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CULT OF PERSONALITY by Annie Murphy Paul

CULT OF PERSONALITY

How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves

By Annie Murphy Paul

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-4356-0
Publisher: Free Press

A well-documented and highly readable critique of personality tests, examining their development, flaws, and applications.

Paul, Mind/Body columnist for Shape and a former senior editor of Psychology Today, maintains that personality tests “cannot begin to capture the complex human beings we are.” She looks at how and why various personality test were created and by whom, beginning with the Rorschach inkblot test and including such widely used instruments as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, the Thematic Apperception Test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and the NEO-Personality Inventory. These tests, she asserts, cannot predict human behavior, tend to focus on dysfunction (as opposed to health), and often fail to meet scientific standards of validity and reliability. For example, the author cites one study of the Myers-Briggs that found that more than half of those answering the questionnaire were given a different personality type when they took the same test a short while later. Paul warns that the newest approaches to personality assessment involve biological markers, genetic analysis, and computer technology—tools of science that may be so impressive that we accept their pronouncements without question, forgetting that in another century phrenology was thought to offer a scientific approach to the mind. Originally developed to detect mental illness, personality tests are today a favorite instrument of personnel departments of corporations and government agencies needing to hire, sort, and manage people, and they are widely used by school systems to evaluate children and in courts as evidence in both criminal and civil cases. Consequently, says Paul, crucial decisions about people’s lives are being made on the basis of seriously flawed information. She cites other assessment techniques—structured interviews, behavioral observations, a life-story approach—as alternatives, and recommends the institution of various safeguards and limitations on the use of such testing.

Forthright criticism that promoters of tests as well as those who rely on them will find impossible to ignore.