Personality Tests

There are any number of personality tests floating around the Web. Among the most popular are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Holland Code and DISC. Closely related to these tests are the learning styles indicators like the Gregorc Styles, SLIMBIL and the triad of auditory, kinaesthetic and visual. Each of these tests are widely used in education and in counselling (especially career counselling).

However.

There is no conclusive evidence backing any of these tests in the field of psychology. The more time that I spend with these, the more I recognize the holes in the proposed theories. I do find it useful to have specific categories for individual characteristics; it certainly helps one to understand people who address problems from a different angle than you might otherwise see. The Holland Code in particular, which splits people up according to how they sort their top three preferences of Artistic, Entrepreneurial, Investigative, Social, Realistic and Conventional, has been rejected as being so vague in its interpretations as to be effectively useless.

I have much more experience with the MBTI, and took the official test a few years ago at the time that I was experiencing career difficulties. The MBTI describes sixteen major personality types, and explains that as a person ages, theirs becomes much more concrete than than it was during the formative years. Traumatic or other life-changing events may encourage faster development, however, and it becomes much easier to split people into their respective categories. It uses the eight letters / (E)xtravert, (I)ntrovert / i(N)tuitive, (S)ensor / (T)hinking, (F)eeling / (J)udging and (P)erceiving / to identify a person by the dominent letter of each pair described. My official test identified me as INFJ, The Counselor.

While it is cautioned that any personality type can succeed in a given career, the MBTI can serve as a useful guide to understand and choose careers where a person might be happiest with their life. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it? Back on Scientopia, scicurious wrote recently about Impostor Syndrome, that sudden, sickening feeling that you are faking your way through a degree, through a career, through life. In theory, it’s good to question these things from time to time… but for a person with a non-conventional, artistic and highly personable (yet introverted) mindset to be judged according to conventional bases by conventional people can be highly problematic, despite one’s determination to succeed.

These tests consistently put me in the minority group. An even distribution of the different personalities would have 6.25% of each type in a large population, whereas estimates for the INFJ is between 1-2%. The Gregorc test has pinned me in the Abstract Sequential category, one of four possibilities, and the smallest at 10% of the population. Either way, both are described as natural leaders, and particularly animated when discussing topics of interest to them. There is no argument there, as team leadership and education have become deeply held preferences in my work.

But what of the other types? Reading through their descriptions, it is very easy to see similarities there, as well. And that’s the trouble with these kinds of tests. Sometimes, the choices made on a Likert scale, or by comparing two words and having to choose which one is more “like you” than “not like you” is a fool’s game, as it depends so strongly on how one feels at the time the test is taken; some memories recalled will cause one word to take less precedence than other, while other memories recalled by the same person can easily flip the choice. Non-official tests have placed me most consistently in the INFJ group, but I’ve also scored ISFJ, INTJ and INFP at random times over the last five years. The whole exercise has begun to seem much more of a pseudoscience, a parlour game, no more valid than astrology and graphology, than I would hope. There is a lot of grey area between the different MBTI types, and sites often give a percentage, rather than a concrete diagnosis for each letter, which is much appreciated.

The MBTI, despite its pseudosciencey nature, yet remains a useful tool to help a person understand that other people operate differently, and that it’s not a failing of those people (or of your own). That’s really the biggest takeaway from these kinds of studies. By trying to see things from a different perspective, you become a better person for it when addressing any other person or problem.

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