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Episode
112

Personality Tests

First published on
December 4, 2020
How Stuff Works
-
22
minutes
Psychology
Business
Sigmund Freud
Carl Jung

The personality industry is worth billions, and promises to help us better understand ourselves.

But how did it start? How does it actually work?

And most importantly, does it actually work?

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Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdf

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Personality Tests, the idea that our personality and character can be neatly categorised to help other people understand us better, and to help us better understand ourselves.

[00:00:42] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss any of the harder words and phrases, and you can build up your vocabulary as you go, over on our website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:04] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way. 

[00:01:13] So if you haven’t checked that out yet then I’d definitely recommend doing so. The place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:23] OK then, let’s talk about personality tests.

[00:01:28] The idea of personality, of each human being different, is of course nothing new. 

[00:01:35] We are all different, we have different hopes, dreams, strengths and weaknesses, different things we like doing and different things we don’t like doing.

[00:01:46] Throughout history there have been various ways of categorising these differences, of trying to understand how we are different. 

[00:01:56] But this really came to its apex, to its highest point, in the 20th century with the mass adoption of personality tests.

[00:02:07] If you have ever worked in an office environment, or applied for an office job, you will probably have taken one of these kinds of tests.

[00:02:17] You answer a series of questions, and then you are presented with your personality type, a clean, neat summary of your character, of your personality.

[00:02:29] We are going to go into detail about how these became so popular, but it’s first useful to understand a bit more about some historical ideas of ‘character’ and of ‘personality’.

[00:02:43] Going all the way back to the Hippocratic tradition, in the 5th century BC, over 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates proposed the idea that people’s characters fell into 4 different categories, or humours.

[00:03:02] Sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic

[00:03:07] The idea here was that these four bodily liquids control your character, and having more or less of one of them can have an effect on your personality. 

[00:03:20] Hippocrates proposed that you could correct these imbalances through medicine.

[00:03:27] This idea persisted in different forms right through until the 18th century. 

[00:03:34] The belief, in Western medicine at least, was that your physical condition had an effect on your character, on your personality, and that people’s personalities could be explained and understood through a better understanding of their physical condition.

[00:03:53] You might have heard this being referred to as the idea of the Humours.

[00:03:59] As this idea started to become less popular, new ideas about personality and about how our minds work emerged from people like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

[00:04:13] They tried to apply scientific thinking to psychology, with Freud creating the modern idea of psychoanalysis, and Jung developing his idea of Analytical Psychology.

[00:04:27] Jung in particular did a lot of work on personality, researching how to put humans into different buckets of personality, extroverts vs. introverts, openness vs. closeness and so on.

[00:04:44] In 1921 Jung published a book called Psychological Types which proposed ideas on how to categorise people’s personalities. 

[00:04:56] This wasn’t an empirical study, it wasn’t real science, but rather just based on differences in people that he had observed in his work.

[00:05:08] This book caught the attention of a mother and daughter from Michigan, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers.

[00:05:19] Neither were professional psychologists, or had any kind of psychological training, but they were keen students of Jung, and devoured his book on Psychological Types.

[00:05:32] They adapted this to form their own system of categorising people, eventually creating their own personality test based on 93 questions that puts people into one of 16 different categories of personality.

[00:05:50] If the names of these women rang a bell, that’s because they gave birth to the most popular personality test in history, the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator.

[00:06:04] It wasn’t an immediate success though, it wasn’t an immediate hit. 

[00:06:09] It took almost 80 years to become mainstream, with the mother, Katharine, starting to take an interest in psychology when the daughter was only 4 years old.

[00:06:21] This mother and daughter pair observed what we all see every day. 

[00:06:27] That people are different. 

[00:06:30] Within a family setting, these differences are exacerbated, they are made greater. 

[00:06:36] Not only do you normally know your family members better than anyone, because you are with them all the time, but you live with them, so you need to be more aware of their differences in order to get along, in order to survive living together.

[00:06:54] This mother and daughter pair wanted a way to explain and categorise these differences, to help people understand how they were different.

[00:07:06] There’s no evidence that they were interested in making a quick buck, making quick money, and indeed neither of them lived long enough to see their invention turn into the multi-million dollar enterprise that it has now become. 

[00:07:21] They were just genuinely interested in how personality works, and were avid fans of Carl Jung.

[00:07:31] They honed their test at their kitchen table, practising on family members and friends.

[00:07:38] If you have ever taken a Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator you will be familiar with some of the questions.

[00:07:47] There are 93 questions, you choose either A or B.

[00:07:51] The test will indicate what your personality is, based on four different categories.

