Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Scantron Psychoanalysis

Personality profiles are a wonderfully entertaining way to while away some idle time. Perhaps more accurate than a horoscope and less exacting than a complete psychological workup, they have the almost uncanny ability to identify some very general characteristics based on a few simple questions. Some are created purely for entertainment and others claim to have their origins firmly rooted in scientific evidence. I don’t think the conclusions drawn by these “serious” profiles are necessarily accurate and where they dictate or “suggest” direction, or portend to indicate the predisposition of one’s career potential (or personal relationships), they can actually be acting irresponsibly.

It is clear that countless variables affect the outcome of these assessments. These factors could be as uncontrollable as age and maturity or as fleeting as a specific - and often situational - emotional state. Furthermore, even subtle and perhaps unnoticed changes in these and other factors can produce considerable changes in the outcome of these surveys from day to day or even hour to hour. In short, I don’t put much faith in the results. Presented as evidence, however inconclusive (due to this project’s limited scope), are my results from different personality profile tests and the contradictions between not only different types of tests, but also between remarkably similar tests. Additionally, as luck would have it, I have results from one of these surveys that I took just about one year ago and can compare it to the same test taken just several days ago.

One of the most thorough tests I have ever taken was called the “SDS,” or Self-Directed Search. Sub-titled “A Guide to Educational and Career Planning,” this assessment was portrayed as the “state of the art” in career assessment guides. Of course there is a disclaimer of sorts. The section entitled Next Steps states, “Remember: no one but you can make your vocational decision. Our knowledge of careers is too limited to provide you with a single, exact choice, but we can help you focus on some of the more likely possibilities.” Fair enough, but consider the wide-eyed teenager who is just trying to find a fit.

The test asks questions about various skills and catalogs the results in six areas. Based on the three highest scoring categories, career possibilities are recommended. Although space does not permit elaborating on each of the six categories, one does demand attention. I scored lowest in the artistic (A) category. Because I can’t draw or play music or do any of the other things considered by many to be “art,” it was not recommended that I entertain careers that were considered artistic. However, all careers that had anything to do with writing or journalism had an (A) designator. Apparently, to be considered a writer, one must possess other artistic talents as well. My 19-year-old self would have been steered away from what turned out to be my passion due to an interpretive flaw and consequent deference to “expert” opinion. Fortunately, my 40-year-old self was not so easily taken.

The most recent profiling tool I used was one that draws some very specific conclusions based on minimal input. In fact, as the instructions were given, there were two options; one ostensibly would produce more “accurate” results while the other less time consuming option would return more general results. “True Colors” also had the added benefit of foretelling how others might view some of my “qualities” as anything but. My results two weeks ago returned a “true color” of green. However, when I took the same profile through the Tickle web site only a little more than one year ago, I was a “blue.” Although I can’t be absolutely sure of how my specific circumstances have changed in one year’s time, I do know that no major changes in my life have occurred in the last year. The results, therefore, should have been the same.

Lastly, I took the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II. After paying $19.95 for the complete report, I discovered I am an ISTP. Perhaps the “S” stands for sucker. Nevertheless, with my pockets $20 lighter I was pleased to discover that I am highly introverted (I), moderately sensatory (S), a little more thinking (T) than feeling and more perceptive (P) than judgmental. Nice. Then I took the Jung Typology Test and found it to be nearly identical to the Keirsey. It even used the same standard code for the resulting personality type. Imagine my surprise to find out I had another personality lurking in the background. Jung results: INTP. However, the weighted percentages in each of the four areas were not as close as the code would lead us to believe. For example, Jung had me as a borderline introvert whereas Keirsey pegged me as a veritable recluse. These two tests were taken minutes apart.

Like fortune telling and horoscopes, the characteristics given for many of these profiles are broad and ambiguous; virtually anyone could be squeezed into any category. If the fit seems a stretch, just wait a little while or slightly change the wording of the questions. Some of these profilers proclaim remarkable consistency and repeatability. This has not been my experience - ever, and I’ve been around a while. The tests are fun, they are interesting and offer some insights that can be useful, but to take them as seriously as their creators would have us - disclaimers and caveats aside - is irresponsible bordering on dangerous. Imagine making major life decisions based on some faceless clinician’s diagnosis disguised as a personality assessment. The best way to find out what we’re made of is by real-world experience - not Scantron psychoanalysis.

31 comments:

Bar said...

This was informative - thanks. I'll check out that SDS site you mentioned. In my past job we took ALL those tests. We were constantly analyzing ourselves, so luckily I enjoy that sort of thing. The two that seemed to have the most credibility in were The Birkman (which nailed me to a "T" - very eerie). The Birkman is more for how you work with others, career choices, etc.

