Personality quizzes are my drug. I love taking them, and sending them to my friends. It’s not just that I want to know if you’re the INFJ to my ENFP. I want to go deeper. I will send you the Adobe Creative Type Quiz to find out if our working styles are compatible. I want to know: “Which couple from The Office you and your S.O. are based on the Valentine’s Day dinner you plan?” “What percent Phoebe Buffay are you based on what you eat at a buffet?” I spend more time than I would like to admit taking these kinds of tests on Buzzfeed’s dedicated page.
One night, I couldn’t sleep, so I went online to find out what kind of dog breed I was based on my ideal date. Then, I was struck by a question that wasn’t part of the quiz: Is my indulgence and interest in personality tests a vehicle for my narcissism? Am I so self-obsessed that I need the Internet to tell me why I am the way I am?
Not exactly, according to Dr. Dana Dorfman, Ph.D., psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast 2 Moms on the Couch. “Interest in personality tests is not necessarily narcissistic,” she says. “It is reflective of our inherent curiosity about human nature and our innate desire to explain the complex processes of personalities." Basically, Dorfman says that these quizzes and tests help us categorize and summarize who we are based on specific attributes. They assist us in making sense of the ourselves and our place in the world. I understood what Dorfman was saying, and her answer satisfied my journalistic ego. But I wanted to know more.
Personality is a slippery and evolving concept that researchers have been trying to put their finger on for decades. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) is the original personality assessment tool that changed the game. It was created by a mother-daughter duo with no official training in psychology. And yet it’s used frequently by Fortune 500 companies and the military, as Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs And the Birth of Personality Testing, points out in her book. One of the founders, Katherine Cook Briggs, crafted the test after taking an interest in famed psychologist Carl Jung’s theories. “She first concluded that mankind could be divided into four mutually exclusive categories of people: meditative, critical, sociable, and spontaneous,” Emre writes. From there, the test developed and became the dictating force it is today about whether a person is introverted or extraverted, intuitive or sensing, feeling or thinking, perceiving or judging. FiveThirtyEight wrote about the Big Five personality test early this year, which aimed to usurp the MBTI. But the Myers-Briggs letters have staying power.
Ultimately, Emre writes that we should think critically about the MBTI test for a number of reasons. It categorizes women and racial minorities as a certain “type,” which can lend itself to “exploitative social histories.” And yet, she notes, that the test has not only survived but thrived. Some people pay up to $2,295 to get certified in the MBTI. But why do we care?
According to Dorfman, it’s human nature. She says we’re constantly trying to balance between individuality and tribalism. That is, we want to be recognized for what makes us unique, but we also need to feel a sense of belonging to a larger "group" of people who share similarities. “Personality tests satisfy both ends of this continuum,” Dorfman says. “They offer an opportunity to reflect on our individual character styles and tendencies, while also providing reassurance that our styles are shared by others.”
The quizzes may not be perfect — many of them are not based on anything more than imagination and opinion, such as this What Potato Side Dish Matches Your Personality questionnaire. But they fulfill our curiosity about ourselves and our loved ones. “The human psyche is a complex web of multi-determined factors - biological, social, emotional, experiential,” Dorfman explains. But these tests boil all that down into something simple: I am french fry, and that’s that.
Ultimately, Dorfman says these quizzes give us a lens through which to understand ourselves, and help us achieve a sense of belonging. They help us "anchor the randomness and unpredictability of our lives and relationships," she explains. “We find great comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our preferences. We appreciate similarities with others — this enhances our sense of belonging and connectedness.” So, no, we’re not narcissists for wanting a questioner to tell us if we’re campaigners, Virgos, thinkers, or if our potato side dish equivalent is Gnocchi. We’re just human. And perhaps that’s the most affirming news of all.