Personality tests are BS

25 06 2009

I have a few issues with Personality tests. Not the ones that tell you what Batman character you are, but the ones that try to pretend they are a big scientifically-proven method of determining your personality. I thought it was all BS for a long time but recently I discovered why all these tests are BS. (For those who don’t want to read to the end of the post about my discovery just check out these two links: Forer Effect, Brian Brushwood: Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural[well worth the watch]; For everyone else, I have more links to great stuff later on so no need check these links out yet 🙂 )

So recently (couple of months maybe? pretty sure sometime this year 🙂 ) my family got this book about “determining your true personality”. It was supposed to have all these great incites into the readers life and to show them how to better themselves. When I came over for lunch one day, I got bombarded with requests to take the test. They all wanted to see how I scored.

I tried to tell them that I don’t believe in these tests and that they are nothing more then way of trying to get you to buy more junk from the author / publisher. But they would have none of it. They thought it was the greatest entertainment since the TV. As more and more of my friends and family jumped on and hounded me with “It’s fun! you should try it! It shows you your /True/ self!” Eventually I caved to quiet them.

I was right. The test WAS worthless and did NOT tell me anything useful. However, my family thought it was absolutely with-out-a-doubt 100% accurate. So why the disconnect? I will give you one example of the /MANY/ lines of garbage.

“You have a tendency to like structure in your life.”
(Roughly remembered but the jest of it is correct)

Well DUH! Who honestly likes having disarray every moment of every day? Sure a crazy wild party with unexpected moments is great for a Friday night, but who doesn’t want some structure when they are driving? Who really wants to store their life savings in a bank that has no structure in their business? (*cough*couch* current economy *cough*… umm… sorry… something stuck in my throat). _Of_course_ I have a tendency to like structure in my life!

Is this how my family interpreted it? Oh no.

One of the first things said by my sister was “EEEK! You are an Engineer! That is so perfect! ZOMG!!” Then the rest of the family joined in about how I like computers and Linux so this description was 100% accurate and awesome.

No. The description is vague and meaningless at best. My family /gave/ it meaning and accuracy by associating the things I am (an Engineer) and the things I love doing (working with Linux on computers).

I am going to take a step back in time for a few moments. When I was in highschool, I was given a personality test in PE. Why in Physical Education? Because my teacher at that time was lazy and it was raining outside. He didn’t want to do anything so he took us to the cafeteria and made us take this test. At first, I thought it was so cool how this simple test had mapped out my personality. I kinda had my doubts on some of the stuff, but I was confident that it was at least 80% correct.

The next year (my senior year) my home room teacher was obsessed with trying to prepare us all for college. I am not dissing her or what she tried to accomplish, but there was a lot that didn’t line up when I got to college…Anyway, one of the things she had us do one day at the end of the year was take a personality test so that we “can know who we are /Before/ going to college”. I was surprised to find this was a different test at first, but then thought ‘Who cares? I have done this before so it will just confirm what I already know! Right?’ Um no. I got the results back and read through them. As I read I agreed with almost everything on the list. But something didn’t sit right with me. So I started to ask everyone else what they got. One of the kids in my class got almost the exact same score as me in every area. The thing was we were completely different people! We didn’t hate each other by any means but we had ZERO things in common and didn’t hang around each other long before we made an excuse to leave. From the activites we did to the people we hung out with were completely different. How could we score so close? Then something else happened. The Football/Basketball star who knew every person in the school and was a very friendly and outgoing person was rated as Extreme Introvert. Sure it could have all been an act, but he had been this way for years both at school, on the field/court, and out-n’-about in public. That would have been quite the act.

The final nail in the coffin was when I got home and dug out my old test (I kept all sorts of stupid things and I had good reasons but that is another post). The two tests were not only different, but they conflicted by a _wide_ margin! Not even close. I scored Extroverted on one and Introverted on the other. One told me I have a mind for details and the other told a story about how I didn’t like the threading on the tapestry but appreciated it when I stepped back and viewed it on the whole. WTF?

I took these to my teacher and she told me that people change. Since I was growing up I was becoming more mature and so things were going to change. The first test was who I was, but this test was who I was now. I almost called BS to her face right then, but managed to hold my tongue.

In college it got worse. As an incoming freshman there were a couple of classes we could take. Things like Intro to college, adjusting to campus life, and life away from home. Apparently enough kids have problems that these are required. I took the one week Engineering version. An amazing week where I met some of my best and closest friends (from the start to even years after college). They gave us a personality test. It too was very different from my earlier tests. It had only been a summer! How do I change that much in a couple of months? So I went online and found a bunch of free tests. Most gave the initial results for free but the “in depth” results you had to pay for (which I wasn’t going to do). By the time I had taken a bunch of these tests I had realized “my personality” was all over the map.

I don’t care how good a test is, if it gives results that are inaccurate and can’t be reproduced then it is NOT a scientific test!

Recently I discovered Scam School hosted by Brian Brushwood. I have always had fun with magic and Brian is a great host that has rekindled a bit of me to toy around with magic again. The tricks he teaches are great fun at a party with friends. After watching all of the episodes posted so far, I started looking for other things that he has done. It was really easy to find his youtube account that has like 50 videos of various things he has done. One of the things hosted is Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural (link is to the whole lecture and not the youtube cut pieces). This was a lot of fun to watch, but there was something VERY interesting to me. Brian confirmed that little suspicion that had been in the back of my head for years. These personality tests are scams! They just want to sell you other stuff by giving you generic “observations” / “incites” into your personality! They are no better then a horoscope!

So why do people fall for this? Well apparently it is because of the Forer Effect. I think Wikipedia does a fantastic job describing this effect (short and to the point yet well explained) so I won’t go into further detail. I will, however, encourage you to look at these things a bit more skeptically. Now that I know what it is, it is amazing how many places I see this kind of wording and trickery.

So next time you see a book / website that will sell you the secrets to unlocking your personality you can know that it is all a scam!

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