[00:07:59] Firstly, Extraversion or Introversion, so are you an outgoing type of person or do you prefer to be on your own?

[00:08:09] Secondly, are you a Sensing or an Intuitive type of person. Do you prefer to look at the basic information you see, or do you want to wait for more information?

[00:08:21] Thirdly, are you a Thinking or Feeling type of person? Are you logical or are you sensitive?

[00:08:31] And finally, are you a Judging or a Perceiving type of person. Do you prefer just to decide things, or would you prefer to stay open minded?

[00:08:43] You answer these 93 questions and ta-da, you get a four letter code at the end of it that tells you what personality type you are. 

[00:08:55] Everyone in the world, everyone who takes this test,  fits into one of these 16 categories

[00:09:03] Each of these 16 personality types is different, but they are all positive in their different ways. 

[00:09:11] So the idea is that it isn’t a test, as such, but rather an indicator. You should see your results and think, ok, great, that’s me.

[00:09:23] Myers and Briggs, the mother and daughter pair, continued working on their system, eventually publishing it in 1962. 

[00:09:33] It wasn’t until 1968 that it caught the eye of a professor of psychology at the University of Florida, Mary McCaulley. 

[00:09:43] She saw its potential and really started to push it forward, and businesses started to use it to try to understand their employees.

[00:09:56] The post-war period was when people started to research management techniques, and Human Resources, the managing of your workforce became a standalone discipline

[00:10:11] An increasing number of people were starting to work in offices, and having to do work that required interacting with other people, work where your ability to get on with others was actually important.

[00:10:26] In agricultural or industrial societies, this didn’t really matter so much. 

[00:10:33] You cut the corn or you worked in a factory, it didn’t really matter whether you preferred to learn on your own or be taught by someone else, you could do your job perfectly well without anyone knowing anything about the real you.

[00:10:49] In an office situation where employees had to work with each other, understanding other types of people was important. 

[00:10:59] As anyone who has ever worked in an office will know, in most cases the hardest part of your job is normally getting on with other people.

[00:11:09] The Myers-Briggs personality indicator provided an excellent way for companies to ‘understand’ their employees.

[00:11:19] If employees just did this test then managers would be able to understand them by looking at their result. 

[00:11:28] They would know that a particular type of personality would be good at certain tasks, other types of personalities might be put forward for management positions, and so on.

[00:11:42] It was very neat, it soon became adopted by corporate America, and it has continued to this day to be a favourite of Human Resource departments all over the world.

[00:11:55] The company that bought the rights to the test makes about $20 million a year from these tests, from these simple 93 questions, and the personality test industry is a $2 billion industry. 

[00:12:12] So, the question you might be asking yourselves is, does it actually work, is it actually effective at telling us what our personalities are?

[00:12:23] Although there are thousands of companies that still use it, there really isn’t much evidence to suggest that it is nearly as effective as it claims to be.

[00:12:34] Firstly, our character, our personality is complicated. 

[00:12:40] If you’ve ever done one of these personality tests you will probably remember that the answers to the questions aren’t always obvious to you, you probably need to spend a while thinking about what your answer should be.

[00:12:55] With a question that is trying to figure out whether someone is an extrovert or an introvert, the reality is that most people are somewhere in between. 

[00:13:06] Not every extrovert wants to always be the centre of attention at a party all night long, and not every introvert wants to be at home every night under their duvet cover.

[00:13:19] Trying to place everyone in one of two categories for every question is a gross oversimplification of how complicated we all actually are.

[00:13:30] Plus, the fact that we find it so hard to actually choose the answer to many of the questions means that people often get different results when they do the same test multiple times. 

[00:13:44] How we answer might depend on how we’re feeling that day, and indeed there have been studies that have shown that the number of people who got the same result when they did the test again varied between 24 and 61 percent.

[00:14:00] Not great, right?

[00:14:03] The other main criticism of this kind of test is that it’s completely self-reported, you say what you believe, there are no right or wrong answers.

[00:14:15] Companies often use these tests for things like recruiting, for hiring new staff, and for understanding which employees might be suitable for new roles or promotions.

[00:14:28] If I know that my company is looking for management-type people, I can just answer the questions in a way that it’s likely I’ll be given a personality type that is more likely to suggest I’m suitable for a management role. 

[00:14:44] So it’s very, very easy to fake.

[00:14:48] Furthermore, these tests are also very self-reinforcing, they make people believe that certain things are just ‘parts of their personality’, so they are less likely to adapt their behaviour. 

[00:15:04] If you see that you are the type of person that enjoys confrontation, or the type of person that struggles to manage their time, then you will just think ‘well, it’s my personality type’, instead of trying to do something to make yourself less confrontational or get better at managing your time.

