Sunday, June 28, 2009

Self Discovery Made Easy

When I logged onto facebook this afternoon, I had five new notifications. And four of them were about online personality quizzes.

"What U.S. state do you belong in?: 23 of your friends completed the quiz. Click here to compare results!"

Twelve of my facebook friends had taken the "More Accurate Harry Potter Sorting Hat Quiz," ten had taken "What Drug are You Most Like," and a grand 77 had taken "What Decade Fits Your Personality Best?" But only three of my friends had taken, "What Plastic Army Man Are You?" I wonder why not more. . . And yes, I admit to answering five to fifteen questions per quiz to find out the answers to all of the above, and many more too.

Each of these quizzes has one subject in common: the person who takes the quiz. In fact, the answer of a good online quiz usually has the word "you," in it at least five times.

And our obsession with quizzes that tell us about ourselves doesn't stop with the internet. In fact, it was a much earlier invention. According to the all knowing Wikipedia, an early personality test was created during World War II by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers to help women decide which wartime jobs best fit their personalities. Their basic questionnaire was later developed into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, first published in 1962, and still very popular today.

I for one, have become proud to be an INFP, my personality type according to the Myers-Briggs test, simply because it's description defines me so simply and with such eerie accuracy. After all, the fact that I love trying to understand how people think was never an answer for any of the questions that the test asked, and yet the test . . . guessed it somehow, from nothing but my set of answers. And how do they know that I don't like conflict? That I'm creative? An idealist? I don't understand the science behind their classification, and as a result, I'm a bit amazed and delighted. And besides, I thoroughly enjoy thinking about myself.

So is egotism all that's behind the personality test phenomenon? It's definitely a piece of it. In the way that egotism plays a role in love, or in pursuing success in any career path.

But it certainly can't be all. Because there has to be a functional side to all of this, if it was first invented to help people choose jobs.

An acquaintance told me that every person attending her office retreat was given a Myers-Briggs personality test to complete. After the tests were rightly filed and each member of this particular office was sorted into one of the sixteen personality types, they participated in a number of exercises.

For example, people with similar personality types were grouped together and told to plan a party as a group. Once all of the parties were planned and explained to the retreat, everyone present learned that while some people may see a party as a small dinner gathering of close friends, others would prefer a crowded week long cruise with loud music blasting the entire time. The purpose of these exercises? To teach the participants that different people understand things in different ways, and that better understanding our own personalities and the personalities of others can actually help us learn to get effectively work together, despite our differences.

Whether always functional or not, the story of a quest for self discovery is told again and again in every form of literature, and in scripted tv show. Basically, every character, or real person, who changes over the course of his or her own story goes on that journey in one way or another.

So do personality tests just simplify this quest? Is its draw really the fact that rather than spending a lifetime searching for ourselves we can just click a few times on a computer mouse, look at the screen, and exclaim, "Ah! There I am!!"?

Yes. And of course, also no. People change over time, and every person is too unique to be exactly the same as every other person in one of sixteen, or even a thousand personality types. But when we wonder why we get along with some people better than with others, wonder if there's anyone out there who experiences life similarly to how we experience it, or just want to have some fun being self centered for a bit, the value of personality tests is undeniable.

Now excuse me, while I go find out which Sailor Scout my personality most resembles. . .


Thanks for reading. I'd like to remind everyone that nothing could make me more delighted than you letting me know that you're reading my blog. Whoever you are. So please, if you're reading this, either comment, or become a follower.

And have a nice Monday :)


  1. In response to your second to last paragraph... You don't have to wonder whether or not I'm reading, since I've now commented on all of your post except for the first one. Once again, a very interesting topic that is a whole lot deeper than it first appears to be. Thank you for justifying the taking all of these quizzes for me! :) Just for the record, I've taken 3 out of the 5 quizzes you mentioned... so far.

  2. Indeed you have commented a plenty. . . In fact, I'd like everyone else who's reading to follow your example in that regard Matt.

  3. Wonderful topic, found this from the INFP community in Facebook. Looking to read your writings in near-future, bookmarked.

  4. Thanks Louis! If you'd like to keep reading my blog, then please also click follow on the right of the screen. It would help me lots!

  5. Totally agree with this!
    I'll be following your blog and your writings; really interesting stuff! :)