Join Jason Hartman as he and author of “Quirk”, Hannah Holmes explore human personality types and how they affect who we become, whether extroverted, conscientious, agreeable, or even neurotic or obnoxious. Is it possible that our hard-wired brain chemistry can even determine our political opinions and economic views? Learn more about the Five Factors in personality and about Hannah’s research at www.JasonHartman.com. Research has shown that mice have personalities, and somewhere out there, perhaps in your own basement, is a mouse just like you. Hannah Holmes has led an adventurous life since graduating from the University of Southern Maine. She was an editor at the New York-based Garbage Magazine in the late 1980s, after which she returned to Maine to start a freelance writing career. She was a contributor in a variety of magazines.
In the late 1990s, Hannah was recruited by the Discovery Channel Online for an experiment called live internet reporting. This grand experiment led her to distant and uncomfortable parts of the world, from hunting dinosaurs in Mongolia’s Gobi desert, to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, where fine volcanic ash ruined her computer and left her hair like a ball of jute twine. She also piloted the Alvin submarine around “black smokers” a mile and a half under the ocean. It was a glorious era until Discovery.com’s plug was pulled. Hannah then went on to author several books, “The Secret Life of Dust,” “Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn,” and her recent book, “Quirk,” about the many fascinating personality types. Hannah’s blog can be found at www.HannahHolmes.net.
Narrator: Welcome to the American Monetary Association’s podcast where we explore how monetary policy impacts the real lives of real people, and the action steps necessary to preserve wealth and enhance one’s lifestyle.
Jason Hartman: Welcome to today’s show. This is Jason Hartman, your host. And as you may or may not know, every 10th show we do a special tradition here that originated with my Creating Wealth show where we do a topic that is actually off topic on purpose, something just to do with general life and more successful living and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today with our special guest. Again, 10th show is off topic and it is very much intentional, just for personal enrichment. And I hope you enjoy today’s show. And we will be back with our guest in just a moment.
Start of Interview with Hannah Holmes
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Hannah Holmes to the show. She is the author of 4 books and an expert on humans, nature, and human nature. She has written some great sort of tongue-in-cheek work in her different titles and has looked at the world with new eyes. Things that we take for granted and seems very obvious to most of us, Hannah has a very, very interesting perspective on. So I’m sure you’ll like this talk with her today. Hannah, welcome, how are you?
Hannah Holmes: Great. Wonderful to be here.
Jason Hartman: Well, good. Good to have you. So your latest work is entitled Quirk. Tell us about that and what you learned about humans and human nature in writing that one.
Hannah Holmes: Well, here’s the deal. You look around and you see all these people whose personalities are not like yours, and the natural response is, why not? It would be so much better if everyone were like me. And the problem is, if everyone were like you, we would all have the same response to the risks and the opportunities that naturally come our way, and that simply doesn’t work in an unpredictable world.
So what we find, not just in humans but in all animals, is that personality is the variation in how we respond to the crazy stuff that nature throws at us. So nature throws a fantastic opportunity out, and some people are afraid of it, and they avoid taking risks to grab it, and others and unafraid, and they grab it. There are drawbacks and benefits to each approach, and they really are complementary, and we have to have that diversity of personality in order to survive.
Jason Hartman: And to keep people interested in all the different things we need to do to create our economy, too, you know, in all the specialization of labor and so forth. So yeah, very interesting. How does our brain chemistry, though, dictate our personality? And is it chemistry only, or is it actual structural? I mean, if you look at the brains of males and females, the structure is different to some extent, right?
Hannah Holmes: Right. The genes that make up your personality, and there are probably many thousands of them that go into personality, these genes dictate, oftentimes, how active a certain part of your brain will be. In other words, you might have a super active amygdala. Mine tends to run kind of hot. It’s always looking for danger. And so, in my brain, when there’s any indication of trouble, my amygdala’s gonna ramp up pretty quickly. But then in the next person, who takes things a little less seriously, is going to be a kind of a quiet amygdala, and maybe their pre-frontal cortex is online just sort of analyzing the possibilities. So, what we really see is differences in the activity level in the various modules that make up the brain.