[00:15:25] The reality is that the more we believe that we can’t change these parts of our personality, the less likely we are to actually do anything to try to change them.

[00:15:37] So, if that is all true, why do companies still use them, why do 2 million people take them every year, and why is the Internet full of articles like ‘How your Myers-Briggs personality type can affect your salary’?

[00:15:53] There is an interesting phenomenon in psychology called the Forer effect, or the Barnum effect.

[00:16:01] In short, this is a phenomenon in which people say that they believe something if they think it has been tailored just for them, even if it is completely generic and it could be applied to almost anyone.

[00:16:16] This is one of the theories about why things like the messages in fortune cookies, the fortunes told by fortune tellers, and the messages in astrology are so widely accepted, because, although completely generic, people believe that they are specific to them.

[00:16:36] If I tell you that I think:

[00:16:38] You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.

[00:16:43] You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.

[00:16:46] You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

[00:16:52] And while you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

[00:16:59] If you hear these statements, do you think I’ve done a pretty good job at summarising parts of your character

[00:17:07] I haven’t, I’ve just read out a series of relatively generic statements, but if you think that these apply to you, then that is the Forer effect in practice.

[00:17:20] With the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator this is exacerbated because there is the whole huge industry of personality tests, plus because most people are taking it in a corporate setting, they think it must work, it must be accurate. 

[00:17:39] Much more so than reading your star sign or reading a fortune cookie, which you might think could be true, but isn’t provided by a nice man or woman in a suit who has come to your office.

[00:17:53] Indeed, these kinds of personality tests, or personality assessments, have been disregarded by the vast majority of professional psychologists, who tend to agree that they are very problematic, and a gross simplification of the complexity of our characters.

[00:18:13] And it’s not just that they are imperfect, using these kinds of tests can actually be harmful because they are considered correct, and therefore people are put into boxes, and treated in a different way, just because of 4 letters that were spat out by a personality test.

[00:18:34] Now, this is in no way to try to belittle the work of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, the mother and daughter pair who created this personality test. 

[00:18:45] From their kitchen table, without any real academic experience of psychology, and in an era when women weren’t really allowed to be independent thinkers, they managed to come up with a system that has been used by hundreds of millions of people, by some of the world’s biggest companies, all over the world.

[00:19:08] It’s certainly an impressive achievement, but the reality is that it just doesn’t work particularly well.

[00:19:16] Maybe you’re left thinking, well, are there any personality tests that do work? 

[00:19:23] The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator isn’t the only test, and there are hundreds of others that have cropped up

[00:19:31] None have got anywhere near the Myers-Briggs one though.

[00:19:35] The reality is that our personalities are very complex, there aren’t only 16 types of people, and that we probably aren’t very good at describing our own personalities, our strengths and weaknesses, what we like and we don’t like.

[00:19:51] So where this leaves the personality test industry is anyone’s guess. 

[00:19:56] But it certainly doesn’t seem like Myers-Briggs is going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:20:04] OK, on that note that is it for today’s episode on Personality Tests. 

[00:20:09] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and at least if someone asks you to do a personality test then you’ll know a little bit more about where they come from.

[00:20:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:23] Have you had much experience with personality tests? If so, how did it go?

[00:20:28] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:38] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, and to support a more interesting way of improving your English then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:21:00] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:21:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Personality Tests, the idea that our personality and character can be neatly categorised to help other people understand us better, and to help us better understand ourselves.

[00:00:42] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss any of the harder words and phrases, and you can build up your vocabulary as you go, over on our website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:04] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way. 

[00:01:13] So if you haven’t checked that out yet then I’d definitely recommend doing so. The place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:23] OK then, let’s talk about personality tests.

[00:01:28] The idea of personality, of each human being different, is of course nothing new. 

[00:01:35] We are all different, we have different hopes, dreams, strengths and weaknesses, different things we like doing and different things we don’t like doing.

[00:01:46] Throughout history there have been various ways of categorising these differences, of trying to understand how we are different. 

[00:01:56] But this really came to its apex, to its highest point, in the 20th century with the mass adoption of personality tests.

[00:02:07] If you have ever worked in an office environment, or applied for an office job, you will probably have taken one of these kinds of tests.

[00:02:17] You answer a series of questions, and then you are presented with your personality type, a clean, neat summary of your character, of your personality.

[00:02:29] We are going to go into detail about how these became so popular, but it’s first useful to understand a bit more about some historical ideas of ‘character’ and of ‘personality’.

[00:02:43] Going all the way back to the Hippocratic tradition, in the 5th century BC, over 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates proposed the idea that people’s characters fell into 4 different categories, or humours.

