Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming
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Personality Testing at BoardGameGeek

Corey Butler
United States
Saint Paul
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In psychology, the most successful, comprehensive taxonomy of personality is the "Big Five" or Five Factor Model. Numerous factor analytic studies have found that virtually all of the traits commonly measured on personality tests cluster into these five basic dimensions. In fact, other models, such as the typology used in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are now considered somewhat dated by personality theorists. Sorry, MBTI fans... In my research here at BGG, I asked people to take Sam Gosling's Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), which is a brief but psychometrically valid and reliable measure of these five, fundamental traits.

From gallery of shotokanguy

The TIPI is a standardized test, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the scores I obtained for each trait compare to the official norms. This can tell us, generally, how geeks compare as a group to the overall population. The table below shows the norms from Gosling's website, for both males and females of ages 31-40, which was the largest age group in my sample.

From gallery of shotokanguy

And here are the data from my sample...

From gallery of shotokanguy

There appear to be some differences here, but are any of them statistically significant? I conducted a series of one sample t-tests using SPSS to compare the observed means against the population norms. I found that both males and females in the sample are significantly less extraverted (p < .001) and less open to experience (p < .01 in males, p < .05 in females) than the population average. Furthermore, males rated themselves as more emotionally stable than the average (p < .001). All other comparisons were not statistically significant for this subsample of the data.

So what does it all mean? First, we should be careful drawing any conclusions about women or gender differences, due to the small number of females in the analysis. In fact, we should be cautious in all our conclusions, given the brief measure used, and the fact that I am relying on a self-selected, convenience sample.

The clearest finding is the relatively low level of extraversion in the sample. Among males aged 31-40, approximately 60% score below the population average. It’s really no surprise if you think about it. Board games, along with activities like reading, collecting things, and other geek hobbies do tend to appeal to introverts more than extraverts, who would rather be out on the town socializing. Sitting quietly, pushing little wooden cubes around is just not their idea of a good time!

The idea that geeks tend to be introverted has been bounced around before. On one thread from a few years ago, introverts discussed such experiences as feeling drained by social interactions, and also the benefits of more structured forms of interactions, such as playing board games.

I've actually got a behavioral measure that corroborates this finding. BGG website stats indicate that 159 users have purchased the Myers-Briggs: Introvert microbadge, whereas only 25 users have invested their GeekGold in the Myers-Briggs: Extrovert badge.

The predominance of introversion makes sense. I was more surprised by the relatively low openness scores of board game geeks. My wife and I were speculating about it last night and we have a few hunches, but perhaps this would make a good topic for my next blog entry.
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