Typing Personalities, Broken Scales

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My friend Moof left a comment on my last post:

If you’ve ever taken the Kiersey temperament sorter, I’d be curious to know what result you’ve got; I’d guess something like an ENFJ.

My response was going to be:

Actually, really, really close. I come up as an ENTJ.

Tangent: I have this really strong dislike for a lot of these temperament sorters and personality tests and whatnot. I think I mentioned this to you back when I was taking the Asperger's / autism tests. Simply, the wording of the questions, if not meticulously careful, can completely change the result from test to test.

Seemingly equivalent (in the predictive sense):
"Do you prefer the company of others to a quiet evening alone?" and
"Are you more comfortable when not surrounded by people?"

The E/I model gets its ass kicked here, because you'd expect that someone who answers "no" to the first to answer "yes" to the second. But the thing that these tests don't seem to get is that a "no" answer to "Do you prefer the company of others to a quiet evening alone?" is not the equivalent of a yes answer to "Do you prefer a quiet evening alone to the company of others?" Some people (me, for example) are equally comfortable and happy in a crowd or with a good book. My answer to the first question would be: no. My answer to the second would be: no.

And all of that is true. Putting my money where my mouth is, though, I thought I'd take a test again, since I got that back on April 3, 2002. (I kept it in a private post in my Livejournal, which is what I used back then.)

For a little background, the Keirsey and Meyers-Briggs tests measure a person on four scales: Introverted to Extroverted, iNtuitive to Sensing, Thinking to Feeling, and Perceiving to Judging.

So I went to the Keirsey Temperament site and took the assessment. Now, their site isn't the best place to take it; they only give you your major type. In other words, out of the four scales, they only give you the iNtuitive to Sensing scale and the Thinking to Feeling scale (if you're an iNtuitive) or the Perceiving to Judging scale (if you're a Sensing). My ENTJ falls under the NT, or Rational, major type.

So knock me over with a breeze when it tells me that my major type is SP, or Artisan. Since it wouldn't give me much information about my scores at all, I decided to go on and try the test at Humanetrics. The results there were far more detailed: it said I am a moderately expressed extrovert (44%), a distinctively expressed intuitive personality (75%), a slightly expressed thinking personality (12%) and a slightly expressed perceiving personality (22%). That would make me an ENTP.

In fairness, my Perceiving-Judging flops around a lot. I don't really see a dichotomy between perceiving the world and making judgements about it - in fact, I think that that part of the scale is perhaps the most flawed, because I don't think you can make really good judgements without observation, being percecptive. Same with my Thinking-Feeling: it's all over the map, because I don't see a huge divide between what I think and how I feel. More, I don't think that thinking a lot you have to be an unfeeling bastard; I don't think that crying at sad movies makes you any less thoughtful. And my Extroverted-Introverted has tested at both, at times, depending on my mood. Sometimes I'm just freaking sick of people, and I closet myself away and don't talk to anyone much for weeks. And other times, I want nothing more than engaging interaction with the fantastic friends I have. The only thing I've been really consistent on is the iNtuitive-Sensing bit (other than that test at Keirsey.com, anyway). That's probably because I like to synthesize and combine information and experience too much to attribute an inordinate amount of significance to the events of right here, right now. (I do think that here and now is important, of course. I'm a practical person, whatever any test might say about me.)

(As a tangent to the tangent, that part of my personality drives my forensics [public speaking, not criminal] coach insane, as I want to do speeches and pieces with over-arching themes and trends rather than the immediacy of dead bodies. I like to think about big, important, seemingly constant problems. Especially the kind that get ignored because of band-aids that a lot of people eventually resign themselves to calling "solutions".)

So, anyway. The results of tests like these are so entirely all over the map - I think there are much more interesting scales on which to plot peoples' personalities, for one, and I also think that if these tests are going to be successful at telling you anything about anyone, the questions need fixed in a hurry.

As an amusing exercise, I'd like to illustrate exactly why these questions suck so badly. From the test on Keirsey.com (you have to pick one or the other on these).

1. Do you tend to: say right out what's on your mind keep your ears open

Um... yes?

3. Do you tend to be more: speculative than factual factual than speculative

I tend to speculate a lot about factual information, so what do I answer here? I refuse to speculate about things I know nothing about: like, at work, we were discussing the Scott Petereson trial, and everyone in the room said they thought he was guilty. I said I had no opinion. Why? I'm not a juror on the case. I'd seen a lot of the evidence on TV - they were on the 24-hour news channels all day, every day at work - but I was sure I wasn't getting all of it, and that I was certainly getting a sensationalized view of what I was getting.

