Are Personality Tests Reliable?
July 8, 2021
Have you ever felt like you needed to go find yourself? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, according to Google, hundreds of millions of people are interested in figuring out who they are.
For decades, scientists and personal development professionals have used personality typing to help people discover insightful truths about themselves.
Traits versus Types
When it comes to personality types, it’s helpful to distinguish between types and traits. Personality traits are a small group of behavioral tendencies, and types are believed to involve a qualitative difference between people. For example, having an introverted personality or an extroverted personality are two fundamentally different types of personality.
Interestingly, scientists don’t always get it right. You’ve probably heard about “type A” personalities, driven people who can be difficult to get along with and are supposed to be more at risk for heart attacks, etc. Interestingly, this particular theory has not held up using empirical research.
Thank You Ancient Greeks
For centuries, people have tried to classify people according to categories. The desire to put individuals into categories has been documented as far back as 2000 B.C., when the ancient Greeks believed that people fell into four basic types in which they were either irritable, depressed, optimistic, or calm.
Fast forward to modern times. In the 1940s, William Sheldon used people’s body shapes to classify people; the theory was called somatotypes. Plump people were classified as relaxed and friendly, while those who were lean or delicate were thought to be quiet, non-assertive, and sensitive.
One of the most commonly known personality type “tests” is Myers-Briggs. It was developed around World War II by a mother-daughter team attempting to help women reenter the workforce and find jobs best suited to their specific talents. They based their work on a 1921 publication by Carl Jung, which outlines specific personality types based on temperaments.
In a 1971 study, Block thought he identified five different personality types among men, but only three of the five held up in further studies in the 1990s. The personality types included a well-adjusted or resilient person who was adaptable and flexible; an individual who was over-controlling and maladjusted, uptight; or an individual who was under-controlling and impulsive, risky, delinquent, or even had criminal behavior.
In theory, personality typing is supposed to be a helpful tool for corporate and government agencies and counselors who want to predict the success rate of people who take on specific types of jobs and/or determine how well they will mesh with others. Some counselors even use personality typing to help couples figure out if they’re a good match.
At the end of the day, a person is a multidimensional being with spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational aspects to their personality and character. Not to mention how they were raised, including their environment and life experiences that have shaped who they are. When you take all of these things into consideration, might it be a little naive to think we can classify and categorize people into personality types?
We are beautifully complex creatures with a richness and depth that is both elusive and profound.
It’s been said that life isn’t about finding ourselves…it’s about creating ourselves. But does it have to be one or the other? What if life is about finding AND creating ourselves? And what if it’s in the process of creating ourselves that we actually find ourselves?
One thing is for certain, the only person you should ever let define you is you, regardless of how people classify or categorize you. They don’t get to decide who you are. YOU and you alone get to decide who and what you are. Besides, if your time on earth is a lifelong journey of self-discovery, how can any so-called expert possibly classify you by using a simple multiple-choice personality test?