A BIT OF POP PSYCHOLOGY

Updated: May 23

WHAT ONLINE PERSONALITY TESTS CAN AND CAN'T TELL YOU.



There are numerous personality tests available to us via the internet these days. None of them will determine who you are, what you want, or what you should be doing with your life. They can be a start though, and help us begin to better understand and analyze ourselves. If you’re a naturally indecisive person and often have anxiety about the future, a personality test can be a comfortable beginning to further self-exploration. If you’re someone who thinks quite highly of your abilities but doesn’t take well to criticism, you might have low self-awareness. A personality test can help give you some perspective. In fact, most people are terrible at assessing themselves. Whether you want to make meaningful change, or just procrastinate from doing work for a while, a personality test can be fun. Just be careful not to take the results too much to heart.


FUN AND GAMES

Most online personality tests find their results through correlation. They ask people a series of questions and use those answers to correlate an idea of their personality, or skill, or intelligence, or whatever. This is where most personality tests really falter, as correlation is basically just an opinion with no scientific basis. Just because you rated yourself high in confidence doesn’t mean you would be a good boxer. That’s a huge cognitive leap that cannot be justified. Many tests ask weird questions to try and mask their “complex measurement process.” Questions like “what’s your favorite color?” Which photo looks amazing to you?” “Do you identify with snakes?” are a good sign that a test is bogus. That said, oddball tests don’t generally take themselves very seriously. There isn’t too much worry that someone is going to base their careers on the results of the Pottermore Sorting Hat Test or the Spirit Animal Quiz. Tests like these, and even ones that promise deeper revelations, are often just fun and games. Feel free to take as many of those tests as you like.


A GRAIN OF SALT

Then there are tests that are taken more seriously. The Meyers-Briggs of the world. The problem is that even tests like Meyers-Briggs that ask more normal questions, and present as much more professional and factual, make correlated leaps in reasoning. In fact, they aren’t so different from the Sorting Hat Test and aren’t much more accurate either. This includes any test based off the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator including 16 Personalities, Human Metric, and Personality Perfect. These tests, as well as tests based on the Disc Assessment, and the Predictive Index, are often used to match you to your perfect career path. This is where people get into trouble.


The issue with these personality tests is that the results are taken at face value, even by major corporations and businesses. The value of these test results are over-exaggerated and they should not be used to determine if freelancers are a good fit. The biggest issue with valuing the results of these test too highly is that they’re very definitive. They sort us into “types,” each of which has supposed predispositions for certain careers. But people’s “type,” changes on a daily basis. Try this yourself. Take a Meyers-Briggs test once a day for a week and you’re bound to get 7 different results. Plus, judging potential workers on this basis implies that people aren’t able to grow and change. They’re stuck with their type forever. While it may feel good to be given such clear and definitive results, it simply isn’t accurate to human behavior.


THE TESTS TO TAKE

Despite the many many issues with personality tests, there are some that researchers in the world of psychology feel more comfortable using. These include the Big 5 Personality Traits, the HEXACO Model, and questionnaires from the Authentic Happiness Center at UPenn. These tests were created through years of empirical data and study. The main difference in the results of these tests is that they don’t make correlations or irrational leaps, so the results aren’t nearly as revelatory. This can be disappointing as many people take personality tests in order to get some big conclusion about the way they should be living their lives. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic. The more empirically scientific tests tend to give you back the exact information you put in, just rearranged in a way that could give you some insight into yourself. This can still be useful, especially if used as a comparative tool. Some tests allow you to see your scores compared with others who’ve taken the same test. If you rank very high in empathy for example, that could be very telling, but you won’t get any big career suggestions from taking tests like these.


There’s no arguing that personality tests aren't fun, and by no means should you stop yourself from taking any of them. It’s just important to keep in mind their purpose and validity. Far too many oversell their accuracy and importance far too much. There are also plenty of other ways to get to know yourself better. Understandably though, there are times when you want a perspective that doesn’t come from you or someone you know. So take a test; but remember, that at the end of the day, personality isn’t all that mysterious.