How 2019 became the peak era of society’s infatuation with personality types

September 10, 2019 at 09:03PM by CWC

These days, many dating profiles include the person’s Myers-Briggs type. And it’s tough to find any sort of publication that doesn’t cover astrology—though those pieces of content now have to compete hard with all the dedicated apps and platforms cropping up to serve the growing zodiac sect. Enneagram is also going more mainstream: 2019’s Millenneagram by Hannah Paasch speaks to a millennial audience that’s very interested in introspection, understanding why they do the things they do, and how that intel can inform where they fit in the world. I am among those millennials, and this cultural craze for tests and indicators that diagnose different personality types is indeed of high interest to me.


Of course, personality tests themselves aren’t new and have had an audience for quite some time. “There has always been a lot of interest in quizzes that (purport) to tell us something deep about ourselves,” says Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. Pre-internet, these quizzes appeared for the most part in monthly magazines and weekly newspapers, with horoscope offerings being available daily, depending on the publication. But the internet has changed the way we consume these systems in several ways. “First, online quizzes can give what seems to be more personalized scoring, because they don’t involve using a simple score sheet like they had in the magazines,” says Dr. Markman. “As a result, you only see the results applicable to you and not the results given to people with other scores. In addition, it is easier for people to find and fill out these quizzes when they can be done in a few minutes on your phone or computer.”

Personality tests aren’t new and have had an audience for quite some time…but the internet has changed the way we consume them.

To this point, the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was on my smart phone. The second time I took the test (to get a more accurate reading) was a couple years later—again, alone, in my bedroom, on my laptop. Though I was literally alone as I read the description of my type, INTJ, I felt a strange sense of belonging and understanding. Whoever had written the profile did not know me, and yet the person was able to detail components of my personality and explain them to me with what felt to me to be eery accuracy. I quickly got hooked on learning about different personality types to gain a better understanding of myself and also my friends and family to learn how we could all best interact.

This—the context of personality in terms of compatibility and perception of experience—is one of the best tools of personality tests, says Elizabeth Saunders, a time-management coach and author of Divine Time Management. “I think that these assessments are of value to understand how you perceive the world, your potential strengths and weaknesses, and how others perceive the world, as well,” she says. “It takes us out of feeling like certain perceptions of the world are right or wrong, good or bad, and helps us to see that they’re just different.”

For example, you might be a fun-loving enneagram Seven who cannot fathom a rule-following One’s constant need to color inside the lines. Or maybe you’re an ISFP who can’t understand the ENTJ’s inability to let go or leave the office on time for a party. Having these results that back up and legitimatize different personality types can help us accept that people have nuanced preferences and habits—and that’s okay. “Someone with a strong ‘T’ [in Myers-Briggs] will value justice over mercy,” Saunders says. “Someone who is strong ‘F’ tends to do the opposite. Their response to the same situation could be very different, but both have validity.”

Considering different personality types can help foster understanding as to why some people may not agree with an issue that seems glaringly obvious through the lens of our own worldview.

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But, why does it seem that right now, at this place in time, we’re reached peak personality-test as a societal craze? For one, the results provide for something to believe in; research shows that fewer people, especially millennials, are participating in organized, traditional religion. For another, the tests can serve as a guidance counselor of sorts for life; now more than ever before, we’re told to pursue any career, to choose any person to love, and to decide when to marry (if we opt to marry period). By understanding different personality types, we may be able to better identify our personal paths and values and avoid decision fatigue. And lastly, it’s a way to make sense of a tense public mood; according to a Gallup poll published earlier this year, Americans are some of the most stressed people in the world, and the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America report notes that the future of the nation and the political climate are key sources of stress. Considering different personality types can help foster understanding as to why some people may not agree with an issue that seems glaringly obvious through the lens of our own worldview. Understanding, in turn, theoretically promotes empathy and greater acceptance; and we could all use a little more of that.

Of course, there are limitations to personality indicators. “Personality is not destiny,” says Dr. Markman. “You can, and often do, engage in activities that fly against your personality type. You may even enjoy these activities.” To this point, he suggests being open to new things and forming your own opinion about them rather than choosing to spend your time in ways that seem in accordance with what any test results say about your personality traits.

I used to think in absolutes, that people were either right or wrong, good or bad, informed or confused. I still have strong opinions and disagree with people all the time. But now, if I understand their personality—which I can glean from any of the measures outlined above or Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies or the Big Five test or the Four Temperaments or any other indicator—I can usually get a handle on where they’re are coming from. I can usually get them to see my POV, as well. That’s the power of understanding and respecting differences—and I can thank personality typing for that.

So now that you know why we’re so into personality types as a society, want to know what your bed-making personality says about you? Check it out here. And, here’s what your high-five style says about your personality.

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Author Jenna Birch | Well and Good
Selected by CWC