We’ve all seen it, someone posts on social media their results from the hottest trending online personality test and amend it with an “I’m such an introvert” or “this explains SO much!” or “I knew I identified with Elsa more than Belle.”
Whatever the response, personality tests seem to give the respondent something to grab on to, something that helps them identify with who they are or why they behave in the way they do. A sense of confirmation or validation.
But I’ll tell you this, the pseudoscience that is personality tests goes back a long way and I would strongly advise anyone who grabs a hold of these results too tightly to take them with a very small grain of salt or better yet, the data bit that makes up their digital presence.
There are so many of these tests out there, many of which I’m sure you’re familiar, many you may not; Myers-Briggs, Rorschach Ink Blots, Disc Assessment, even Astrology can be lumped in here, but the latest one I’ve seen making the rounds is the Enneagram of Personality. It was seeing this continue to pop up all over social media that inspired me to take a deeper dive into the online world of “Personality Tests” and more specifically the Enneagram.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I state "I am not a psychologist," but then again, neither were most of the creators of these tests, including Enneagram, so I guess I’m just as qualified as anyone to comment on their use.
So why do we take them? Why do employers use them? And how on earth did this become a $2-4 BILLION industry??
Assessing personality and the “self” has been around since the dawn of time and since humans began to wonder “what am I?” However it wasn’t until World War I when the science and application of assessing ones personality, their response to stress and identifying those prone to nervous breakdowns, did this type of screening became popular and applicable to screening, hiring and categorizing the human population.
One of the modern and still relied upon personality tests to this day, is the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator” or just Myers-Briggs. I’m sure at some point, you’ve heard someone say “Oh, that person is such an ENFP” or “I can’t help it, I’m an INTJ.” This type of language has almost become a religion for those that subscribe to the ability of being able to box the 7.5 billion people on earth into 16 “types” and it has found its way into everything form hiring to online match making.
The funny thing I discovered about Myers-Briggs, and really most of the tests out there, is that there is almost NO psychological science base for these tests. Though the results have been used for making major life decisions, companies hiring practices and can have unintended implications well beyond the lack of authority they should actually have in the real world.
Let’s start with a brief history of the Enneagram. Enneagram breaks down personalities into nine different categories also referred to as “enneatypes” (cool!!). The Enneagram diagram layout also shows the relationship between these types which it refers to as their “stress” and “security” lines.
Although the exact origin of this test are kind of all over the place, it can somewhat be traced back to a Christian Mystic named Evagrius Ponticus back in the 4th century (sounds totally legit). Since then, there have been many interpretations from this initial discovery and it has morphed into many different ideas, practices and teachings of the Enneagram.
Ok, if you’re not bored yet and still intrigued as to where this is all going, hang in there, we’re about to get to the meat of it.
I finally sat down to actually take the test and started at the Enneagram Institute, the supposed authority on the Enneagram test. I clicked around a bit and finally stumbled on their online version which wanted me to pay $12 to take the test (yeah, that ain’t happening). A simple Google search brought me to many free online versions of the Enneagram (the one I took can be found HERE). I'm sure these free versions are just as reliable as the paid version, so let's go.
The test itself is pretty similar to the hundreds of other personality tests we’ve all taken in the past. Multiple ways to ask the same set of questions in hopes to tease out false positives and drive consistency amongst the answers.
As I was moving through the test, it was pretty obvious as to what each question was driving to answer. Which in itself is one of the biggest problems with these types of tests; they’re self reporting. This essentially means that you know you’re taking a test, you know it’s assessing your personality and it has been proven, that when this is the setup, many respondents answer the questions in ways as to confirm the personality type they see in themselves or more realistically the personality they WANT to see in themselves and not what their personality actually is.
This version of the Enneagram test took me about 30 minutes to get through and as it turns out I’m an Enneagram Type 3, The Successful Achiever (I’m sure that those that know me, this will come as no surprise). I’ll spare you the details of what all of that means, but I’ve taken other personality tests in some form or fashion in the past and to a certain extent, this somewhat aligns with other tests I’ve taken.
As I read through the description of the enneatype 3, I can definitely find some areas where this does describe certain aspects of my personality or traits that I posses, but in no way does it describe ME, Corey Bracken. Just like me being a Gemini, I can look at different qualities of a Gemini and say “oh sure, I can see that in myself.” But it doesn’t tell me who I am.
This is the issue I have with these types of tests; it’s when I see people take their results and identify them with who they are as a person and use it as a roadmap for who they are going to be and how they interact with the people and world around them.
The Enneagram Personality Tests subscribe to the fact that how you act and react in this ever changing world is predetermined based on your “type” and that you can’t change that. The personality you are born with, is the personality you die with. I couldn’t disagree with that any more if I wanted to.
I do think that personality tests have some value. Self reflection and analysis is a very good thing and the ability to understand those around you can give you somewhat of a baseline to how to interact with them as well. But what none of these tests capture is the idiosyncrasies and nuances that are the real you.
No test can quantify all of your life experiences, your loves, your losses, your joys, your pain. The things that really makes you, YOU.
So the next time you see one of these personality tests pop up on your social media feed and you decide to dive in, just know that the glow from your phone’s screen is not that of a crystal ball and that in the real world personality and lives are much more complex than a set of numbers would indicate.
You are NOT your Enneagram. You are YOU.