Jason Hartman: And this is probably thanks to the FMRI, right? The functional MRI machines now that we have? And we can really tell what people are think – it’s almost like mind reading, it’s pretty amazing, nowadays.
Hannah Holmes: It’s very cool. Because psychologists used to have to rely on us to tell the truth about our personalities, so they would just rely on questionnaires. And those are still valuable. But obviously we all want the world to think well of us, and so, this comes out in questionnaires. We try to make ourselves look sane, when perhaps we’re a little too neurotic, or a little too impulsive or extroverted. So they’re actually finding that by comparing our answers to questionnaires, and then MRI, which watches our brain respond to things, they’re getting a much more honest answer out of these MRI machines.
Jason Hartman: Of course they are, yeah. So, you said that your amygdala is active. First of all, what is the amygdala, and does that make you a thrill seeker? Do you like to bungee jump and do things like that?
Hannah Holmes: Au contraire.
Jason Hartman: Okay.
Hannah Holmes: Yeah. After you. The amygdala – it’s an ancient part of the brain, and most of the personality regions are very, very old, and they’re shared by all animals. So, the amygdala is this tiny little piece sort of dead center deep in your brain, and that’s the emergency detection system, and it’s constantly scanning data that comes into your brain that comes in through your senses for signs of danger. And if there is a sign of danger, the amygdala sort of coordinates an emergency response. And some people’s are set on, oh my gosh! And others’ are set on “Eh, who cares?” And we all have the amygdala, but it’s the degree to which you are neurotic or anxious or laid back, depends on how active your amygdala is. And that’s a genetically determined element of your personality.
Jason Hartman: But if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective, I mean, seeking danger is, as the word would imply – it’s dangerous, right? Why would someone seek danger? That would weed them out of the gene pool, potentially, right?
Hannah Holmes: Well, absolutely. But there are risks to every personality type. If you think in terms of the environment we grew up in – our species evolved in – millions of years ago, before we had excellent shelters, think of us as squirrels. And the economics the squirrel has to navigate in order to eat. The squirrel has to come out of the shelter of the tree, and go out into the middle of the lawn in order to eat, and that exposes him to a potential cost, which is the hawk overhead. So, the squirrel is always balancing opportunity versus risk, and that is exactly how humans evolved, too, and we maintained all the brain chemistry to work that math.
But some of us are set up, don’t go into the middle of the lawn for an acorn, if there’s a kind of mushy, nasty, old sour one that you can survive on for another day without leaving the shelter of the tree. So that’s the don’t risk anything response.
Others are set on, go! Go! Go out in the middle! Go even further – there might be something really awesome there! And then you can maybe move to the next tree, where things are better. So it’s a more exploring, short term opportunity personality.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, I agree with you there, but some of the thrill seekers aren’t doing it for opportunity, other than I guess the opportunity is the actual thrill itself, and the endorphins, right? It’s not for a survival opportunity, or a monetary opportunity. They just seek thrills for thrills’ sake.
Hannah Holmes: There are two responses to that. One is that we’ve created for ourselves an environment that has a huge number of ways to kill ourselves, and so, this normal drive to experience thrills, which evolved to push people, to push our boundaries, to explore and find opportunities – now there are so many opportunities to seek thrills, and in the process, behead yourself, that it’s a lot more dangerous to be a thrill seeker these days.
On the other hand, we can see in the genetic record of humans how that thrill seeker mentality has served us. There’s a particular gene, and it’s a dopamine gene. And dopamine is the sort of go forward, the extrovert, the impulsive, the ADHD system. It’s all about looking outward for opportunities. And there’s a particular form of this gene that we find really enriched in populations of risk takers today, but also in populations that have migrated around the globe, further than any others.
So if you look at a population in, say, deep in South America, those people have to basically walk there, and they tend to have more of this go for it, explorer gene. And like, with financial risk takers – same exact version of the gene. It’s a gene that says, take opportunities. Don’t just wait for them – go and find them. And it pays off in the long run.
Jason Hartman: So, is that to say that the person who takes the risk and seeks opportunity does better in life? Or does it obviously – I mean, I know there’s two answers to this. Or does it pay to play it safe? It reminds me of the quote, ships are safer in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.
