Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Personality tests

Every few months, a conversation about the Meyers-Briggs personality text pops up on social media somewhere.

Now, my dad used to be a consultant in the Human Resources field. He would be brought in to speak to companies, to analyze problems between co-workers/teams, etc at both small and large companies, and things like the 2010 Olympics bid discussions.

Often he would bring home work-related research, including tools like personality tests, and because it was fun, I played along. So, I've taken all the major personality tests, including the MB one. I think I first took the MB one when I was in grade 4 or 5.

They're interesting, but I don't necessarily *believe* in them. To me, they're slightly more scientific than astrology charts, and if you look up your astrological sign, I'm sure there are going to be some aspects where you go, "Amazing! This is just like me!"

...but the thing is, if you read up on the other signs, you're just as likely to find qualities/similarities that also fit you. They're so vague, you can always find something that 'fits' with your self-image.

And personality tests aren't a heck of a lot better.

A big problem is the way questions in personality tests are worded. They're vague, and often you're choosing an answer you really don't necessarily agree with because there's no option to leave it blank.

For example, I thought it would be fun to take the 1st personality test ever:

Galen, who lived in 129-201 AD is thought to have created the first personality test, based on the four humours.

Of course there's no way to get the actual original questions, but to get close, I Googled 'Four Humours Personality Quiz', took 4 different tests, and ended up with these results:

Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and the last one was almost a perfect split between Phlegmatic, Choleric & Melancholic.

And I'm going to use one of the quizzes, this one (because at the end, it tells you which answer you gave falls into which personality category), to illustrate how the wording of a question can/could easily skew the answer.

The options for question #7 under Strengths are:

Planner - One who prefers to work out a detailed arrangement beforehand, for the accomplishment of a project or goal. This person much prefers involvement with the planning stages and the finished product rather than the carrying out of the task.

Patient - One who is unmoved by delay - calm and tolerant.

Positive - Characterized by certainty and assurance.

Promoter - One who can compel others to go along, join, or invest through the sheer charm of his/her own.

And, honestly, I could check every single one of these because, depending on the situation, I could see myself choosing each of these possibilities.

In the case of this quiz, you'll notice each option begins with the same letter... a cute device, but it clearly skews/limits the choices by adhering to this pattern.

On the other end of the spectrum, the options for question #35 under Weaknesses are:

Messy - This person is messy because it isn't fun to discipline him/herself to clean. The mess is hardly noticed. There is another personality that gets messy when depressed, and yet another that is messy because it takes too much energy to do the cleaning. Be sure you are the first one mentioned if you check this word.

Moody - One easily slips into moods. This person doesn't get very high emotionally, but does experience very low lows.

Mumbles - This person may mumble quietly under the breath when pushed. This is a passive display of anger.

Manipulative - One who influences or manages shrewdly or deviously for one's own advantage. One who will find a way to get his/her own way.

And this was a question where I did not want to check any option, as I don't think any of these apply to me. Also, due to ensuring all choices start with the letter 'M', they don't even relate to each other, so it's pretty meaningless to choose between them. If all the options related to the cleanliness of your room, that would be consistent, which would make your answer actually worth something. Comparing apples to peaches gets you nowhere.

While the Meyers-Briggs test is better about comparing apples to apples, there are still many questions on the test where I can potentially see choosing several of the options, depending on the situation, especially since it relies on a sliding scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Seriously, how can you logically separate 'disagree' from 'slightly disagree'?

For example:

You often get so lost in thoughts that you ignore or forget your surroundings.

Well, it thoroughly depends on the situation. Even if I narrow all the possibilities down to a single activity: swimming. Well, it depends if I'm swimming at the lake, if there are boats around, or if I'm at the pool whether I'm sharing a lane, swimming alone, have only a little time or have all day, etc. There are a ton of factors that will ultimately change whether my focus is narrow or wide.

So, while astrology and personality quizzes are interesting, I also don't think they're worth much, other than, possibly, a clever tool to entice someone to do a little bit of self reflection/self-analysis.

But that's not exactly something I need encouragement/enticement for, since I am prone to over-analysis.

Now, HOPEFULLY you're going to get a good laugh at this next part...

The fact that I'm deconstructing personality quizzes into what works, what doesn't, and 'why', is pretty classic for the Meyers-Briggs INTJ personality type, which is what I've 'scored' ever since I took the very first test as a kid. It's also classic for a Virgo, which is my astrological sign, and Earth Sheep from Chinese astrology. In Numerology, my Personality Number is 1 (based off your name), which again, lists qualities like level-headed, analytical, confident, etc.

...but that's just me pulling common elements together. There's an equal portion of 'traits' within these that don't apply at all :)

All-in-all, personality tests are a bit of fun, and an excellent time-waster. Don't ask how long it took me to search out all these different quizzes, take them, etc, because, y'know, I never want to half-ass something, even when it's analyzing something I don't believe in... like personality tests & astrology.

