Temperament and the Big Five Openness Scale–Still problems there?

Part I:  Possible Openness flaws

Openness or Openness to Experience is the fifth of the Big Five Temperaments.  In many ways it is the most interesting, but the least clearly defined, and perhaps the most controversial.  In American politics, in particular, the Openness scale has been widely described as showing a significant deficit in Openness among persons sharing political beliefs on the conservative side. That is interesting but just what does it mean? Very high openness is also linked with some undesirable outcomes, from bipolar disorder to a greater risk of problems in the schizoid spectrum.  Is there a safe openness area—not too stogy, and uncreative, but not too crazy either?

My own opinion is that the Openness scale is still a work in progress.  This is probably not the view of the authors of the Neo-PI versions of the Big Five, but a hard look at what a high Openness score is related to, raises as many questions as answers.   Is it largely a reflection of high intelligence?  (Current thinking is, probably not.) Do Open people remain passively open to whatever comes along, or are they motivated to seek experiences? (Lots of evidence here.) Are closed people deliberately and actively “closed” against new ideas, new adventures, new foods?  Or are they low in intelligence, or somehow low in sensitivity to the world around them?  Or are they defending against the new ideas, new experiences that threaten them? (Not much research here.)   Even where there are answers, the answers continue to be debated.

My doubts/concerns are as follows:

I. The scale and its facets are not as strong, statistically, as the rest of the Big Five.  Taken alone this doesn’t mean much, but it could point to internal problems.

 II.  Some specific correlations with Extraversion seem problematic.

III. The overall meaning and source of Openness remains unclear, at least to me. Continue reading

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Boys and Men in Crisis. Biology? Culture? Both!

This is the last of a series of five blogs.  In chronological order they are:

Shrinking penises, dropping sperm counts and bigger heads:  What’s going on here?  

Temperament, Testosterone and 21st Century Culture:  More on “What’s going on Here”? 

Sperm, testosterone and penises:  Male reproductive health in crisis.                                       

Temperament, Final sperm comments and the Declining Male Brand.

Boys and Men in Crisis.  Biology? Culture?  Both! 


Part I:  What physical and social forces affect testosterone levels in men?

We have  known for awhile that male testosterone  levels have  a lot of variability.  There is a circadian rhythm, with T highest in the morning and dropping slowly through the day.  There is even a seasonal pattern with T lowest in the spring.  Midline obesity (waist and belly) produces its own testosterone disruptor in the release of estrogen from fat cells. (Strange but true, and not true in other areas of fat accumulation). This  type of fat reduces adult levels of testosterone in many men.  T also drops slowly with age and with decreasing muscular fitness.

More relevant here is the fact that adult levels of testosterone are also vulnerable to events in the social environment.  For an obvious example, sexual arousal increases testosterone in multiple circumstances.  Watching an explicit movie is enough to raise the level 35% and this does not peak until 60 to 90 minutes later.  T even increases when men have brief conversations with women.  Wikepedia reports that “Men who have sexual encounters with unfamiliar or multiple partners experience large increases the morning after.”*  They also note that “Men who watch sexually explicit films also report increased optimism and decreased exhaustion.

That last finding about increased optimism is interesting and important. We naturally think of testosterone as simply a sexual hormone, but studies of men with low T have shown a number of other important functions supported by it.  Maintaining good muscle/bone mass and strength is one important role.  However, quoting again from  Wikipedia*  “Literature suggests that attention, memory and spatial ability are key cognitive functions affected by testosterone in humans.  Preliminary evidence suggests that low testosterone levels may be a risk factor for cognitive decline and possibly for dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.”  More recently, good new research indicates that testosterone may be protective against depression in men.**  A large scale study in 2008 found that  older men with low levels of T were 271 % more likely to have “clinically significant signs of depression” than those with normal levels.  In general, women are far more likely to have serious depression than are men and this continues to about age 65, when the difference fades away.  It is thought that this action of testosterone may explain at least part of this difference. Continue reading

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Temperament, Final sperm comments and the problem of the declining male brand.

Preface:  Final comments on declining sperm

I finished my recent blog on sperm decline and related reproductive horror stories by coming to  the strange conclusion that  the “end of men” could be in sight but no one is screaming.

