It seems there is an online quiz to tell you anything about yourself these days.
Which city should you live in?
Which pet should you have?
What color is your aura?
Which career should you pursue?
This popular form of distraction helps us connect on social media and have a good laugh with friends, but is it an effective form of personal analysis?
While most of these tests may be frivolous or lack any scientific basis, they are the latest in a long history of tests that tap into our desire to know ourselves better.
A Short History of Personality Tests
In the United States, personality tests date back to Woodworth’s Personal Data Sheet. Developed in 1917 to help identify soldiers that might be prone to breakdowns during World War I, it consisted of 116 yes or no questions and was “deemed important in screening out applicants who would create workplace disturbances.”
Since then, many personality tests have been created to help us assess ourselves on a personal and professional level. They are used, among other things, to help us understand our strengths or weaknesses, how well we work or socialize with others, and to evaluate the effectiveness of therapy.
Perhaps the most widely used system is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), created by Isabel Myers Briggs and her daughter Katherine Briggs over decades of research and study heavily influenced by Jungian psychology. About 2 million people take the Myers Briggs test each year to discover if they are extroverted or introverted, judging or perceiving.
Other personality tests include the Five Factor Model, the Enneagram, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the Rorschach inkblot test, and many more.
Outside the field of psychology, other popular systems that help us understand who we are and why we do what we do include astrology, numerology, and Human Design.
How Personality Tests Help
We're attracted to these tests, both the psychologically-based and the fun ones, for a number of reasons. They help us understand who we are, they confirm and uncover hidden parts of ourselves, and they help us connect with others, too.
"Growing up I'd always thought I was a robot or an alien, even within my family," says Ria on the MBTI Users conference website. "After reading about INFJ's common experiences from childhood through to adulthood, I no longer question my own sanity."
Human Design coach Molly Rider says that learning her own design not only helped her understand herself better, but learning the charts of her loved ones “has helped foster greater understanding, respect, and communication.”
Some aspects of personality psychology have even entered our everyday language. It's not uncommon for us to describe ourselves as Type A, neurotic, introverted, or highly sensitive in an effort to help others understand us.
Author Susan Cain sparked a national conversation about introverts, a term coined by Jung, in her TED Talk and best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. (Take the Quiet Quiz.)
Her work helps people see the difference between extroverts and introverts so that each type can understand the other. “Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation; whereas introverts feel most alive and capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments,” Cain said her talk.
She also highlights the cultural barriers around accepting all types of personalities. “Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles,” she writes. “We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.”
Ultimately, these personality tests or quizzes, both the fun and the serious, can be a great way to become more sensitive to our needs and the needs of others while deepening our understanding of what it means to be human.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies