Online personality quizzes have been a well-loved internet pastime since their conception. Most of them take less than ten minutes, ask questions that don’t require too much thinking and tell you something new about yourself (or confirm something you already knew). Who doesn’t love learning about themselves?
Thanks to everyone being stuck at home, the creation and taking of these quizzes has become somewhat of a trend. You can’t scroll through your Tumblr or Twitter feed for more than five minutes without coming across quizzes made by friends and people you follow that could put Buzzfeed out of business.
Although easy to ridicule at first, they’re hard to ignore. You’ll scroll past a link for one, roll your eyes, but then a few seconds later give in and click on it. You’re then stuck in a vicious cycle of taking 86 more. What started out with you trying to figure out which Lana Del Rey lyric you embody has now led to a debilitating addiction.
Why do we even take these quizzes in the first place? Yes, they’re fun and cure boredom, but why do we really take these quizzes? The answer is simple: they give us validation. Wanting to be “seen” and feel sure of who you are is a timeless desire, even in this sophisticated age. Personality quizzes fulfill that wish. Figuring yourself out is a hard journey to take on your own, so it’s nice to have a little help, even if that help comes from a silly little quiz.
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It’s not hard to see the effect they’ve had on people today. Seeing someone list their Hogwarts House, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and whether they’re lawful, good or chaotic neutral in their bio is so normal it’s nothing even worth batting an eye over.
People will wear quiz results like a badge of honor, like a ribbon that says, “Look at me. I figured out a small part of my personality.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but like with all things, once it’s no longer taken in moderation, it can spin out of control. Life can become troublesome if you start to let results define who you are.
Let’s take a look at the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, arguably the most popular personality quiz in the world. It’s used by schools, the military, hospitals and jobs to help you figure out who you are and what you can do.
After answering some questions, the test provides you with four letters that basically give you the key to your character — it tells you your strengths and weaknesses, what kind of friend and romantic partner you are, what you’re like in the workplace, etc.
“Here is who you are, in four letters, and now that you’ve met yourself you’re capable of designing a plan, or practice of life, that actualizes who you are according to your preferences,” said Mevre Emre, the author of “The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing.”
Tests like these can do a lot of good, like provide some much needed time for self-reflection. “Many times, personality tests will identify an area that can be further developed or identify a strength that is undervalued,” explained Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center.
“If, for example, you wanted to work in sales but hadn’t realized you were an introvert, you could use that knowledge to develop strategies to connect with others rather than use traditional extravert approaches. Conversely, an extravert might discover that certain jobs are too ‘antisocial’ for them to be performing at their best, or even the kind of vacation they might want to take.”
Everyone wants to think that their personalities are consistent, easy to organize, something you can wrap up and slap a bow on, and personality quizzes like the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator can help feed into that hope, but they can also lead you to put yourself into a box. You can become so attached to your result that that’s all you see yourself as.
Others can only see you as your result, as well. You can become “type-shamed.” For example, in a professional setting, an employer could ask you to take a test to see what kind of employee you are, or how you work with others.
Once they get their answer, they could end up categorizing you — and that could affect how they view both your work ethic and you as a human being. Although you are obviously more complex than a simple test result, it could always hang over your head, no matter what you do. You could receive biased treatment for the rest of your time there.
This can even happen in casual settings, like with friends. It’s amusing to share quiz results with each other, but if a friend — someone who typically thinks they know you well — hears something they weren’t expecting, it could change how they see you, maybe even skewing their perception entirely. A skewed perception could affect your relationship, and so on.
Not to mention that certain results can leave you feeling awful and doubting yourself. One minute you’re on a quest to figure out what kind of pasta dish you are, and the next you’re being told that you personifying chicken broccoli Alfredo means you’re an emotional cheater who’s going to die alone — and although that sounds absolutely ridiculous, it’s still something that’ll play in the back of your mind. These days, it’s tempting to trust a computer over yourself.
The point isn’t that personality quizzes are something to be wary of, or that they should be banned from the internet. They’ve been around for ages, helping kill time and just being plain enjoyable. It’s okay to like and take them.
It just becomes a problem when they stop being fun, when we let them define our entire sense of self. We’re fascinating and complex. Our experiences, learned behaviors, environments and people we choose to surround ourselves with are some of the many things that make us who we are, not some words on a screen. The sooner we realize that, the better.