EUREKA, Ill. — Eureka College Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexander B. Swan has collaborated with a California marketing professor on a research publication “Deeply Confusing: Conflating Difficulty With Deep Revelation on Personality Assessment” in an effort to identify why individuals complete popular “personality type” assessments and what makes the ensuing results so compelling.
Swan, with California Polytechnic University, Pomona Marketing Professor Randy Stein, recently published an article that suggests one reason that people might mistakenly think that these assessments are seen as effectively generating “deep” insights is precisely because they also tend to have difficult and confusing questions.
“People really want these tests to deliver deep insights,” Swan said. “But, they also don’t really understand psychological assessment. Those two things don’t mix well.”
In a series of studies, Stein and Swan found that, when judging individual personality assessment items, the more difficult the items were rated, the more they were rated as “deep”, revealing hidden, subconscious aspects of their personality.
As a result, “Type” assessment questions are seen more difficult and “deeper” than assessments from more scientifically-acceptable scales. The same pattern held when participants were asked to rate questions like those used in Buzzfeed quizzes, wherein personality assessment is carried out via questions about concepts that are quite divorced from personality (e.g., which colors one associated with an abstract concept). In some instances, the sillier the questions got, the “deeper” they were rated.