[00:03:02] Sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic

[00:03:07] The idea here was that these four bodily liquids control your character, and having more or less of one of them can have an effect on your personality. 

[00:03:20] Hippocrates proposed that you could correct these imbalances through medicine.

[00:03:27] This idea persisted in different forms right through until the 18th century. 

[00:03:34] The belief, in Western medicine at least, was that your physical condition had an effect on your character, on your personality, and that people’s personalities could be explained and understood through a better understanding of their physical condition.

[00:03:53] You might have heard this being referred to as the idea of the Humours.

[00:03:59] As this idea started to become less popular, new ideas about personality and about how our minds work emerged from people like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

[00:04:13] They tried to apply scientific thinking to psychology, with Freud creating the modern idea of psychoanalysis, and Jung developing his idea of Analytical Psychology.

[00:04:27] Jung in particular did a lot of work on personality, researching how to put humans into different buckets of personality, extroverts vs. introverts, openness vs. closeness and so on.

[00:04:44] In 1921 Jung published a book called Psychological Types which proposed ideas on how to categorise people’s personalities. 

[00:04:56] This wasn’t an empirical study, it wasn’t real science, but rather just based on differences in people that he had observed in his work.

[00:05:08] This book caught the attention of a mother and daughter from Michigan, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers.

[00:05:19] Neither were professional psychologists, or had any kind of psychological training, but they were keen students of Jung, and devoured his book on Psychological Types.

[00:05:32] They adapted this to form their own system of categorising people, eventually creating their own personality test based on 93 questions that puts people into one of 16 different categories of personality.

[00:05:50] If the names of these women rang a bell, that’s because they gave birth to the most popular personality test in history, the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator.

[00:06:04] It wasn’t an immediate success though, it wasn’t an immediate hit. 

[00:06:09] It took almost 80 years to become mainstream, with the mother, Katharine, starting to take an interest in psychology when the daughter was only 4 years old.

[00:06:21] This mother and daughter pair observed what we all see every day. 

[00:06:27] That people are different. 

[00:06:30] Within a family setting, these differences are exacerbated, they are made greater. 

[00:06:36] Not only do you normally know your family members better than anyone, because you are with them all the time, but you live with them, so you need to be more aware of their differences in order to get along, in order to survive living together.

[00:06:54] This mother and daughter pair wanted a way to explain and categorise these differences, to help people understand how they were different.

[00:07:06] There’s no evidence that they were interested in making a quick buck, making quick money, and indeed neither of them lived long enough to see their invention turn into the multi-million dollar enterprise that it has now become. 

[00:07:21] They were just genuinely interested in how personality works, and were avid fans of Carl Jung.

[00:07:31] They honed their test at their kitchen table, practising on family members and friends.

[00:07:38] If you have ever taken a Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator you will be familiar with some of the questions.

[00:07:47] There are 93 questions, you choose either A or B.

[00:07:51] The test will indicate what your personality is, based on four different categories.

[00:07:59] Firstly, Extraversion or Introversion, so are you an outgoing type of person or do you prefer to be on your own?

[00:08:09] Secondly, are you a Sensing or an Intuitive type of person. Do you prefer to look at the basic information you see, or do you want to wait for more information?

[00:08:21] Thirdly, are you a Thinking or Feeling type of person? Are you logical or are you sensitive?

[00:08:31] And finally, are you a Judging or a Perceiving type of person. Do you prefer just to decide things, or would you prefer to stay open minded?

[00:08:43] You answer these 93 questions and ta-da, you get a four letter code at the end of it that tells you what personality type you are. 

[00:08:55] Everyone in the world, everyone who takes this test,  fits into one of these 16 categories

[00:09:03] Each of these 16 personality types is different, but they are all positive in their different ways. 

[00:09:11] So the idea is that it isn’t a test, as such, but rather an indicator. You should see your results and think, ok, great, that’s me.

[00:09:23] Myers and Briggs, the mother and daughter pair, continued working on their system, eventually publishing it in 1962. 

[00:09:33] It wasn’t until 1968 that it caught the eye of a professor of psychology at the University of Florida, Mary McCaulley. 

[00:09:43] She saw its potential and really started to push it forward, and businesses started to use it to try to understand their employees.

[00:09:56] The post-war period was when people started to research management techniques, and Human Resources, the managing of your workforce became a standalone discipline

[00:10:11] An increasing number of people were starting to work in offices, and having to do work that required interacting with other people, work where your ability to get on with others was actually important.

[00:10:26] In agricultural or industrial societies, this didn’t really matter so much. 

