Peet Brits

Hmm, but that doesn't make any sense…

Beware: The Personality Test

Posted by Peet Brits on July 30, 2008


[Article relates to psychological personality tests]

Recently I decided to take a personality test, more out of curiosity than anything else.  When I was younger I used to enjoy the results from a personality test I did, and as I am always trying to figure out what is going on inside people’s minds, I thought something new would be exciting.  I ended up with the MBTI (Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator).  As I am not familiar with a lot of personality tests, this one seemed rather popular, plus they provided a free online test.

Findings and Frustrations

When I did some research on the online wiki (Wikipedia) page, they seemed to have some interesting points, especially on the way and order people prefer to use and express their psychological functions, which you can read about for yourself at the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator.  After getting my test results, and paying a little closer attention to the scoring system, I was frustrated to find that I could easily fit into not one but four of the sixteen possible categories.

At first I thought I made a mistake with the test, but on reading some of the resulting pages I found that all four descriptions seems to fit with me in some way or another.  This was not mentioned by the test result page, so my guess is that most people would not even have noticed it.  (On hindsight, I have discovered my most dominant category, but I still lean towards these other groups).

The wiki page mentioned above has a rather negative “Criticism” section, but from my own observation I realised the fatal assumption: The test results assumes you have a high percentage score on each of the four tested dichotomies (that is, four opposite pairs of scoring).  In my mind, for each dichotomy where you do not have a high result, (where high > 60% and medium > 30%), it doubles the amount of resulting types a person could potentially fall in.  This would explain the rather low retest value as mentioned on the wiki page.

Test Suggestions

Even though they have some great ideas, I think the MBTI is trying to be too general.  So, here are a few suggestions on what I would like to see in a proper personality test.

1. Lines, not blocks

When you work with lines/dots on a graph it is easier for the user to interpret the intensity of the score.  When you put someone in a block/box, you are also subconsciously limiting their potential.

Consider the simple attached picture.  Let’s say the two black lines represent two dichotomies, and the coloured lines are the actual test results of three different people.  The lines are drawn by connecting the dots of the resulting score from the test.

Although these three people all belong to the same dominant personality type, which is labelled “III”, they really are very different people.  Person “A” is the only one that can be said to truly belong to this group.  There are times, like in a less familiar environment or among less familiar people, where person “B” and “C” might appear to those around them as very different people, belonging to “IV” and “II” respectively.  This is because, as they do not perfectly fit into “III”, they sometimes fall over into the secondary personality.  If the test result only told them they all belonged to “III”, then person “B” and “C” might be confused as to why certain elements of “IV” and “II” still apply to them.

A popular example would be the DiSC assessment, which gives the results as dots on a graph.

2. Beauty in simplicity

If I had to choose a motto in life, this one, namely “beauty in simplicity”, would be second on the list.  (The first is “better late than never”, but that is a whole different topic altogether).  Over-complicating things just makes it harder to figure out, and it is too difficult to spot the mistakes.  A complicated system might impress the crowds, but the little things give the quality away.  Further more, a complicated test has got a longer list of questions, and nobody wants to fill out a thousand-line questionnaire for a silly personality test.

Another popular yet simple test is the four temperaments, as originated from the Greek doctor Hippocrates.  I just noticed that my definition of the four temperaments differs slightly from that found on the wiki page, but it has been around for so long that it is expected to have more than one interpretation.

As a side note, an interesting topic for future research regarding the “middle grounds” might be the fifth temperament, as mentioned in the following wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supine_(Temperament).

Final Comments

Personality tests are wonderful tools of self-knowledge, but due to incorrect usage a lot of people end up avoiding or even hating them.  As no test will ever be a 100% complete, one must always remember the following points:

  • The test is meant as a starting point of knowing yourself, not as an end point of who/what you can or can not be.
  • The focus must be growth, not closure.  This sounds simple, but it is rather common for people to mistakenly say things like: “this is who I am, you just have to get used to my weaknesses”.

Even though test results show strength or preference, I strongly believe that with enough practice and determination, and willingness to get up after falling, a person can be whatever he wants to be.

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4 Responses to “Beware: The Personality Test”

  1. peetbrits said

    For those interested in taking the MBTI test, there is a questionnaire at:
    http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp
    but I suggest you rather to go to the follow website and simply pick from one of four questions:
    http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html

    The result will give you four type letters.

  2. […] is like. I would just like to mention that this article is not purely from introspection, I used external sources as […]

  3. TrueColors said

    The True Colors Test is often a more accurate representation of “personality” or “temperament”

    A good test can be taken at:
    http://www.PositivelyMary.com

  4. peetbrits said

    @TrueColors:
    Nice and simple, but by taking the free test I have not learned anything I do not already know. Great for quickly grouping people with a one-minute test, but maybe not so much for in-depth soul searching.

    Another test I recently took that gave it all an interesting new twist is the Emotional Intelligence test. Below is a link where you can take the test, although you will have to pay to get the full results. (I think it was about $7, R60). And be warned, the test is rather long!
    EIQ: http://www.queendom.com/tests/access_page/index.htm?idRegTest=1121

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