On the other hand, I can't just sit there and not speculate about the possible significance of the information I do have. I like to write; what-ifs and imagination are the bread and butter of keeping myself entertained and lively. So again - what do I answer there?

5. Are you more likely to trust: your conceptions your experiences

Yes? Aren't my conceptions formed in huge part by my experiences? And from the other side, aren't my experiences both chosen based on and colored by my conceptions?

7. Which appeals to you more: consistency of thought harmonious relationships

Oh. My. God. Whatever genius thought up that question is, dollars to doughnuts, a divorcee. How in the hell are you supposed to have harmonious relationships with people who are wildly inconsistent? You'd wind up in constant arguments about stuff you both thought you agreed on. I think harmonious relationships are partly an outgrowth of consistency of thought on the part of all involved parties. I chose that because it's the primary - the relationships follow.

8. Are you more often: a cool-headed person a warm-hearted person

I still don't see the dichotomy here. I think I'm pretty damn cool-headed, but I've also been called one of the most empathetic people other people have ever met. I enjoy taking apart a problem logically, but I listen and play counselor to my friends all the time, with tact and care and warmth. I've had more than one person tell me they appreciated my level-headedness when they needed help making a tough decision, but you can't give someone purely logical advice without connecting with them, which takes warmth. So... um... answer?

9. Do you think of yourself as a: tough-minded person tender-hearted person

Yes? See #8.

17. Are you more: introspective than observant observant than introspective

I like to think. I like to observe. I like them both in equal measure. I find it exciting to think about what I've observed. I find it exciting to observe things that I've thought about. Is that so weird? I love seeing my ideas confirmed, and I love getting new information to think about. I can't have one without the other.

20. Are you more inclined to feel: down to earth somewhat removed

Sometimes I feel so down to earth it makes me feel somewhat removed.

22. If you must disappoint someone are you usually: frank and straightforward warm and considerate

One of these days, I'm going to get around to explaining my ideas about utility, but this question actually lets me show them in action:

It is right to be frank and straightforward with someone you have to disappoint, if you care about them at all. It's useful to do so in a warm and considerate way. There's no utility in being so cold and factual that you alienate someone you're trying to be honest with, but consideration without honesty is equally stupid. So why not both?

27. Do you tend to choose: rather carefully somewhat impulsively

This is exactly the problem I was talking about in the rant about instinct, understanding and meandering. I usually make choices quickly, but that doesn't mean they're not made carefully.

28. Is it preferable mostly to: make sure things are arranged just let things happen naturally

Without context, this is impossible to answer. I'm not tyrannical about my life or the world around me. I don't mind handling things as they come. Some things require arrangement, though, and others are better if you just let them be.

32. Facts: speak for themselves illustrate principles

Call me crazy, here, but... don't they do both?

34. Do you prize in yourself: a vivid imagination a strong hold on reality

Absolutely! I'd say that those are two of the things I value the most about myself.

36. In a heated discussion do you: stick to your guns look for common ground

Again with the utility thing. What's the point of having a discussion long enough for it to get "heated" if you're not going to look for common ground? But at the same time, my guns tend to be really fundamental principles. I look for common ground because conversations can be filtered that way:

Either we agree on basic principles, and

  • one of us is misapplying them

  • one of us is missing context, or information specific to the discussion

  • the argument is trivial, and both of our conclusions are equally tenable based on the same basic principles

Or, we disagree on basic principles, and

  • it's worth my time to try to show the validity of my basic principles, in which case, I do and go back to the "we agree on basic principles", or

  • it's not, and I walk away from the conversation.

...I could go on, but it's pretty much all the same from then on.

Anyway, the point is: if you're trying to ask interesting questions about people and the way they handle life, the universe and everything, these are not the questions you are looking for. In fact, they're not even the scales you're looking for. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to writing something that asks the kind of questions I'd like answered about personalities.

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The point of these questions, oh dear one, is that in the end you do still have to choose one. And which one you do choose in the end reflects something about your personality. Or at least that's the theory.

Tests like this make me wonder just how consistent people are in answering very similar questions; if (e.g.) someone liked babies 20% of the time, and there were ten questions about liking babies, would they answer affirmatively to two, but negatively for eight? One of the things I like about the system is that (even though there may be disagreements with how it's scored) that it lists the traits on a continuum, rather than saying you're only one or the other.

(me, I like babies - but I can't eat a whole one by myself. This is because I'm an INTx.)

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This page contains a single entry by Erica published on February 27, 2005 3:42 PM.

Instinct vs. Understanding vs. Meandering was the previous entry in this blog.

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