Print Edition - 2018-09-26  |  The Guardian

What do personality tests really tell you?

  • Personality tests are all the rage. Yet, we don’t really do them to find out the truth

Sep 26, 2018-

Iwas once forced to take a personality test by a boss who had read that they were a valuable source of managerial insight, or some such nonsense. Weirdly, it didn’t go well. After wasting my time answering multiple-choice questions such as, “Do you hate wasting your time?”, I received a laminated report informing me: “You rarely see the need to be modest about your own achievements and have a high opinion of your own abilities.” Which is ridiculous because I am the most modest person I know. And I know a lot of people.

Anyway, my former employer isn’t the only one with a misguided passion for personality tests. Despite there being no scientific evidence to back them up (many scientists consider them to be the business-bro equivalent of

horoscopes), personality tests are all the rage in the corporate world, where they are used as a guide in hiring or assembling more effective teams.

The gold standard of personality tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI), which divides people into 16 types, depending on their self-reported preferences for things such as extroversion or introversion. The MBTI has been around since the 1960s, and an estimated two million people take it every year, a lot of whom seem to be management consultants; the test reportedly exerts considerable influence at McKinsey. I know, it is hard to believe that management consultants would be enamoured of pseudo-scientific BS, but there you go.

Apologies for the snark. I’m an Aries; I can’t help it—it takes us a while to get to the point. If you’re an ENFP (outgoing and creative) on the MBTI, you will be glad to know that I have now reached my point—which is that time may finally be up for Myers-Briggs. Researchers at Northwestern University have just published what they believe to be the first scientifically sound approach to personality classification. “Personality types only existed in self-help literature and did not have a place in scientific journals,” one of the researchers announced. “This will change because of this study.”

What makes this new study so great, apparently, is the volume of data; the researchers analysed questionnaires from more than 1.5 million people. They then ran algorithms and produced lots of graphs. From this they concluded that there are four main personality types: you’re either a Samantha, a Carrie, a Miranda, or a Charlotte. Just kidding! Sorry, couldn’t help my inner Miranda coming out. No, according to this very serious study, your personality is either: Average, Reserved, Self-Centred, or a Role Model. Apparently “young males are overrepresented in the Self-Centred group, while females over 15 years old are vastly underrepresented”.

Meanwhile, the most common personality type is Average, which is defined as being “high in neuroticism and extroversion, while low in openness”. In conclusion: most of us are pretty terrible people. I’m not sure the researchers had to do a study to find that out, they could have just looked at Twitter.

I don’t want to tell these academics how to do their job, but they have completely misunderstood the point of personality tests. Nobody cares if a personality test is scientific or not. We love them because they cater to our narcissism and our need to belong; they make us feel normal and special at the same time. No one wants to spend 15 minutes answering questions only to find out they are Average. Or is that Self-Centred?

Published: 26-09-2018 08:05

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