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Why Are We so in Love With Personality Tests?

Why Are We so in Love With Personality Tests?

silhouette of two men and their personalities

Are you an INTJ? Maybe more of an ESFP? Type 9 with a 1 wing or more of a 5w6? Mayhaps you prefer to identify with your Sagittarius sun, Aquarius moon, Libra rising, Scorpio Venus side instead. Even if all that mumbo-jumbo means nothing to you, as a human being on the internet in 2020, you’ve at least heard one of them before. So what exactly is all the hoopla about? And why is it louder now than ever before?

We humans have been trying to decode our own inner workings since, well, forever, but the 20th century is when things started to get super serious (here’s looking at you id, ego, and SUPERego). If recent history has anything to say about it, we won’t be giving up anytime soon (especially because our Costar app just told us this is *us* time, so we’re going to do whatever the Aquarius we want, thanks).

Okay, so calling the multi-millennia-old Zodiac system a ‘personality test’ is really stretching the limits of the word ‘science,’ but other hyper-popular tests like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram have plenty of their own critics within the psychologic community as well. That hasn’t stopped any of them from exploding in popularity within the past few years, inspiring standalone apps, piles of books, and an endless scroll of Instagrammable pins. So what exactly are these ‘identifiers’ identifying?

While your birth chart is all about the stars and planets and physical location at the time of birth, tests like the MBTI and Enneagram use a series of prompts, questions, and choices to assign a personality ‘type’ to each person. In MBTI, there are 16 personality options, while Enneagram has nine main types and two ‘wing’ options for each of the nine.

Although they’re a bit fresher than the ancient zodiac, MBTI and Enneagram were created in the 1960s and ’70s respectively, so they aren’t exactly disrupting the personality testing industry. Why, then, did they shoot back into the zeitgest (possibly riding the zodiac’s coattails) through the end of the 2010s?

Categorizing things––including ourselves––helps us make sense of them, and allows us to feel more comfortable with our knowledge of the world as well as our place within it. Tests with definitive answers can make us feel like there is a definitive answer to why we might be struggling in a certain area at a certain point in time. The information provided by horoscopes and MBTI and Enneagram types can help us to feel grounded, understood, and even like something out there is looking out for us.

The intense onslaught of information that the digital age brought––along with faster communication––has made the modern world an unsettling mental space to inhabit. As The New Yorker put it in 2018, “The popularity of astrology is often explained as the result of the decline of organized religion and the rise of economic precariousness, and as one aspect of a larger turn to New Age modalities. Then, there’s the matter of political panic. In times of crisis, it is often said, people search for something to believe in.” In America, especially in the last few years, people are absolutely scrambling for it.

Personality tests can fill a similar void, as they seek to arm the participant with information that will guide them through their lives and find further fulfillment by knowing themselves better, as well as how they’re prone to interacting with their environment, what motivates them, and what scares the bejeezus out of ’em.

So while the rise of the signs and types can be attributed to to digital advancements in modern life as well as a mounting sense of political panic around the world, and probably half a dozen other contributing factors, the question remains: what personality type are you, anyway?

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