- People like to take personality quizzes on the internet. Especially ones that rely on pop culture tropes.
- You, reader, are maybe one of those people.
- INSIDER spoke to personality psychologists and quiz experts to learn more about why we love them oh so much.
- Quizzes may help you control the way you’re perceived by the people around you, and also offer guidance for particular situations you find yourself in.
- Let’s face it: taking online quizzes and sharing results is also just a fun thing to do with friends.
There are all different ways we describe ourselves. I’m a Cancer, so I’m sensitive. If I went to Hogwarts, I’d be in Gryffindor. I always choose Mario when I play “Super Smash Brothers.” I’m an extrovert and love to keep a busy social calendar. I couldn’t be any more like Chandler from “Friends.” According to this quiz, if I were a sandwich, I would be a BLT.
We’re drawn to external sources that tell us who we are, what we value and, and what we need to function best. It’s why people turn to astrology as a source of guidance, treating their monthly horoscopes and the traits of their sun signs as the guideposts of their lives. It’s also why – despite the test-makers warning against this – 1 in 5 Fortune 1,000 companies use the Myers-Briggs Indicator in their hiring process.
Personality indicators are actually all around us. Recently, as a part of the Great American Personality Test, INSIDER conducted a nationwide survey along with Morning Consult, looking to better understand the labels and designations people assign to themselves or figure out through taking quizzes. As it turns out, people have surprisingly strong allegiances to these self-designations – and not just the obvious stuff like Hogwarts Houses and “Friends” characters.
Ultimately, pop culture-based labels assigned from online quizzes can be vague, and they often rely on stereotypes. But they do serve a purpose. They give us a way to talk honestly and earnestly about ourselves, using a common cultural vocabulary. In assigning us labels, online quizzes allow us to easily relate to each other.
Quizzes help you figure out what you actually like
For Gen Z-ers and millennials, it can be difficult and, at times, overwhelming, to make sense of where you are in life. Taking a quiz can be a shortcut to finding out who you are and what you like, David Watson, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, told INSIDER.
“Particularly with young people, they’re trying to form an identity, a sense of themselves and how they fit into the world, and how they differ from other people,” he said.
Relying on outside forces to tell us about ourselves is nothing new. In the past, if you wanted to take a personality quiz you would have to do what might sound unreasonable now: Go to the library, check out a book, and take the quiz with a pencil and paper, Watson said. But now the internet allows us to immediately access a seemingly endless number of quizzes.
Bruce Carter, a professor of human development and family science at Syracuse University, echoed that sentiment. He said that we gravitate to online quizzes in an effort to answer what he calls the fundamental question of humanity: “Why do people act the way that they do?”
“Personality quizzes allow people to satisfy their curiosity about themselves and about other people by providing them with what they believe to be is accurate information about their tendencies or behaviours and the causes of those behaviours,” Carter said.
We also get social validation from sharing results that confirm what we already believed to be true about ourselves, he added.
“People are eager to share [their findings] because they confirm what we already believe,” the professor told INSIDER. “We’re often living in some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, anyway. So we’re looking for information that confirms what we already know.”
The need to put ourselves in a sort of “bucket” is deeply ingrained in us. Sure, taking a quiz helps you look inward, but it’s understanding and sharing the results that bring you closer to others.
Quizzes offer a shortcut to finding people just like you
In 2014, BuzzFeed quizzes changed the shape of the internet. If that sounds hyperbolic, it’s not.
The questionnaires, which were meant to be just for fun, quickly amassed a large and loyal audience of college-aged women. Matt Perpetua, former director of quizzes at BuzzFeed, told INSIDER that Facebook’s format and network encouraged the spread of quizzes at a fast rate. Perpetua worked to develop the style of content from its joking inception to its more accuracy-minded current form.
Not only did the quizzes fill an inherent need for introspection, but there was also a social component to them, Perpetua said. Quizzes organically started meaningful conversations both online and in person. Now, BuzzFeed’s Facebook page specifically devoted to quizzes has grown to have more than 1.5 million fans and offers up more than a dozen new quizzes each day.
“In the sharing of quiz results and people taking quizzes together, it facilitates a conversation about things that are constantly on people’s minds but are not super easy to talk about, because it can get heavy,” he explained. “It makes it easier to talk about things that are big concerns – it reduces some friction and lowers some stakes.”
As Perpetua sees it, BuzzFeed – and its eventual imitators like PlayBuzz and PopBuzz – acts as a sort of middleman to communicate to a person who they really are. It doesn’t matter if the quiz is petty or aspirational. The message is the same: Talking about the results of a quiz leads to a sort of emotional vulnerability that Perpetua calls a “safe space” among friends.
Of course, Perpetua noted, BuzzFeed didn’t invent the personality quiz. They have been around since the earliest days of the internet and, before that, they were fixtures in print magazines. Our cultural fascination with quizzes has endured, he believes, because they allow us to organise ourselves by category and determine our place in the world – even on a granular level.
The need to put ourselves in “buckets” runs deep. Polish psychotherapist Henry Tajfel developed the concept of “social identity theory” to describe the human desire to create an “us vs. them” dichotomy. Tajfel’s social identity theory, explains Institute for Education and Research writer Gazi Islam, “begins with the premise that individuals deﬁne their own identities with regard to social groups and that such identiﬁcations work to protect and bolster self-identity.”
As Tajfel explains it, we like to categorise ourselves in order to both strengthen our bonds with like-minded people and identify and cast out those who are different from us. Sure, taking a quiz helps you look inward, but it’s understanding and sharing the results that help define who you are to others. Proudly proclaiming you’re a Monica – or Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, or Joey, for that matter – signals to fellow Monicas that you’ll understand and appreciate them.
Carter, the professor at Syracuse, said that taking these quizzes allows us to feel like we have a semblance of control over our lives and the ways we are perceived, and by extension, our roles in the situations we find ourselves in.
“Clinging to these kinds of designations, whether it’s from online quizzes or psychological tests, makes us feel as though our environment is more controllable and that behaviour is more predictable,” he said. “Perhaps it gives us that illusion [of control], which, when we examine things a little more closely, we discover isn’t true.”
But for most people, it’s really all in good fun. Carter compared taking online quizzes to listening to pop music: It’s an entertaining thing that brings people together.
And if you take enough of these quizzes, whether they tell you what Hogwarts house you’d be in or what “Friends” character you’re the most similar to based on the sandwich you build, the results – and how you eventually self-identify – often offer an exaggerated, superficial presentation of yourself to others.
“Those [labels] are references to particular characteristics,” Carter said. “When you look at a whole variety of these things they have sort of captured – crudely – some psychological aspects that are really stereotypes about people and their personalities that exist within our culture overall.”
After all, you’re the only person who knows that secretly, deep down, you’re a Monica and not a Rachel.
- Read more:
- Yes, it’s true, 20-somethings really love astrology
- Years later, Team Edward vs Team Jacob remains the most divisive issue of our time
- We’re a nation of Gryffindors and Rachels – here’s how Americans really answer those addictive personality quizzes
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