Are Personality Tests Actually Hurting the Way We Plan Our Futures?

We’ve all taken ridiculous personality tests; tests such as, “What type of dog are you?”or “Who is your celebrity twin?”, which are really just harmless ways to waste 10 minutes at work. But the larger, more professional tests like the Myers-Brigg Personality Identifier (MBPI), the DISC Assessment, and the Winslow Personality Profile, are heavily and controversially used within corporate America and even personal relationships as determiners for career, compatibility, and even success. However, these personality tests are becoming a crutch for lazy hiring practices and a lack of self-reflection.

Since the 1960s, personality tests have been a commonly accepted process in corporate hiring procedures, despite their vague and generally unscientific foundation. Consider the MBPI test, a test developed by two women in the 1940s who had no scientific background, and which enjoys widespread popularity even outside of human resources departments. While people who take the test outside of job requirements don’t follow the test religiously, it is common to use it as a self-identifier.

Currently, Pepsi, Kaiser Permanente, American Express, Sheraton, and more than 80% of all Fortune 500 companies and 20% of all U.S. companies use personality testing in their hiring practices. Top-tier dating sites (which also happens to be a $1.65 billion industry), eHarmony and Chemistry.com both use personality tests as the precursor to all participation in their websites; customers interested in Chemistry.com (go here to take quick chemistry.com 'lovemap' survey) must take a test of over 258 questions. But again, the scientific validity of these tests has yet to be determined, chemistry.com was actually ordered by the Better Business Bureau to stop claiming that it’s algorithm was a scientific method since there wasn’t enough evidence to support that statement.

Some researchers argue that faking, a way of manipulating outcomes to get the result we want is obscenely common during these tests, other researchers claim that the margin of faking is small, it’s practically nonexistent. But for many critics there are other substantial problems with over-utilizing personality tests: false self-perception for instance. Nor do these tests account for situational context or the characters of those that we associate with. Human nature is far more complex than 50 multiple-choice questions.

Consider the human brain, neuroscience is still young and scientists and medical professionals freely admit that we understand only a fraction of the way that the mind works. How can questions asking how often you are late for appointments or help people without looking for reward for anything return purport to understand the most uniquely amazing and confounding aspect of humanity — character and personality?

Let’s be honest, most personality tests are non-evaluative, they follow the model of, “I’m OK, we’re OK, just different,” results that give everyone positive traits and few negative character traits, thereby validating the way that we already view ourselves and pushing test takers into safe, little boxes of four to five personality indicators. But what happens when people take on too many labels? Are we basically leading a self-determining path of, “I’m a so-and-so kind of person therefore I must behave this way and others must communicate with me in this way?”

This perspective is ultimately limiting and eventually damaging to the way that people communicate with others as it creates personality cliques: these people should have this job, these people should date, these people should communicate in this way. I’ve even known people who would even avoid friendships with others based on their personality test results. A sad fact that seemed to do little but exclude possible friends and allow a researcher who never knew them to determine their relationships and career.

And like everything, at their core, personality tests are about making money. The personality testing industry is a $500 million one. The companies that develop and produce these tests have a massively vested interest in corporate America continuing to use them, despite their limiting perspective to both the companies that fuel our economy and in our personal lives.

What do you think? Are personality tests accurate determiners of relationship and career success? Should they continue to be used or instead be phased out?

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Rachel Redfern

"Rachel is a traveler and teacher who spent the last few years living in Asia. Now back in her native California, she focuses on writing about media, culture, and feminism. While a big fan of campy 80's movies and eccentric sci-fi, she's become a cable acolyte, spending most of her time watching HBO, AMC, and Showtime. For good stories about bungee jumping and lions, follow her @RachelRedfern2.

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