[00:10:33] You cut the corn or you worked in a factory, it didn’t really matter whether you preferred to learn on your own or be taught by someone else, you could do your job perfectly well without anyone knowing anything about the real you.

[00:10:49] In an office situation where employees had to work with each other, understanding other types of people was important. 

[00:10:59] As anyone who has ever worked in an office will know, in most cases the hardest part of your job is normally getting on with other people.

[00:11:09] The Myers-Briggs personality indicator provided an excellent way for companies to ‘understand’ their employees.

[00:11:19] If employees just did this test then managers would be able to understand them by looking at their result. 

[00:11:28] They would know that a particular type of personality would be good at certain tasks, other types of personalities might be put forward for management positions, and so on.

[00:11:42] It was very neat, it soon became adopted by corporate America, and it has continued to this day to be a favourite of Human Resource departments all over the world.

[00:11:55] The company that bought the rights to the test makes about $20 million a year from these tests, from these simple 93 questions, and the personality test industry is a $2 billion industry. 

[00:12:12] So, the question you might be asking yourselves is, does it actually work, is it actually effective at telling us what our personalities are?

[00:12:23] Although there are thousands of companies that still use it, there really isn’t much evidence to suggest that it is nearly as effective as it claims to be.

[00:12:34] Firstly, our character, our personality is complicated. 

[00:12:40] If you’ve ever done one of these personality tests you will probably remember that the answers to the questions aren’t always obvious to you, you probably need to spend a while thinking about what your answer should be.

[00:12:55] With a question that is trying to figure out whether someone is an extrovert or an introvert, the reality is that most people are somewhere in between. 

[00:13:06] Not every extrovert wants to always be the centre of attention at a party all night long, and not every introvert wants to be at home every night under their duvet cover.

[00:13:19] Trying to place everyone in one of two categories for every question is a gross oversimplification of how complicated we all actually are.

[00:13:30] Plus, the fact that we find it so hard to actually choose the answer to many of the questions means that people often get different results when they do the same test multiple times. 

[00:13:44] How we answer might depend on how we’re feeling that day, and indeed there have been studies that have shown that the number of people who got the same result when they did the test again varied between 24 and 61 percent.

[00:14:00] Not great, right?

[00:14:03] The other main criticism of this kind of test is that it’s completely self-reported, you say what you believe, there are no right or wrong answers.

[00:14:15] Companies often use these tests for things like recruiting, for hiring new staff, and for understanding which employees might be suitable for new roles or promotions.

[00:14:28] If I know that my company is looking for management-type people, I can just answer the questions in a way that it’s likely I’ll be given a personality type that is more likely to suggest I’m suitable for a management role. 

[00:14:44] So it’s very, very easy to fake.

[00:14:48] Furthermore, these tests are also very self-reinforcing, they make people believe that certain things are just ‘parts of their personality’, so they are less likely to adapt their behaviour. 

[00:15:04] If you see that you are the type of person that enjoys confrontation, or the type of person that struggles to manage their time, then you will just think ‘well, it’s my personality type’, instead of trying to do something to make yourself less confrontational or get better at managing your time.

[00:15:25] The reality is that the more we believe that we can’t change these parts of our personality, the less likely we are to actually do anything to try to change them.

[00:15:37] So, if that is all true, why do companies still use them, why do 2 million people take them every year, and why is the Internet full of articles like ‘How your Myers-Briggs personality type can affect your salary’?

[00:15:53] There is an interesting phenomenon in psychology called the Forer effect, or the Barnum effect.

[00:16:01] In short, this is a phenomenon in which people say that they believe something if they think it has been tailored just for them, even if it is completely generic and it could be applied to almost anyone.

[00:16:16] This is one of the theories about why things like the messages in fortune cookies, the fortunes told by fortune tellers, and the messages in astrology are so widely accepted, because, although completely generic, people believe that they are specific to them.

[00:16:36] If I tell you that I think:

[00:16:38] You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.

[00:16:43] You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.

[00:16:46] You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

[00:16:52] And while you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

[00:16:59] If you hear these statements, do you think I’ve done a pretty good job at summarising parts of your character

[00:17:07] I haven’t, I’ve just read out a series of relatively generic statements, but if you think that these apply to you, then that is the Forer effect in practice.

[00:17:20] With the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator this is exacerbated because there is the whole huge industry of personality tests, plus because most people are taking it in a corporate setting, they think it must work, it must be accurate. 

[00:17:39] Much more so than reading your star sign or reading a fortune cookie, which you might think could be true, but isn’t provided by a nice man or woman in a suit who has come to your office.

[00:17:53] Indeed, these kinds of personality tests, or personality assessments, have been disregarded by the vast majority of professional psychologists, who tend to agree that they are very problematic, and a gross simplification of the complexity of our characters.