The question is why?  Very briefly, I want to suggest several reasons.  One is that there have been negative studies as well as positive ones, and with that there have been  (much like global warming) believers and deniers.  In 2008 a study was published entitled Declining World Wide Sperm Counts:  Disproving a Myth.*  The author had found more studies finding no change than those showing a decline and concluded that “The evidence accumulated to date showing no decline in sperm counts or sperm concentration in populations through the developed world should be accepted.”  No real explanation for the positive findings was given.  He also totally rejected all evidence for endocrine disruptor theories (plasticizers, pesticides, etc) as supporting human or animal effects on sperm count and advised that “this leg of supposed evidence for proposed legislation is weak to the point of breaking.”

From that point on to 2011, other skeptical articles appeared including one in a New York Times column, but the 2012 study from France that I reported earlier has tipped the balance strongly back to sperm decline.**  This research involved over 26,000 men over a period of 17years (1989 to 2005) whose partners had fallopian tube problems and were being tested  in government reproductive centers throughout France (126 different centers). Data were collected in this circumstance  for 17 years from 1989 to 2005 under very careful conditions.  The trend showed a continuous decline of approximately 1.9% per year for a total drop of 32% over this period.  It is a truly impressive study.

France already has a fertility rate that is slightly below human replacement level, as does much of Europe.  If the 2012 study is accurate, and the decline continues at 1.9% per year the Frenchman’s average sperm count should be approaching the sub-fertility level of 20 million in 45 years..

So, once more, why isn’t anybody screaming?  The fact that contradictory findings have appeared is no doubt part of this.  It is hard to get upset about a potentially terrible, but unclear danger, and human to push it aside, mentally.  That is part of it, but still, assuming this may be global or even just in the Western world–shouldn’t we be organizing a massive international program to get to the bottom of this?  Shouldn’t we be examining all the flaws in any past studies and trying to do very up-to-date, coordinated, world-wide research?  Now?  With all possible speed?

Uncertainty is one problem here and if the environmental toxin theory is correct, there are also very serious problems ahead for both manufacturers and users of industrial chemicals and pesticides,  but I wonder if there is something more to this.  Is there a male branding problem here?  How many years can you describe testosterone as a social toxin without seriously disparaging its carriers?  This may be made worse by the fact that the men studied are those from highly developed Western countries–Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, much of central Europe, the United States, and Australia. Are people consciously or unconsciously pushing it aside as a problem of economically comfortable, mostly white males (and their partners) who are not one of the populations of concern in the world?

That opens up a broader thought–could all these male problems–declining sperm, shrinking penises, and dropping testosterone levels–perhaps even dropping achievements in education and the world of work–be at some level the reflection of society’s rejection of maleness?  This is not to disparage the endocrine disruptor findings, but rather to ask if there may also be a cultural cause?

Has something really happened to the male brand? Continue reading

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Sperm, testosterone and penises: Male reproductive health in crisis?

In an earlier blog I focused on reports of declining penis size in human males, declining sperm count, and even increases in brain size and changes in head shape. A follow-up blog explored reports that men are falling behind in a variety of areas including academic achievement, careers, and even parental choice of newborn gender–a possible change to preferring girl babies.

I had expected to close this small series out with some reflections on what all this might mean.  However, I made the mistake of digging a little deeper into the research on sperm count and penis size and found a sea (or maybe it is a swamp) of related research.  This blog was designed to focus on temperament, but I hope that interested readers will bear with some biology today.  Next week I will follow up on the various ways that all of this might be related to temperament and personality at least in men.

The first major study of sperm health reported that sperm counts in healthy males had dropped in those surveyed by over 50%, from 1938 to 1990, going from 113 million sperm per milliliter in 1940 to 66 million in 1990.*  This might still sound like overkill in the sperm department, but it is not.  A great many sperm in any sample are damaged or dysfunctional and thus unable to impregnate. (This problem is thought to be increasing also.) For this and other reasons, a count below twenty million/milliliter is considered to be somewhere between subfertile and effectively sterile. (It apparently takes an enormous number  of strivers to produce one winner.) Continue reading

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