Just because your personality test seems accurate, doesn’t mean it is….
Many years back, while working with a client, I was asked to take a written personality test that was required for all executives in the company. Eight senior leaders took this test, costing the company more than $10,000, not including the time invested by the employees and the travel costs to the off-site debrief meeting. The test had more than 300 questions and took nearly an hour to complete. By the end, I was exhausted. Afterward, I received a 40-page assessment detailing every aspect of my personality. Although some of the aspects of the assessment seemed accurate, a large number of points were way off.
Others on the team focused on the hits and forgave (or didn’t notice) the misses. By doing so, they ensured that the assessments would seem more accurate than they actually were. Being a bit of a skeptic, I wasn’t willing to dismiss the inaccurate bits so quickly.
What occurred among these executives is the phenomenon psychologists call the “Barnum effect”: our tendency to focus on the most accurate aspects of characterizations of ourselves. The phenomenon is named after the legendary showman P. T. Barnum, who believed that a good circus had “a little something for everybody.” And with many personality profiles, a little bit of everyone is in every profile. Horoscopes and palm readings seem accurate mainly because they are cast in such a way that they could apply to almost anyone, especially if you’re willing to get a bit imaginative in your interpretation.
A great example of the Barnum effect comes from Professor Michael Wiederman from the School of Medicine Greenville and an expert on psychological tests… Continue reading >>