[00:18:13] And it’s not just that they are imperfect, using these kinds of tests can actually be harmful because they are considered correct, and therefore people are put into boxes, and treated in a different way, just because of 4 letters that were spat out by a personality test.

[00:18:34] Now, this is in no way to try to belittle the work of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, the mother and daughter pair who created this personality test. 

[00:18:45] From their kitchen table, without any real academic experience of psychology, and in an era when women weren’t really allowed to be independent thinkers, they managed to come up with a system that has been used by hundreds of millions of people, by some of the world’s biggest companies, all over the world.

[00:19:08] It’s certainly an impressive achievement, but the reality is that it just doesn’t work particularly well.

[00:19:16] Maybe you’re left thinking, well, are there any personality tests that do work? 

[00:19:23] The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator isn’t the only test, and there are hundreds of others that have cropped up

[00:19:31] None have got anywhere near the Myers-Briggs one though.

[00:19:35] The reality is that our personalities are very complex, there aren’t only 16 types of people, and that we probably aren’t very good at describing our own personalities, our strengths and weaknesses, what we like and we don’t like.

[00:19:51] So where this leaves the personality test industry is anyone’s guess. 

[00:19:56] But it certainly doesn’t seem like Myers-Briggs is going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:20:04] OK, on that note that is it for today’s episode on Personality Tests. 

[00:20:09] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and at least if someone asks you to do a personality test then you’ll know a little bit more about where they come from.

[00:20:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:23] Have you had much experience with personality tests? If so, how did it go?

[00:20:28] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:38] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, and to support a more interesting way of improving your English then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:21:00] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:21:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Personality Tests, the idea that our personality and character can be neatly categorised to help other people understand us better, and to help us better understand ourselves.

[00:00:42] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss any of the harder words and phrases, and you can build up your vocabulary as you go, over on our website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:04] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way. 

[00:01:13] So if you haven’t checked that out yet then I’d definitely recommend doing so. The place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:23] OK then, let’s talk about personality tests.

[00:01:28] The idea of personality, of each human being different, is of course nothing new. 

[00:01:35] We are all different, we have different hopes, dreams, strengths and weaknesses, different things we like doing and different things we don’t like doing.

[00:01:46] Throughout history there have been various ways of categorising these differences, of trying to understand how we are different. 

[00:01:56] But this really came to its apex, to its highest point, in the 20th century with the mass adoption of personality tests.

[00:02:07] If you have ever worked in an office environment, or applied for an office job, you will probably have taken one of these kinds of tests.

[00:02:17] You answer a series of questions, and then you are presented with your personality type, a clean, neat summary of your character, of your personality.

[00:02:29] We are going to go into detail about how these became so popular, but it’s first useful to understand a bit more about some historical ideas of ‘character’ and of ‘personality’.

[00:02:43] Going all the way back to the Hippocratic tradition, in the 5th century BC, over 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates proposed the idea that people’s characters fell into 4 different categories, or humours.

[00:03:02] Sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic

[00:03:07] The idea here was that these four bodily liquids control your character, and having more or less of one of them can have an effect on your personality. 

[00:03:20] Hippocrates proposed that you could correct these imbalances through medicine.

[00:03:27] This idea persisted in different forms right through until the 18th century. 

[00:03:34] The belief, in Western medicine at least, was that your physical condition had an effect on your character, on your personality, and that people’s personalities could be explained and understood through a better understanding of their physical condition.

[00:03:53] You might have heard this being referred to as the idea of the Humours.

[00:03:59] As this idea started to become less popular, new ideas about personality and about how our minds work emerged from people like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

[00:04:13] They tried to apply scientific thinking to psychology, with Freud creating the modern idea of psychoanalysis, and Jung developing his idea of Analytical Psychology.

[00:04:27] Jung in particular did a lot of work on personality, researching how to put humans into different buckets of personality, extroverts vs. introverts, openness vs. closeness and so on.

[00:04:44] In 1921 Jung published a book called Psychological Types which proposed ideas on how to categorise people’s personalities. 

[00:04:56] This wasn’t an empirical study, it wasn’t real science, but rather just based on differences in people that he had observed in his work.

[00:05:08] This book caught the attention of a mother and daughter from Michigan, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers.

[00:05:19] Neither were professional psychologists, or had any kind of psychological training, but they were keen students of Jung, and devoured his book on Psychological Types.

[00:05:32] They adapted this to form their own system of categorising people, eventually creating their own personality test based on 93 questions that puts people into one of 16 different categories of personality.

[00:05:50] If the names of these women rang a bell, that’s because they gave birth to the most popular personality test in history, the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator.

