The Deep Role Model

Deep Roles: Elements of Mind and Organization 
"Your deep role typology is one of the best typologies I have ever seen. It is theoretically clear, is based on sound theory, and is most intriguing to think about."  Professor Edgar H. Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge. 

Management pioneer Warren Bennis and organizational theorist Ian Mitroff were the first scholars outside of Scandinavia to refer to the deep role model - in their 1989 book The unreality industry. Oxford Univ. Press (pp. 133-137). A trade book on deep roles has been published in Norway and Sweden. Revised edition 2013You can read a conceptual article on deep roles here, and an empirical one here. Both are published in top-tier academic journals.

The Deep Role Model

The Deep Role Model is a tabular display of 14 role-stereotypes in the mind's eye, arranged by three psychobiological imperatives:  

1) valence (good-bad),
2hierarchy (dominance-submission), and 
3) gender (male-female). 

To make deep roles more easily comprehensible, I have portrayed them as fairy tale characters.

Dyproller er det sosiale livets enkle klaviatur.


Some implications of deep roles upon organizational life

-Deep roles are primordial mental detergents that wash away the pollution of uncertainty. People like to pigeonhole others because it makes this messy, chaotic world seem neat and tidy. Deep roles are evolutionary based memes (cultural analogues to genes) that generate and mediate person-perception. In interaction with the environment, deep role fantasies become features of organizational reality.  

-To create a less polarized
 world, we have to escape the tyranny of pigeonholing  - that is, we have to extricate group members from the primitive attributions placed on them by fellow group members. To achieve this, we have to understand the psychology of deep roles. 

-In times of increased polarization (political, cultural, religious, economical, personal), deep roles become more frequently perceived.

-In politics, especially when bipartisanship goes bad, deep roles will flourish.

-No group, organization or society is wholly devoid of deep roles.

-Deep roles are inclined to surge into human preconscious ideation. 

-The making of good versus bad deep roles are the result of man’s encounter with two fundamentally opposite occurrences in relational life—positive attention and acceptance versus negligence and rejection, respectively.

-Once splitting occurs within a group, deep roles follow.

-Deep roles are spirits - inner “demons,” so to speak - striving to become outer reality.

-Deep roles parallel central characters commonly found in fairy tales.

-Those who are attributed deep roles in their organization will radiate a similar symbolic power as characters in fairy tales and mythology.

-Of course, there is no "real" deep roles in groups (no real Witch, Messiah etc.) - although history has proven that people behave toward others as if deep roles were real. Deep roles are real only in their consequences.

-Deep roles are social constructions, stemming from a template of universal role-archetypes, which purpose is to inform perceptions of others, diminishing confusion and anxiety.

-The Deep Role Model elucidates a long-wanted dynamic theory behind the Big Five personality model (also called the five-factor model). Why five factors? Why these five? The deep role theory suggests that the Big Five factors have their root source in the roles of the essential family - father, mother, brother, sister and a wise elderly.


In the beginning there was the family and there was splitting

Since the early days of  social psychology, the family has been seen as the first and original organization (William McDougall, 1908). Its psychobiological nature can be recognized through its never-changing goal (survival), its everlasting role structure (mother, father, and child) and its prevalence in other mammals. My purpose here is to substantiate that these psychobiological family roles in a fundamental sense influence our interpersonal perceptions, and that they are implicit in mainstream models of agreed-upon personality traits and personality disorders. 

I contend, first, that the family is an ancient organizational coping device, an organizational defense mechanism for safety and survival. I contend, secondly, that the individual coping device of splitting and projection (Melanie Klein/W. Fairbairn/Otto Kernberg) stands a good chance of being agreed upon by depth-oriented clinical psychologists as the most fundamental individual defense mechanism. From an early onset in the newborn, it creates a social environment inhabited by good and bad objects – and continues to do so in adult life. Now, when combining these two fundamental and early developmental psychobiological landmarks – the roles of the essential family and the defense mechanism of splitting and projection – and adding two more ancient role ideations that ethologists have shown to be related to the survival of primates, namely good helpers (reciprocal altruism) and the roles of winner and loser (Smuts et al., 1986), we can present a mental matrix of mind and organization (Figure 1): 

What are deep roles?What are deep roles?