Hannah Holmes: Well, the magic of this diversity of personality is that we come in all flavors. So, on a bad day, when it’s really hard to find acorns, then it really pays off to have that risk taking opportunity. You’re not gonna starve to death, because you’re motivated to go and look.
On a really bad day when there are no acorns and you’re anxious, you may starve, because your anxiety prevents you from getting in the ship and sailing over the horizon to see what’s there. They complement each other beautifully, because someone’s always gonna be keeping an eye on what’s safest and most protective, and someone’s always gonna be sort of networking and reaching out for new opportunities. And the fact that we have this variation in our population, as do mine, again, is testimony to the fact that we need all these different responses, or we would just be wiped out.
Jason Hartman: Absolutely. So, let’s talk for a moment, Hannah. First of all, before we talk about this, I want to ask you – in terms of scientists measuring a person’s personality, are they doing it with the FMRI? Is that really the gold standard? Or are there other ways that you want to talk about?
Hannah Holmes: There’s a million ways to measure personality. And often people try to really focus on something tight, so they know what they’re measuring. So, if you wanted to measure impulsivity, for instance, you could do that by watching the brain’s response to various games. Or there’s computer based games where you can sit and answer questions. There was this wonderful one called delayed discounting, where you’re offered a series of monetary options.
One is it’ll start out with would you rather have a dollar today or two dollars tomorrow? And then it moves up to more complex stuff. Would you rather have $10 in a week, or $100 in a year? And this predicts – it’s a really tidy graph of how impulsive you are. Really impulsive people will not wait for a reward, and really low impulsive people like me will wait. I’ll do the math, and I will never leap before I look. So, there are a million ways to test these things, and very specialized tests for each element of personality.
Jason Hartman: You talk about the five factors, in your book. What are the five factors of personality?
Hannah Holmes: This is how health psychologists have boiled this down. I mean, we’re really complex. But they try to boil it down to these five factors: conscientiousness, openness to experience, extroversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. And you can think of these as five dials on a stove. And you are the stove. And your personality is a combination of where each of those dials is set. So, you might be high in conscientiousness and low in agreeableness, and middle in extroversion, and so on. And that’s what makes us all a little bit different.
Jason Hartman: Does it change? Do our personalities change? Of course they change situationally, I’m sure. But do they change with age? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
Hannah Holmes: Really, because personality is so strongly genetic, it does not change much at all. You’re essentially who you are born to be. There’s a few exceptions to that. You can change your personality on a temporary basis, as many of us do with drugs and alcohol, which actually does alter the balance between your sort of older, primitive, impulsive brain, and your frontal lobe, which is sort of the CEO who tries to balance all the interests and be rational.
Over the long haul, the one thing that does seem to change is that younger people are more impulsive, and older people are less impulsive. And we know that, just kind of from watching people age. But it is a measurable change, and it’s really the only major factor that does change with age.
Jason Hartman: People get more careful as they age, because maybe they’re had some bad experiences, right?
Hannah Holmes: Well, even their bodies – some of these tests measure their brain’s impulsivity, so it’s not even rational. It’s just a slow decline in your impulsivity. And there are probably good biological reasons for that. It’s important for young people to take risks, because their entire reproductive future hangs in the balance. One of my favorite studies recently involved men crossing the street not on a sidewalk, so jaywalking and taking a risk with their physical safety. And men are more likely to do this at all ages if there’s a woman watching.
And what that tells you is that males are willing to take some physical risks to advertise their strength and power. And it’s theoretically so they can win more breeding opportunities. So, we’re all doing this stuff all the time, regardless of our age, and dignity. We’re still motivated by these very ancient drives.
Jason Hartman: Right. That’s very interesting. You know, I want to get back to the dating and mating subject in a moment. But before we talk about that, let’s talk a little bit about belief systems, if we can, Hannah. It amazes me, especially, I guess, in the political arena. And I have long thought that democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals, literally just have different brain structures, and different brain chemistries. Because they can’t see eye to eye no matter how good or how sound an argument is for one position or the other. It just doesn’t happen. Would you agree with that? Are people wired a certain way? Are they physically, chemically made up to be, say, liberal or conservative?
