, persuasive/pushy, perseverant, and gullible"

Various forms of psychopathology and milder forms of disprder becomes vectors
projected onto these axes -- and remember, there's even a weak link from these
axes back to the cocktails in our heads. It's not surprising, then, that
concepts like "religion" are actually skew vectors, with contributions from
several axes, not a primitive basis vector in itself. It's like an XML tag
with a series of #FIXED attributes: a specific behavioral vector "pinned down"
along several components.

The process of clustering, then taxonomizing, and finally orthogonalizing into
causes, are key stages in the scientific literature to me. When we properly
understand a certain domain of phenonmena, we can separate layers of
abstraction. Adam and I are just beginning to go through this with
notifications. It's a field where most analyses have just listed features, a
few have sorted into affinity-buckets, but few have identified philosophical
root-cuases of why, say, the world splits into polling and interruption.

Anyway, it's time to go home and take a nap now.

Someone who'd definitely be using excalamation points on his survey,

PS. Sorry to point at such mid-grade science journalism, rather than, say a
NY Science Times piece; keep on the lookout for more reliable info...


June 24 We humans are a complicated lot, and some
of the best minds in history have tried to figure out
what makes us tick.
It turns out were all the same; we just differ
our priorities.
Steven Reiss, a professor of psychology and
psychiatry at
Ohio State University, set out to learn if were all
driven by
the same basic obsessionssex, for exampleor if there
many core values and desires that determine who we
Reiss figured if he and his researchers talked to
people and asked enough questions, they could compile
list of fundamental values and desires that guide
A lot of people said we couldnt do it, Reiss
says. They
said everybody would answer the questions the same
Theres good reason for that skepticism. Experts
human behavior have always tended to pick one or two
dominant themes that control our actions.
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis,
were all driven by sex and aggression. Noted
psychotherapist Carl Rogers picked the desire to reach
fullest potential as our driving force. Plato said it
curiosity and philosophy.
Reiss and co-researcher Susan Havercamp, a
student in psychology, compiled a list of 128
questions to
measure just how strongly we feel about everything
sex to vengeance. About 2,500 people, from young to
rich and poor, took part in the project.
Participants were asked how much they agreed or
disagreed with such statements as: I love learning
skills, I must avoid pain, I would rather lose my
life than
lose my honor.

A 15-Step Program
What they came up with is 15 core values and desires
seem to define us.
All 15 are in everybody, Reiss
says. They are universal, and I think
they motivate everybody.
The surprising part of the study,
he says, is that while we each
embrace all 15 values, we do so at
very different intensities.
Those differences are much
greater than people had realized,
Reiss says. One size doesnt fit all.
Take sex, for example.
Some people like sex so much
they make exclamation marks on the
questionnaire. Other people give you
the lowest possible response, Reiss
Howard Hughes bought a movie
studio to be close to women, and he
used his electronics companies to
track as many as 167 women a day.
And then you have somebody like the
Unabomber who goes out into
Montana and obviously is not
pursuing the opposite sex at all.
Its the individual differences
that are important, he says.
Social contact is another example.
If somebody else is in the room, I
dont know of a human being alive
that would be indifferent to that,
Reiss says. Either you like it or you
dont like it, and one way or another
its going to affect your motivation.

Same Planet, Different Priorities
The study also showsno surprisethat
men and women really are different.
Men, for example, ranked sex and
vengeance much higher than women.
Women are more sensitive to anxiety
and pain than men.
Reiss believes we probably retain
the same core values and desires
throughout our lives, but age takes a
There is a massive lowering of desire in
everything as
people get older, Reiss says. Ambition goes down,
sex goes
down, everything goes down.
Its more than just mellowing. As we get older,
we just
dont give a damn.
Reiss sees more than just an illumination of what
us, but an important tool in predicting human behavior
could be useful in everything from marriage counseling
sorting out the criminally inclined.
Hes joining with other researchers at Dartmouth,
Harvard and Dalhousie universities to take the project
to the
next step.
The goal is to develop a series of profiles that
pigeonhole everyone. They might even help us link up
those sharing similar passions and values, whether
or in the workplace, thus improving our odds of
in life.

Pain? What Pain?
Members of the Armed Forces, for instance, show
These are really bright people, Reiss says.
They place a
very high value on leadership, and they rank physical
activity high.
Theyre also really insensitive to pain.
If we know ourselves better, were better
equipped to
chart our course. An aspiring journalist whos not
should probably look for another line of work. A
who is not driven by a thirst for powerif there is
such a
beastwill probably find it isnt worth it.
A priest with no sense of compassion probably
wont be
much help to anyone, but that wont show up in Reiss
study because of an odd omission: The questions did
cover religion.
A strange omission, since so many people believe
religion their most important value, which Reiss
disagree with.
Certainly religion is a big motive, Reiss says.
But I
think it needs to be dealt with separately.
Frankly, I find that a bit odd, but at least we
all face the
same fate: Mellowing out.

Science writer Lee Dyes column appears Wednesdays on