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Why Only Dummies Believe In Personality Tests!

Posted by intellisg on May 14, 2007

personality1.jpgDID you know that you may be susceptible to alcoholism? No really, I am serious! Or if all of us were stranded on an iceberg somewhere in the polar ice cap – you could be the weakest link in the team? Perhaps you didn’t know, you have roughly an equal chance of being as being irresponsible as a man after his fifth shot of vodka when it comes to handling money. While I am at it, do try to stay away from any job that involves operating heavy machinery. Your chances of losing your fingers in an industrial mishap is roughly similar to how many times you pull the ring on a coke can only for it to break off! Did you know all these things? There you go! Welcome to the brave new world of personality tests and what they tell you about the things you didn’t know about yourself.

Regardless of whether you think they are profound psychological peek-a-boo’s into the deepest recesses of our minds, or simply the stuff of fortune cookies, the fact is that personality tests are increasingly featuring everywhere these days. Take, for example, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI. It’s taken by as many as 20 million people a year and used to screen applicants from airline pilots to law enforcement agents. At the top of the test heap is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator profiler. Over one hundred and thirty companies listed in the Fortune 500 have used it to capture the psychological profile of their employees to “enhance” productivity and teamwork.

Surely there must be something to all this buzz! Hey, I mean we are not talking about $2 companies here. For goodness sake most of them are multinationals for crying out loud! So, you’re probably asking yourself, like us – well I am sure they have all done their due diligence – right? It’s hard to see them devoting the resources to just navel gazing and tarot cards. Well think again, because continuing our season of scientific myth busting – the brotherhood scientific team will bring you the answers to these questions: In this age of endless hype and spin – what do personality tests really accomplish?

(1) There is no smoke with fire – or is it no fire without smoke?

In “The Cult of Personality,” Anne Murphy Paul, a former senior editor of “Psychology Today”, charges that personality tests “are often invalid, unreliable, and unfair” and that their prevalence has disturbing consequences, not least the distortion of the very idea of human nature to fit their arbitrary dictates. She goes on to add; perhaps the most striking conclusion is that personality tests are overtly “reductive” and neglect to account for the context, situation, and environment in which an individual lives, works and plays in. Here in a nutshell lies the danger to personality tests:

“People are too erratic and complex to be so pigeonholed, that’s the simple truth! By attempting to reduce complex personality traits into narrow, one-dimensional labels, all these tests really do is magnify personality aberrations.”

The same question was posed to our psychological expert, Dr Chandra, a leading AI expert who has conducted numerous research studies between man and machine interfaces, namely in the field of artificial intelligence:

“Why am I not surprised that the brotherhood press keeps asking me stupid questions? (and please do not delete this otherwise, I will drop inspir3d a line personally to complain!). Look here, if you really want to know what any personality test tells you, you might as well pursue a Ph.D. on why bollards look the way they look. I really don’t know myself, but if you look at one of those missile shaped bollards long enough. I am sure you could draw all sorts of conclusions – like why typically there are more women waiting around bus stops than men.

Of course I am just postulating, but it serves to illustrate how ludicrous the nexus is between the phallic symbol of the bollard and the number of women typically found around bus stops. I mean, if you were a mathematician like darkness, you could even draw an empirical conclusion based on statistics to say that bollard imparts a certain degree of psychological comfort.

I am not suggesting that the LTA shaped those bollards deliberately – the way they did to accomplish all these psychological way points – they could have – but you can see where I am getting at when we typically use hard science and direct it to the task of answering mumbo jumbo type questions.

So in the same way, if you tell me a psychological test tells you about your hidden personality. Then I would say that you are naïve, because we know for a fact that no one is seriously tells the truth when they take those personality tests, (I don’t, and you can quote me!) and let’s face it.

If you have a question like: Q: Would you consider eating your boss if you were starving and stranded in a desert island? What the hell would you really say! All I am saying is based on my AI experience on how human right and left brain works, it’s real tough to pin anything in the human head down into the really quantifiable. You may get a qualitative approximation, but to suggest that you can get a quantitative definite is rubbish. Hey, even NASA got it wrong, they hired a serial murderer as an astronaut, who drove around in adult diapers just to save on toilet breaks – talk about lousy decision making – and that woman was supposed to land a USD $25 billion space shuttle! I am not even going to discuss how an idiot like Bush got into power! So what do I think about personality tests? It’s bullshit!

On a serious note however – with its wide usage these days – I don’t disagree, it provides a certain degree of comfort to both those administering and taking it. But let’s not forget the really serious and disturbing dimension of personality tests. Most ordinary individuals who are subjected to personality tests either as a condition of employment or as mandated by court order are powerless to protect themselves from the damage of being condemned to a one-dimensional label. That in my view has very serious repercussions for the long term health of firms and business. In my view it’s a grave travesty of justice!”

