Personality tests might not be as reliable as you think
By Emma Duke, Features Editor
If I told you that I was going to get married at the age of 30 in Spain, on June 11, and I knew this because I chose pancakes over waffles on a Buzzfeed quiz, you’d probably think I was either joking, or you’d quickly become concerned about my mental state. You also might tell me to ‘not trust everything you see on the internet,’ and rightly so.
There’s a general consensus that quizzes like Buzzfeed, though fun, don’t uncover anything real about our identities or our future. There are, however, more generally respected personality tests that we might put more stake into, like the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram, though, as we’re about to uncover, the validity of these might be in question too.
Popular doesn’t mean reliable
As I indicated with the Buzzfeed example (sorry, Buzzfeed), there is a general understanding that some personality tests have no weight—often, the shorter and more shallow the test, the less accurate we feel they are.
On the other hand, more complex tests, that promise to be rooted in psychology, tend to get more traction. The Myers-Briggs test is an example of a test that fits into this category. According to Vox, it might be the most popular personality test in the world, with two million people taking the quiz annually. I, (an ENFJ), am just one of those millions.
The Myers-Briggs test, composed of around 93 questions, will decide which one of the 16 personality types you belong to, based on four categories: extraversion-introversion, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling and judging-perceiving.
The company’s website makes the test sound pretty legit: “with more than 70 years of science-based, research-based insight, the MBTI assessment is a robust tool for self-awareness awnd improvement.” They assure us that the test will help us work, learn and communicate. Myers-Briggs creates quite an image for themselves—why wouldn’t you want to take the test?
One reason might be that it’s not as trustworthy as it sounds.
As Areo points out, the test is based on the personality theories of Carl Jung, a psychiatrist in the early-mid 1900s—sounds pretty legitimate! …except for the fact that Jung’s theories weren’t ever legitimately tested. In addition to that, the test fails at reliability. One study conducted at Marshall University found that within a five week period, 50 per cent of participants were considered a different personality type than the first time they took the test. Eeek. A INFP one week, and an ENFJ the next? Which one are you supposed to put on your Tinder profile now?!
Don’t worry Myers-Briggs lovers, this personality test isn’t the only one under fire.
The Enneagram is also a point of skepticism for some in the scientific community—though in general it’s still widely popular and loved. This test became popular in the 1970s and its origins are credited to Oscar Ichazo. This test places you in one of nine categories, based on your answers to a little over 100 questions. The categories are: the reformer, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger and the peacemaker.
A company called Statistical Solutions tested the Enneagram’s reliability, and found that it is 72 per cent reliable—not bad! Still, the universality of the test is questionable. The director at the Personality Processes Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, Luke Smillie, told Inverse the Enneagram is “pseudoscience at best” and “probably at the top of the lists I would not recommend.”
The main criticism of most personality tests is that they make broad generalizations and claims about human personality. While they may seem harmless, putting too much stake into the results of a personality test could have harmful implications.
Boxing you in
A study in the National Library of Medicine looked at the relationship between Enneagram personality types and risk of heart disease. The article concludes by stating that “the Enneagram personality system can provide opportunities for evolution and personal and social health of patients because it can define the unique mental and emotional defenses of each personality type.” The hopefulness of the authors for a future in which personality tests can determine future health behaviours, worries me.
When it comes to personality tests influencing decisions regarding health, careers, or relationships, it is of utmost importance that these personality tests are backed up by evidence-based psychology and research. This would likely require a test that is made in conjunction with professionals in these fields, meaning that the Myers-Briggs or Enneagram tests probably aren’t the answer.
Even so, I think there is a danger in wholeheartedly trusting that you belong to a category you’ve been placed into as a result of a 15-minute test. There is also the question of how well we know ourselves—we might be too self-critical and provide inaccurate answers, or alternatively, we might see ourselves idealistically, as we wish to be, rather than as we are.
It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy—you think the results sound accurate, but subconsciously you start acting in ways that make the results come true. It can alter the way you see yourself—and trap you in the false belief that this is who you are, this is the type of career you should have, and this is how you act in relationships, full stop.
Personality tests can be fun, as long as they don’t determine your identity and make you feel boxed into a ‘type.’
If you are curious to know yourself on a deeper level, other methods such as therapy, might be more effective.