Sunday, December 23, 2012


So, today's post is motivated by the same thing which usually motivates the first post after an accidental long blog hiatus: I discussed blogs with someone and they were all "oh, you have a blog? I should check it out!" and even though you know people basically never follow through on that sort of thing, you're all "maybe I'll check if my last post is any good, juuuuust in case!". And since usually the last post in any given rash of posting is a bit ho-hum, I get all motivated to write a new one to be the thing at the top of the page. Especially given how irredeemably smug my last post reads as being, in retrospect. I mean, good lord.

So, the subject of today's ramblings is this: what do you reckon about personality test type things? It seems to be the sort of thing which people just find sort of inherently appealing. There's probably some sort of deep lesson about the human condition and the universal need for labels and affirmation or something in it. The Myers-Briggs personality types have come up in conversation or online 3 or 4 times recently, so I was idly trying to figure out what "type" I am this evening, and it really is an awful lot like the tests we all used to take on in high school, which seems somehow incredibly lame in retrospect but which in year 9 we thought were absolutely fascinating and hilarious.

The problem with these sorts of things is that they tend to ask you to generalise about yourself, which is difficult, because people to tend to have pretty nuanced views of themselves, surely? Plus I tend to over think these things and feel like it's totally a big commitment and you have to get the answers right, because, like everyone, I'm a bit weird that way sometimes. I feel like I'm expressing myself badly, but here's an example:

 Extraverted Characteristics
  • Act first, think/reflect later
  • Feel deprived when cut off from interaction with the outside world
  • Usually open to and motivated by outside world of people and things
  • Enjoy wide variety and change in people relationships
Introverted Characteristics
  • Think/reflect first, then Act
  • Regularly require an amount of "private time" to recharge batteries
  • Motivated internally, mind is sometimes so active it is "closed" to outside world
  • Prefer one-to-one communication and relationships
See, even though I know I'm not actually making a choice which will have any impact on my actions or life in any way, I'm still all "I have to pick between feeling deprived when cut off from interaction with the outside world" and "regularly requiring an amount of "private time" to recharge batteries"? Oh no! I might have to follow through on this someday and never interact with people/be alone (delete whichever is inappropriate) again! Aaargh!" Leaving aside that sort of crazy-talk, and also how euphemistic "private time to recharge batteries" kind of sounds, who... who doesn't need both? I feel like choosing to retreat and be alone for a little while is a world away from being actually cut off. I mean, one sounds like you're reading a book in your room by yourself, and the other one sounds like the Chateau d'If.

And the other aspects seem similar; I don't feel like most people are all the way at either end of any spectrum between "notices tasks and work to be accomplished" and "sensitive to people's needs and reactions". I mean, are those things even on the same spectrum? Plus, surely if you care about the people whose needs you're noticing, that's essentially the same thing as noticing a task that needs doing? Like "oh, this person seems hungry, I should hand her a sandwich!", right? I mean, I realise it's more complicated than that, and that's why you'd get actual psychologists to administer actual tests if you cared about the answer, rather than just googling "online free myers briggs test", but still, it somehow seems reductive.

And then, once you've finished trying to decide if you work best closer to deadlines or find it less stressful to do stuff in advance (which again, surely everyone is more or less both?) you get a Type (mine seeeems to be ENFP for those of you playing at home), you can get a description, and here's where I always get suspicious.

The description for ENFP, for instance, is "Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency", and in fairness, that does sound an awful lot like me, to me. But who doesn't consider themself "warm"? Who doesn't desire affirmation, to some extent? Isn't that whole thing more or less true of most people?

The diametrical (diametric or diametrical? Is this one of those words like oriented and orientated which are the same thing but sometimes just have an extra syllable for kicks, because hey why not?) opposite to ENFP, then, is ISTJ, which is "Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty." Obviously you wouldn't find all that many people rushing to describe me as "quiet and serious" but I sort of like to think of myself as being fairly dependable and responsible. So maybe if it had given me that answer I'd have thought "I guess I am quiet sometimes, like when I'm feeling shy, or am tired or whatever? Wow, deep, this test saw through my non-quiet facade!"? I mean, I'm pretty gullible about these things.

This goes for other systems like this, for the record. Like star signs; I'm not just hacking shit on Jungian psychological theory here. I used to work with a woman who had star sign mug which explained to anyone who cared to read it that she was charismatic and open-hearted and thoughtful, which I'm sure she thought was uncanny in its accuracy. If you gave me an hour to list all the adjectives I could think of to describe her, though, I doubt very much that I'd've come up with a single one of those words.

It's like that sign that was doing the rounds a while ago, "how to care for introverts" (like so: of which step 2 is "NEVER embarrass them in public", which seems bizarre to me, since that surely goes (in theory without saying) for, again, all humans? And even cats probably! Which people are all "man, I can't get enough of being publicly embarrassed!" apart from maybe reality tv folks? And even then they probably don't like the bits they think of as being embarrassing, surely?

I dunno, man. It just all seems pretty suss to me.


Erasmus said...

Anything that involves patients/clients filling in a self-report questionnaire is GREAT for quick categorisation (as you said) and fantastic for easy to number-crunch research. But if you actually want to learn about yourself/a client then the longer an more involved interviews and tests are the place to go. Even the Rorschach and similar projective tests are being found to have much better utility and validity for issues that are being investigated on a level deeper than "are you depressed yes/no"

Alexey said...

Well, some people get off sexually on being embarrassed. I guess that care for introverts thing implies introverts never have humiliation fetishes...?


I find personality tests are best interpreted as "this is how people perceive me".

(I guess that little separator doesn't really do justice to how unrelated those two statements are... What can you do?)

Nat said...

One of my lecturers in undergrad psych told us a story once. One of his professors administered a questionaire-style personality test on his students. When they were done, he collected their papaers and a few days later gave each student an individualised report on their "personality". He asked them not to discuss the results with one another, but rate them for accuracy. Apparently the average rating was 4/5. Once he'd collected the ratings, he told them to compare their results with each other... and it turned out all of them had been given the exact same report.


- Nat