Friday, June 18, 2010

How Personality Tests Affect the Way You See Yourself

The Myers-Briggs and Big Five are two personality tests that psychologists commonly use. The Big Five is more popular currently, but while I agree that the Big Five is more thorough, I think that it's missing an important quality of the Myers-Briggs test.  First, here is an explanation of both tests:

Myers-Briggs: Everyone is either:
Introverted or Extroverted
Sensing or Intuitive
Thinking or Feeling
Perceiving or Judging 

In this method, a person's personality type is a combination of four traits, one from each pair. For example, my type is INFP, which means that I'm introverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving. There are a total of 16 combinations.

Big Five: Personality is a measurement of five traits:

A person's personality is usually presented as a bar graph which shows how much of each trait they possess, from 0 to 100 percent.  For a more detailed analysis, each of the five traits can be broken into 6 facets, for a total of 30 traits.

I can understand why the Big Five test is more popular now.  The Myers-Briggs types are based on threshold values; a person is either one thing or the other, but it does not take into account where a person falls on the spectrum, whether they are really on one side or are closer to the middle. Each of the 16 Myers-Briggs combinations are considered to be a distinct type, but the Big Five does not classify people into types as a whole. For example, a person who takes the Big Five test might be told that they have high openness and low conscientiousness, but the test itself does not try to correlate these two pieces of information into one type.  Because of this, the personality combinations on the Big Five scale are almost infinite - especially if you do the detailed analysis with 30 traits, it's unlikely you would meet someone else who had the exact same personality as you.

But my issue with the Big Five test is that it only measures five traits, but not their opposites. As an introvert, I don't appreciate the fact that introversion is just defined as a lack of extroversion on the Big Five test. On Myers-Briggs, introversion is a quality in and of itself.  The Myers-Briggs spectrum made it seem like either choice was okay, but on the Big Five scale, you have a certain amount of each trait.  The Big Five traits have more indications of social desirability (ex: conscientiousness is good, neuroticism is bad) whereas the words on the Myers-Briggs test are more neutral.  Since the Big Five traits are either good or bad and the test measures the amount of each trait that you have, there is a clear inclination of whether each trait score is good or bad.  The Big Five test may be more accurate, but the way that it measures personality can really make people feel bad about themselves; each of the 16 Myers-Briggs types is just as good as the next, but the Big Five test actually has an "ideal" score: 100 points on the four traits and 0 points on the last.

I think that the Big Five test can still work, but it can be presented in a way that is more similar to the Myers-Briggs test so that people would feel better about themselves.  When I took the Big Five test online, I got one score for each of the five traits and bar graph showing these scores out of a possible 100%.  As an experiment, I made my own graphs out of these scores, but instead of using a vertical bar graph, I used a horizontal graph with two different colors, so that the entire 100% was filled in with color. For example: if my score for a certain trait was 20 percent, the first 20 percent of the bar graph would be dark blue, but then the other 80 percent would be filled in with light blue. Both sides of the graph would have a label - one for the original trait and one for the opposite trait, using neutral, non-socially-desirable (or undesirable) words. When both sides of the graph are filled in, when you're given two numbers instead of one, you always feel like you are something, rather than feeling like you're not something. It's a simple change in presentation, but it makes all the difference in how we feel.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Self Awareness Is a Sign of Intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence, or self-awareness (not to be confused with interpersonal intelligence, which has to do with social skills) is one of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences.  Senior year of high school, we took the Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence test in one of our classes, and my highest score was for intrapersonal intelligence. I was really psyched to find that this was even considered a form of intelligence, but I was soon disappointed to find that there were no related career choices. The descriptions of the other intelligences included potential careers that the person might like, but mine only defined intrapersonal as self-aware and said it was a good quality to have.

I recently took the test again on my own to see if it would be the same four years later. My scores have changed a lot since high school, but intrapersonal is still number one. What I didn't expect to find is that the test results have been updated; now there are some careers recommended for people with high self-awareness, and they include being a writer and a psychologist! Wow.

I'm so glad that we're beginning to value things beyond linguistic and mathematical intelligence. And extroversion. I really hope we keep moving forward, promoting different qualities and finding even more qualities to value.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My First Blog Entry

It feels so weird to be writing my first blog entry when just a few years ago I said that I would never get a blog. My main worry at the time was standards: I had the impression that in blogs (as opposed to online journals), people didn’t just write whatever they wanted. Blogs often have a theme, such as travel, or they're promotional like the student blog at my college. And on blogs, most people post links to other articles and news stories to talk about, which I wasn't planning to do. I didn't want to get a blog because I thought I'd have to regulate what I said but I realize now that pretty much anything goes, that I don't have to follow the standards of "normal" blogs.

I started this blog because I wanted another place to post things. I have had an online journal since 2006, but since I was under a username that only a few friends knew, some of the entries are very private.  Because of this, I couldn't share new entries with many people because I would also be giving them access to older, more private entries. I need to start over, use a new website that I’ll be able to share.

Now that I’m out of college, I feel comfortable keeping a blog, less like I’m going to be judged for what I say here. In college, I couldn’t do this. I was just too worried about what other people would think. And to some extent, I still am. I’m not worried about being judged for what I say; I’m worried about being judged for what I choose to talk about. I discovered this during my junior year, when I posted 25 random facts about myself as part of an online trend. There was nothing wrong with any of the things I listed, but I worried that people would judge me for choosing those 25 things. For example: I mentioned that I like to dip M&Ms in peanut butter, which might be weird, but it's trivial so I don't expect to be judged. But I do expect to be judged for the fact that of all the intelligent and meaningful things I could have said, I chose to talk about how I eat M&Ms, even though that is exactly the sort of thing that I want to talk about.

In high school I was comfortable saying whatever I wanted, but things are different now. I come from a college where there are set standards of what students talk about, care about, and think is important. Social influence is pervasive in that we act as if people are watching when they're not. In other words, the self-consciousness has not faded just because I'm not in college anymore. It will take some time, and until then, I will be nervous about everything I post here. I will go into every entry thinking that everyone will be judging me for what I choose to write about. I know logically that people who aren't interested in this blog will just not read it, but I still feel self-conscious about it.

I'm saying all of this directly right now hoping that this entry will serve as a permission slip to continue.