What makes you, you? Personality tests are devoted to this very question. They take various forms: MBTI tests are designed to measure how people perceive the world and have been used in hiring decisions by Fortune 500 companies. Or, for a more lighthearted approach, there are a million pop culture personality quizzes on the Internet: Which Hogwarts House should you be in? Which character in Stranger Things would you be? What ice cream flavor are you?
On a surface level, it might sound narcissistic. But this phenomenon is rooted in a basic curiosity for self-understanding and human connection.
We love sharing bits and pieces of our personality. Take Spotify Wrapped, for example, which provides users with a snapshot of their listening tastes and activity over the past year—essentially creating a portrait of their personality in music. The campaign was shared in 1.2 million posts on Twitter in 2019. And of course, the impulse to share our personality isn’t just limited to music: the app Letterboxd, which enables users to share their favorite movies and TV shows with others, reached more than 3 million members in 2021. As stated by Insider, pop culture personality analyses give us a “common cultural vocabulary” that makes it easier for us to connect with each other.
The appeal of personality tests is in making sense of ourselves, others, and how we fit into the world. They satisfy both the desire to be unique and the need to belong to a group. One of the most popular examples of this is astrology: a person’s chart is unique and based on where the planets were in the sky at the time of their birth, each corresponding to a facet of their personality. However, the system still allows for broad similarities among people who have the same signs and placements (according to astrology, I might have traits in common with someone whose sun sign is also in Libra, but aspects of our personality would vary because the other parts of our charts differ.)
It’s also easier to feel like you have a sense of control over your life if you have a roadmap. Personality tests that present the quiz-taker with a detailed breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses (like the MBTI or Enneagram tests) create a feeling of control and agency. If you understand your characteristics and behaviors, you’ll probably feel more prepared to achieve your goals, become a “better” version of yourself, or deal with uncertainties and obstacles.
Of course, the accuracy of personality tests is dubious. As many have pointed out, it’s impossible to distill something as complicated as human identity into a few clear-cut categories. It might not be wise to take a personality test as a guideline for your entire life, but it’s fun to discover some insights you may not have known otherwise.
Plus, how else are you going to figure out what breakfast food you are?