Tag Archives: inkblot tests

Personality Tests: Do We Actually Change as We Grow Older?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to personality tests lately.

First, The New York Times reported that the psychological profession is up in arms because Wikipedia has reproduced a set of common answers to the famous Rorschach inkblot tests. The psychologists claim that the site is jeopardizing one of the oldest, continuously used psychological assessment tests.

I also happened to take a personality test on Facebook last week. It was the “Which punctuation Mark Are You?” quiz. Here’s my answer, with explanation included:

You are a comma.

You like to spread yourself a little thin, trying to be all things to all people. A bit of a control freak, you try to do the work of 10 people. Relax! Let someone else shoulder some of the burden for once!

Which isn’t so bad, in and of itself, except that it duplicated every personality test I’ve ever taken in my life. I took the first one – the famous Myers Briggs test – when I was first out of college. That’s the one where they evaluate you on four dimensions: extroversion vs. introversion, intuition vs. sensing, thinking vs. feeling and judging vs. perceiving. Then you’re assigned a type. I was an “ENTJ” (extroverted/intuitive/thinking/judging), which turned out to be the most extreme of the 16 potential combinations you could wind up with. I raised my hand and asked the consultant what you called it if you had a borderline score on a couple of dimensions – suggesting that perhaps you might easily fall into another “type” – but nonetheless ended up in the 16th box?

“That’s called denial,” she retorted briskly.

Years later, I took another personality test in when I was working in public radio. This time, the categories were a bit different, but the result was basically the same:  I came out as “high dominant” or “High D” for short. The consultant gave everyone a print-out of their results. The idea was to go home and review the list of behaviors associated with your type and use that to improve office harmony with co-workers of different stripes. But the person who seemed to benefit most from the hand-out was not me, but my husband. I came home from work one evening to find him sitting on the sofa – glass of Merlot in hand – poring over the document as if it were an original Shakespeare. He was clearly relishing every word, pausing from time to time to quote back to me from the report about typical “High D” behaviors.

Particularly as we settle into middle-age, it’s natural to want to re-examine who we are and where we’re headed in life. And personality tests are one tool to help us do that. I’m also sure that on some level I should be reassured that my own results are so unerringly consistent across the decades – what statisticians call test reliability.

Still, as someone who has defined herself largely on her ability and willingness to change, I find it a tad depressing to discover – once again – that we actually don’t change all that much over the course of our lives.

How about you? Have you ever taken a personality test and what did you learn about yourself that you didn’t already know?

Image: Rorschach Test by Marie.Carrion via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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