Online Personality Tests Can Be Fun, but Are Not Always Scientifically Accurate





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UC Berkeley senior Gary Peck has no idea what Winnie the Pooh character he is, but five minutes and a URL later Peck is fit to move to the Hundred Acre Wood.

"I think that's really cool," Peck says on discovering his personality, according to the quiz at www.half-asleep.com, is most like that of Winnie the Pooh. The test described him as "loveable and kind, even if you are a bit slow sometimes."

"I like Winnie the Pooh, although I don't think I'm a bit slow sometimes," says Peck. "I know a lot of people take them just for fun."

Though many online personality tests are more serious than the Winnie the Pooh test, the basic setup is consistent.

Visitors to sites like www.thespark.com and www.allthetests.com answer a series of simple multiple-choice questions that are then analyzed to produce one of several prefabricated test results.

UC Berkeley psychology professor and co-editor of the "Handbook of Personality," Oliver P. John worked with a group of graduate students who produced the Star Wars Twin personality test at www.outofservice.com.

While John did not create the test, he holds a copyright for the test items.

John says the Star Wars Twin test is based on current research that holds there are five basic personality traits. Represented by the acronym "OCEAN," the traits are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

John says UC Berkeley students tend to score very high on the openness dimension of the five-factor personality model.

"Basically the research has shown these five are the big dimensions and you get them in a lot of different cultures," John says. "One of the findings is there's a chunk of genetic basis for these (traits). In some ways, when my (graduate) students used the instrument that I've been using in my research it was to say, 'look you can put something out there that is scientific, sensible and can give people useful feedback about what they're like.'"

The five basic personality traits work like an animal taxonomy, John explained, with broad categories that umbrella numerous smaller categories. Under the "OCEAN" acronym are 5,000 more explicit personality traits.

Eventually, the questions on the Star Wars Twin quiz may yield useful results for John's research, but at this point he says he has not gathered good data from it and has not published anything using Star Wars Twin data.

John says the accuracy of many Internet personality tests rests on their adherence to conclusions reached by current personality studies. Though many do use the five-factor model, John says, online quizzes made up with no empirical evaluation have no scientific accuracy and can mislead test-takers.

Potential test-takers should look at the way a personality test is described and what the questions are to help determine if it will be an accurate personality trait indicator.

Some tests, such as www.webkin.co.uk's "What Fruit are You?" quiz gives unscientific results.

After taking the fruit quiz, UC Berkeley senior Leo Tomlin learned he most resembles a strawberry.

"I don't think this test is useful because if you read the questions carefully you can tell what the results will be. So you can skew the outcome of the test based on what you want it to be," Tomlin says.

He says tests on the site

www.thespark.com avoid this pitfall by often using questions that give results opposite to what he would expect.

John also says many people take online quizzes because they are interested in knowing more about themselves. Research indicates in recorded conversations people have in restaurants that they spend most of the time talking about themselves.

"We have this enormous interest in what people are like and of course the person we care the most about-lots of people at least-is ourselves ... it's inherently interesting," John says.

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