Photography by Meagan Garton
Written by Heather Pape
You look into a mirror and see yourself; you see your appearance, you see your reflection. This is you. But is this really you? Or is this just a single perspective of who you are? This same concept can be applied to personality tests. At Biola, many professors ask their students to take personality surveys like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the StrengthsFinder test in order to help their students figure out who they are and what they want to do. However, it is easy to become defined by these results or find identity in them. In actuality, these tests can only provide a glance at who a person really is.
Taking it Too Seriously
“People pigeonhole themselves into categories and then assume that is always going to be true of them,” says Dr. Tania Abouezzeddine, a psychology professor who teaches psychological testing and assessments at Biola. “That is a great disservice they are doing to themselves.”
Junior biblical studies major Logan Williams believes that there is too much intensity when it comes to personality tests in the Biola community.
“Students and staff take it really seriously,” says Williams. “Honestly it hasn’t helped me understand myself one bit. Yeah, I’m an ENFJ but that’s only in my brain 30 percent accurate. And why does that even matter? If someone told me they were an ESFP, I’m not going to be like ‘Dude, my life is changed.’”
Among the 56 students surveyed on Biola’s campus, 23 percent claim they feel defined by personality tests. Abouezzeddine says people should not let their results define them because they may not be fully accurate. Personality tests are not meant to completely characterize anyone, but rather, describe qualities that are true of the individual at the time the test is taken.
Tests can be based off of moods, Abouezzeddine says, and are therefore subjective. If one day you are feeling successful, you might answer questions one way, but if you take the test again when you are having a rough day, you will probably get different results. Human feelings can be faulty and inconsistent, so test results cannot be completely true of someone all the time. The results reflect not only the mood of the test taker, but also the environment in which the test was taken.
“None of us are totally being our true selves with everyone we are with,” says Abouezzeddine. “Our personality is shaped not only by the people we are interacting with, but also our environment.”
She says that around her family she might be one way, but around her colleagues she might be another. That does not mean that she is not being her true self with everyone, but that in each particular moment, only a portion of who she is will be manifested.
People exhibit different personality traits based on how comfortable they are around certain individuals and the personality traits the people around them display. It does not mean that someone is not themselves in every scenario, but simply that they have distinct responses when in different contexts or with different people.
Personality tests like Myers-Briggs leave room for inaccuracy because they only allow a person to fall into one of two categories. For example, a person is usually classified as an introvert or an extrovert, and those categories are bipolar extremes. In actuality, personalities should be placed on a spectrum, since the vast majority of people are not one extreme or the other. They fall somewhere in the middle.
“None of us are truly extroverted or truly introverted,” says Abouezzeddine. “All human beings tend to fall on a continuum, and again the continuum may be different based on context, based on current mood, based on age and development. I might have been more introverted as a child and less introverted as I’m getting older and getting more skill.”
Different Environment, Different Results
Personality test results are just a snapshot of who you are in that exact moment in life; where you fall on the continuum may adjust over time. Sometimes having two categories that are extreme opposites can feel confining, because they cannot fully encompass your whole personality.
“In the general world today, we tend to be people who like black and white,” says Abouezzeddine. “We like to be in categories and we don’t like ambiguity. That ends up being a problem because we would rather interpret [test results] as concrete black and white versus ambiguous.”
The results of personality tests should be taken with a grain of salt. People are so much more complex than restrictive categories are able to reflect.
Bible professor Dr. Joanne Jung, who administers the Myers-Briggs test in her classes, also believes that there are a lot more factors that make up a human being than just their personality tendencies.
“There are life experiences, opportunities taken, opportunities lost, relationships that affect us as well,” says Jung. “Our personality types give us a glimpse, but it is certainly not the whole picture of who a person is.”
Another reason to question the validity of personality test results is that those who are being assessed avoid giving extreme answers. For example, on the StrengthsFinder test, participants must choose an answer on a scale from one to five, based on whether something is always true of them or never true of them. Abouezzeddine says most people do not want to make such bold claims, so they choose the more neutral options.
Career Choices and Relationships
Despite their lack of complete validity, it appears that Biola students still rely too much on their personality results. Over 85 percent of those surveyed knew their Myers-Briggs results and 51 percent knew their strengths. Many said they apply these results to their relationships and career paths. Often, these tests are administered for the purpose of helping students figure out what career best suits them. While it is helpful for students to know their strengths and personality types, this knowledge should not dictate how they live their lives.
“It might be helpful in eliminating big broad spectrums, but the tricky thing is that no personality test can tell you in detail who you are and what you should do,” says Abouezzeddine. “What it can do is help you start to focus on a general area where you feel like you fit in more…The person’s own individuality and desires should also speak to the career choices.”
Abouezzeddine warns against taking career suggestions from these tests too seriously. The intention is to point students in the right direction, not to box them into a specific field. Personality tests may not be useful for giving detailed career instructions or defining who you are, but they are helpful for building and understanding community and relationships.
Williams says that in order to be involved in Chapel Programs, he and his peers were required to take the Myers-Briggs test. A lot of time has since been dedicated to helping them understand who they are, what they can do and how they can relate to each other. Jung agrees that learning how you relate to others is helpful because of what the Bible says.
“[The apostle] Paul says that not everyone is an eye and that we need the various parts of the body,” says Jung. “Doing a personality survey helps actually confirm that my weaknesses are someone else’s strengths and my strengths are someone’s weaknesses, and we form a community in that way.”
Different personalities are beneficial for the body of Christ because of how people can complement one another. Personality tests help us understand how to interact relationally and how to support one another. Figuring out who you are and how best to utilize your personality strengths and avoid your weaknesses are reasons why tests like these exist.
Necessary for Growth
“The emphasis [of personality tests] is on growth,” says Abouezzeddine. “The danger of taking personality tests is that it is giving you a very rigid image of who you are. That doesn’t allow flexibility or growth.”
Personality test results should be used to introspectively further your understanding of yourself. By doing this, you may grow into who you want to become, and change how you interact with the world around you.
“They are not made to pigeonhole,” says Abouezzeddine, “but they are made to give us insight and help us change and grow.”
Whether you are an ENFJ or an ISTP, a Developer or an Achiever, we were made to complement each other and work together to build one another up in love. Personality assessments were not made to confine you to a stereotype, but rather, were made to illuminate who you are so that, in turn, you can become who you want to be.