Personality Tests Are Flawed: Here’s What You Really Need to Know
Personality tests have been out there for a long time now, and they’re mainly used to determine a person’s traits and maybe even predict their behavior in certain situations.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of these kinds of tests circulating around the Internet and they have a wide range and variety of questions, and they all claim they can tell you more about yourself.
Some tests can determine what kind of sandwich you are, or what flavor of Starbucks coffee suits your personality the best and these tests are fun, but clearly, they’re just for laughs and aren’t to be taken seriously.
Other, more serious tests are believed to actually be able to determine your personality and are very popular.
But are these tests as accurate as people believe them to be and can you really measure someone’s personality by taking a quiz?
WHY IS PERSONALITY SO IMPORTANT?
We as humans tend to label things and people in order to put them into specific categories, and this is natural for us as we don’t like when we don’t understand something because it brings confusion and sometimes fears into our minds.
And we label other people for a bunch of different reasons, some of them being:
- We usually like to be friends with people who we have something in common and share similar interests.
- We don’t like the people we can’t figure out what they’re like because it’s a strain to always be at the tip of your toes around someone when you don’t know how they’ll react in certain situations.
- Whether we like it or not, but we’re constantly mirroring people who are either more successful than us or have achieved great things, and we think that if we have similar traits as them, that we’ll become successful too.
- The ambiguity is what invokes fear in our mind, and when we can’t understand someone or something, we try to stay away from all of that.
All of these reasons why we put labels on people are quite natural, and it’s easy to categorize others.
But when it comes to our own personality and traits, we aren’t so eager to jump into conclusions that fast.
This is why personality tests may be useful, but as you’ll see, they may be not what you’re looking for if you really want to know a thing or two about yourself.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PERSONALITY STUDIES
Since the beginning of early human era, great philosophers such as Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle displayed through their work what could be considered some of the first classifications of humans by types and categories.
For example, if we take a look at Plato, in his book “Republic”, in there, we can find a story of the Phoenician lie which suggests that some people are made out of gold and silver while others are made from brass making some people more “worthy” than others.
Hippocrates, on the other hand, developed the “Four Temperaments” in his medical theory and categorized people into four types:
- Sanguine – Talkative, enthusiastic, active and social, associated with risk-taking behavior.
- Choleric – Extroverted, independent, decisive, and goal-oriented, associated with dominant and short-tempered behavior.
- Melancholic – Detail-oriented, deep thinking, emotional and self-reliant, associated with striving for perfection.
- Phlegmatic – Relaxed, peaceful, quiet and easy going, associated with problem-solving and making compromises.
There are also many different traces throughout the history of personality studies in Chinese and Hindu medicine, which was based on explaining different traits of human behavior and did actually influence some psychologists later in modern times.
And of course, we have the zodiac which was debunked by a 1958 medical study in London called “The Time Twins” and, according to Washington Times, was an experiment involving 2000 babies born on the same date and roughly the same time which was monitored for decades.
The research looked at things such as anxiety, IQ, sociability, and so on. What happened was that everyone ended up growing into their unique personality, meaning zodiac signs aren’t a great indicator of your personality.
There was a boom in the psychology of personality at the beginning of the 20th century, and there were many theoreticians which paved the way for the modern understanding of the human personality. Some of the most famous are:
- Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) – The pioneer of psychoanalysis thought that our personality could be discovered through the examination of our sub-consciousness.
- Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) – He presented the introverted and extraverted type in analytical psychology.
- Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970) – Developed the “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” in 1943.
- Alfred Adler (1870 -1937) – The term “style of life” was first used in Adler’s works which described the dynamics of personality.
THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY TESTS
No one knows for certain when personality tests became so widespread and popular but one thing is for certain and it is the fact that nowadays there are hundreds of different personality tests all over the Internet, in magazines and so on.
The first personality tests were carried out by psychologists with their patients, but those tests were done behind closed doors and more often than not were used to determine if you had a mental illness or not.
It’s also known that personality tests were used in the army prior to WW1 in order to assess soldiers into the military which is still practiced today not only for the army but also various special forces and police departments.
But the first questionnaire typed personality tests were actually printed in women’s magazines somewhere around the 1950s, and they had to do with marriage and being a good wife because at that time women weren’t allowed in the workforce, so they had to have something to do outside the home which made them feel alive.
There may be a surprise that the most popular test was actually developed by two women, which we’ll talk about right away.
MYERS-BRIGGS TEST AND IT’S FLAWS
Certainly, the most popular and widespread personality test is the Myers-Briggs Traits Indicator or MBTI for short, which is believed to be able to accurately measure your personality by putting you into different categories.