Hannah Holmes: Absolutely. Yeah, people have been doing questionnaires on this forever and ever, but again, scientists are starting to use the more imaging based ways of looking into it. So, there’s a couple important studies that have come out on the differences between the brains. One used EEG, which is a little cap of electrodes you wear on your head, and you can watch what’s happening in the person’s brain. And they also were measuring the amount of sweat on the palm, and that’s just a tiny little physical reaction that can tell what’s happening with your emergency response system.
And so they showed a bunch of people threatening images – images like guns, and violence, and sort of physically threatening images, and measured the sweat on the palm. And what they found is that what I call the red brains, the more conservative brains, were really ramped up by images that were threatening. On the other hand, they’ve done some MRI with showing people images of people in pain, and in that case, they found that it’s the blue brain, these liberals, that fires up for images of pain.
Our own pain center goes active when we see someone else in pain. Everyone’s does, but the blue brains were much more empathetic on a biological level. What that tells me is that we’re seeing a complementary role between the two, where the—think of us as these animals that evolved in small groups, where anyone approaching the small group might be bringing a horrible disease for which there are no drugs, or they may be coming to kill us and take our territory, or just kill the males and take the females, whatever. Strangers are bad. And they usually are, in animal societies, and probably in most of human history.
So what it looks like is the red brain is tuned to protect that group of people. To maintain the safety and security of the home group, at all costs. And the blue brain is tuned to look for outside opportunities, to make sure that we still have some trade connections so we can get better tools, to make sure we can find fabulous, attractive young people for our people to mate with so that we don’t become in a gene slump, and the two are extremely complementary. One is keeping the group safe, the other is keeping the group vibrant over the long term by bringing in new ideas.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, very interesting. So, diversity – nature likes diversity. I mean, obviously, genetically we all know that you shouldn’t marry your cousin, right? And certainly not your brother or sister. But that diversity of thought is a big part of nature too, it sounds like.
Hannah Holmes: Yeah. You know, I found that kind of interesting. But then taking a few steps back, recognizing that all the science that’s coming out of ecology, says that the more plants you have in a flock, the more healthy and vibrant and resilient that ecosystem is going to be. This has been a huge area of research, because we’re trying to restore some of the things that we’ve destroyed. And that’s a really strong signal, that diversity is a source of strength. And it’s kind of in retrospect kind of a duh moment, when I stood back and thought about that in terms of personality.
If we all threw ourselves on any opportunity that walked in the door, we’d all be killed by the metaphorical hawk, or fox, or whatever. And at the same time, if none of us went forward and took opportunities, we’d use up everything we had around us and all starve to death. So, it becomes quite clear that you have to have a mixture.
Jason Hartman: When you talk about opportunities, I just keep thinking of, it wasn’t like a great movie or anything, but it had a great lesson in it, and that is the comedy with Jim Carey, Yes Man. And I just noticed in that, and I think it’s true in one’s life most of the time, that taking advantage of opportunities, and kind of the old proverbial, just do it, go for it, that mentality, I just think that most of the time those people have a better life when they take chances more often than not. And I don’t know if you saw the movie. Did you, by any chance? With Jim Carey?
Hannah Holmes: No, I don’t remember it, if I did.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, it’s fairly recent. And he just said yes to everything. He couldn’t say no. That’s the story. And he’d find himself saying yes to things, and it seemed like they wouldn’t work out, but then fate twisted around, and ultimately it did work out. Any thoughts on that again? I mean, you touched on that earlier. But it just seems like the people that do more stuff and try more things just, usually things work out better for them. I could be wrong. But that’s my perception of it.
Hannah Holmes: I think to some extent it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because there will be a subset of people – extroverts, mainly, and people who are open to experiencing the high and low. And these people are more inclined to take risks, but they’re also higher in sort of overall energy and gumption, and so, they are more likely to succeed. And when you look at the population of people we call entrepreneurs, or venture capitalists – people who are sort of leaping for opportunities – they are a certain pair of personality types. They’re not a random selection of humans. They tend to be higher in conscientiousness, so, they work hard even if no one’s telling them to. They’re higher in openness, so, their mind is open to opportunity, as opposed to sort of protecting what they’ve already got, and they’re extroverted. They’re energetic, and they’re motivated by people and by experience.
