Why are personality quizzes so enticing?

Nikki Suzani, Copy Editor

From Buzzfeed quizzes that have been viewed over 20 million times to Facebook quizzes that let you know what kind of potato you are, personality quizzes have become a focal point of entertainment in the 21st century. Besides these silly and often inacurrate Buzzfeed and Facebook quizzes, personality tests actually backed by the scientific community provide more insight into people’s traits. One of our school’s classes, Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology has students take scientifically verified personality tests and analyze their merits.

In compliance with AP Psychology curriculum, social studies teacher John Hebert requires students to take specific tests during the course in order to understand the concept of social psychology and the credibility of tests that arise from it. “They take personality assessments to learn the concepts of personality and validity,” Hebert said. “Scientists need a smaller set [of personality descriptors for the tests], and they were able to find one using factor analysis to look at things that are coordinated with each other and put them into five dimensions of personality, known as the Big Five.” The Big Five descriptors include extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness and emotional stability. In order for a test to be valid, test-takers must be able to find concrete evidence of each descriptor in the test.

Assessments were constantly altered in order to be as standardized, reliable and valid for all test-takers as possible. “When personality tests first hit the scene back in the 1940s and 1950s, social personality psychologists really got into devising personality tests, validating them on a standardized group and applying it to a lot of people and typologies,” Hebert said.

Hebert also often has his students take a test known as the Values in Action Characteristics Core Test. “This test allows people to find the best parts of themselves,” Hebert said. “Maybe they might not have the personality trait that they necessarily wanted, but you might find out that you’re kind to others, for example, and you can work on showing your strengths and valuing yourself.”

Positive psychology is founded on the belief that people want to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, cultivate what is best within themselves and enhance their experiences of work, love and play. Taking the assessments helps enhance the idea of positive psychology and allows people to focus on benefiting and improving themselves by using test results.

In today’s world, personality tests, even unreliable ones, are taken a lot. According to an article written by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) psychologist Sherry Turkle, this occurs because people want to believe that human nature is quantifiable and “get a read on themselves” by following the idea of narrative personality, the idea that humans make sense of their lives by organizing events into more understandable storylines. According to Hebert, some people also take tests to waste time. “I think young people are a little bit more prone because they haven’t really formed their complete identity—there’s a lifelong search for identity,” Hebert said. “If you [go off to college and] become a different person then maybe taking these tests is somehow helpful, but unless it’s a serious test that’s been validated it’s probably just more an expression of, ‘Gee, I don’t know who I am.’”

Freshman Malik Fuentes also agrees that personality tests are simply a fun activity to him. “I think they’re fun and engaging to do when you’re bored and you figure out, ‘Hey man, this is entirely untrue,’” he said.

A common argument against personality tests is that they are unreliable, but this is simply untrue. According to Vox, 40 percent of test-takers get a different result on the Myers-Briggs test when taking it the second time. Hebert believes that this does not occur because the test is flawed, but rather because personality does not always tend to the extremes that the test has set. “[The lack of consistency] in personality tests might have more to do with the fact that personality can trend towards the middle rather than that the test is inherently flawed,” he said. He added that when taking reliable tests multiple times, students can expect their result to average out and remain consistent, as long as the test includes the Big Five.

Despite the researched reliability of tests like the Big Five, the internet has changed the way personality tests are regarded. Many are created by amateurs on sites like Buzzfeed and Facebook, or with goals more malicious than simply intriguing you to click on a link. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal involved the collection of personally identifiable information of nearly 87 million Facebook users. Data from users was allegedly used to attempt an influence on voter opinion for certain elections. “Sometimes, they’re just trying to collect information from you like Cambridge Analytica did… they got their information by having people take personality tests,” Hebert said. “It might just be an attractive way to collect demographic information.”