(2) We have tests for getting into good schools – what’s really so different about personality test and the ordinary barrage of tests that we are all usually subjected too?

Admittedly the dispute concerning the use of personality test hasn’t reached a critical mass as compared to lets, say, the controversy over intelligence testing (IQ) or the SAT. It may however be only a matter of time, since only 20% of firms in the fortune 500 are currently using them to scan the psychological profile of their employees – this suggest, its early days for this $400 million industry – it raises the disturbing question how far will personality testing form the mainstay on employment these days?

Whatever the color of the debate; the whole notion of using personality test pits two of our most powerful, and perhaps irreconcilable, impulses in the same arena – there lies its attractiveness – as Dr Chandra mentions:

“Mans desire to define himself in simple and understandable terms and our need to carve out a personal identity remains a very strong impulse – that’s why personality test are so popular these days and if I were to speculate on the future – they would even be a regular feature in most job interviews these days – as I said the impulse is too strong. The people who administer it get a peek into you and you do the same, so its win-win either way – it’s a compelling business model.”

(3) Why are personality tests so successful – if they don’t work?

Today MMPI is by far the most popular psychological test currently used, and almost all psychologists, and even most test skeptics, place some stock in it. Historically the big battles over the MMPI have been waged less over its accuracy than its invasiveness.

As a result, MMPI gets it fair share of brick bats from sociologists like William Whyte, who saw the tests as helping to create and perpetuate the oppressive group-think of the mid-century “Organization Man.” – which only serves to perpetuate the

“status quo of the illusion that there are effective and ineffective people. When in reality, this distinction is based more on conjecture than fact!”

The breadth of MMPI has been controversial, though for some strange reason when it is often marketed to corporations hardly any information is provided about its sordid history. Such as how in 1966, it was almost curtailed because it infringed personal privacy – the 90’s has seen a series of lawsuits over its role in assessing the suitability of potential employees.

While the MMPI is more widely given, and the Rorschach better known, perhaps the most beloved personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Based on Jungian psychoanalytic theory, it was developed in the 1940s by a housewife named Isabel Myers, along with her mother, Kate Briggs. Unlike the Rorschach and the MMPI, it was expressly designed not to diagnose psychopathology but to describe normal personalities. Today, the four Myers-Briggs axes – Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judgment-Perception – are a reflexive lingo to a whole generation of corporate managers.

The test’s popularity stems from the basic belief that personality influences how one interacts with other people, so having a detailed understanding of personality types allows one to adjust for individual differences, thus enhancing individual and organizational effectiveness.

One of the reasons why the Myers test has made significant headway in the corporate as compared with the other more “advanced” personality test is – it’s free of the language of mental illness, the Myers-Briggs manages to classify without stigmatizing – “its politically correct. They (the marketing people) have gutted out the controversy” according to Dr Chandra.

But for all its ubiquity in the boardroom and as a personality quiz, the test is generally ignored or ridiculed no end by psychologists and academics.

As Dr Chandra notes:

“Hey, what can I say; people like it. It’s a nice ice breaker and when they get the results – all those pleasure zones go off in their head like the 4th of July. So they feel real good about it. But let’s get serious now.

Would I use it to hire someone? No and the reason is simply this, personality test the roughly the same intellectual content as studying tea leafs. What you need to bear in mind is there’s no empirical evidence or even serious publications to suggest there is a link between test results and on job performance. Absolutely none and I will challenge anyone who has the balls to say otherwise right here on the Intelligent Singaporean – that’s to say, it can’t predict how a person would perform in a job or for that manner any job even if it just means cleaning toilets.

The limits of Myers–Briggs lies very much in it’s history – its all based on Carl Jung. Now I am not saying he wasn’t a brilliant man in his own right, but in academic circles, let’s say he was a bit of a heretic and much of his works today is considered purely historical baggage – I think we see a lot of those systematic flaws in Myers –Briggs. For example how they tabulate the scores still remains controversial and much of what forms the seismology is outdated.

Having said all that I will still use it because it never fails to make the other person laugh and that’s really all it is – a social lubricant.”

Defenders of the Myers-Briggs may say these criticisms are unfair. Such as Stephen Reiss, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University who admits that the test is marred on two counts mentioned by Dr Chandra – scoring and outdated theoretical baggage. But, he maintains stoically,

“It’s still much more accurate than the more respectable MMPI. So it’s based on bad science, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.”

The controversy over test mania isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. For most of us, there is something almost hypnotic and titillating about the prospect of finding a kernel of self-knowledge about ourselves.

As Dr Chandra states summarizing the situation:

“Look it’s a bit like looking into the magic mirror. Remember Snow White & the 7 dwarfs? That’s the one. When the wicked queen looks into the magic mirror and you know the rest. Now that’s what a personality test really does.