It was developed by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1940s and was based on Carl Jung’s typology theories.
The difference was that Jung’s theories weren’t conducted in controlled scientific studies but rather in clinical observation and introspection.
The test became so popular that for many years it was considered to be so accurate that it could even tell what kind of a career a person might be most suitable for and so on.
How the MBTI test works is it assess the person taking the test by answering questions based on 4 different traits and their counterparts which gives a total of 8 traits and, when combined make up 16 different types of personality.
There’s also one extra trait – Identity, which underpins all the traits and shows how confident you are at making decisions.
These traits measure if you:
- Are introverted, meaning you’re more focused on yourself, or extroverted, meaning you’re more focused on the outside world.
- Are more likely to trust your senses or your intuition or gut feeling.
- Approach the world by thinking, meaning logical reasoning, or by feeling, meaning you’re more subjective.
- Are judging, meaning you come to conclusions about things, or perceiving, meaning that you’re open to new information.
- Are assertive, meaning you know what you want, or turbulent, meaning you “go with the flow”. These types are shown by the Identity
When you finish the test and combine your traits, you’ll get a 4 letter type and one extra letter linked to the Identity trait.
For the purpose of this article, I did the test myself on 16personalities.com and got the letters INTJ-A, meaning I’m an introvert, intuitive, thinking, judging, and assertive.
If you’re interested in taking this test, feel free to do so, but take it with a grain of salt and we’ll explain why.
As it turns out, this test isn’t really that great at measuring your personality for many reasons and most of them being that the methodology with which the test determines your traits isn’t the same methodology which is used today.
To further explain this point, we’ll have to take a look at how modern psychologists. Psychologists want their measurements to be reliable, and there are two types of reliability:
- Retest reliability – meaning that if you give people the same test over time, you’ll get similar results.
- Internal consistency reliability – meaning psychologists are measuring one trait at a time.
Psychologists also measure validity, meaning that the results should have something to do with real life and actually predict a person’s behavior.
Guess which test doesn’t properly assess these two principles.
Myer-Gibbs doesn’t follow any real scientific research but rather labels people into certain groups which doesn’t really help you understand much about yourself or others.
According to Business Insider, a research done by Roman Krznaric, if you take the Myer-Briggs test in a five-week gap, there is a 50% chance you’ll end up with different results opposed to your initial results.
However, to be completely honest, a good characteristic of the Myer-Briggs test is that it uses a numeric score, meaning that, for example, it shows that you’re 56% introverted and not completely an introvert, so we have to give it some credits after all.
So, as it turns out, the most popular personality test has major flaws, but where does that leave other similar personality tests, or do you even need personality tests to understand things about yourself and others.
THE BIG FIVE
The second most popular personality test out there is “The Big Five” or the five-factor model, FFM for short, and was developed by a group of psychologists back in the 1980s.
This test was based on Hippocrates’s four temperaments we talked about earlier and was made for the purpose of assessing five major personality traits:
- Openness to experience –This is made to measure whether you’re inventive (curious) or consistent (cautious).
- Conscientiousness – This shows if you’re efficient (organized) or easy-going (careless).
- Extraversion – It serves to show if you’re more outgoing (energetic) or solitary (reserved).
- Agreeableness – Shows if you’re friendly (compassionate) or challenging (detached).
- Neuroticism – Shows if you’re more sensitive (nervous) or secure (confident).
You can memorize these traits in an acronym – OCEAN or CANOE. Whichever floats your boat (get it? boat, canoe, no? okay).
All jokes aside, this test really does show better results of your personality than the Myer-Briggs one, and it’s not only because it uses numeric measurements, but also because it can predict your behavior better than MBTI.
The test itself consists of hundreds of different questions which you answer in the range from “Inaccurate”, “Neutral” and “Accurate”.
Once you’re done, you’ll get to see your results in the percentage of each category, and you’ll be able to read what each trait means.
As with the MBTI test, I’ve also taken this one on Truity.com, and I’m happy to share my results with you. I’ve got 90% on Openness, 73% on Conscientiousness, 56% on Extraversion, 33% on Agreeableness and 67% on Neuroticism.
Quite frankly, I’m not that disappointed with the results, but I must say that the questions I had to answer didn’t feel as they could dwell deep into my personality and actually predict my behavior.
I did the test again, and it showed not the same but similar results so we could say that it is somewhat useful to get some insight, but you can’t by any means get a real picture of who you actually are.
All in all, if you’re curious enough to try this test feel free to do so, but as with the Myer-Briggs one, it won’t really predict your future let alone tell you if you have the traits needed to be the next millionaire.
