Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Cult of Personality: how personality tests are leading us to miseducate our children, mismanage our companies, and misunderstand ourselves

by Annie Murphy Paul

Did you know that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (you know, the test that tells you you're an ENJF or an INFP, etc.) was created by a housewife? A very well-educated housewife, admittedly, but definitely not someone participating in the research-based and peer-reviewed world of academic psychology.

As a matter of fact, as revealed in The Cult of Personality, there's little to no empirical evidence that any personality test is anything other than a parlor trick. Well, OK, that's an exaggeration, but even the ones that seem to have a more scientifically rigorous origin — the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, for example — aren't very good at diagnosing what they were designed to detect, let alone all the other uses they've been given since their creation.

On the other hand, the very well-informed author does a crack job of sympathetically analyzing the enduring appeal of personality tests, to professionals and laypersons alike, even while exposing the careless misuse of personality tests and the flaws of the test creators themselves.

Want to take some personality tests, just for fun? Try, the new name for Emode, a Web site mentioned in the book. (I took a test to see how hip I am, and it told me I'm a bookish go-getter; my movie star double is Benjamin Bratt, which is quite a bit more of a compliment.)


Anonymous said...

I should first say that I am a psychologist, I have a Ph.D., and I have published in peer review journals in the area of personality. Several comments above I would categorize as patently false. While the MBPTI is a bad test (and, like those linked to above should not be used for any orgaizational or diagnostic decision making), it is certainly incorrect to lump other well developed personality tests in with it. Personality tests can and do reliably tell us all sorts of valuable information. And, if anyone feels differently, they clearly have a difficult time reading and synthesizing the research literature and understanding the practical relevance of research findings.

Christopher Cuttone said...

Thanks for your comment; disagreement always makes for a good conversation. Unfortunately, your closing remark indicates that you may not be open to a reasonable conversation. When testing relies on self-reporting by the test subject and/or judgements made by the tester, the results (and the usefulness thereof) are by their very nature open to varied interpretations.