You are just having a brief conversation with a few pieces of furniture and if you think, you are going to walk out standing 3 or 4 inches taller – I say fine.

The problem is when people really take it too seriously and these are usually the people who manage to get the elitist scores – these delusional people suddenly feel all of a sudden personality tests are really important.

I think there is where the real danger lies, because like the fairy tale we all know despite what the wicked queen sees in the mirror – she isn’t the fairest of them all – all she really is – is an old hag peddling poison apples!”

(Scholarboy, Repairman & Astro Boy / Harphoon & Atomic Monkey – Lead Writer [exclusive interview with Dr Chandra] – Socio / Science –EP 9992783 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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18 Responses to “Why Only Dummies Believe In Personality Tests!”

  1. pumpman said

    This is really hilarious – sorry, I am rolling on the floor – I heard it was done in less than 60 min -LOL

  2. jessica said

    Kind of overly reactive to mr wang’s latest post, ain’t this? Someone’s got an ego problem here

  3. obby said

    The seige machine of the brotherhood! I have inside info they did all in less than 50 min flat! Belive it or not!Using their latest SLF.

    They’re on a roll!

  4. scb said

    Darkness is about the only believable person in blogs that I have read about rationality and the opposite for he seems to be a free radical and I am just incline to believe him!

  5. wbg said

    Only people with good personalities can ascend during the 2012 ascension!

    Repent from your worldly ways or perish!

  6. lecturer said

    Could be we Singaporeans as a whole are just test driven i.e we need external measures to validate our sense of worth.

    Westerners on the other hand don’t feel the need to impose this onus on themselves, presumably bc their society is more tolerant of diversity.

    So if one doesnt conform, the penalties associated with non conformance isnt there.

    But in Asian societies, the nail that sticks up will most definitely be hammered down!

  7. QKK said

    This reeks of snarkism towards Mr Wang’s post on Psychology.

  8. anongal said

    😉

    I didnt know his worshipful highness, the great and untouchable Mr Wang had a monopoly over psychology? I dunno abt all of u but I just read Mr Wang trite diatribe and really I can find anything there remotely to do with psychology. All I read is alot of self praising dribble. Perhaps someone can show me otherwise. Nonetheless I think, I know who is the dummy here and who isnt. 🙂 Its clear for all to see!

  9. guppy said

    hehehehehe – I don’t like it when ppl fight. Peace out.

  10. Mary Poppins said

    WATCH OUT MR WANG! IT’S A BIG TRAP!

  11. YCK said

    Personality theories are one thing and the percieved misuse of it is another.

    As to whether it is scientific, it depends on what is meant by the word. Do some of these theories have explanatory values, testability, parisomony and heuristic value? And some have more of these qualities than others and a handful has almost none.

    Whether some of these perosnality tests turn out to be more like magic mirrors than will partly depend on it. The other part depends on value judgements of the perosn who reads too much into them.

    Remember once telological arguments for the existence of God was in vogue, most if not all of science, from astronomy and physics to physiology and systematics, was used to prove his existence. Science was once a big magic mirror, it is good that someone broke it.

  12. shoestring said

    Yes, I agree that it is misuse. Theories, personlity tests, religions etc. are meant to guide human beings for the good of mankind. But they’re suseptible to abuse by individuals or groups who are out to pursue their own interests at all costs.

  13. darkness said

    Hey Chandra, nice article. I just want to say I am sure, I speak for inspir3d, Harphoon and the rest.

    This is really premium stuff!

  14. darkness said

    Chronicler,

    I want you to do something for all of us to improve our diction.

    I want you to seriously consider whether we can continue using the word “journalist.”

    As I understand it, this is a respectable term that is accorded to one of the most honorable professions of this world.

    I feel the brotherhood press should change all references from journalist to reporter – I feel rightly or wrongly this term captures more accurately what they do – reportage and nothing else.

    Pls consider changing ALL the references in the Bro Press in past and future publications to reflect this reality.

    We need to respect those who have the most difficult job in the world.

    Conduct a spot evaluation and come back to me on this ASAP.

    A 14 day review day will stand after that period, the motion will be carried.

    From today in Singapore at least the word journalist doesn’t exist anymore.

    It shall be scrubbed clean from our history books.

    We are doing nothing wrong only calling a spade and spade.

    Surely one doesn’t call a technician a scientist?

  15. chronicler said

    darkness,

    This may not be wise. There will be reprecussions, the term “journalist,” is used nearly 14,539 times in the brotherhood press.

    Pls reconsider.

    A motion for 14 days is carried.

  16. scholarboy said

    “one doesn’t call a technician a scientist?”

    It makes sense chronicler.

    I second it, there is no need for a 14 day reprieve.

    The motion is carried.

  17. ?? said

    ?? whats going on ??

  18. sphgirl said

    I don’t know why Bambi has to punish all of us from time to time.

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