why do we love personality quizzes?

I’ve spent a fair amount of my time doing online personality tests. If I could somehow calculate how many hours in total, I’m sure I wouldn’t actually want to know. From Myers-Briggs (I’m INFJ) to Buzzfeed’s “Which Character From The Office Are You?” (I somehow always get Toby, no matter how many times I retake the quiz.) Lots of people searching for a sense of identity find validation in the concrete answers a quiz can give.

The first recorded test that promised to give you an insight into your personality was phrenology. This test stated that your skull shape represented different aspects of your traits and abilities. A reading would include referencing the bumps on your skull and their location to a chart (pictured above) to let you know who you are. As ridiculous as this may sound now, when it first became popular in the 1800’s, people were grabbing at a chance for some tangible proof of who they are.

Since it’s impossible to judge personality through physical proof, this can leave all sorts of empty feelings looking to be filled by concrete answers many tests claim to have. Personality tests did not begin with the intention of being consumed by the masses, they were developed by psychologists for diagnostic purposes. Since then, they’ve spread out into all different areas. They are used in job applications and organizations to weed through employees, or divide them into groups to “increase productivity”, sometimes giving certain tasks to people based on their answers to questions on one specific day, whenever the test was taken. There are books which advocate for raising your child by personality type, which they claim can be determined as early as three years old, and will remain unchanging. The results of personality tests are also used in courts of law by prosecutors to prove their case, from anything to custody battles or death row.

The issue with using personality tests to influence decision is that to date, no personality tests have been proven to always be 100% correct. And of course, your answers are going to vary by day. If you take the Myers-Brigg test, popularized for its only positive results, and you take it again five weeks later, you are 50% likely to get a different result. That’s a huge margin of error. If you’re taking it online to add to your tinder profile, it doesn’t have many adverse effects (other than the fact that you’re putting your Myers-Brigg type on your tinder profile). The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (which you can take here, I did while writing this and ate an entire tub of ice cream in the process)  on the other hand, is most common in courts and involves answering 567 true or false statements, ranging from “I am very seldom bothered by constipation” to “My mother is a good woman, or (if your mother is dead) my mother was a good woman”. Even though most advocates for these tests would claim personality is unchanging and each answer would remain the same throughout life. depending on the day, any person would react to these questions differently. Daily circumstances are not something which should influence long-term decisions if avoidable, which makes allegations of personality test results being accurate without the scientific evidence to back them up completely so dangerous.

Annie Murphy Paul paraphrases the words of psychologist Walter Mischel in her book The Cult of Personality, stating that “In life, our actions are driven not only by our personalities, but by the situations in which we find ourselves. We adjust our behaviour according to our role (worker, parent, friend), to the occasion (a meeting, a family outing, a party), and to a thousand other details of our ever-changing environment.” Humanity is not something than can be tested and put into categories. No one could ever have the exact same entire life experience, meaning there are really infinite categories. This thought can be isolating, especially when trying to find your place in the world, but it can also be liberating. Validation and a solid sense of self are a key component to strong mental health. I’m not saying you should stop taking online quizzes. They’re fun, and can help you learn about yourself. What i’m saying is don’t limit yourself. Identity should be found through inner exploration. If the MBTI says you’re introverted, it shouldn’t stop you from going out, or stop you from doing things you enjoy. Don’t limit yourself to a category. (Especially if that category keeps telling you you’re like Toby from The Office.) ✉

article by: ellen grace

visual by: ellen grace



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