Sunday, February 8, 2015

Creating Social Desirability

I'm trying to publish a book of personality quizzes. Well, several books actually, but I'm working on one book right now, and I need to add some more quizzes before I would try to send it to a publisher. I love writing quizzes just or the fun of it, but I also want to use my quizzes to do something very important; I want to create social desirability.

I have a very strict policy on my quizzes that I don't ever want my answers to be like, "Since you answered mostly A's, you should try be more like B." A lot of quizzes I read are like this - they push change on people who've never said they wanted to change. There are clear right and wrong answers, and a clear way that you're supposed to come out. My results are all purely descriptive, and when I do offer advice, it's based on who the person is, like "Your results show that you are very outdoorsy, so here are some outdoor activities that you might enjoy." I thought that as long as I worded the questions in a neutral way that didn't favor one result over another, I was set.

Then I gave a quiz to someone I know very well who likes to keep a lot of things for sentimental value. When asked her the question, "How many items do you keep for sentimental value?" I was sure she would say "Lots," but instead she hesitated, looking a little embarrassed, and said, "Well, I have done that, but I'm trying cut back and get rid of things, so I'll go with the middle choice of 'some.'" Now, prior to giving her quiz, she never indicated that she wanted to cut back, or that this was something she wished to change about her life.  And she did not cut back or get rid of things in the years after taking this quiz. I think she just didn't feel comfortable answering "lots" because she saw it as the undesirable choice.

This happened a long time ago, but I was discussing it with a friend recently and realized something: being neutral isn't enough. Wording the question in a neutral way is not enough to make people feel comfortable giving their real answers. The world is not a neutral place. It's not like the quiz question about keeping things for sentimental value was the first time that this person had stopped to think about that. She had probably experienced enough negative judgment and pressure to change that she would automatically feel judged and pressured when answering the question, even if the question itself is worded in a neutral way. I need to go beyond trying to sound neutral and leaving social desirability out. I need to CREATE social desirability in my quizzes and give it to people.

I've used this image a lot in my life: If I picture something that I hate as a racecar coming at me, I don't want to just put up a barrier between myself and the racecar to make it stop. I want to get a bigger, faster racecar to go charging at it and send it back where it came from.

It's not enough to just not be judgmental in my quizzes. I need to be judgmental back, in a way that says, "ALL of these results are perfectly fine - society can fuck off." So, I've decided that my results sections are not going to be purely descriptive anymore. They are all going to either be positive and emphasize the person's strengths, or they are going to advise the person on what will make them happy, based on their choices. So instead of saying, "You don't like large parties," I would say, "You really enjoy spending time with smaller groups of friends," or, "You really enjoy doing cool things by yourself." I'm going to be aware of what society values already and actively boost up the other results to match it. I'm going to feed people social desirability through my quiz books so that people will feel good about themselves and not feel pressured to change.

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