Are Free Personality Tests Worth Your Time?

Free personality quizzes have become increasingly popular, but why are people so fascinated by them? Why do we use these tests to answer our most important questions and steer our lives when they may not be scientifically valid? These tests seem to hover somewhere between science and entertainment, with the promise to offer insights into who we really are. But perhaps they’re not what they appear to be. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular personality tests and discover which ones are really worth our time.

Popular Personality Tests

Since the 1900s, personality assessments have boomed, in part because the industrial revolution made it possible for individuals to change jobs and technology has made it increasingly easy for people to get help in finding the right job for them. You can now take a dazzling array of personality tests online, many of them based on a few popular frameworks for understanding personality. Let's take a look at some of the most popular types of tests you may encounter.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. This personality inventory is based on the psychological types described by Carl Jung and developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Briggs to make the theory accessible to people. The theory is that seemingly random variation in behavior is due to basic difference in individuals’ preferences for perception and judgement, resulting in 16 different personality types. The original MBTI® assessment has spawned an endless array of imitators and innovators who have developed new assessments based on the 16-type system. 

Big Five. Otherwise known as the 5-Factor Model, this assessment groups various traits together into five main categories – extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience. The Big Five is the most widely accepted personality model in the academic community and the basis for most personality research, but it is less popular outside of academic circles because it does not categorize people into easily summarized types. There is no one "official" Big Five test, but many researchers have developed their own assessments based on this theory. 

DISC. The DISC personality profile was designed to measure behavioral styles and describes people in terms of their levels of dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. Assessments based on the DISC model are used widely in organizations to develop leadership skills, management training and team building. Free DISC tests are less common, as this model hasn't gotten much attention outside of the business world. 

Enneagram. The Enneagram began with a spiritual practice, not a scientific one, and conceptualizes personality as a dynamic system driven by emotions, fears, and beliefs. Traditionally, Enneagram knowledge was passed on by spiritual teachers, rather than formalized in an assessment. Recently, though, the system has become more popular, leading to the development of several assessments that aim to determine your Enneagram type. 

The Science Behind the Psychology

The study of psychological measures is called psychometrics and it uses two qualifiers to determine the quality of a test – reliability and validity. A reliable measure is one that remains consistent over time, so you’d get similar results if you take a test more than once. 

Validity refers to the accuracy of what the test is intended to measure. A valid test will measure what it sets out to measure.

Reliability and validity are what separate a useful assessment from a fun online quiz. In general, if you purchase an assessment from a respected publisher, you can expect that the assessment has been studied to ensure it will provide you with accurate results. If you're taking a free test, you have no such guarantees. 

Validating a psychometric test is time-consuming and expensive, and most sites offering free personality tests don't have the expertise or resources to go through this process. There's no mystery as to why people like to take these free online quizzes—the price is right! And a non-validated test will not necessarily show incorrect or misleading results. Some of them can even provide kernels of insight.

The problem is that you can't put much stock in what you discover with a free test. If you're serious about learning more about yourself, or looking to make an important decision such as choosing a career, you can't rely on the results from a free quiz to point you in the right direction.

Why Should We Take Personality Tests?

According to Simine Vazire, director of the Personality and Self-Knowledge Lab at the University of California, Davis, taking a personality test can confirm what you suspect about yourself. In many ways, personality tests are a way of putting your thoughts, feelings, intuition, and suspicions into words, giving you a summary of yourself in a way you can understand and articulate to others. 

All too often, we simply don’t know why we do what we do or who we really are. Perhaps we’ve spent years assembling a persona to mask our insecurities and now that mask has taken on a life of its own. It takes honesty, awareness and more than a little self-compassion to look at yourself and see what’s really there, behind all the layers, with both the strengths and weaknesses we all possess. Scientifically valid personality tests can help to make this process a little easier, and a lot more fun. And even if they are just a starting point for your self-discovery, they can offer results that you might not have found on your own.

Are Free Personality Tests Worth Your Time?

Personality tests can provide you with thought-provoking and often surprising results. They can reveal the way you make decisions, who you get along with, and what careers you are drawn to—which is invaluable in both your personal and work life. Unfortunately, taking a poor quality personality test often just confuses the issue, sending you on a wild goose chase with inaccurate information. Although many personality tests claim to share insights about who you are, the only assessments that can be relied upon to reveal the truth are those that have been scientifically validated.

Research in The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight and the Brain by John Kounios and Mark Beeman shows that associative thinking and positive mood reinforce each other. Thinking about associations improves your mood, and a positive mood promotes insights about yourself. Kounios and Beeman were talking about Freud’s therapeutic sessions, based mainly on ‘free association’ where patients talk about whatever is on their mind. But the authors suggest that it’s not what you think about that matters but taking the time to think that may contribute to a person’s improved sense of wellbeing.

In other words, if taking a personality test gets you thinking and learning about your personality, relationships, goals and motivations, you're likely to feel better about life in general. And if getting those insights means shelling out for a scientifically validated assessment, then it's money well spent.

Deborah Ward

Deborah Ward is a writer and an INFJ. She has a passion for writing articles, blog posts and books that inspire, motivate and encourage people to build self-confidence and live up to their potential. She has written two books on mindfulness, Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness and Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness. Her latest book, Sense and Sensitivity, is based on her Psychology Today blog of the same name. It's about highly sensitive people and is out now. Deborah lives in Hampshire, England, where she enjoys watching documentaries, running and taking long walks in the country, especially ones that finish at a cosy pub.


PathSeeker says...

I would say that they are generally helpful. Safer than paying for a test.

Rey O (not verified) says...

Personality tests are fun, e.g. This Personality Quiz is for Gamers

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THE FINE PRINT: Myers-Briggs® and MBTI® are registered trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc., which has no affiliation with this site. Truity offers a free personality test based on Myers and Briggs' types, but does not offer the official MBTI® assessment. For more information on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® assessment, please go here.

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