Personality tests are everywhere on Facebook. Which "Little Mermaid" character are you? Which city do you actually belong in? ESTJ or ENFP?
There are plenty of reasons people take these personality tests. So, which category do you fall into?
You Crave Attention
"People love it when you ask them questions about themselves," Christine Whelan, sociologist in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, told NBC News. "It makes us feel good that the quiz is interested in us."
Who needs a date when you can just open a bottle of wine and take a BuzzFeed quiz? Yes, personality tests, from Internet questionnaires to Myers-Briggs, give us the impression that someone is interested in our lives.
You're a Chatterbox!
Recently, there have been some questions about whether we put too much faith in the Myers-Briggs test. But some psychologists emphasize that personality tests — even reputable ones backed by research — were never meant to completely define us. They are more useful in starting conversations.
"The fact that I know I’m an extrovert and that my husband is an introvert is important when I want to stay at a cocktail party and he wants to go home," Whelan said. "The fact that we know that about each other allows us to have a conversation."
She added, "These personality quizzes, at their best, are conversation starters, and give you a shared language to discuss things that are meaningful for you."
You Need to Make it Official
Personality tests also give us an official stamp of approval for whatever self-image we have constructed for ourselves.
"Someone can say, 'I feel like I’m introverted,' but they like that external validation," Mitch Prinstein, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told NBC News. "It feels like an official test."
The problem, Prinstein said, is that results from personality quizzes can't always be trusted.
"Those who say they are introverts, other people might not see them that way," he said. "As long as it's based on your own self-reporting, you're really talking about self-perception, and some people's self-perception is really off."
You Define Yourself in the Context of Your Social Interactions!
In social psychologist lingo, the "looking-glass self" is the concept that our self-image is shaped by how we think others see us, which would explain why you cared whether people "Liked" your "Which 'Mean Girls' Character Are You?" quiz.
"It happens a lot in adolescence, but it continues into adulthood," Prinstein said. "When we take a test that says we fall into a certain category, it's kind of saying, 'Well, I can establish who I am by letting other people see me in this way.'"
You Think Quizzes Don't Matter ... Until They Do
Some personality tests might seem dumb, but we do occasionally take them seriously, especially when they give us results that we like.
In real life, we might suddenly love beach volleyball once we discover we are good at it, even if we didn't care about it before. Similarly, if a quiz declares that you are a genius, you might "take it a little more seriously and take pride in it," said Stephen Garcia, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
Overall, we have a tendency to block out results we don't like and publicize the ones we do like. That makes it a lot easier to embrace personality tests, since we simply ignore results that don't conform to our own self-image.
You Want to Feel Normal
Yes, we are all unique snowflakes with our own opinions and special talents. But, ultimately, we just want to feel normal, even within smaller social groups like "liberals" or "conservatives" or "bronies."
Personality tests let us compare ourselves with others.
"Ultimately, they give you some feedback on whether your behavior is similar to others, what your niche is, and how similar you are to a sub-group of people," Prinstein said. "That is inherently very rewarding to people."
First published August 2 2014, 9:56 AM