@CommonSense, @ModelThinking

Personality models, meaningful or not?

Have you ever done a personality test?


And what did you do with the outcome?
Did it feel OK? Are you proud of it? Are you actively trying to deploy and use it?

They come in many shapes and sizes, from short, simple questionnaires in magazines to extensive tests via websites. Sometimes with a scientific background, and sometimes more for some pastime fun. After all, we are all curious about ourselves and others, and it reduces our insecurity through a simple insight.

There are so many different models that it seems as if researchers are seeking fame by giving their own name to a new personality model. Associated tests are widely available in the bookstores and via the internet. They are applied in many courses and therapies. Entire companies are taken through workshops so that employees gain more insight into themselves and their colleagues. Afterwards you’ll regularly hear the test results in the corridors. “I think you’re red, or maybe a bit more purple!” “I’m INFJ, but actually ENFJ fits better, I think.” “You’re a real helper!” “He’s not such a team player, he’s more a specialist!” With so much attention, personality models must be valuable.

Personality models are useful tools.

And no more than that.
Always remember that the ruler never equals the workpiece. No matter how detailed a description is, no matter how striking the characterization may be, no human being is exactly and just that what the test result describes.

Yet we often act like that.
Our brains are lazy and love to make everything simple. Then you can remember something better, making it easier to connect with other things and fit into a system.

A test is always a snapshot, especially when it comes to the nuances of the results. Furthermore, the questions often return researchers’ favorite words that have little meaning to the test person. No matter what the compilers of a survey try, people sometimes falsely interpret the questions or statements. I remember a session with my department where everyone found their own results unexpectedly accurate, except for one employee. His colleagues also felt that this particular result was wrong. The only possible explanation was that the employee answered the answers exactly the other way round. The kind of confusion that arises when you ask: “Didn’t you do that? ” What do you say then, “yes” or “no” ?

So: be careful with the such test results.

You are not the model as described. You’re much more complex, more varied and unpredictable.
With such lazy brains people suffer from tunnel vision: you only see one thing in front of you, and that scales up too much. The challenge is to also take into account your context, and to realize that you only perceive a part of reality anyway. Your world and its accents almost certainly differ from those of other people. A test result strengthens your one-sided look.

Nevertheless, to me these types of models are really fun!
They are good tools to stimulate a new way of thinking.
But I also know that answers are always bound to place and time. To a large extent your mood determines how you want to answer. Doing this kind of tests more often, you will unconsciously form the answers in the direction that you like. As you get older, the same test gives a less varied outcome: some points weaken to an average, and only a few become very strong because of your growing self-assurance and self-knowledge. As an example: according to a recent test, I am a Myers-Briggs type: ENFJ. But the E, F and J aspects are only minimally distinctive (2%). Even the N is only moderately significant (23%). So what does this tell me? I received a general description, with the comment that it can also be a bit different.

All models are based on normal distributions of large comparable populations. That actually confirms a built-in bias. It says more about how you stand in relation to recognizable characteristics in the reference group, than it says something about yourself. If this reference group has the same socio-cultural background as you do, it reinforces a certain image that is probably not at all relevant on the other side of the world. Geert Hofstede also encountered this while building his model about cultures. For example, values, norms and beliefs in the USA are very different from those in the Netherlands, while we prefer to emphasize the similarities. Many models put you in a box, either this, or that, which may only be true for 68% of us. The “Big Five” is one of the systems that doesn’t try to do that. But still, if you read such a result, you will try to recognize a simple box. The culprit is not the test, but the one who interprets the result.

Yet, on this site I will share a lot of information about various models, just because I think they are handy eye-openers if you want to take a different perspective.

After that you must immediately release such a result. You are really much more than what a test says about you.

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