[00:06:04] It wasn’t an immediate success though, it wasn’t an immediate hit. 

[00:06:09] It took almost 80 years to become mainstream, with the mother, Katharine, starting to take an interest in psychology when the daughter was only 4 years old.

[00:06:21] This mother and daughter pair observed what we all see every day. 

[00:06:27] That people are different. 

[00:06:30] Within a family setting, these differences are exacerbated, they are made greater. 

[00:06:36] Not only do you normally know your family members better than anyone, because you are with them all the time, but you live with them, so you need to be more aware of their differences in order to get along, in order to survive living together.

[00:06:54] This mother and daughter pair wanted a way to explain and categorise these differences, to help people understand how they were different.

[00:07:06] There’s no evidence that they were interested in making a quick buck, making quick money, and indeed neither of them lived long enough to see their invention turn into the multi-million dollar enterprise that it has now become. 

[00:07:21] They were just genuinely interested in how personality works, and were avid fans of Carl Jung.

[00:07:31] They honed their test at their kitchen table, practising on family members and friends.

[00:07:38] If you have ever taken a Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator you will be familiar with some of the questions.

[00:07:47] There are 93 questions, you choose either A or B.

[00:07:51] The test will indicate what your personality is, based on four different categories.

[00:07:59] Firstly, Extraversion or Introversion, so are you an outgoing type of person or do you prefer to be on your own?

[00:08:09] Secondly, are you a Sensing or an Intuitive type of person. Do you prefer to look at the basic information you see, or do you want to wait for more information?

[00:08:21] Thirdly, are you a Thinking or Feeling type of person? Are you logical or are you sensitive?

[00:08:31] And finally, are you a Judging or a Perceiving type of person. Do you prefer just to decide things, or would you prefer to stay open minded?

[00:08:43] You answer these 93 questions and ta-da, you get a four letter code at the end of it that tells you what personality type you are. 

[00:08:55] Everyone in the world, everyone who takes this test,  fits into one of these 16 categories

[00:09:03] Each of these 16 personality types is different, but they are all positive in their different ways. 

[00:09:11] So the idea is that it isn’t a test, as such, but rather an indicator. You should see your results and think, ok, great, that’s me.

[00:09:23] Myers and Briggs, the mother and daughter pair, continued working on their system, eventually publishing it in 1962. 

[00:09:33] It wasn’t until 1968 that it caught the eye of a professor of psychology at the University of Florida, Mary McCaulley. 

[00:09:43] She saw its potential and really started to push it forward, and businesses started to use it to try to understand their employees.

[00:09:56] The post-war period was when people started to research management techniques, and Human Resources, the managing of your workforce became a standalone discipline

[00:10:11] An increasing number of people were starting to work in offices, and having to do work that required interacting with other people, work where your ability to get on with others was actually important.

[00:10:26] In agricultural or industrial societies, this didn’t really matter so much. 

[00:10:33] You cut the corn or you worked in a factory, it didn’t really matter whether you preferred to learn on your own or be taught by someone else, you could do your job perfectly well without anyone knowing anything about the real you.

[00:10:49] In an office situation where employees had to work with each other, understanding other types of people was important. 

[00:10:59] As anyone who has ever worked in an office will know, in most cases the hardest part of your job is normally getting on with other people.

[00:11:09] The Myers-Briggs personality indicator provided an excellent way for companies to ‘understand’ their employees.

[00:11:19] If employees just did this test then managers would be able to understand them by looking at their result. 

[00:11:28] They would know that a particular type of personality would be good at certain tasks, other types of personalities might be put forward for management positions, and so on.

[00:11:42] It was very neat, it soon became adopted by corporate America, and it has continued to this day to be a favourite of Human Resource departments all over the world.

[00:11:55] The company that bought the rights to the test makes about $20 million a year from these tests, from these simple 93 questions, and the personality test industry is a $2 billion industry. 

[00:12:12] So, the question you might be asking yourselves is, does it actually work, is it actually effective at telling us what our personalities are?

[00:12:23] Although there are thousands of companies that still use it, there really isn’t much evidence to suggest that it is nearly as effective as it claims to be.

[00:12:34] Firstly, our character, our personality is complicated. 

[00:12:40] If you’ve ever done one of these personality tests you will probably remember that the answers to the questions aren’t always obvious to you, you probably need to spend a while thinking about what your answer should be.

[00:12:55] With a question that is trying to figure out whether someone is an extrovert or an introvert, the reality is that most people are somewhere in between. 

[00:13:06] Not every extrovert wants to always be the centre of attention at a party all night long, and not every introvert wants to be at home every night under their duvet cover.

