Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

On the Folly of Personality Tests

Posted on by arlen

I always view personality tests with a jaundiced eye. They remind me of the story of the college professor who told his students he would like to write their horoscope for them: he took their information and the next time class met, he handed out the workups he’d done for each of them. He asked the class how many thought he’d been very accurate and captured them well: every student raised their hand. Then he asked if one of them would read what he’d given them out loud. The entire class broke out laughing as they realized he’d written the exact same text for each one of them.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman contains a test, intended to show you how optimistic or pessimistic you are. It gives you 48 questions, which you then score in 6 categories, and then use those category scores to calculate three other scores.

I took the test, and saw my scores fall all over the place, ranging from wildly optimistic to extremely pessimistic. I’m both average and very pessimistic in the permanence categories, while I am both very optimistic and very pessimistic in the pervasiveness categories, and have moderately high or average self-esteem, depending upon which score you accept there. I score as moderately hopeful yet on the subtotals I score as both moderately optimistic and extremely pessimistic (I’d have to more than double that subtotal to even get out of the “Great Pessimism” category). And the total score shows me as very pessimistic.

Does that mean I’m a complex person, filled with contradictions, or rather that the test is flawed?

As a whole, the book is good, but the question nags me: Do we really need 300+ pages just to say Vince Lombardi was right?

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

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March 2009
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