‘They become dangerous tools’: the dark side of personality tests | Documentary

Scrolling relationship apps in 2015, Tim Travers Hawkins didn’t know who his sort was. He didn’t even know what a kind was. Hawkins, a British film-maker then new to New York, “seen one thing that was very totally different to individuals’s profiles in the UK and that was the use of these 4 letters,” he mentioned to the Guardian. Curious, he seemed it up. “I used to be like, ‘Huh, that’s totally different’.”

The 4 letters concern from the Myers-Briggs Sort Indicator, the world’s most well-known personality quiz, which categorizes everybody into 16 distinct sorts gleaned from 4 binaries: persons are both introverted or extroverted, sensing (counting on proof from one’s senses) or intuitive, pondering or feeling, and judging or perceiving.

The 4 letters appeared once more a number of years later when Hawkins was studying about Carl Jung. “It dawned on me that the Myers-Briggs Sort Indicator was truly derived from Jung’s work, and that completely fascinated me. The pop-culture factor, the proven fact that it was nonetheless getting used presently in relationship apps, and the proven fact that it was this energy construction that was delivered to bear on individuals’s lives with out individuals possibly even noticing” – a theme that resonated together with his 2019 documentary XY Chelsea about Chelsea Manning “that every one made me assume this was one thing that I actually needed to look into”.

Hawkins’ new HBO Max documentary, Persona: The Dark Fact Behind Personality Tests, investigates America’s infatuation with personality testing, revealing the stunning origin story behind the MBTI whereas surfacing moral questions and criticisms that these seemingly innocent devices are profoundly discriminatory and reflective of bigger troubling points of who precisely is taken into account worthy and precious in society.


Persona is knowledgeable by the 2018 guide The Personality Brokers by Oxford College professor Merve Emre – additionally one of the documentary’s government producers – which traces the historical past of the two girls who created the namesake Myers-Briggs instrument. “I needed to grasp how these two girls who had no formal coaching in psychology had come to design the world’s hottest personality check,” Emre says in the movie.

The enterprise of personality typing as we all know it was seeded in 1901 in a Washington DC front room. Following the deaths of two of her youngsters, Katharine Briggs was decided to carefully monitor her surviving youngster, Isabel, and carried out experiments on her and different neighborhood youngsters. Twenty years later, Katharine grew to become a loyal Carl Jung acolyte following his groundbreaking 1921 guide, Psychological Varieties; his work supplied a vocabulary and validation to her beforehand discarded tasks.

Later, galvanized by a want to help humanity throughout the second world battle, Isabel utilized her mom’s analysis to the workforce, designing a questionnaire – once more with the assist of her personal daughter and her mates round the kitchen desk – supposed to assist individuals discover the job finest suited to them; this preliminary model of the MBTI was launched in 1943 (There have been many iterations since – the 4 letters had been by no means copyrighted.)

Since the Nineteen Sixties, some 50 million individuals have taken the check, and personality testing is a $2bn business, rising round 15% per 12 months. As we speak greater than two million take the MBTI yearly, together with 60% to 70% of American potential employees. All this regardless of the well-known info that the MBTI has no grounding in scientific psychology (Jung’s theories weren’t drawn from managed experiments or information both), its outcomes are poorly correlated with job efficiency, and embedded inside it are false and dangerous concepts about race, gender, and sophistication that drive bias and discrimination.

Four generations of Briggs Meyers women.
4 generations of Briggs Meyers girls. {Photograph}: HBO Max

“Personality tests are by and huge constructed to be ableist, to be racist, to be sexist, and to be classist,” says incapacity justice advocate Lydia XZ Brown. “That’s what occurs when you could have a check … primarily based on norms devised from college-educated straight white males with no identified disabilities. Personality tests are helpful for particular person individuals typically on journeys of self-discovery. However once they’re used to make choices by different individuals affecting somebody’s life, they become dangerous instruments.”

Kyle Behm realized that the arduous method. In 2012, he utilized for a job at his native Kroger grocery store that included an internet personality check. (Employers’ use of on-line personality tests has surged since the early 2000s in makes an attempt to streamline hiring, significantly for customer-service jobs, and so they’re now used earlier in the hiring course of to filter out candidates, versus being thought of alongside interviews and previous expertise.) Identified with bipolar dysfunction, Behm discovered he was rejected from the job as a result of his check indicated that he was prone to ignore clients in the event that they had been upset or making him upset.

“I used to be bowled over as a result of I’ve labored in customer support earlier than and one of the issues I’ve realized is to utterly separate your private emotions from the job,” Behm says in the movie. “It’s not honest that by answering actually about issues that had been associated to my psychological well being I used to be excluded from work. In my head, I’m pondering, There’s no method this may be authorized.”

In complaints filed with the US Equal Employment Alternative Fee, Behm, with the assist of his legal professional father, accused Kroger and 6 different firms of discrimination in opposition to the mentally in poor health via their use of personality tests. (The Myers-Briggs Firm claims it stopped promoting to firms that use it for hiring, and The Wall Road Journal found in 2014 that Kroger dropped from its hiring check many of the questions the Behms discovered most troubling.)

A still from Persona
{Photograph}: HBO Max

David Scarborough, co-creator of the Unicru Personality Take a look at utilized by Kroger and quite a few different employers, defends the tests as offering a precious service. “While you steer somebody away from a job that they’re not as prone to do effectively in, you’ve achieved them a favor despite the fact that it doesn’t really feel like a favor,” he says in the movie.

Battling the personality-test Goliaths are teams comparable to the Hope program, which helps low-income New Yorkers discover employment and preps program individuals for these tests. However what’s on the horizon is probably much more disturbing: video-interview platforms that analyze phrases and speech with facial actions. As Brown places it, it’s half of the similar pseudoscience as measuring individuals’s skulls.

Understanding how all this stuff work has taken new significance in the pandemic age, Hawkins notes, with “significantly our work interactions being mediated a lot via know-how. I believe that has accelerated the use of these sorts of psychometric tests. Removed from going away, these personality tests have gotten increasingly prevalent. As a result of we’re working in additional remoted methods through know-how, there’s simply extra home windows for this know-how to be inserted at totally different junctures of our interactions.”


To not point out the added stress on the job market as a result of of elevated ranges of unemployment. “Firms can’t take care of the quantity of candidates and they also’re searching for methods to legally cull candidates,” he says, which speaks to the promise of personality-test screenings.

In the end Hawkins hopes the movie will make us all strategy issues like personality tests with a extra crucial eye. “We’re usually drawn to methods that appear to clarify the world in a method that’s easy and appears to be impartial, however I might all the time need individuals to be cautious and to consider the place these devices come from. All of these devices have a previous, and for those who actually delve into them, you can begin to seek out out issues about why they exist which may make you uncomfortable.”

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button