If you’ve ever taken several different personality tests online or otherwise chances are you’ve noticed that in some cases they don’t always match up how you’d expect them to. This happens for a number of different reasons and is nothing that you should allow to alarm you. It doesn’t mean that they’re all wrong or that you’re not the personality type you think you are.
There are several different kinds of personality tests and while the Myers-Brigg version is most popular not every test will go by it. If you look online in different forums you will find that there are other people dealing with the same issue and the more they take these kinds of tests the easier it is for them to end up with different results. Sadhnh O’Sullivan from Refinery 29 actually took one twice over the course of four days and ended up with two very different results.
Scientific American touched on this topic back in 2018 and the article written on it is quite interesting. While you might think personality quizzes would have existed for a long time they’ve only been around for roughly a century if that. With each design change, different scales were born.
There is one personality model that did survive the 20th century, though. It is popular among academics today, and is what Vazire uses in her research. It’s called the Big 5 Personality Traits (aka 5-Factor Model), and it was developed over three decades beginning in 1961 at Brooks Air Force Base. From then to the 1990s, several psychologists including Lewis Goldberg, Warren Norman, Paul Costa and Robert McCrae helped develop the model into its modern form.
Vazire says in developing the Big 5 Personality model, psychologists tried to avoid pitfalls that plagued early personality researchers—like selecting criteria based primarily on intuition. Instead, the Big 5 model took a holistic tack by compiling every word that could be considered a personality trait and creating simple, straightforward questions about them. For example, on a scale of 1 to 5, are you outgoing, sociable? Have a forgiving nature? Based on how people answered initial surveys, researchers used statistical methods to group traits that seemed to cluster together (like “talkative” and “sociable”) into five basic categories: extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience. The other model, the HEXACO model of personality structure created in 2000 by psychologists Kibeom Lee at the University of Calgary and Michael Ashton at Brock University in Ontario, is similar but adds an extra category: honesty–humility.
The key to the Big 5 model is its simplicity. It doesn’t sort anybody into a “type,” just informs them where they fall on a continuum of personality traits. There are no tricks and no surprises to be revealed, Vazire says. “In a way, it’s disappointing. It just means that personality tests can only tell you what you tell it.” You won’t learn anything that you didn’t already know about yourself, she adds, and its accuracy comes entirely from how honest and self-reflective you were with your answers.
At best, Vazire says you could use it as a comparative tool that can tell you how you rank on extroversion compared with others who have taken the same test. There have been studies that show certain Big 5 factor scores correlate with certain outcomes—conscientiousness correlates with longer life, for instance, and extroversion correlates with higher sales for sales reps. “But that doesn’t mean someone with high extroversion will be a better salesperson,” Vazire says. Correlations are just that; they could be incidental. But commercial personality assessments seem to depend heavily on such correlations. For example, one assessment from The Predictive Index, a company that measures behavioral characteristics and matches personality profiles to jobs, views such correlations in their own studies as a measure of success. “[We showed] in one client, a retail jeweler, that increases in dominance or aggression was responsible for $125,000 in revenue,” says Thad Peterson, one of the company’s executives. The idea behind The Index, Peterson says, is to use those measures to help “marry people to [job] positions.”
Such personality assessments—particularly those targeted toward hiring recruiters and managers—aim to uncover a kind of “hidden truth about the person,” says Randy Stein, a psychologist at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona. “They assume that there is an essence of you and an essence of the job, and you should be matching up those two things in hiring,” he says. “But I don’t think there is a hidden truth—and even if there is, a personality test doesn’t do it.”
When you really break things down these kinds of tests are what you make of them. While they are valid on some levels they are not on others. Sure these tests are based on psychological science, but they are never going to be as spot-on as we would like for them to be.