Why We Are So Obsessed with Personality Types

Fab Giovanetti

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I could easily claim that is the Virgo in me, but I will be honest, I do love a good personality type test.

I believe that comes from this idea that I want to understand my personality and hack myself into becoming a better person. Just like I would check my birth chart, personality tests give me an idea of who I am and some of my unique traits.

Just like personality tests, astrology, another means of self-definition, is gaining in popularity among millennials as opposed to more cynical Gen-Xers — almost half of them think it’s a science.

The most common test you will find is the Myers-Briggs type (so much so that it now features in dating profiles alongside your zodiac sign). Yes, I am ENFJ-T, just in case you were wondering.

Are personality types just an internet phenomenon?

If you were a teenage-magazine buff like I was, you may remember some of these quizzes appeared for the most part in monthly magazines and weekly newspapers, with horoscope offerings being available daily, depending on the publication.

Before then, Greek physician Hippocrates believed that humans could be divided into four temperaments — distinct yet overlapping personality types. These temperaments, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholic, are based on “humors,” bodily fluids within the microcosm of the body that cause illness if imbalanced.

Nevertheless, the internet has changed the way we consume these systems in several ways.

Firstly, we now seem to use personality tests as a way to find how we can be best compatible with the people around us.

In an episode of The Black Goat Podcast, personality psychologist Simine Vazire suggested that we like personality tests because we hope that they will reveal previously unknown information about ourselves — so self-discovery is still a massive element of this.

I personally got hooked on learning about different personality types to gain a better understanding of myself and also my friends and family and learn how we could all best interact — again, blaming my strong Virgo traits.

Myers-Briggs

One of the oldest personality tests available, Myers-Briggs is a classic, dating back to the 1940’s and inspired by Jung’s personality theory. Called Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®), this is considered the original personality assessment tool that changed the game. It was created by a mother-daughter duo with no official training in psychology. And yet it’s used frequently by Fortune 500 companies and the military, as Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs And the Birth of Personality Testing, points out in her book.

The Myers-Briggs test separates people into 16 categories of personalities, providing insights into general strengths and weaknesses, desires and ambitions, communication styles, how people perceive you, and how you see the world.

DISC assessment

The DiSC assessment determines where you lie on four DiSC factors — dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance.

DiSC is one of the most popular and authoritative career assessments out there, and many companies, including HubSpot, encourage their employees to take it.

The DiSC asks you to complete a series of questions, and then provides you with a PDF report on your behaviour and personality — the report provides you with tips on how you might work better with others.

5 Love Languages

If you are looking for love, this one is for you. The 5 Love Languages profile will give you a thorough analysis of your emotional communication preference. It will single out your primary love language, what it means, and how you can use it to connect and deepen your relationships with others.

16 Personalities

This is a fantastic (and speedy) test to help you learn about your strengths and weaknesses with a simple test. The 16 Personalities include different characters — I am the protagonist, go figure — and it’s probably the most enjoyable I took in a long time.

On better understanding others

Understanding and relating to other people is hard.

In a world where it’s hard for us to find people compatible with us and our lifestyle, being able to identify other people via labels — which go beyond religion and beliefs — has proved to be a way to choose our pack and partners (in crime and life).

By understanding different personality types, we may be able to better identify our personal paths and values and avoid decision fatigue.

It is tempting to wish for a simple shorthand that would provide us with a wealth of information, something that would allow us to understand someone’s tendencies and motives at a glance, saving us the hard work of trial and error and awkwardness as we get to know them.

This is just what tests like the MBTI and Enneagram are meant to be doing. In theory, knowing someone’s MBTI type or Enneagram number allows us to quickly and easily understand them and respond to them in a way that allows for smooth social interactions.

Personality tests at work

As crazy as it may sound, personality tests have often been used as a way to assess the qualities of potential work candidates, as well as their overall fit within a company.

Today, the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator is the most popular personality test in the world used by Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospitals, churches, and the military to sort-of summarise who you are and what you bring to the table.

However, some people use these tests to advance in their current jobs as well.

Many times, personality tests will identify an area that can be further developed or identify a strength that is undervalued.

If you wanted to work in sales but hadn’t realised you were an introvert, you could use that knowledge to develop strategies to connect with others rather use traditional extrovert approaches.

Whether you have been reading Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies or you took the Big Five test, there is something to be said about what you can learn through a personality test.

Is it really the key to your destiny? I highly doubt it. Still, it can give you some fun insights about yourself that you may not expect to hear.

On becoming better people

“People like confirmation of their qualities, particularly strengths. In spite of the frivolity, we all have an existential craving to be validated and ‘seen.’”

A 90s study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed three major motives behind self-evaluation: self-assessment (the pursuit of accurate self-knowledge), self-enhancement (the pursuit of favorable self-knowledge) and self-verification (the pursuit of highly certain self-knowledge).

Personality tests also give us a clearer idea of our strengths and weaknesses, something that empowers us more in the choices we can make and the way that we can better ourselves as humans.

“In spite of the relative sophistication of society today, people remain a mystery to themselves as well as others — and they are always curious to get a bit of insight as to what they’re really like,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and faculty at Fielding Graduate University.

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