Personality tests exude a mixture of traits

The trait table for the MBTI. (Screenshot)

The trait table for the MBTI. (Screenshot)

So imagine you have a 10 page paper due within the next week, but you’ve been bombarded with so many other assignments and responsibilities that you haven’t even written a word yet. What do you do when some free time finally opens up for you? Do you act like a good student and work on your paper, or do you continue to procrastinate with no end in sight? If you’re me, then you likely chose the latter option. One prominent and accessible option for those of us shirking our academic duties involves the completion of personality tests. As is the case with the people who take them, however, said personality tests exude a mixture of appealing and unappealing traits. 

Personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), have their fair share of advocates. After all, these tests can boil us down to terms that anyone can understand. Whether you’re extroverted or introverted, sensing or exhibiting intuition, thinking or feeling and judging or perceiving, the MBTI and other assessments of its ilk can take your candid responses to its forced-choice questions and formulate a concise, comprehensible description of your general temperament. Unlike other domains of introspective research, you can access personality tests free of charge (and honestly, who doesn’t like free stuff? Even if you already have enough UConn tee-shirts to cram your dresser drawers, surely you’ll still continue to collect them at every turn, am I right?). Not only is there no financial cost to completing these tests, but the rewards from this intriguing exercise in self-exploration–administered by a neutral party–can feel priceless. In fact, I’d know this because I was actually required to take an online personality test and present it to peers in one of my psychology classes here at UConn. I felt greatly satisfied when my personality profile appeared to describe me perfectly, and I even had a roadmap for potential areas of improvement. Occupational administrators have taken notice also, for a panel of NPR contributors noted that “many of America's most successful companies use personality tests to gain a better understanding of their workers.”  

Of course, personality tests have plenty of skeptics too. MBTI types, apart from resembling some mysterious secret code under which you might text your friends, are perhaps overly simplistic. For each individual, dueling personality descriptors likely don’t pose a one-or-the-other proposition, and one trial on a personality test doesn’t account for either change over time or cultural emphasis on certain values over others. We can’t just apply a label for all contexts and situations and then call it a day, as people are inherently multifaceted. Furthermore, descriptions for different personality types–akin to those for horoscopes and zodiac signs–are so vague and generalized that they can apply to virtually anybody (my apologies to those friends of mine who take great pride in, say, being a Leo as opposed to a Cancer for whatever reason). As NPR claims, personality inventories “typically aren't peer reviewed and usually fail basic standards of validity and reliability.” Thus there’s no reason for us to get overly excited or upset by any particular results, or for companies to rely upon them for hiring and firing decisions. We know ourselves better than anyone else does, so we shouldn’t allow some pieces of paper or an electronic screen to define us exclusively.

Depending on your perspective, personality tests can have varying numbers of dimensions. Moving forward, we can either take these assessments’ findings as gospel, dismiss their worth entirely or write in a third option that allows us to take the middle ground. 


Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email michael.katz@uconn.edu.