So, it’s not surprising that those people would end up being successful. What you don’t see is the neurotic and agreeable people jumping in to start a new business, because that’s just doesn’t feel good, to that personality type and so they don’t do it. And they wouldn’t be suited for it. They wouldn’t be successful. They’re much better at managing than at creating, and they’re more comfortable in that role of trying to keep people happy and motivated and cooperative.
Jason Hartman: Right, right. They’re like the team player type. You know, you’ve mentioned neurotic quite a bit, because that’s one of the five types. Do you want to define neurotic a little bit? Because that might mean something different to everybody listening.
Hannah Holmes: Yeah. Neuroticism is essentially an avoidance orientation in the personality. And that doesn’t mean someone who just doesn’t want to deal with the world. It’s avoiding risk. So, elements of the neurotic personality are things like high inanxiety, which is really just a watchfulness for problems. Depression is an element of the neurotic personality. And that doesn’t mean you’re hospitalized for major depression. It means your energy level isn’t really high. You’re more of a watcher and a waiter.
And again, we are so inclined to judge people, in this country, based on their productivity. And so, the neurotic personality doesn’t look all that productive and awesome and fun to hang around with, but it’s a conservative wait and see cautious personality that will serve you well in the long term, just like every other type.
Jason Hartman: Hmm. Yeah, very interesting. You know, I want to ask you about culture, Hannah, and then animal personalities, just for a moment. But before we do that, is there anything else you want to talk about in terms of the dating and mating thing? Personality types getting along, and relationships, and so forth? Like, if I’m an extrovert, do I want to marry a neurotic?
Hannah Holmes: Well, actually that’s a good matchup, if the difference isn’t too huge, because you would really balance each other. Because the extrovert is all about short term leaping before you look, and let’s have fun today, and the neurotic is all about, well, I don’t online casino think we should go on vacation this month, because, you know, the mortgage is due, and the college bill is coming up. And so they really balance each other. One has their eye on the long term stability, and the other has the eye on the short term opportunities.
It can be a nice mix if people appreciate that about each other. And that’s really the strength of understanding your personality, is appreciating who you are, because it’s not going to change and it certainly has benefits. So, certainly that’s a nice mix and match.
The only real research on this subject – if you’re really high in conscientiousness, do not mess around with somebody who is not, because they will make you crazy. The whole point of that personality is finishing what you start, and sticking to the hard work, and not taking a two hour three-martini lunch, and if you’re mated with somebody who does that, it’s gonna drive you nuts.
Jason Hartman: Okay. What about culture? What does the role of culture play? You’ve got, in America, which I think that’s a personality type because it’s sort of the rugged individual, demand fairness, demand rights type of personality, which I think is great – I love that – but then it’s very topical. I was in Japan a couple of years ago, and then of course we just recently had the terrible tragedy there, and you see the way the Japanese have handled themselves with such, really, dignity. I’m so impressed with the way they’ve responded to that, and been so civil about it, and been so community oriented. What’s the difference, sort of, when you talk just about culture, and the way it shapes personality?
Hannah Holmes: Well, if you start with the fact that about half of your personality is etched into your genes, that’s your potential. And your environment has an opportunity to either sort of dampen your high points or expand them, allow them to grow to their full potential.
And so with the role of culture is to sort of put parameters around how extreme the personality can be. And, like you said, in America, we love extroverts. We love showoffs, we love confidence and go get ‘em, so if you’re born an extrovert in this country, you’re halfway home. If you’re born neurotic in this country, you might be considered kind of a milk toast, a weenie, a sissy, and so on.
The Japanese culture, as you said, is completely inverse. The emphasis in that culture is on cooperation. It’s not on individualism. It’s on taking care of everyone, and being fair. And so, if you have a wildly extroverted personality in your genetic makeup in Japan, you’ll find that you’re not encouraged to express that through your behavior. Your personality isn’t going to change, it’s going to be the same, but your culture is always going to be saying to you, hush, pipe down, keep that to yourself.
And you see that in the way that they respond to this terrible, terrible environmental situation, where they’re very restrained emotionally; they are not expressive. And if something like that happened in this country, we’re just so much more emotional. You would see a huge difference in how much we’re allowed to express our personalities. So, that’s the role of culture – sort of putting limits on how you express the genes that make you who you are.