Deep roles are creations of the collective mind. They are prototypical illusions (stereotypical fantasies) of primordial origin that are projected onto persons and objects. They are archetypes of interpersonal perception that strive to be reified (incarnated) in organizations. People are not necessarily as we see them, but organizational members need containers for their archetypal fantasies. Some people thus become "sucked" into deep-roles. The 14 prototypes in the Mental Matrix in Figure 1 can be observed in many cultural artifacts, from  daily newspapers, soap operas and world mythologies to families, teams, corporations, and society.

Do deep roles underpin the Big Five personality model?

I will maintain that today's much agreed-upon model in personality psychology, the Big Five, can be traced back to prototypes in the Mental Matrix. Consider the comparisons in Figure 2. Here two well-known interpretations of the Big Five are contrasted with the first five roles in the unsplit mental matrix – father, mother, son, daughter, and their wise helper. As we can see, the Big Five can quite easily be interpreted as old-fashioned family roles. Roughly stated; the Big Five personality factors can be seen as internalized family role-stereotypes.

Moreover, when studying lists of markers for the Big Five factors, it's easy to interpret such markers as picturing core family roles. Look for instance at John's (1990) list of empirically derived markers in Figure 3. His adjectives are here listed in descending order following their factor loadings on each of the Big Five factors. Intuitively, it seems that the markers are excellent descriptors of core family role-prototypes and their good helper.

Are Personality Disorders underpinned by deep roles?

The Big Five factors have much in common with categories of personality disorder (see e.g. Schroeder et al., 1992). It is tempting to speculate if psychiatry's consensual classification of personality disorders might have some basis in deep-role stereotypes. In Figure 4, the universe of Personality Disorders are allocated the Mental Matrix on a "best fit" basis. Results suggest that categories of personality disorders may be underpinned by deep role fantasies. 


What´s next: The Big Seven?

Fairy tales are a kind of cultural DNA – a program that governs the way we see "reality" and behave. Bottigheimer (1987) found 5 role-prototypes in the Brothers Grimm's tales. Propp (1928) found 7 role-prototypes in the more elaborated Russian fairy tales. The Big Five has become the consensual prototypes of personality traits. I would suggest concentrating on finding markers for a Big Seven model (4 plus 3). Following the hero-fairy tale research of Propp, 7 dimensions are probably the maximum number of personality dimensions it will be possible to agree upon in trait psychology in the near future.


The Big Five factors probably reflect the first five prototypical roles in the unsplit Mental Matrix: I Father, II Mother, III Son, IV Daughter, and V Wiseman. This suggestion answers the "whys" of the Big Five (why 5?" why these 5?) and "solves" the naming dispute.

It is also suggested that the Personality Disorders found in mainstream psychiatric diagnostic manuals are related to specific prototypes in the Deep Role Model. This implies that classification of personality disorders may have its primal source in collective archetypal role-fantasies.

So, the Deep Role Model gives both the Big Five and the Personality Disorders typologies a theoretical explanation, unites personology with evolutionary psychology, and bridges factor-analyses with folk psychology (as in fairy tales). In short: The Big Five personality factors are isomorphic with figures in the core family. Likewise, the classification of Personality Disorders might be rooted in deep roles. 



Bottigheimer, R. B. 1987 Grimms' Bad Girls & Bold Boys. London: Yale University Press. 


John, O. P. 1990 The "Big Five" taxonomy. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.): Handbook of personality. Theory and research. New York: Guilford Press. 

McDougall, W. 1908 Social Psychology. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 

Moxnes, P. 1987 Deep roles: An archetypal model of organizational roles. Paper presented at The 3rd Conference on Organizational Symbolism and Corporate Culture, Milan, Italy


Peabody, D. & Goldberg, L. R. 1989 Some determinants of factor structures from personality-trait descriptors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,57, 552-567. 



Propp, V. 1968 Morphology of the Folktale. 2.ed. Austin: University of Texas Press (orig.ed., 1928). 



Schroeder, M. L. et al. 1992 Dimensions of Personality Disorder and their relationships to the Big Five Dimensions of Personality. Psychological Assessment, 4, 47-53.


Smuts, B. et al. (eds.) 1986 Primate Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Some scholarly papers on  deep roles in English

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