A laptop sits open on a website titled "Who Are You?"
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If you were to ask me what kind of dessert I am, I would probably say a chocolate chip cookie. When it comes to seasons, I am obviously autumn. I also belong in a quaint ranch-style home, am destined to marry a Taurus and should definitely eat steak for dinner tonight. These facts have been determined by my various choices on the entertaining black hole that is Buzzfeed Quizzes. From my choices on what food I would like to have at each meal to my dream vacation, this website can seemingly figure out all aspects of my destiny. 

My love for these mindless quizzes has evolved into an obsession with more psychologically sound examinations. My favorite test has become the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or “MBTI,” a 90-or-so-question online assessment that makes judgments about one’s values, social skills and overall personality. A proud “ENTJ,” I take this test to heart and attribute almost all of my interactions and traits to this simple combination of letters. I tend to immediately make judgments about people I meet, usually immediately thinking someone is an “I,” as in introvert, or are a close toss-up between a person focused on “thought” or “feeling” when it comes to decision-making. 

There are reasons as to why personality tests, both silly and more professional, mean so much to us. Whether it be the results from the MBTI test, our Zodiac signs or our status as a “morning person,” we like to be told who we are by other people or, in some cases, computer algorithms. Psychologists say that, as humans, we are often dependent on the perspectives that others have of our qualities. We desire validation for who we believe ourselves to be in our minds. We take what these quiz results say seriously because we feel empowered by the results; we like to know who we are, and we want others to know us as well. It feels good to be placed into a distinct “type” of person. It lets us know that we belong somewhere — that we are like others out there — and that our habits and personality fit into a group.

Understanding ourselves is the central reason why we take personality tests, but another reason is to understand others. We find it easier to categorize the people that we interact with into specific attribute groups, and the results of such psychological assessments allow us to get a concise picture of who they are and how we can form a relationship with them. From a personality test with dozens of morally based questions, we can condense the whole of an individual into an extremely simple and digestible type. These examinations make the basic establishment of interpersonal connections easier and less stressful, and, whether they are based on actual psychology or not, we place importance on the results anyway.

Along with more personal scenarios, such psychological assessments are also commonly used and applied in the workplace. “Pre-hire” personality tests are taken to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of potential employees by calculating if they are compatible with the requirements of the job and will collaborate well with their coworkers. Results can be used as new staff begin to assimilate themselves into their environment as well, and employers use the collected data to mentor them through their professional journey in a more particular fashion.

We tend to trust personality tests in various social and professional circumstances because they are fun and engaging, but, most of the time, it’s because we like and agree with the results. This raises the question: Should we be using personality tests in any capacity, given their ability to make us completely forget all time and space? In truth, personality tests tend to be inaccurate and scientifically flawed and provide labels that we find impossible to stray from. Although validating, these tests are an improper gauge of who we are and what we mean to other people.

When we take a personality test, we often have an ideal result in mind, which makes the process of such testing completely subjective. The questions posed by these assessments lack a certain psychological depth, placing us into one category over another based on the judgment of the generated program as to where we best fit and where we may like to fit. Deep in our subconscious, we have the inherent desire to be perceived as one type of person by the examination, so we often give idealistic rather than realistic answers to exam questions. Personality tests do not provide actual critical analysis of our psyches; instead, they just give us a look into how we want our psyches to be perceived.

Being told something deep and consequential about ourselves results in the understanding that we are unable to deviate from that result. Personality tests label us as one sort of individual, and we consider these labels as “accepted truths” that, in every context of our lives, are valid and meant to be followed. The results from these tests are thus ingrained into our personalities, limiting our ability to change ourselves and develop away from these nonscientific findings.

In many regards, personality tests are able to help us gain both a surface-level and more profound understanding of who we are as individuals and communicators. But the lack of science behind these examinations provides a falsified account of who we truly are and damages our ability to be dynamic and three-dimensional people. The process of taking a personality test is entertaining — we get to look deeper inside ourselves and ask the big questions about which qualities mean the most to us, and, in the end, we get answers to sometimes unexplainable personal truths. We should, though, be mindful of how seriously we take tests like “MBTI” or the “Big Five,” because, deep down, we know ourselves better than these computer programs ever will.

Lindsey Spencer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at lindssp@umich.edu.