Jason Hartman: Okay. So, it’s nature and nurture, no doubt about it. Talk about animals for a moment. I mean, I think my dog has a tremendously interesting personality, and I’ve always noticed that about animals. You say that mice have personality. I mean, how much personality does a mouse have? What about animals?
Hannah Holmes: What’s funny – biologists only in this century realized that animals have personality at all, and I don’t know how that happened. Anyone who’s ever had two different animals knows. . .
Jason Hartman: I think Darwin wrote a book on that, didn’t he? The emotions of animals, or something like that?
Hannah Holmes: Yes, yes. But biologists just somehow always figured, if you’ve seen one lion, you’ve seen them all. I don’t know how they failed to notice the variation in how animals respond as we do to opportunities or to risks. But now, fortunately, we do understand that. And so, most of the drugs that we have for personality disorders, like anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia, or ADHD, these drugs have been created using mice, because you can create mice who have ADHD, or depression, or anxiety, or schizophrenia, because their personalities are so identical to ours. They don’t have all the nuance that a human has, but they have all the fundamentals, all those fine factors you can find in a mouse.
Jason Hartman: So, two of the big chemicals that come up here are serotonin, and you’ve got the whole line of drugs like Prozac and that field – what do they call them, the uptake re-inhibitors, and then dopamine. What roles do those play?
Hannah Holmes: Well, if you think of your basic animal as a tube with a mouth at the front that is sort of supposed to go and get things to keep it alive, what tells an animal which direction to go, and what to eat? The system that informs everything, from even a starfish to a slug to a human, is the dopamine system. And that dopamine system has evolved for each animal to tell it to go get things that are high in calories. If salt is limited in the environment, it tells them to go get salt. It obviously needs reproductive opportunities, and so the dopamine system points animals towards reproductive opportunities.
Basically, if it feels good to you, your dopamine system is tuned to that, and it’s saying “Go get it, go get it, go get it, go get it.” So that’s dopamine. And when it goes wrong, you see addiction. And if you don’t have enough of it, you’re not very motivated to get the stuff that you need.
Jason Hartman: So it needs to be the right balance, the dopamine balance, right? When you say addictions, are you talking about drug addictions?
Hannah Holmes: Yes. Well, any kind of addiction – gambling, food, anything. What that is, is the environment has hijacked the dopamine system, and got it hooked on something that never was in our ancient environment. So, a million years ago, our genes never saw Southern Comfort coming. We did not evolve surrounded by alcohol and meth, and poker games, and so on. Now our environment is so full of stuff that’s dangerous, that the dopamine system is really challenged to steer clear of that stuff, and not get hooked on it.
Jason Hartman: Because that stuff is so powerful. The ancient people, though, they used alcohol, and they ate berries and things like that that would make them change their state, right? But they just weren’t so powerful like they are today, right? Is that the difference?
Hannah Holmes: Well, they weren’t as powerful, they weren’t as common. So you couldn’t go to a store. You had to head out. And for 99.9% of human history, going out to get your food or your berries or your water meant you were walking past lions and alligators and mosquitoes that had malaria, and all these risks that we have forgotten about. There are no lions between me and the 7 Eleven if I want a donut. But most of our history, we had to balance our desire to get high against the risk of heading out to find something that would do that.
Jason Hartman: You know what I want to say about that? I think that’s what’s so dangerous about addictions, especially drug and alcohol addictions, is that the person gets the rewarding feeling without doing any real work for it. In the olden days, they would have to do some real work for it. Of course they’d have to balance the danger of going to get the berries, or the work involved in creating the alcohol and distilling it and so forth. But, nowadays, it comes too easily. And that’s a very damaging thing, I think.
Hannah Holmes: We are a finely tuned animal that is finely tuned to find these sources of high calories and these other little chemicals that we need. Unfortunately, we have built for ourselves an environment that is too full of that stuff, and it’s too easy to get, so we maintain all the motivation and the drive to capture that stuff. But, as you said, there’s no cost.
