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The first personality test I ever took was the True Colors test. I took it at the behest of a manager who believed that the dynamics of the department could only truly be reconciled by colour coding. For those not familiar, True Colors groups people in percentages according to the colours Blue (passionate), Green (logical), Gold (responsible) and Orange (fun). 


According to that test, I am a majority green, which I immediately dubbed the Scientist Robot category. Most of my coworkers were Gold or Blue. I took this an excellent opportunity to break out my Mr. Spock impersonation, considering how many Kirks and McCoys I was surrounded by. Given that there were no Oranges in the group, my impression was not appreciated.


A few years later, at a leadership retreat, I took part in the Myers-Briggs test. This test blows out the possible number of results even more, with 16 possible personality types. There are too many to list here, but they all have cool sounding names like Commander, Protagonist, or Virtuoso. Essentially, after answering a battery of binary questions, you are assigned one of two letters in four different categories.


I was, apparently, an INTJ, which I immediately and continue to pronounce “integer”. This means I am Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judging, each of which Mean Something. Mostly, it seems to mean that I’m at risk for attempting to take over the world as apparently most movie villains are this type. So I’ve got that going for me.


A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to Enneagrams, by which I mean their chosen past time was attempting to type a person and, within a few minutes of meeting someone, would start shouting seemingly random numbers at them. As party tricks go, it leaves much to be desired. Enneagrams place people on a nonagon, with two numbers between one and nine identifying their personality. For instance, you could be a 2-7, which means that you are mostly a two, with a heavy seasoning of seven. Unlike other personality tests, which tend to track your strengths, the Enneagram places weight on where you most need improvement. In other words, it tells you why you suck.


I am, again apparently, a 4-5, the Individualist and the Investigator. Which I immediately dubbed the Robot Detective. And what I learned is that people who take these tests earnestly really don’t like it when you start introducing yourself as a Robot Detective when other people are trying to be capital-s Serious. Which, as you may have gathered, I am not. I personally feel that personality tests can inspire fun conversations, but shouldn’t be something that workplace dynamics or your own life philosophy should be based upon. Many, many people disagree with me. And spend a lot of money for the opportunity to take these tests.


The three I've mentioned are not the end of it. Personality tests are big business. StrengthsQuest, 5 Love Languages, MAPP, Big Five; the list goes on. BuzzFeed has built a business out of easy to take tests that tell you what kind of grilled cheese, or what Winnie the Pooh character, you are. And whether you pay for the privilege or take it on your phone during your lunch break, all of these have about the same scientific backing as the daily horoscope. Unlike the horoscope though, many of these tests are presented as being Scientific.


Myers-Briggs, for example, was not developed by psychologists, but by a mother-daughter team of amateurs who had an interest in pop psychology and based their method on their personal interpretations of Jung’s archetypes – archetypes which were not backed by scientific research either. It is these two women who at the focus of The Personality Brokers, by Merve Emre. Part history book, part biography, Emre dives into the social conditions that were present between the two world wars that gave rise to the Myers-Briggs assessment (the word “test” isn’t officially used by the institute that bears the name today), and the paranoia of the post-war period that saw it become successful. In a time of Cold War mistrust, a simple test can tell you exactly who a person is? Of course that would be a hit!


Emre also goes on step further, and examines why they appeal to us as we take them. The fantasy of personality they can provoke. Do we answer this questions honestly, or wantonly? Are we identifying who we actually are, or who we want to be? There is no such thing as a wrong answer, and on the whole, no bad personalities. But if you could, would you rather be an Orange or a Green? Emre touches on this self-romanticism, while striking a balance between being factual and being critical. She isn’t anti-personality test, she just wants the reader to think more about what these tests tell us about ourselves, beyond what they tell us about ourselves.


Oh, in case you’re wondering, I’m an Owl, and a Provolone on Rye. Who knew?


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Yours, Fictionally

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