Testing the personality test

Kate Ellison 8 June 2015

Astrology has captivated the human race for nearly four millennia. However, despite once forming the very foundation of scientific thinking, the notion of grouping personalities has lost some of its status. It seems our society has collectively banished this once central belief to the cursory pages of fashion magazines.

We heave a collective sigh over those tests which claim to offer ‘accurate’ and ‘invaluable’ insights into the cores of our beings. The same exasperation has transferred to the modern pseudo-scientific attempt to categorise our characteristics in the form of personality tests. These tests arguably have been awarded slightly more legitimation, owing to the fact that they consider more data than your date of birth to be necessary in sketching out the contours of your psyche.

Yet, it appeals to sceptics and converts alike, motivated by either the wish to disprove their accuracy or offer an effective analysis. Regardless, human beings have developed an acute, almost pathological need to compartmentalise. Personality tests are the inevitable result.

At the very least such tests offer an impartial, if potentially artificial, reflection of your behaviour. This superficiality is best reflected in the often dichotomous answers which give me more grief than pleasure. Thus the merit of the Myers-Briggs test is the recognition that every characteristic exists on a spectrum; within each individual certain traits shine through more prominently than others.

While I by no means suggest that the individual can be compartmentalised effectively, such tests do make me evaluate what attributes form the fabric of my psyche. Of course, I’m also very much in favour of tests that you can’t categorically fail (a rare joy to be sure….). Yet equally, I don’t take their conclusions as gospel, far from it; I often disagree vehemently.

This is a virtue seemingly under attack. It is with a begrudging annoyance that I hear employers increasingly using personality tests to assess candidates. A number of questions are inevitably raised by such a practice. Does this imply that such tests are reliable and have scientific backing? Do such tests place certain characteristics on a hierarchy? Are we selling our souls to feed into what is supposedly a meritocratic society, but in actuality is only conditional on the possession of certain attributes?

I don’t feel the use of these tests is inherently bad; indeed, I feel it reflects a desire to access the suitability of each candidate to the position under consideration and adds a qualitative element to the application process. This attempt can only be commendable, even if the channel for achieving is open to more than a few pitfalls.

The greatest shortcoming threatens to undermine the entire system; you could lie. You can effectively streamline your responses to the attributes the employer wants and thus answer accordingly.

The notion of adapting your answers to fit the perceived ideal is not a situation confined to the use of personality tests as part of the job-application. It is a dilemma we are faced with every time we answer one of these tests. As I scroll through the answers, I am faced with the dichotomy between the answer I wish to give and the answer I know best reflects me. Perhaps deep down I don’t want to be confronted with the flaws of my character, my insecurities. After all, these tests, through their hypotheticals, force you to confront aspects of your psyche that perhaps you didn’t even know existed. Their very existence suggests that we may not know ourselves as well as we thought. Is our self-image a reflection or a refraction? Perhaps, for me these tests are a way to express my ‘ideal’ personality.

Then again, maybe it’s all just hokum.