[The Story] Interpreting Personality Tests

Personality tests are fun pseudo-scientific sociology exercises to help people explain themselves to others. I can empathize with a few. Their major problem is that they restrict each tester into a personality box where they are only their test result. In this week’s update to “The Story,” along with a casual Applied Psychology entry, let’s explore why. I’ll use the main characters John and Trishna as examples, factoring in the psychological importance of “breaking character.”

The main problem with personality tests is that we’re infinitely complex.

Saying John is chaotic good and Trishna is an INFP seemingly creates a solid foundation for their characters. “Chaotic good” might say that John follows his own moral code with the intent of helping others. “INFP” might say that Trishna is reserved and considerate. Yet these absolute shortcuts undermine the root of each character. These definitions do not allow these characters act as real people do: in ways that are incongruent with predetermined character traits.

Nuanced characters, and people really, don’t always have pre-programmed responses.

If I were to say that John can only act in ways that follow his moral code, and only acts to help others, then not only would it be boring after the second or fifth interaction, it also wouldn’t be realistic. How often do we follow our moral codes in the face of danger? How often do we help others that are rude or harmful to us? Aren’t we sometimes flexible depending on the situation?

That’s why Artificial Intelligence is so tricky.

Let’s say you’re playing against a computer in a fighting game. If you perform Action X, then the computer may have been programmed with optimal challenge actions, so they might always do either Action Y or Action Z. An untrained human player may initially act similarly. Once the player learns, they could perform infinitely variable actions including ones that only become profitable in the long term or other unpredictable agendas to catch other players off-guard.

Some personality tests factor in nuance.

If Trishna received the “INFP” personality test result with a weak “I” for “Introvert,” then in certain situations where she becomes more Extroverted, and the test result wouldn’t break. That’s better than nothing. It still confines the tester to only be able to understand their actions within certain regards. What if multiple variables change depending on a stressful event? What if convenience allows other personality traits to thrive? Aren’t we able to change over time?

That’s when placing yourself within boxes can be harmful.

While it can be nice when external sources reveal parts of your personality, because then you can decide if you want to change these parts, these revelations aren’t internally motivated. When you see something within yourself, you’re more likely to believe it. You can act on it. This all comes down to “show, don’t tell,” and “actions over words.” If others thought you acted weirdly, but it made sense to you, was it really weird?

Allow yourself [and characters] to be weird.

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.