Con personality tests

Cartoon by Nile DeFreitas.

Every once in a while in casual conversation, the question, “So what kind of personality do you have?” might be thrown around. People may reply with adjectives, or with the results of personality tests, a trusted indicator of their most basic self.

However, personality tests constrict human personalities and erase nuance. Worst of all, the tests are incredibly unreliable.

The most common personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI. Participants answer several questions to indicate what kind of person they are, whether they’re an introvert or extrovert, sensing or intuitive person, thinker or feeler or a judging or perceiving individual. In total, any person can fall under 16 personality types.

However, the test supposes that once you’re this person, you should always be this person because that’s your personality. For example, a dictionary-defined extrovert is someone who is outgoing and enjoys intense stimulation. But if an extrovert decides to spend a few Friday nights by themselves, foregoing wild parties and libations, are they still an extrovert? By the test’s standards, the answer is no, the algorithm would flip to the other introvert binary. Thus, the test is based on stereotypes of who you’re supposed to be in specific situations.

The main flaw with personality tests is that they view humans as static creatures, when certain circumstances will draw out different sides of ourselves. We’re different people in a grocery store than at home than in a different country. And in the different situations, we present different parts of ourselves. Our personalities are not static, but constantly changing.

The biggest reason why personality tests don’t encompass your personality is that they’re unreliable. For a scientific insight to be considered valid, one must get the same results after taking the test multiple times. But if you take the test today, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll get a different result in five weeks, according to a study by Dr. Pittenger of Marshall University. You’d have horrendous confidence in this test if it diagnosed depression, anxiety or other mental conditions, and yet the MBTI is used by 89 of Fortune 100 companies to diagnose the personalities of potential employees. People are hired or not hired based on a faulty test.

There’s a reason that the U.S. Army dropped the MBTI as an indicator of potential soldiers’ performances in 1988. The MBTI, and other personality tests, cannot predict the person you will be in the future, and can only offer watered down snippets of the person you are right now. While they’re fun way to get a moment of validation, they’re not serious tools for understanding people.

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