Biologists talk about this stuff in terms of economics. The cost of getting high on anything, or even just getting food, used to be extremely high. You had to spend calories walking around to find it, and then you had to risk your physical health by competing with other animals to get what you want. Now we have zero cost when we want something to soothe our dopamine. There’s no cost to going and getting French fries or cigarettes or a bottle of beer. So, the economics of pleasure have changed in a way that’s absolutely devastating for our brains.
Jason Hartman: That’s a very dangerous thing. So, serotonin. You didn’t address that one yet.
Hannah Holmes: Serotonin seems to be the social approach or avoid setting. And this is a system that can cause depression and anxiety when it’s out of whack. And oftentimes, those phenomena – the depression or the anxiety – are social responses. They are responses that move a person away from interaction with others.
So, serotonin seems to be a bit of a driver that keeps us in touch with others, and we are a social animal – we are, we’re usually dependent on each other, because we’re again, so weak and pale and fleshy and unprotected. We need each other to survive, and serotonin seems to push us into proximity with others when perhaps deeper parts of our brain are saying no, people are dangerous, and they can give you diseases, and they want to eat your stuff, and pick on you, and that sort of thing. Serotonin may be the chemical that tries to hold us together.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, those drugs like Prozac, and so forth – there’s a whole series of them – those are dangerous, aren’t they? People have committed suicide on them, I’ve heard, and they’re not without their cost, it seems like.
Hannah Holmes: No drug is. The problem with these personality disorders is that personality is so complicated that some psychiatrists feel now that there are no two forms of depression that are the same in terms of what’s going on inside your brain. So if you think about a personality that involves thousands of genes and many chemicals beyond serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are also involved in depression disorders, it’s kind of remarkable that we’ve found drugs that work at all.
The truth is that those drugs work in about half of people who need them, who need some sort of help. And the other half, no. So, it’s a fairly impressive thing we’ve gotten as close as we have to figuring out how to treat these things, considering how complicated they are. But of course, if you aren’t the brain type that those drugs work for, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put that into your head.
Jason Hartman: And they can’t tell in advance, can they?
Hannah Holmes: No, they can’t. Not yet. Obviously that’s why we keep working with mice. That’s why there are so many millions of depressed mice in the world, is that researchers are always trying to improve the way we treat these disorders.
Jason Hartman: Well, Hannah, this is fascinating. I guess I have maybe one more question for you before you go. Men and women, the genders, the battle of the sexes, assuming they’re a male and a female that are maybe the same level of each of those five personality types your described before. Are they still different in personality?
Hannah Holmes: Well, especially one week of the month they’re different.
Jason Hartman: Well, okay.
Hannah Holmes: And that raises the issue of hormones which are tremendously influential on personality. The male in general is underwritten by testosterone, which informs his shape, his size, and a fair amount of how his brain works. And the female is underwritten by estrogen, and that determines her shape and size and a fair amount of her personality. So, you don’t actually see males and females with the same general personality types. Females, in general, are reliably more neurotic, which is going to afflict anxiety and worry and more agreeable. And males are reliably more extroverted. And you might think, why? What is that good for?
But remember that, again, because of our history, the female got stuck with the job of cooking up babies, and then carrying them around for a couple of years, in the days before infant formula and play cribs, little play pens. So, the entire fate of that kid was dependent on a female holding it for two, three, four years, on her body. It was a huge damper on her ability to feed herself, not to mention her child.
And so females needed the assistance of other females. We couldn’t do it alone. And so, females have this completely different set of hormones and brain chemicals that allow us to be more sociable, more cooperative, more friendly. And you see that clear as day in the personality research, just reliably, the female is more social and less aggressive. And the males did not have that burden of having to carry a child around, and were free to be more independent agents, and pursue their own interests. So you see more independent, aggressive behavior from males. They simply didn’t have the biological need to be as cooperative.
Jason Hartman: And males are generally, obviously, more risk taking oriented and more opportunity oriented, whereas females are more safety oriented?
Hannah Holmes: Absolutely. And you see that from politics to investing decisions to who’s gonna get on a bike and ride it down a hill with no brakes. Absolutely universal, and of course it comes down again to this reproductive issue. The female is taking risks for two essentially. And so there’s a considerable amount of braking power in her brain that says no, stay safe, stay safe, stay safe, don’t risk.