THE REASON THESE TESTS FAIL
First, f you think of it this way, all these tests are giving you are some hints of the traits you might have, but your traits can’t be measured by answering some random set of questions in order to get some numeric results.
To really get a scientific insight on your whole personality, you would need to be monitored by a psychologist since the day you were born, and that’s not only unpractical but also impossible.
Because even if that was to happen, the constant monitoring of a psychologist will surely have an influence on your personality in one way or another, mainly because our mind is susceptible to social interference.
Another reason these tests fail is that you can never be completely objective about yourself, and you’ll always answer the questions on the test in accordance with how you now think about yourself.
Third and this is the most compelling reason if you ask me, is that people change and the person you are now and your traits might alter significantly in the future.
Same goes for the person you were in the past because you don’t have the same interests and traits as you do now.
I think it is clear now why personality tests aren’t as accurate as they pretend to be, but one question remains, and that is –are they even useful?
DO WE EVEN NEED PERSONALITY TESTS?
We could go on and on about many different personality tests out there, and we’ve explained the two most common ones used by millions of people, and there is so many more test which really dwells deep into your personality, but the truth is rather disappointing.
You see, personality tests are created by psychologists who do research and studies on the human mind and our behavior, but there’s yet to be a psychology theory which can accurately measure someone’s traits and predict whether they’ll stay the way they are or completely change their personality altogether.
There have been countless factors included, such as social influence, financial status, religion, culture, marital status, whether you’re a single child or have siblings, the list goes on and on, yet to no avail.
And this has nothing to do with psychologists.
They’re doing their best to conduct experiments and observe the human mind based on a scientific study and I salute them for that, but in the end, humans are so unpredictable that it will take time to really get an accurate answer to the question – What is the “self”.
If you think of it this way, who could better determine who you are than you, yourself? And once this question is asked, another one pops-up right away – do we even need personality tests?
Well, I’d hate to break it to you, but it shows that they’re just a waste of time.
Instead of spending your time on these tests, you could actually be doing the things you want and like to do, the things that really define who you are.
Because the answers you’re looking for are the same answers many philosophers, poets, musicians, artists, sociologists and of course psychologists are looking for as well.
The question still remains – Who are we?
CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT MY PERSONALITY BY MYSELF?
Back in my first semester of the first year in college, I had the Introduction to psychology as a subject and although much of the things we’ve learned on that course I forgot, mainly because I’m not interested in psychology that much, is that there is a thing called introspection.
I’ve heard about introspection a while back, but never really researched it until I studied for my exam, which was, ironically enough, mainly oriented on the theories of personality.
Right there and then I discovered something which we all do for the time to time, and that is self-reflection.
Have you ever sat down on your bed or looked through the window and started to think really deeply about how your life’s been going?
If you’ve answered yes, it’s a relief for me to know I’m not the only “crazy person” who does that, and also it shows that people conduct introspection on themselves at one point or another in their lives.
The origins of introspection theory can be traced back to Wilhelm Wundt, and he gave specific instructions on how to properly self-reflect such as:
- You must be aware and prepare yourself for the process of introspection.
- You must hold attention and concentration once you start self-reflecting.
- You should be capable of repeating the self-reflection under the same conditions.
- You must understand the circumstances of your state while you’re self-reflecting and grade them by strength and quality.
As you can see, these instructions feel a little rough and hard to follow, and this is mainly because Wundt wanted to make a synthesis of the conscious experiences a person who is self-reflecting could feel.
Opposed to Wundt’s theory, Edward Titchener, who was his student, expanded the main idea of introspection and actually brought lot’s of Wundt’s ideas to America.
What Titchener had in mind was that instead of self-reflecting on our whole life basically, we should focus on the individual components that make up our conscious experiences.
What all this means is that self-reflection is a real thing and we can use it to find out more about ourselves, so instead of answering the questions on a personality test, we should try and ask ourselves the questions we want to answer.
There is no personality test which will give you an answer of who you are, they can just tell you a little bit about your traits but not how you’ll act in certain situations because that all depends from case to case.
We had to give you the ugly truth about personality tests, but we hope that you’ve learned a thing or two about personality and why it’s hard to answer difficult questions about such a broad part of human life.
Also, we don’t want to discourage you from taking the tests anyway because they can be fun, but you should take them with a grain of salt and not waste so much time in figuring out their meaning.
Maybe in the future, there will be personality tests which can answer all the questions you’ve had about yourself and life in general, but for now, it seems that the best personality test is already in your head, and as life passes you’ll be able to answer most of the questions.
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