Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Personality Testing

I took a personality test a long time ago where you could be one of two types. I came out to be both types because I literally had all the "strengths" of one type and all the "weaknesses" of the other type. I've been thinking recently about how often we assume that people want to change without asking them. Like when someone says how much they love ice cream and you suggest that they switch to frozen yogurt. Or when I tell people how late I stay up and sleep in and they start telling me how to get on a more normal schedule. Personality tests have this same issue in that they often assume that we want to be what we're not. Here's an example:

Say you have to rate yourself from 1 to 5 on how true each statement is about you, 5 being "strongly agree" and 1 being "strongly disagree." 

If the statement said "I am a good writer," I would pick 5. 
If the statement said "I want to be a better writer," I would also pick 5. 
The test isn't accounting for that. The test is assuming that "I want to be a better writer" is synonymous with "I am not a good writer," which it's not. 

Now let's try the reverse:
If the statement said "I am a fast runner," my answer would be 1. 
If the statement said "I wish I were a faster runner," my answer would also be 1. If I wanted to be a faster runner, I would practice running. While I wouldn't necessarily rate myself a 5, I wouldn't say I was a 1 if I actually ran at all. (Of course it would be different if I were filling out this quiz to join a track team or something, but when you assume that everyone is taking the quiz, I figure that 1 is for people who don't run at all. Although different interpretations could cause problems with the quiz as well).

When I rate myself on personality traits, the same is pretty much true. The fact that I'm not outgoing does not mean that I wish I were more outgoing. I'm really not sure why people and tests assume that. The traits I wish I had more of are traits I already have some of. It's always awkward at job interviews when they ask what I'm doing to change something. If I had any interest in changing something I'd already be working on it and therefore wouldn't rank myself as having none of that quality at all.

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