...sigh, yes. INTJ.

Hopefully my dyslexia and high emotional intelligence balance me out a little ;)

So, what do you think of personality tests, numerology, astrology, tarot, etc?

Personally, I'm a little curious if there's any correlation between personality types and genre of writing...? I'm guessing 'No', but it would be a fun poll to waste a little time ;)


  1. I find them hella hokey myself. I do, however, have over 2 shelves of information on superstitions and astrology (and other like-minded subjects) as a hopeful guilt-induction into eventually writing a novel set in a world where astrology works. As detractors point out, if astrology worked it would be used in court cases. If most psychics were as psychic as they claim, vegas would outlaw them. So a world in which those are real would be fun to make ... though the level of research is rather absurd, so it keeps nagging at me and I keep retreating from it :)

    1. Heh, I like how you latched onto my use of the work 'believe' :)

      You know I'm... Perhaps TOO interested in different systems of belief, and I didn't want to turn it into a philosophical discussion of reality & perception, but like with anything, we humans have a desire for order... So it's natural to try to draw similarities & try to classify dissimilar things into systems that make sense...

      We want order rather than chaos.

      So the fun is in deconstructing the order we have built, things we accept as 'true'.

      ...or maybe that's only me and I need to get a better/less annoying hobby

    2. Yeah. I get the desire (everyone does it) and it does make it harder to understand the sheer POWER such systems have at their height. I have one book The Fated Sky about astrology and history: a king once had to have his birth-chart made public because everyone believed he was going to die on a specific date. All our systems tend to be about trying to make sense of the universe -- and offering explanations of how to keep on going when everything goes pear-shaped. And some do aspects of those far better than others do.

    3. Hmmm, the true 'scary' power is that we naturally accept systems of belief without analyzing/deconstructing them because, if we are raised within them, they are our 'normal', and we tend to reject anything outside of our normal.

      I know there are arguments about instinct/self-preservation about automatically grouping together with others 'like' ourselves helped/helps keep us alive...

      And again, I'm not saying it's a 'bad' thing, because it's something we do without thinking... but since we do have the ability to think, shouldn't we spend some time analyzing our 'normal' and figuring out whether it's a valid base to stand on?

      One thing I truly admire about the scientific process is that a theory is put out by someone, and instead of trying to prove that theory true, everyone tries their hardest to prove it untrue.

      ...so rather than fitting together dissimilar pieces to create a 'truth', it's tearing holes in what we 'know'. Because it's too seductive to collect facts that support a system of order we want to be true... like looking at an astrology chart and only seeing what applies to you, and ignoring what doesn't.

      BUT, I would also be a hypocrite if I didn't point out things that DID apply.

      (which is why I had to note what INTJ traits I 'prove' to apply to myself by fact that I was disassembling personality quizzes...)

      A lot of people do believe in astrology/etc, and just because I don't see enough evidence to make me believe, doesn't mean I'm right in my opinion.


      ...but that tidbit about the king and his birth-chart sounds like an awesome idea to base a story on ;)

    4. True :) There was a thing involving creationists recently and Bill Nye on what would make them change their beliefs. The creationist said, "Nothing", Nye went with, "Evidence" ... but there are systems for which there IS no evidence. (Like how every test that tried to prove ESP didn't exist worked. So has everyone that proves it does. Generally speaking.) It does make for an interesting flaw in the scientific hypothesis -- and the quest for evidence/fact above all else is easy to take to extremes.

      Damn it. This is making me want to do some far-future story where people treat that belief system with the same disdain it can sometimes treat others, like people who say science and religion can't coexist together. Hmmm. It would be fun to do, but I tend not to like to do stories that set out to Have A Message.

    5. And I suppose that's the major difference:

      In your example, Bill Nye is OPEN to the possibility of being wrong, and would accept new information, while the creationist is NOT OPEN and would reject new information.

      I don't mind being wrong... in fact, I really like people who have different opinions/beliefs than mine, because it's way more interesting to get another perspective.

      ...but both types are fun to write :) Actually, I think I tend to write characters who are arrogant and firmly believe their world view is correct.

      And yes, there is no evidence for ESP, but there's also no confirmed 'evidence' on how gravity works... who knows if we are using the right tests? Which is why the notion of trying to continually prove a theory wrong is interesting... because you're not supposed to just give up after the first test... you're supposed to keep coming at it from different angles.

      There was a great 'Dilbert' comic about the ESP test, involving using a metal detector to search for unicorns in a sock drawer ;p

      Watched a great documentary series on the universe, and another interesting topic of debate is whether the universe was formed because of a black hole.

