If I were to say that I am an INFP, would you know what I was talking about? Would you know that those four letters indicate that I am idealistic, value-oriented, loyal, curious, and flexible? Or that they denote that my personality is similar to those of William Shakespeare, Helen Keller, and Luke Skywalker?
If you did not know all of this, you should have been at Wetzel Services’ last American Conversations class, where you could have learned if you are an ESTP, ISTP, or ENTJ. You would now know which Harry Potter character is just like you. (Luna Lovegood for me. I would have preferred Hermione.)
For our class, we all took a well-known personality test called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. (Actually, we took a free knock-off. The real thing is pricey.) This test was first published in 1944 by Isabel Myers after twenty years of research, and is based on the work of the behaviorist Karl Jung. It gives you a series of statements such as “You find it easy to introduce yourself to people,” and “Being organized is more important to you than being adaptable,” to which you must agree or disagree. After you respond to each statement, you are analyzed based on where you fall on four different dichotomies:
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
Are you energized by being with other people or by solitude?
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
Do you focus on facts, or do you like to interpret them and give them meaning?
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
Do you base decisions on consistent logic or on others’ feelings and special circumstances?
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
Do you prefer to make a decision and stick with it, or to stay open to possible new options?
Based on where you are on each category, you are then assigned one of sixteen personality types, and you are given a description of your personality. The test is wildly popular, and it is often used by businesses to try to assess the strengths of employees, to determine if someone is a good fit for the company, to learn if a person is well-suited for team work, etc. People also enjoy it for personal and social use, feeling that it helps them understand themselves and feel better about who they are. (The descriptions of each personality tend to emphasize the positive, so everyone comes out with a good impression of their personality type.)
Others are less enthusiastic. Annie Murphy Paul wrote an entire book called The Cult of Personality Testing, in which she argues that personality tests are “neither valid nor reliable.” Many people don’t like the idea of being pigeon-holed or having a label put on them. Some research has challenged the very idea of personality as being as fixed as we think it is. It may be much more changeable and based on circumstances than we like to believe.
As for our conversation class – a group of the very best personalities around – there was a range of opinions, but nobody was all in on the test. Jia said it was good for entertainment, but that you can’t fit so many people into just sixteen personalities. Kathleen, whose background is in psychology, believed it could be a good tool for guidance, but that it has its limits. Both Sylvia and Nele (ESFP’s, both of them, just like Bill Clinton) flatly stated that they didn’t believe it. And to be fair, Nele did get two different results when she took it in English and German. Sylvia (our resident skeptical optimist), summed it up well when she added, “but we laughed a lot.”
So give the test try! You may gain some insight, but you’ll definitely be entertained.