Sunday, November 8, 2009

What sort of mad axeman are you? The problem with personality tests

I was quite upset the other day to be deemed a 'vain, self-centred egotist' by a personality test. 'You say it like it's a bad thing' joked a friend but actually it is. I suppose I shouldn't take it too seriously as the test was on Facebook and involved a total of five 'searching' questions. This devastating judgement is based on the fact that I take long strides when I walk (I've got long legs for goodness sakes) and look for people I know at parties (c'mon, who doesn't?).

If I had answered that I kick 'lesser' people out of the way as I walk along and only talk to people that admire me at parties, I could understand. Once I'd got over the initial hurt (about five seconds later) , I thought two things; why are personality tests so addictive and can they ever really test personality?

Perhaps I am a bit of an egotist as I can't resist a personality test and have been known to buy Psychologies magazine which is full of the judgmental buggers. I want them to reveal the inner me, to tell me something about myself that will help me cope with the world just a little better. The problem is I also want them to reveal what a really rather wonderful person I am. Needy me? Surely not.

I answer the questions diligently but am I truthful? Possibly not. Not when I am trying to wangle the result so that I come out as super-dooper. You know the sort of thing - creative and sensitive but great to be around and full of the milk of human kindness. Not a vain, self centred egotist anyway! So I try to answer the questions in a way that will show me in a good light. Of course a well-thought out test is supposed to allow for this sort of manipulation but don't underestimate the abilities of the serial personality test user.

The problem for the deeply needy is that personality tests, or psychometric tests as HR people like to call them, have pre-ordained parameters. You can't win really! If there's a test called 'What sort of crazed serial killer are you?', well you're bound to come out as a crazed serial killer of some kind. And while that's a fairly silly example, strikes me the other tests are doing pretty much the same thing but in a, often only marginally, more subtle way.

But will it stop me from doing them? Er, no. I'm still searching for that 'aha' moment where I'll realise what I'm all about. Just so long as it's flattering. I wonder if there's a test called 'What sort of nice, cuddly, great human being are you?'

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