Personality tests: Useful insights or psychological propaganda?

Starting in the equivalent of High School (Secondary School in England) I’ve been subjected to a number of different personality tests. Further, I often subject myself to some of the more bizarre ones that get circulated on the internet. I just can’t help myself from filling in quizzes to find out what colour I am, or what type of leaf!

Of all of these the Myers-Briggs has probably been the most useful to me. Myers-Briggs is based on Jungian psychology and categorises people into 16 distinct personality types.

You can find out more about the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory here. If you’re interested in which personality category you fall into there is a quick free online test you can take here, though do remember that for true testing you should undertake the original Myers-Briggs with a certified tester.

An a teen my tests determined that I was an INTJ. That is that I was the class known as ‘The Architect”.

As an I – I’m an introvert, In Myers-Briggs terminology that means that I don’t gain energy from being around people but rather from my inner world, the things that I read, see and experience.

The “N” means that I am intuitive rather than sensing. That is that I work more in the abstract than I do the real world that I experience with my senses.

As a Thinker (rather than a Feeler) I like to balance the pros and cons and think things through rather than being concerned with people’s values and feelings.

The last element of these personality types is about how we present to the world, not necessarily how we feel on the inside. So to the world, I appear orderly, that I like routine and structure and decisions to be made and clear. This is known as ‘Judging’ rather than ‘Perceiving’. It’s not to be confused with being judgmental which isn’t the case and many of us that test as ‘judging’ are actually very flexible and open to new information.

Over the years I’ve had cause to repeat this test. Interestingly, I always tested exactly the same until I became a parent. At which pont I moved along one axis and became an INFJ – ‘The Advocate’. I became far more concerned with harmony, and people’s feelings than I did.

Apparently, this is quite common. That is, for people to move along an axis following major life events.

So does knowing this help me?

Not so much.

However, what I have found is that knowing which type I am, and which type other people are makes it easier for me to relate to other people. It’s somewhat like the Five Love Languages that I talked about in an earlier post. By understanding how other people view the world it’s easier to make connections with them.

Understanding that some people really do gain energy from spending time with other people and undertaking group activities makes it easier for me to not feel excluded when friends and partners attend such events. It’s also made it easier for me to explain to them why I am really, honestly, totally truthful when I say that I don’t want to go myself, that I will be very happy at home with a book!

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As Einstein said, we’re all geniuses in our own way. Expecting me to be happy and content at a party is like expecting that fish to climb a tree. Now, give me a good book, a glass of wine and a quiet corner while others enjoy socializing works just fine for me. I’m an avid people watcher – I just prefer not to engage!

I started with posing the question as to whether or not personality tests are useful or just propaganda.

I think that, like most things, they’re as useful as you make them. I have certainly found that the Myers-Briggs is very accurate for me and extremely useful in helping me navigate the world. However, some of the others that are not held to the same scientific standard as the Myers-Briggs I think are fun and entertaining but really just propaganda.

At the end of the day, what I think really matters is who we are when we’re alone and not being watched. That’s integrity.

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