      Science can be as much a belief structure as a religion... in the way that someone people say, 'science has proved that ESP doesn't exist'. Or they used to claim that the earth was flat. 'Science' once proved that caucasian people were superior to the races, or that Neanderthals were brainless sub-humans who lost the 'survival of the fittest' race...

      It all depends on whether you're collecting 'facts' that support a theory you WANT to prove true... or if you are collecting facts and THEN creating a theory after you have gathered them all.

      (such interesting research going on about Neanderthals breeding with homo-sapiens, eh? Can't wait until they map the complete genome to see how widespread it was.)

      Hahaha, when would I EVER want to read a story that Has A Message? I'm just meaning it's an interesting belief structure to base a society on ;) Could even work in a sci-fi futuristic society, if your future was mapped out and your death/etc was public knowledge. Ah, sort of along the lines of the Gattaca movie (1997), I suppose :)

    6. Heres' the Dilbert comic:


    7. Hah! Great comic. And yeah, the fact./theory stuff is always interesting.

      hell, the current (as of a few years ago) theory of gravity is that gravity doesn't originate in this dimension, and possibly not even in this universe, which explains why (relative to the other cardinal forces) it is weak, since it passes through several dimensional membranes in reaching this universe/dimension. People trying to figure all that out are pretty much hoping a quantum theory of gravity explains it all. Somehow :)

      As for universe, yup. There's one theory that every universe is formed from a black hole. Matter goes into black hole, and out the other side to form a universe. Granted, there's also a lot of debate on whether black holes actually exist at all still, so that makes it even more complicated. And then one gets into multiple universes and how all universes are just bubbles spreading off an original one that can't interact at all -- which makes it really hard to even test such a theory, imo :)

      Hah! The Dilbert one rocks. I read a year or so ago an article on how Einstein would never have been published in current peer-reviewed journals due to biases and changing standards. Science might not be a religion, but the religious impulse [which is part of a larger impulse of 'my idea is right, you should believe it in the end] is definitely a huge factor in how scientific systems constantly have to doubt and self-correct. It might be fun to make a society where the religion functions like that, but it would probably morph into something closer to a mythology over time.

      Yeah, the mapping out of future knowledge vs. 'free will' is the core of a lot of neat sci-fi stories. One sci-fi novel I read years ago was two neighbours having a dispute and each getting nukes. A subplot was how the eldest son of one of the men was gay (because they'd done gene stuff, and sequenced him to BE gay) and he'd spent his whole life knowing that, but in the end ran away to be with a girl. Same basic concept, though the sci-fi one works more as 'here is how you would die barring accident/murder etc'.

      An insurance company did that once, figuring out how long people would live if the only causes of death were accident and murder, and the result is somewhere around 500 years. Which alone would be the basis for a fun story, too :)

    8. You might like this:


      On how people with high intelligence are less likely to change their views because it would be a blow to their self confidence to admit they are wrong :)

    9. Aha. Hmm. I think it is valid in some ways -- it does explain some of the anti-vaccination movement (which is largely a far Left conspiracy theory). It's a problem in finding only information that fits that view, and rattling off jargon and data to defend it regardless of whether it is actually correct.

      There was an interesting talk (TED or Randi sourced, i believe) in WHY scientists get duped since in their field you except honest discourse. Which could be true to an extent at least.

      'Here is this theory, here is the evidence I have for it. Prove it wrong,' is the gold standard of scientific discourse. But scientists are people first, and I think that often gets forgotten in the rush to show that the scientific method/consensus is superior to other ways of understanding the world.

      .... man. I've taken this far from personality tests :)

    10. Haha, which is why I like these conversations so much ;)

      Though to bring it back to personality tests...

      Scientists ARE people first, which means they never can look at information through an unbiased lens. And one of the Meyers Briggs personality letters is the 'J' or 'P', which is the "Action Orientation" towards the outside world.

      (next bit is copied/pasted from a website, so not my own words)

      All people use both judging (thinking and feeling) and perceiving (sensing and intuition) processes to store information, organize our thoughts, make decisions, take actions and manage our lives. Yet one of these processes (Judging or Perceiving) tends to take the lead in our relationship with the outside world . . . while the other governs our inner world.

      A Judging (J) style approaches the outside world WITH A PLAN and is oriented towards organizing one's surroundings, being prepared, making decisions and reaching closure and completion.

      A Perceiving (P) style takes the outside world AS IT COMES and is adopting and adapting, flexible, open-ended and receptive to new opportunities and changing game plans.

      (and back to my own words again)

      I think, to have that scientific mind, to put together a theory and then test it, that's pretty much a great definition of how a 'J' type behaves... but it also has limits as a 'J' type is often confined to that plan -> either it works, or it doesn't, right? and is less inclined to look around at other possibilities as they come until after the 'plan' has been completed and the data analyzed. Slower, but more methodical work.

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