Who am I?
The way in which you approach this question, the very contents of your response — this will all vary depending on the type of person you are.
It’s your fundamental characteristics, or in other words, your personality, that help shape and define your every thought and action. So it’s no surprise that those who strive for an adequate response to this question tend to find solace in personality tests, which aim to assist individuals in their mission to better understand who they are and why.
The concept of personalities has been around for a long time, originating in early Greek civilization when the physician Hippocrates suggested that personalities could be divided into four different temperaments based on the balance of “humors,” or bodily fluids, in the human body. For instance, too much blood in one’s veins meant they were sanguine and gregarious, while an excess of phlegm resulted in an apathetic nature. More black bile in the body correlated with a melancholic disposition while yellow bile reflected an individual’s choleric or bad-tempered personality.
Later in the 1800s with the rise of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, more researchers began to pay attention to the idea that one’s behavior and personality were the result of innate needs that differed from one individual to another. The 1900s saw an increased prevalence of personality assessments, leading to one of the most well-known tests in the industry — the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI.
The MBTI is now used and referenced all over, from workplaces and classrooms to the media and more. It’s a self-report questionnaire designed to assess the psychological preferences of an individual and categorize them into one of 16 types, all grounded on four psychological functions (based on an earlier theory by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung) — sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking.
However, it’s long been proven that the MBTI is unscientifically sound, with little to no validity and reliability. The original creators of the MBTI, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers, never had any formal training in psychology or testing.
Furthermore, such personality tests offer an overly simplistic and limited view of human personality — we can’t logically be defined by and categorized into just a few mutually exclusive labels (such as extroversion or introversion, thinking or feeling). So why are such tests still so widely accepted?
Furthermore, such personality tests offer an overly simplistic and limited view of human personality — we can’t logically be defined by and categorized into just a few mutually exclusive labels (such as extroversion or introversion, thinking or feeling).
Part of the reason could be the self-reinforcing nature of such tests in the multibillion dollar industry of personality testing. People use it because lots of other people use it. Countless social media trends are a testament to this phenomenon — popularity breeds popularity.
According to the Myers-Briggs Company, the MBTI is used by more than 88% of Fortune 500 companies across the world. Many companies take the results of this tool into consideration during hiring practices and assessment of their employees’ work styles. So as more and more companies utilize personality tests, others will follow.
Another possibility is that it can be surprisingly satisfying, even fun, to put ourselves in categories that claim to accurately represent who we are. Personality tests appeal to our vanity and curiosity, but even more importantly, to something deep within ourselves.
It is our innate desire as human beings to be seen and understood. Personality tests provide us with this small bit of insight into ourselves and others like us, and in doing so, they give us an opportunity to connect with others and find our own tribe.
The popularity of the MBTI has led to a rise in online community-building groups (on sites such as Meetup) and public gatherings based on personality types. People come together because they’re of the same type and bond with one another over not just common interests and hobbies, but of their shared minds. As the old proverb goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Personality profiles can also be great conversation starters in the workplace. For instance, while the MBTI may not be a useful method of predicting team development processes, it has the effect of inciting personal development and understanding of coworkers’ personalities. Conflicts in the workplace are more easily resolved if differences and similarities are acknowledged by all. And outside of the workplace, countless people have bonded over shared “Harry Potter” houses and similar personality quiz results.
It’s been shown, however, that humans are horribly inept at self-awareness. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant discussed humans’ blind spots in an article written for The Atlantic, describing how often people tend to overexaggerate desirable traits such as intelligence or generosity while minimizing and neglecting to see their own less desirable traits. “Any time a trait is easy to observe or hard to admit, you need other people to hold up a mirror for you,” he said.
Thus enters the personality test — unscientific as it may be, it can serve the role of an outsider passing judgment on our unconscious traits and behaviors so as to let us know something about ourselves that we may or may not have known beforehand. For me, at least, that’s one of the major reasons why I’m so drawn to such tests.
Thus enters the personality test — unscientific as it may be, it can serve the role of an outsider passing judgment on our unconscious traits and behaviors so as to let us know something about ourselves that we may or may not have known beforehand.
Over the years, I’ve probably taken hundreds of quizzes and assessments meant to uncover some aspect of my personality, from the silly (such as a “What Type of Coffee Are You?” Buzzfeed quiz) to the serious (preferred communication style, career inventories). I love the thrill I get whenever a test result proves right and confirms something I’ve always believed about myself. I find the idea that there can be an outsider explanation for my personal worldviews and habits completely fascinating.
But beyond the fun and intuitive knowledge, personality tests can also be a source of comfort. As a very introverted child growing up in an environment where extroversion was seen as the ideal, I had the sense that I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. I took my shyness and reserve as a sign that there was something wrong with me and desperately tried to conform to familial and societal expectations.
My personality was something to be altered, not understood, and it wasn’t until I took a few personality assessments in high school that I began to accept this part of myself and try to change my mindset. Reading about my MBTI profile — INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging) — helped me see that I wasn’t alone in the world and that there were other people like me out there.
It’s undeniable that personality tests are flawed, but they can also be extremely beneficial in humankind’s quest for meaning and understanding. Having a greater awareness of yourself and others better enables one to form social groups and find a sense of belonging. Taken with a grain of salt, these tests just might hold the key to unmapping the mysterious depths of human nature and taking us one step closer to our destination.