This issue features the avatars of various individuals, with various MBTI personality type labels dispersed against a light pink background.
This issue features the avatars of various individuals, with various MBTI personality type labels dispersed against a light pink background.

Illustration by Clara Juong

Do personality tests know you better than you?

We spend years — even decades — getting to know some of our closest friends. Despite that, sometimes those 5-question Buzzfeed articles seem to know you better than you know yourself.

Apr 30, 2023

Whether you have taken the Myers-Briggs (MBTI), Enneagram, or any of the several Buzzfeed personality tests about what type of pizza you would be, we have all had some exposure to tests and questionnaires that claim to tell us with absolute certainty what type of person we are. We are categorized into groups based on different predetermined characteristics and then find a sense of community when somebody else matches them. This is despite some researchers having discovered that personality tests are inaccurate for several reasons. So why do we continue to have this trust or curiosity in these tests?
One of the reasons, suggested by psychologist Simine Vazir on this Black Goat podcast episode, suggested that people like personality tests because they hope to find something that they didn’t already know about themselves. This demonstrates humans’ innate need to understand themselves, which is a good sign, but unlikely to happen only because of a personality test. A study has shown that other than yourself, friends actually know your traits best, not a generalized online test. Author Merve Emre [succinctly explains why we like these tests, in particular, the MBTI test. He clarifies, “Here is who you are, in four letters, and now that you’ve met yourself you’re capable of designing a plan, or practice of life, that actualizes who you are according to your preferences.”
Personality tests also help us self-reflect and think about our strengths and weaknesses. The MBTI test is one of the most famous tests used in the world by Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, universities, and even the military to determine whether somebody is a good fit for a job or not. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, states that, “people like confirmation of their qualities, particularly strengths. In spite of the frivolity, we all have an existential craving to be validated and ‘seen.’” She also mentions that these tests help people recognize areas that require growth or realize an undervalued strength. It could also help someone realize if a job is a good fit for them, such as an introvert realizing that working in sales might require more effort and skill-building and an extrovert realizing that some jobs are too isolated for them and that they would thrive in more social environments.
Psychologist Emre also says these personality tests can give someone a sense of agency over their life. She goes on to explain that the language used not only brings people together but also does so compactly and coherently. People no longer have to apologize for who they are because that is a ‘type’ of personality, which is a very attractive model for many people. They are also helpful because they give people the opportunity to feel like they belong. An artist that felt different from her peers during school said that [she felt comforted knowing that “there were others out there like [me].”. This feeling of comfort and belonging is incredibly powerful, so it is no surprise that people are so drawn to these tests. It also makes people feel more validated in their own experiences.and finding out that they are an introvert who values introversion normalizes their experience and can show them that there are benefits to that way of being.
One idea that was briefly mentioned but not explored in-depth was that these “tests can also make you feel unique and special in a world of 8 billion people”. While we do have a need for belonging, most of us do also want to feel unique in our personality and experiences. An example of this would be Spotify Wrapped, and the anticipation many people have to showcase not only their unique taste in music but also a part of their personality that is shaped by the music they listen to. Most of this information makes us feel good and covers the truth that most of us are just plain average and are not that different from others. Psychologist Milla Titova explains, “If you’re measuring any trait, most people are in the middle, but admitting that isn’t… fun.”
While most psychologists acknowledge the importance of and the reason for many people relying on personality tests to understand themselves, most also discuss the harms of relying on these tests. Titova discusses the unreliability of these tests by mentioning, “It’s about capitalism, not science.” She continues to say that many people do not check to see if a test is reliable; they will trust it if it is popular, especially if it is monetized. Emre also discusses the damage that can be done with these distinct and rigid categorizations. She mentions that some people are made to take these tests for therapeutic or work reasons, only to then suffer professionally or be shamed for the ‘type’ of person they are. She also mentions how a lot of these tests have been scrutinized by researchers for the lack of applicability cross-culturally and in diverse socioeconomic circumstances. “Corporations use them to rationalize their workforce, the military uses them, colleges once used them to try to figure out who to admit. Yet, racial, ethnic, gender-based, and class-based biases are left out. Some questions are impossibly classed, and you can’t get around the need of cultural literacy to answer questions regulated by money, wealth, upper middle-class standard of living,” she says.
Overall, personality tests can have psychological benefits and societal harm. However, a lot of these tests are simply for entertainment, and they should be left at that. Doing a ‘which Friends character are you?’ test and finding out that I am a Chandler is always the highlight of my day, and sometimes, that is just what I need when I am doubting my sense of humor.
Dana Mash Al is Deputy Columns Editor. Email her at
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