'Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests' offers a glimpse of quiz dystopia

When is a Myers-Briggs more than a Myers-Briggs?
When is a Myers-Briggs greater than a Myers-Briggs?

Picture: courtesy of HBO Max

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By Alexis Nedd2021-03-04 11:00:00 UTC

When I was a teenager, I applied for a job at an ice cream chain I ought not name for legal reasons. After filling in my online application, the chain’s website directed me to a series of multiple choice questions that seemed completely irrelevant to the job. I had to select “strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, or strongly disagree” to prompts like “I tend to have a positive outlook on life” and thought the whole thing was weird as hell. I was never called in for an interview. 


Later in my career, I worked as an online quiz editor. My job was to write, design, edit, and develop new formats of those super-clickable online personality quizzes that took over everyone’s Facebook news feed in the early 2010s. If you wanted to find out which Disney animal sidekick you were, I was the one deciding you were Mushu (you’re welcome). Writing those quizzes was part social engineering, part fortune telling, and part being a hungover 24-year-old with a deadline, but take it from who has seen the back end of that code: The results are meaningless.

I never expected to connect my failure to secure ice cream employment with my first online media job, but watching the HBO Max documentary Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests introduced them collectively in a terrifying comparability with real-world implications. Persona examines the cultural phenomenon that’s the Myers-Briggs Personality Sort Indicator and, to a lesser extent, the Large 5 Personality Check by monitoring the historic origins of Myers-Briggs, the use of persona testing in hiring practices, and the doubtless nefarious social makes use of of such assessments. 

Persona examines persona testing from a number of angles, every of which horrify me in several private {and professional} methods. There are the Myers-Briggs YouTubers who take their four-letter persona kind so significantly they stake their careers on it, the job seekers who take programs that train them the way to “go” persona exams just like the one I encountered as a teen, executives at testing corporations that grin into the digicam whereas defending the idea that solely 16 sorts of individuals exist, and a recent new hell each quarter-hour or so. If that sounds overwhelming, that’s as a result of it’s. Persona takes on a lot and solely succeeds in making a level half the time. 

The overarching thought behind this documentary is that these persona exams have been created by flawed human beings to assist people perceive themselves higher. Discovering out you’re an INTP, excessive in Neuroticism, or a Mushu is enjoyable and in the very best case state of affairs could result in some introspection. Sadly, the quiz editors of yesteryear picked up the wacky concept that persona quizzes have been in some way definitive and scientific when utilized to deciding who’s good at jobs. Now, there are whole company entities devoted to promoting persona quiz packages to ice cream franchises to allow them to display screen out individuals who choose something aside from “strongly agree” to awkward, private inquiries. 

Some of the themes of Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Check argue that testing for persona within the hiring course of is a loophole for discrimination. Mentally in poor health, neuroatypical, and culturally various candidates begin such testing at a drawback, particularly if the rubric for an “excellent” worker at a given firm relies on the presumably wholesome white males who designed the take a look at. That is a good level. The place Persona fails as a documentary is the follow-up to this assertion of discrimination. 

One of the documentary’s pivotal moments is the inevitable milkshake ducking of Isabel Briggs Myers, one of the co-authors of the Myers-Briggs evaluation.

Regardless that Persona spends a while with corporations that present hiring exams, it doesn’t push them to interrogate their place in what the documentary presents as an outwardly discriminatory system. When a high-ranking worker at a testing firm holds the celebration line that persona testing is designed to fit individuals into jobs that go well with their “pure” tendencies, the implication is that the exams maximize employees happiness by ensuring the individuals employed will love their job. At no level are these corporations requested about a hypothetical unemployed one that doesn’t want to seek out private success in company gross sales however want to have a wage and healthcare regardless. These unasked questions don’t precisely depart the themes off the hook, however they do end in Persona feeling like an incomplete investigation. 

One of the documentary’s pivotal moments is the inevitable milkshake ducking of Isabel Briggs Myers, one of the co-authors of the Myers-Briggs evaluation. Lengthy story brief: She was a white supremacist who believed individuals with decrease IQs have been incapable of self-perception and designed her first exams primarily based on the concept that women and men have completely different pure aptitudes. That triple punch of racism, ableism, and sexism isn’t stunning contemplating the state of pop psychology within the early twentieth century, however Persona brings up this revelation solely to drop it a few moments later for one of its many disparate narratives about persona testing. 

General, Persona is a documentary that brings up a handful of attention-grabbing factors concerning the historical past and implementation of persona testing with out reaching any satisfying conclusions concerning the apply. Some of that lack comes from the precise state of persona testing in society — no formal laws to ban their use in hiring has handed — however merely declaring that taking these exams significantly is bizarre and unhealthy looks like a given that might have been explored in a shorter format. 

If consciousness that these exams have an opposed impact on hiring and have the potential to get a lot worse is the objective of Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Exams, then this movie is technically a success. It actually made me assume in another way about that ice cream job — would I’ve been predisposed to hate it as a result of of my persona? Was I naturally higher suited to creating quizzes? In all probability not, and it shouldn’t have mattered. As an ex-quizmaster, by no means belief a quizmaster. 

Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Exams is now streaming on HBO Max.

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