In one of my internet adventures, I came across what is known as the Enneagram. It's yet another personality test, one I had never heard of before. And there's a funny little diagram to go with it.
I'm generally pretty skeptical about personality tests. I accept that people have different personalities. But what is a personality type? It's a bunch of different character traits which tend to come together. How do we know which character traits come together, and which are independent? How are they really organized? These are difficult questions, which would require some critical analysis to get reliable answers. I'm not confident that sufficient critical analysis went into the making of these personality tests.
For instance, look at the enneagram picture. Each of the numbers represents a different personality type. Do those lines really represent mysterious connections that we've discovered between different personalities? Or is it just guesswork based on the decimal expansion of 1/7 (0.142857142857...)? Various sources suggest the latter...
That's not to say that there's no point to taking such a personality test. I thought it was fun to play around with.
The first thing I did was look at the Wikipedia article. Glancing through it, I was reminded of the Forer effect. The Forer effect causes people to think "Hey, that's totally me!" whenever they read a vague personality description. Looking at the first few personality types, they all gave me at least a bit of a feeling of, "That's totally me!" But is any one of the personality types more me than the others? This calls for an experiment!*
So here's what I did. I copied the section of the wiki with the nine personality types. Using search and replace, I removed all references to "ones", "twos", "threes", and so forth. Then I jumbled the order of all the sentences. I couldn't tell which sentences correspond to which personality type, because I'm just not that familiar with the enneagram personalities. So I went through the sentences one by one, and decided whether they described me or not. Afterwards, I resorted the sentences so I could see which personality types came out on top.
Here's a picture of the end result. Green means that I felt it totally matched me. Red means that it didn't really match at all. Yellow means something in between. It's sort of hard to tell, but I suppose the picture indicates that my personality type is 5 ("the investigator"), followed by 4 ("the individualist") and ... maybe 3 ("the achiever")? That totally sounds like me. I mean, I'm doing investigation right now, of course I would be the investigator. 3 and 4 also had some resonance with me.
Are these results consistent? I tried taking a five minute test to find out. Lo and behold, it said I am most likely to be 3, 4, or 5. That's pretty neat, huh? So I tried taking yet another test, this one a bit longer. This time it said I was mostly type 1 ("the reformer"), followed by 9 ("the peacemaker"), and then 5. Actually, now that I think about it, 1 and 9 match me much better than 3 or 4. The reformer is all about having high standards and working for change. Why, I do have rather high standards; that's why I'm so critical! The peacemaker wants everything to go smoothly and without conflict. That's so true, I do tend to avoid confrontations, and I have an extremely slow temper.
The more I look into it, the more it seems like all of the personalities match, to varying degrees. But if I look carefully, all of them also have things which I think are totally wrong.
Take, for instance, number 5, which seems the best match for me overall. The description of 5 seems to get my motivations totally wrong. The Wikipedia article says that fives are often either neglected or intruded upon early in life. It's funny how they put both these opposing possibilities there, so that no matter what kind of childhood you had, you're likely to think, "yes, YES, that's me!" In any case, I feel like I was neither neglected nor intruded upon, but somewhere in the happy middle. The article also says that fives often withdraw because they feel they have limited energy. I think I hardly ever feel that way. I have all the time in the world.
Another odd thing about the descriptions, is that several of them talk about feelings which we are unaware of. Gee, if I'm unable to discern my own feelings, I hardly expect a personality test based on numerology to know any better.
I wonder. What would happen if I just took all the green text from my experiment, and created a new personality number 10? That would totally fit me much better than any of the other types!
*I hope no one takes this to be a rigorous experiment. I mostly did it because designing experiments is a fun process in itself.