Misidentifying Threes and Fives

The principal reason these two very different types are confused is that some average Threes (especially if they are intelligent) would like to see themselves as "thinkers." Since Fives are most stereotypically seen as the "intelligent, thinking type," average Threes may choose it rather than the type they actually are. This misidentification is made almost exclusively by Threes since Fives are not likely to think that they are Threes. Average Threes are set up to fulfil the hidden expectations of their parents; so in a family that values intelligence, originality, and intellectual brilliance, it is quite natural for Threes to grow up thinking that they must be those things in order to be worthwhile. Thus, narrow conceptions of the types, or unflattering and unfair presentations of type Three in some Enneagram literature may cause some average Threes to want to be Fives.

Some Threes may well be thinkers and have original ideas; they may excel academically and be brilliant students. But these traits alone are not sufficient to be a Five. Once again, the root of the misidentification lies in focusing on one or two traits rather than considering the type as a whole, including its central motivations.

There are many significant dissimilarities between these two types. The kind of thinking they engage in is very different: Fives are very process-oriented: they do not care about final goals and can be extraordinarily involved in abstract ideas for the sake of acquiring knowledge, virtually as an end in itself. The pursuit and possession of knowledge enthralls Fives, and not only do their interests need have no practical results for them to be satisfying, average Fives are just as likely never to seek fame or fortune for their discoveries or creations. Fives follow their ideas wherever they take them, with no particular end in view. Their ideas need not even be related to making discoveries. Creating their own private inner realities can be reward enough. In any case, average Fives will stay with a project for years until they exhaust their subject or themselves, or both.

Threes, by contrast, are not usually involved in subjects for their own sake: they change their interests and careers rapidly if the success and recognition they seek elude them. Moreover, average Threes pursue their intellectual work with personal goals in mind (either consciously or unconsciously): to impress others, to be famous, to be known as best in their field, to be acclaimed as a genius, to beat a rival at a discovery, to win a prestigious prize or grant, and so forth. The essential consideration is that their intellectual work is frequently undertaken to achieve goals and garner recognition rather than for the love of knowledge and the excitement of intellectual discovery. In Threes, self-promotion and status-seeking elements can enter the picture. Average Threes tend to promote themselves and to talk about their brilliant achievements, whereas average Fives tend to be secretive and reticent about their work and discoveries. Furthermore, the pragmatic thinking of average Threes calculates how to achieve goals in the most efficient manner, something completely alien to impractical, curiosity-driven Fives.

In addition, Threes are highly sociable and well groomed: they know how to present themselves favorably. Fives are usually loners and often put little to no effort into their personal appearance: their appearance means less to them than pursuing their interests until the problems are solved and the work is done. Average Threes are highly aware of what others think about them, whereas average Fives care little about anyone else's good opinion. Average Threes want to be considered as sexually and socially desirable and will conform to and set social standards. Fives are often strange, eccentric, and isolated from others–not at all concerned about conforming to social standards. Contrast the personalities of Threes such as Michael Tilson Thomas and Carl Sagan with those of Fives such as Glenn Gould and Stanley Kubrick.