Also took the Myers'Briggs (which is the more formal version of the Keirsy you mentioned). I've taken it about 6 times over the loast 15 years and always come out ISFJ.

Lee Ann said...

I took a similar test, but I did not pay any money for it and I cannot remember what my letters were.
...hmmmm....I could swear I saved that somewhere!

toni said...

You might be interested in this then:

http://www.paulgoldin.com/colorgenics.htm

Michele sent me! ;)

WebKittyn said...

Your closing sentence nails the end of the kind of post that makes me forget I want to smoke right now. That's about the highest compliment I can give anyone these days.

Thank you for all of your support, I don't comment here as often as I should but I'm here a lot and I've gone back to read over your words of wisdom on quitting more than a few times.

Much good juju your way.

Ellen said...

I was about to say that your last sentence nailed the point well, and then read that Webkitten got here a little sooner than I did. I have to agree with her.

Nothing beats the real world experiences and the dealings you have to put up with, regardless of how many books you might have read on the subject or tests taken. Getting your feet sunk in mud is a whole lot different than reading about it, or taking a test on it.
That said, it is kind of fun to take the tests.... just so you see where you kind of fit in.

Also here to apologize for not being around so much lately. Stupid taxes and work have kept me hopping. Hope you did have a special someone to celebrate Valentines Day with....
Happy Valentines Day!

Awareness said...

Hi Mike......

Lots to say on this topic..... :) Not unusual given I'm an ENFJ, my "EN" being my most predominant trait. Gotta love Jung.

Guess what? I'm the SDS lady....or supposedly. Psychometrics is what I studied........and though my job title is Career Consultant and help people try to figure out what they want to do with their lives, it has been years since I formally administered a standardized test. A darn good conversation with someone if more often than not THE best way to be of help.

Your post has spurred me to write about this topic.......perhaps this weekend, I will tackle it on my blog. I'll let you know. Tonight we're having a blizzard and both power/electricity and time are precarious.......don't want to get halfway done and then lose it all.

I will leave a dangler.......I do believe there are times when assessment tools are very useful...but NEVER on their own.

Great post :)

Sarch said...

Mike your post took me back many years to the time I responded to a competitors request for me to come in and "talk" with them about a job. They had a multiple page test (I don't remember the name) that I took.

When I returned several days later for a second interview with the President and two other executives of this multi-million dollar company, I noticed a trend forming to their questions. Finally I asked them straight out what that personality profile revealed that caused them to ask the same questions in different ways. They admitted that the profile showed that there was some bit of information that I was "keeping to my self".

I am a very open person and honestly was not aware of anything I was "hiding". What a strange feeling that was.

They offered me the position but I ended up not accepting it. Now that I think of it, I wonder if that profile issue was bothering me? :)

Good post Mike!

Badoozie said...

i hated that kersey temperment test. i could not pick one answer, so i just went to the end and pinpointed what i thought i was. i'm a cheater.

Chelle A. said...

"The best way to find out what we’re made of is by real-world experience - not Scantron psychoanalysis."

Wise, wise words, my friend!

Chelle

Jennifer said...

I loved taking all those tests in high school. I learned a lot about my personality type, my ideal careers, my IQ. I agree with ya, though...life experience is the best teacher...some things tests just can't tell you.
Here from Michele's this time...

alex said...

Profound, very.
Tickle used to be my favourite site.. I think Katrina and the Waves 'Walking on Sunshine' was my theme song. Happened that I like that song, so its lucky. ;) Here via michele's.

David said...

hey mike,
glad you stopped by.
I loved hearing the "peanuts" theme again, so many memories.
I took personality test before I married, it said don't, I should have paid attention, I paid for it later.

Yaeli said...

That was a really interesting post Mike! It's funny how so many people want to find life's answers and direction in a formula. Unfortunately, Life is messy by definition and no test or computer or formula is ever going to be able to replace life experience, self knowledge and trial and error.

Michele sent me.

kate said...

I love Staind! That song holds sooooo many memories for me. Too bad its 330am or I would have a listen (and perhaps a bit of a tearfest too! lol)

Bob-kat said...

Interesting post. I have dealt with these tests a lot and they are not a hard science. However, they are a useful tool but should never be used on their own. I have found them enlightening in the past but they need to be administered responsibly. Also only the person themself can know how accurate the results are!

Marie said...

I've taken these assessments over the years and always take the results with a grain of salt. Yes, I remember being mortified when I was younger and the career profiles suggested Actuary Science for me. Ugh. Maybe I'd be good at it, but I can't imagine enjoying it!

Michele sent me to say hi!

