The popularity of personality tests
Personality tests on the Internet are a dime a dozen.
Plug in your favourite ice cream, your favourite dog breed, and the last movie you watched, and you can get a detailed explanation of the workings of your inner self in less than a minute. Or at least an overview of which Disney princess you’re most like.
Or you can pay hundreds of dollars and have a professional give you an hours-long personality assessment that may pinpoint every unique attribute, down to the tiniest detail, using well-known tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
These personality tests are so common and compelling because they answer a fundamental question almost everyone has: “Why do I do the things I do?”
Your personality is at the core of everything you do and are, so it makes sense that you’d like to learn everything you can about it.
One personality test circulating on the Internet is the Enneagram. The test relies on Enneagram theory and uses a nine-pointed system that delves into the various qualities you possess. In short, it tells you which of the nine Enneagram personalities fits you best.
It differs from other personality tests because it focuses on how you deal with trauma. The MBTI test, on the other hand, focuses more on your judgement and perception of the world around you. It’s more nurture versus nature.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Enneagram test, including the basis of Enneagram theory, the various personality types, the benefits of knowing your personality type, and how accurate they can be.
Some of the most popular “pop psychology” personality tests are based on the Enneagram of Personality Types, which dates back to the 1900s.
This model divides people into nine main personality types, sometimes called Enneatypes, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. It also focuses on three centres, which include instinct, feeling and thinking.
Your Enneagram type will indicate which of the three centres is your dominant emotion.
They are often represented on a nine-pointed geometric figure (an enneagram), with each type placed on a point and connected by lines to show how the types interact with each other.
The nine Enneatypes are:
Type 1: The Reformer
Perfectionistic, principled and purposeful, Reformers are often very rational and idealistic in their worldview. They can also be brittle and uncompromising.
Type 2: The Helper
Helpers are loving, caring and generous but may also be chronic people-pleasers and possessive.
Type 3: The Achiever
Goal-oriented and motivated, Achievers know what they want and will act decisively to be successful. However, they are often very image conscious and overly driven
Type 4: The Individualist
Individualists live in their own world and are good at expressing themselves but may come across as self-absorbed, temperamental and dramatic.
Type 5: The Investigator
This type has a very cerebral way of interpreting the world. They are perceptive and curious but may also come across as very intense, secretive and isolated.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Loyalists are the foundation of every strong community, valuing responsibility, security and the good of the whole. However, they can also come across as anxious and suspicious.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Always the life of the party, Enthusiasts are high-energy and fun-loving people who enjoy spontaneous adventures. They may also be scattered, disorganised and easily distracted.
Type 8: The Challenger
Challengers are confident of their skills and project an air of authority and power. They are natural leaders but may also come across as dominating, wilful and argumentative.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Easygoing and reassuring, Peacemakers are there to help smooth things over and are good at finding compromises. However, they may do so at their own expense, becoming too self-deprecating, agreeable and complacent.
How to choose which test to take
Enneagram personality tests ask a variety of targeted questions to see which type you identify with the most. It is possible to identify with several different types, represented as a percentage, as they work together in different ways. Usually, however, one will be the most dominant; this is your “type.”
There are dozens of personality tests and quizzes based on Enneagram principles, but they’re not created equal.
And herein lies one of the biggest problems with the test, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist. Because it’s not standardised, it’s hard to use an Enneagramic test as a measurement tool.
“You should look at how the test is scientifically validated so you know that it is trustworthy,” she says. “The most reliable one I like to use is The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator.” (This one costs $US12. There are other free tests you can take online, but they generally require you to put in your email address or sometimes pay more for the full results, or offer up shorter versions of the test.)
Are the tests accurate?
“Accurate” is subjective when it comes to personality tests, as only you can really know what is true for yourself.
However, they can be useful for people looking to better themselves, says Hafeez.
“It works best as a tool to help you understand your patterns of behaviour, goals, motivations, fears, weaknesses and strengths,” she says. “They are useful in developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.”
The theory has been around at least since the 1960s, and variations have evolved as tools to help people grow individually, spiritually, in business settings and in relationships. There is some research showing that it can have a positive effect in these realms.
A literature review found that people who learned their Enneagram type were able to identify strengths and weaknesses that allowed them to “transcend the strengths and limitations of their value system.”
Meanwhile, a 2018 study in the Journal of Adult Development found that people who did 40 to 50 hours of intensive training on Enneagram types experienced greater psychological growth and ego development.
Essentially, the tests are as helpful as you want them to be. Positive results will depend more on what you believe about them and how you use them than the test itself, says Christine B. L. Adams, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher who has studied personality development for over 40 years.