The testing of America
By Caroline Hsu
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? A confronter? An idealist? An analytical
Enneagram type 5, or a free-spirited orange? Or are you, like most people, just a
good old ESTJ?
Whether you see the world through four-letter personality types, believe in
, or completed an online assessment before getting a job,
chances are you've taken a personality test. If not, just wait: Personality tests are
increasingly a part of American life, used to assess preschool applicants, match
up college roommates, award promotions, and even match life partners. And
they're big business: Personality testing companies make up a $400 million
industry that's growing at an average of 10 percent a year. The tests are used in
hiring, promotions, and professional development by a third of U.S. businesses.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the most popular, is taken by an estimated 2.5
million people a year, and in the past three months alone, the online testing
administered 10 million personality tests.
Who are you?
Yet despite some of the tests' scientific trappings, they may
reveal less about "personality" than meets the eye. Within the field of psychology,
there's not even a consensus on whether personality can be tested at all. While
some psychologists regularly use tests to predict and understand behavior and
guide individual change, others believe that personality is a moving target,
determined by past experience and current environment. Some tests, like the
Rorschach inkblots, are highly controversial yet still remain in use. And others,
like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and its legions of imitators, have little
academic support but are seen as largely harmless and sometimes very helpful
in therapy and personal coaching.
"Personality tests are popular because they promise a shortcut," says writer
Annie Murphy Paul, author of the forthcoming book
The Cult of Personality: How
Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our
Companies and Misunderstand Ourselves