[00:13:19] Trying to place everyone in one of two categories for every question is a gross oversimplification of how complicated we all actually are.

[00:13:30] Plus, the fact that we find it so hard to actually choose the answer to many of the questions means that people often get different results when they do the same test multiple times. 

[00:13:44] How we answer might depend on how we’re feeling that day, and indeed there have been studies that have shown that the number of people who got the same result when they did the test again varied between 24 and 61 percent.

[00:14:00] Not great, right?

[00:14:03] The other main criticism of this kind of test is that it’s completely self-reported, you say what you believe, there are no right or wrong answers.

[00:14:15] Companies often use these tests for things like recruiting, for hiring new staff, and for understanding which employees might be suitable for new roles or promotions.

[00:14:28] If I know that my company is looking for management-type people, I can just answer the questions in a way that it’s likely I’ll be given a personality type that is more likely to suggest I’m suitable for a management role. 

[00:14:44] So it’s very, very easy to fake.

[00:14:48] Furthermore, these tests are also very self-reinforcing, they make people believe that certain things are just ‘parts of their personality’, so they are less likely to adapt their behaviour. 

[00:15:04] If you see that you are the type of person that enjoys confrontation, or the type of person that struggles to manage their time, then you will just think ‘well, it’s my personality type’, instead of trying to do something to make yourself less confrontational or get better at managing your time.

[00:15:25] The reality is that the more we believe that we can’t change these parts of our personality, the less likely we are to actually do anything to try to change them.

[00:15:37] So, if that is all true, why do companies still use them, why do 2 million people take them every year, and why is the Internet full of articles like ‘How your Myers-Briggs personality type can affect your salary’?

[00:15:53] There is an interesting phenomenon in psychology called the Forer effect, or the Barnum effect.

[00:16:01] In short, this is a phenomenon in which people say that they believe something if they think it has been tailored just for them, even if it is completely generic and it could be applied to almost anyone.

[00:16:16] This is one of the theories about why things like the messages in fortune cookies, the fortunes told by fortune tellers, and the messages in astrology are so widely accepted, because, although completely generic, people believe that they are specific to them.

[00:16:36] If I tell you that I think:

[00:16:38] You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.

[00:16:43] You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.

[00:16:46] You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

[00:16:52] And while you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

[00:16:59] If you hear these statements, do you think I’ve done a pretty good job at summarising parts of your character

[00:17:07] I haven’t, I’ve just read out a series of relatively generic statements, but if you think that these apply to you, then that is the Forer effect in practice.

[00:17:20] With the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator this is exacerbated because there is the whole huge industry of personality tests, plus because most people are taking it in a corporate setting, they think it must work, it must be accurate. 

[00:17:39] Much more so than reading your star sign or reading a fortune cookie, which you might think could be true, but isn’t provided by a nice man or woman in a suit who has come to your office.

[00:17:53] Indeed, these kinds of personality tests, or personality assessments, have been disregarded by the vast majority of professional psychologists, who tend to agree that they are very problematic, and a gross simplification of the complexity of our characters.

[00:18:13] And it’s not just that they are imperfect, using these kinds of tests can actually be harmful because they are considered correct, and therefore people are put into boxes, and treated in a different way, just because of 4 letters that were spat out by a personality test.

[00:18:34] Now, this is in no way to try to belittle the work of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, the mother and daughter pair who created this personality test. 

[00:18:45] From their kitchen table, without any real academic experience of psychology, and in an era when women weren’t really allowed to be independent thinkers, they managed to come up with a system that has been used by hundreds of millions of people, by some of the world’s biggest companies, all over the world.

[00:19:08] It’s certainly an impressive achievement, but the reality is that it just doesn’t work particularly well.

[00:19:16] Maybe you’re left thinking, well, are there any personality tests that do work? 

[00:19:23] The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator isn’t the only test, and there are hundreds of others that have cropped up

[00:19:31] None have got anywhere near the Myers-Briggs one though.

[00:19:35] The reality is that our personalities are very complex, there aren’t only 16 types of people, and that we probably aren’t very good at describing our own personalities, our strengths and weaknesses, what we like and we don’t like.

[00:19:51] So where this leaves the personality test industry is anyone’s guess. 

[00:19:56] But it certainly doesn’t seem like Myers-Briggs is going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:20:04] OK, on that note that is it for today’s episode on Personality Tests. 

[00:20:09] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and at least if someone asks you to do a personality test then you’ll know a little bit more about where they come from.

[00:20:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:23] Have you had much experience with personality tests? If so, how did it go?

[00:20:28] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:38] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, and to support a more interesting way of improving your English then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:21:00] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:21:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]