And the male has this really sort of short term orientation when it comes to reproduction, because their role is not necessarily one that takes years to fulfill. They do have the potential to just conceive a kid and then go to the next thing. And so a higher risk strategy does pay off for males.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. It pays off for everybody, in a sense, because there are more of us here today because of the way each gender is, right?
Hannah Holmes: Well, of course. It always comes back to complementarity, because if there were no females it wouldn’t matter how risky or safe males were playing it. If females were all real risk-takers, we would lose a lot more babies, and a lot more pregnancies. Biologically we’re doing what has worked for millions of years. Sometimes from our perspective, in the 21st century, it looks a little odd. But when you think about how our species spent most of its history, we’re really doing fine.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. Just one thought on that. Do you believe in that? The sort of “the four year” theory? I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but it basically says that after the male and female conceive a child, that the male will have deep feelings of love and commitment for about four years, and then he starts to look around again, because the theory being that that’s the time that the woman really needs him to stick around, because she’s gotta carry that kid, as you say. I’m not talking about in her uterus, but in her arms. And then the kid, by age 4, is rather independent, to some extent, and the female can get along better without the male. I’m sure you’ve heard about that evolutionary theory.
Hannah Holmes: Absolutely, and it makes a ton of sense. Not to traditional religious thinking, which prefers that humans mate for life, but this is not what we see on the ground, so to speak. What you often see is that a couple comes together for one reproductive round, as you said – three, four, five years – and then it really benefits both parties to try mixing their DNA with a fresh batch from somebody else, because it comes back to diversity. You don’t know if you’re putting your kids into a fabulous environment or a really tough environment, and so, it always is a better bet to have each of your children with a different partner, because that will be the most genetic diversity that you can produce, giving your genes the best chance of making it through the lottery.
So, we see this not just in males, but in females, that people start to shop around after a few years. A smaller version of that same effect is the few days when a female is super fertile. In the modern world, those few days are the days when a modern American woman is most likely to go to a bar without her husband or boyfriend. It’s when males find her most attractive, just based on her photograph. It’s a time when females will take more risks. It’s a very interesting phenomenon that we are so primed to look for opportunities when the stakes are the highest, for the female. The female is on the hunt, on those few days when she’s fertile.
Jason Hartman: When she’s ovulating. Yeah. I just saw a really interesting documentary that said that same thing. So that is fascinating. Hannah, this is fascinating, fascinating stuff. Tell people where they can get your book, and give out your website, so they can learn more.
Hannah Holmes: The website has everything on earth, including a USDA approved, 100% geeky scientist personality test. And a lot of research is based on it, because it’s very tried and true. It takes perhaps 20 minutes to go through it. So, you can link to that through the website, and figure out, really, what kind of mouse you are, and what you’re supposed to be doing. The website also has all of my books and links there.
And the book Quirk is just out, and so it should be widely available, unless your local bookstore has recently been converted to a nail salon, which is going around. I don’t think Borders has the book because Random House won’t send them any until they pay for the other ones.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, I’ve heard about in their bankruptcy, yeah. That’s something.
Hannah Holmes: Yeah, so the book is not available at Borders. It tends to be available at Barnes & Noble, and at your local booksellers, and of course through Amazon.
Jason Hartman: And so, that’s Quirk, and you’ve got three other books as well. And the website for your site is www.HannahHolmes.net. And you’ve just got some fantastic stuff there, and check out the books at Amazon.com, at your bookstore or whatever. And, Hannah, it’s just been great having you on the show. This is fascinating work. Thank you so much.
Hannah Holmes: It’s been a pleasure. Anytime!
Narrator: The American Monetary Association is a nonprofit venture funded by The Jason Hartman Foundation which is dedicated to educating people about the practical effects of monetary policy and government actions on inflation, deflation and personal freedom. Our goal is to help people prosper in the midst of uncertain economic times. This show is produced by The Jason Hartman Foundation, all rights reserved. For publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.HartmanMedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate professional if you require individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own and the host is acting on behalf of The Jason Hartman Foundation exclusively.
The American Monetary Association Team
Transcribed by Ralph