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Boxed Identity: The Relevance of Personality Tests

By Khadija Fatima

Copy Editor

Via HubSpot

The last one stares back at me from the screen, Question 54: Does this statement apply to you: I'm happy to follow the group with whatever they decide to do. I disagreed. The screen loads for a little too long — it's Dawson Wi-Fi after all. Your Enneagram is 9w8, The Advisor.

That's another one to the list: INFJ, Ravenclaw, and now 9w8, The Advisor. I promptly share my newfound insight with friends, eager to compare results. As one of my friends delves into the associated description of my Enneagram type, I am met with a familiar refrain: “That’s so INFJ of you.” It is as though these boxes are all that define me, yet, within them, I find visibility.

It’s human nature to seek understanding through defined borders: we want neat boxes to instill clarity in a world that can often seem chaotic. To define something means to make it clear, and you can quote your Humanities 101 teacher on that one. In a way, as we seek to define the world around us, we also seek to define the people in our lives. To understand and to be understood — this dilemma can be distilled into a handful of letters with personality tests with just a few taps on our phones. 

The options are endless and accessible: the Myers-Briggs Test, the Big Five, the Color Test, Enneagrams, you name it. Test-takers hope “that they will reveal previously unknown information about ourselves,” explains personality psychologist Simine Vazire. The Big Five, for instance, is a personality test that places people on a spectrum of five common dimensions. Truity lists these on their website as “Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.” Typically, users respond to inquiries about themselves and their behaviour given different social situations. They are then categorized accordingly based on the answers.

For many, these tests offer a sense of belonging and validation. When asked about the meaning of belonging in the context of Personality types, a Dawson student, opting to stay anonymous, added: I think we’re all obsessed with these tests because we struggle to be part of communities as Gen Z — I mean, we want a sense of identity without that identity being problematic for once. And, to have that be a little more scientific than traditional astrology. 

Yet, PhD psychologist Jaime Lane Derringer notes that there is allure in reducing complex individuals to simple labels as “it would save a lot of time.” It is a promise of efficiency, a way to understand and to be understood, without a need for genuine connection. After all, it’s comforting to know that other people think and act similarly — you are an individual grouped into a community. Even so, our society has evolved beyond using these metrics for individual introspection, and since encompasses societal needs in the workplace for efficiency.

Christian Much Svendsen, a change management consultant, highlights that recruiters argue that considering one’s personality is a more holistic approach to the application process, while also reducing time spent reviewing every candidacy as these tests can be eliminatory. A team knows what they need, therefore HR costs can also be reduced by hiring candidates that would inherently fit into the workforce. However, as society increasingly relies on these metrics, we must confront their limitations.

The MBTI, for instance, known as a popular tool in recruitment agencies, has been criticized in professional fields as it does not guarantee consistency of results over time. Studies reveal that 50% of re-testers obtain different results in the second iteration of the test. As test-retest is one of many ways to verify the validity of a personality test, the MBTI test fails to be recognized within the field of psychology.

The problem, it seems, lies in our cognitive bandwidth, a term encapsulating the human ability to reason, focus, and resist impulses. As our attention is limited and divided among stressors, external factors can render results inconsistent and unreliable. A lack of sleep or a family emergency can impact your results and thus give you a different result than your calm, reassured self. Hence, Svendsen argues that recruitment should not be based on personality tests alone.

While the pursuit of self-understanding through psychology means categorizing with labels, it holds evolutionary value in navigating social dynamics. Individuality, however, must transcend standardized tests given specific contexts. How do we benefit from putting people into boxes, and where do we need to see them for who they are?

1 Comment

han gu
han gu
Jun 25

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