Veda said...

Thing is, Mr. A, one needs to understand the absolute definitions of the terms used. What does the Jung test (vs. the Keirsey) define "Judgemental" as? Is it a positive form or a negative form of the word? I consider "judgemental" right alongside of "critical" - suggesting that one thinks about a subject and makes a decision based on truth. Many others I know consider "judgemental" alongside of "racism" which gives negative connotations, those of non-thinking rationale.

Just something to consider.
Ohyea, here via Michele's. :)

kenju said...

I could have sworn that I left a comment here yesterday. I always like taking personality profiles in school. I had to help mr. kenju study for one when we were first married; he was a little bit challenged in the category of "consideration for others"...LOL

Michele sent me - it is a little slow there today.

rampant bicycle said...

Hmm...that's the second time, Mr. Althouse, that we've ended up posting related things on a Friday. ;)

Perhaps it's just that I have, at some point in my life, been a teenaged girl, but I find personality tests to be amusing, harmless fun (generally speaking). When I feel more seriously inclined, I might run through one of those Keirsey "lite" tests to be found online (I invariably get, as I did back in high school, "INFP")...and when I DON'T feel particularly serious, I gravitate to the truly silly tests like "Which Twin Peaks Character Are You?" (Dale Cooper - hooray! ;))

Of course the best measure of a man is to be found in the experience of his life and not in a test. But it's a fun way to pass some time, for certain.

Hello from Michele's!

Pearl said...

A man after my own heart. I love to hear critical thought put to these tests.

kenju said...

Michele told me to come back, Mike. Have a good weekend.

margalit said...

I'm pretty sure I disagree with you on Keirsey, as I used to give it to all my potential employees, and it always, but ALWAYS came out the way others had experienced it. I've taken it maybe 8 times and I'm ALWAYS an intj. I never vary at all. What I have learned about that particular test is that people in my chosen profession are almost all INTJs. In fact, my department of 17 employees had only one person that wasn't an INTJ, and that person was an intp.

So I find that particular test be be accurate.

Here from Michele

utenzi said...

I've taken tests like that various times at work or school, Mike, and always came out an INTP. I don't recall how much variation there was but since I was pretty extreme in each of the 4 areas, I suspect the numbers were close for me.

Like you, I'd not want to base life decisions on these tests but they are fun. I have known people that BELIEVE in them as if they were the word of God. Odd.

Michele sent me over, Mike. Hi!

Yaeli said...

Michele sent me back again Mike!
Your post seems to have sparked some interesting discussion!

Carmi said...

When I worked at gigantic Mother Corp., they would send us for "training" every few months. Psych testing - MBTI et al - rated high on their list of must-haves.

I went through more testing than I care to remember. One outcome was that some programmers are very physically and/or mentally centred. We were taught to believe that their rudeness wasn't really rudeness, that this was the way they were, and we were supposed to give them a free pass whenever they were disruptive.

Um, right.

Pat said...

I think you are right to take these tests with a pinch of salt. The latest I took to find out which animal one most related to found me to be a grizzly bear. So look out ! i'm off to get my honey fix.
Michele sent me.

Belizegial said...

LOL, half the fun is reading through the comments AND listening to STAIND.

I did some personality tests many years ago and they always came out differently so I knew better than to base life decisions on any of them. Notwithstanding, they were fun to take.

Hope your weekend is going well.

Enid

mckay said...

i remember taking a similar test (jung, kiersey...who knows?) ages ago when i was on a leadership team. we all gabbed,, i'm a inst or asdfjkl; whatever. just like you said, i thought it odd we were all so into categorizing ourselves, instead of just 'being' - sitting and talking in order to get to know each other on a deeper level.

Veda said...

I remember in hs figuring colors for personalities. Green was my favorite then. I've since altered, but I wonder how close my color-range would have been to the "True Colors" test you speak of here. (Nope, I never figured myself for green)

colleen said...

I found the Ennegram system of personality tests to help most of all. I like Helen Palmer's take on them the best. I'm a five, which explained so much. Finding out what number my husband was helped me to accept his style of being in the world and not take it personal.

LADY LUXIE said...

ah'..have taken lotsa' tests myself'..

It'z fun to have experts tell me about me...

But...I always take tests with a grain ov' salt of course...not really seriously..basically coz' I can be so many "me's"..(not that I'm schitzo or anything neurotic...um' I think..)..just that..I seriously can be so different from one moment to another depending on me' mood...Me' Hubzy' and close friends even say I can look different in a whiff'...

The most mem'rble funky' test I can never forget though was the one where I discovered I was......"Neptune"...

ye'..that was a real profound revelation:>