Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Meditation on Personality Tests

Generally, I feel that personality tests are like horoscopes: you take out of them what you feel applies to you, and the rest of the information just drifts by like empty candy wrappers the day after Halloween. However, I recently learned that I place greater value on personality tests (specifically the Jung-derived Myers-Briggs personality test) than I had previously thought. The Myers-Briggs test divides the personality into four dichotomies: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/iNtuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judgment/Perception. From these dichotomies, 16 personality "types" can be created.

The other day I took the Facebook version of the Myers-Briggs test, which I had last taken (perhaps even in its official format) during high school. I'm not sure why they were having us take the test--whether it was for fun or to help us figure out what careers would be best for our looming future--but I clearly remember my original "type" as INFP, or Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. As I recall, it was quite heavily weighted toward the "I." I clutched the paragraph associated with this identity close to my heart, discussed it with my mother at length, and have spent the last fifteen years thinking of myself as, well, an introvert. However, when I took the Facebook version, I was labeled instead as an ENFP. I felt like the whole foundation of my identity had shifted; was I really that far from the wallflower of high school that I could be comfortable with the label of "extrovert"? Not only that, but unlike the "real" test, the Facebook version doesn't show you a handy breakdown of your answers that lets you know how close you are to the division between the different types, which is very frustrating. I decided to do some additional research in the face of this potential crisis.

I took a battery of online Myers-Briggs or similar personality tests, as well as one from the book Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, which we happened to have on the shelf at work. The book told me I was an I, an F, and a P (which was comfortable), but also that I was tied between Sensation and iNtuition. Another wrinkle in the previously smooth fabric of my self-perception! I began to feel as if I would never be able determine my own personality by means of ten-minute personality tests! However, I gamely carried on, receiving an INFJ (Judging!!! Really?), an ENFP, another ENFP, and an ENFP/ENFJ. The latter has a really cool way of displaying your percentages and, rather than either/or questions (a lot of which have no right answers for borderline personalities), has you move a bar along a scale between two options. Nevertheless, that test gave me a potential J, and I'm still not so sure about that. After all this, I was confronted with the quandary: was it possible that my personality has migrated all the way from INFP (presuming that the original test was absolutely correct, which for my mental model it was) to ESFJ or ENFJ? It would seem that the only stable part of my personality is the Feeling part, which is pretty much a no-brainer if you have ever been around me. Those tests that did have percentage breakdowns had me at about 5% Thinking and 95% Feeling, which is probably about right.

If I take a rough average of all the tests I took, I do end up as an ENFP, which was what Facebook had indicated. Reading descriptions of ENFP, a lot of the observations seem to ring true, especially the flattering parts and "zany charm." I feel exactly the same way when I read stuff about the Libra star sign; it fits pretty well. I guess I like the generalizations that this kind of categorization yield, and the feeling of "you're special and unique, and just like everyone else who tested this way." Mostly, it has been interesting to realize how much unconscious emphasis I have always placed on being an introvert--so much that I was deeply startled by my new test results. Subsequent discussions with friends and coworkers have revealed that . . . yeah, I am kind of extroverted at this point. I don't know when it happened, but I enjoy being around people more than I enjoy being alone. Lucky for me! Lucky for the people upon whom I inflict my company! I will enthusiastically embrace this new vision of myself . . . until I take my next personality test.


Ryan said...

So besides that ISTJ, I have come out INTJ, ENTJ, INTP (where the I and E were 50/50 ), and INTP/INTJ on that slider one.

I think these tests reveal nothing although I didn't bother to read about any results as it is clear that it really *is* like a horoscope.

Helgagrace said...

Yeah, pretty much all I learned was that I like personality tests a lot more than I probably should . . .

Madison Stuart said...

The introversion/extroversion bit is misinterpreted a lot - it's more the difference between whether you feel more energetic when you have a lot of time on your own to recharge or when you spend a lot of time around other people. And it's not necessarily as clear cut as that, as some extroverts have to be dragged to social events (but then don't want to leave) where introverts may be eager to go (but as soon as they've filled their socialization quota, they're out of there).

And personality tests are awesome. I say this as someone who had an addiction to internet quizzes when I was in my teens, though.