I am a Ravenclaw. I've taken numerous online quizzes to sort me into my Hogwarts House and they all come back consistently Ravenclaw.

I agree with this. I'm too wimpy to be a Gryffindor, too snarky to be a Hufflepuff, and not ambitious enough to be a Slytherin. Also, I'm pretty academically oriented and take my rejection from a fast food restaurant where the manager told me that my GPA was too high as a badge of honor. Ravenclaw through and through. 

Myers-Brigs personality test, though, changes every time I take it. Now, granted, I'm taking online free versions and that shouldn't be mistaken for an actual authorized version by a trained administrator. Nevertheless, yesterday I took it again and got ISFP-A, which described me as an adventure, and perhaps a Hufflepuff.

Hmmm. Not really an adventurer type, although I'm married to an adventurous soul so maybe it's rubbed off on me. 

Why do I bring this up? Because I also listened to a very interesting episode of Hidden Brain where host Shankar Vedantam looked at personality tests and questions whether the Hogwarts sorting hat is more accurate than the Myers-Briggs test or other personality tests which many businesses use to evaluate their employees. And individuals want to find out about themselves just as much as businesses do.

Vedantam says, "this need to understand ourselves has fostered a thriving industry, built on the marketing and sale of personality tests. These tests promise to tell you who you are, why you are the way you are, and what it all means." 

Once you know who you are, you can (theoretically), know what will make you happy. That seems fine, but like Vedantam, I get nervous when employers use them to help select and or promote employees. He says,

They make me uneasy because there's been a long history of classifying people by their personalities. This history hasn't always been as benign as labeling someone a hopeless romantic. There was a time when scientists would openly, without any discomfort, classify people by their race. Haitians were meek or awkward, Europeans were ambitious or brave, Africans wild and animalistic. Or think about the associations people have long had about gender. Men's personalities are supposed to be dominant, women submissive. There's a reason many of us feel horror today about personality classifications that were once considered scientific.

So, when businesses say we do this test because science says so, I wonder if it's an excuse to prefer one culture over another. Because, regardless of your personality, you're strongly influenced by your culture. There's no way around that.

Annie Murphy Paul, the author of The Cult of Personality Testing says she believes personality tests tell us more about the tests' authors than the test takers. For example, she writes:

  • There's Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychiatrist who turned a parlor game into the iconic inkblot test -- the results of which were for decades taken very seriously in courtrooms and mental hospitals.
  • There's Henry Murray, the patrician (and married) professor who developed the Thematic Apperception Test with the help of his lover, who worked alongside him at his Harvard clinic.
  • There's Starke Hathaway, the Midwestern psychologist who included questions about test-takers' religious beliefs, sex lives and bathroom habits in his influential instrument, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory(MMPI).
  • And, of course, there's Isabel Myers, the Pennsylvania housewife who was inspired to turn Jung's cryptic writings into a personality test accessible to all. Her mother, Katharine Briggs, helped with this endeavor, and at first the test was called the Briggs-Myers Type Indicator; the order of the names was reversed starting in 1956.

These tests can limit us if we truly believe in them. And worse, if our bosses truly believe in them, we can be out of a job, or not given a chance in the first place. Years ago, I applied for a job that required a personality test. One of the statements, with which I either had to agree or disagree, was, "I sometimes feel tired." Instinctively I knew that the "right" answer was disagree, but I also knew that sometimes I did feel tired. You know, at bedtime. So I checked agree.

After finishing the online test, the recruiter told me we wouldn't be moving forward. Why? Because I had honestly answered the question about being tired. She informed me that they were interested in people who were go-getters, and the tired need not apply.

Now, I'm sure the test designer didn't intend for that one question to be a make it or break it question, but the recruiter used it as such. I've often wondered if she's ever noticed that even she, sometimes, gets tired.

When we look at personality tests instead of actual performance, we end up judging people based on something other than their actual ability. That seems like a bad idea. 

So, if you're looking to do personality testing, ask why you're doing that instead of looking at actual successes and failures. If you feel you must, try doing a Hogwarts sorting hat test instead. In my experience, they are just as accurate as the rest of them. 

Published on: Dec 15, 2017
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