I must say I agree with you, in that few of these personality tests really give an accurate description of who we are. Although, I think the idea with personality tests is that they give a reasonably accurate estimate regarding a person’s commonly displayed traits – not an exact description or analysis. I think that an exact description is impossible, because as you said, people tend to change, both over time and depending on mood/situation.
Taking this into account, I’ve come up with an idea that I think explains at least certain aspects of personality. I believe that we trial and test different personality traits throughout the earliest parts of our lives and adopt certain characteristics into our personalities because we believe that they have yielded agreeable consequences. We could be more or less classically conditioning ourselves in our personalities. This idea is similar to the existential approach to personality, which states that we have no fixed nature and thus we must create our personalities.
In year 10 I studied ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, a 20th century American novel written by Ken Kesey of which we are (hopefully) going to see a stage production!
The story’s protagonist, although it is not made clear in the film adaptation, is a deaf and mute Native American man in a mental institution, (referred to as ‘Chief’). I apologise as the following is like a 10% spoiler, (not really though). Near the end of the story he reveals to the other main character that he is not actually deaf nor mute. He evidently has some serious mental issues (including paranoia and schizophrenia) and I find it fascinating that for many years he pretends to be deaf and mute. It becomes clear that he has done this because the mistreatment he has received in his life has diminished his confidence, assertiveness and manhood (traits which First Nation men traditionally live by). His self-esteem is so low that he believes he can do nothing but remain silenced.
This post is not entirely relevant to our psychology unit, but I believe that the Chief’s mental situation shows something about how personality can be changed through the environment one lives in and the treatment one receives.
You should all read the book; it is truly thought-provoking and it symbolically represents some dystopian elements which is just superb.
A comment that our teacher made just then really made me scratch my head. It was relating to the Jim Twins, and how they both smoked Salem’s and drank Miller light; the question was, are these preferences a result of their similar personalities? And furthermore, do people with similar personality traits have similar preferences when it comes to consumables, clothing and decor? Ultimately, do certain personalities yield certain preferences?
I think to a certain extent they do. With clothing, for example, social extroverts with outgoing and bright personalities may more often wear colourful/floral clothing than introverts who prefer their own company (although, this is purely based on experience/stereotypes and is not universal. I also want to acknowledge that these traits are not always separate). When it comes to food/other consumables I think other factors are more important. For example, if an adventurous and excitement-seeking person travels to Asia, he or she will be more likely to try the fried stingray than someone who is more reserved and comfortable with observing. With the Jim Twins, it’s probable that their preference for the same cigarettes and beer was a result of fashion: they may just have been the products that were commonly consumed by people of similar class/situation to the twins. Then again, it could be said that smokers and drinkers tend to be more hedonistic than others: is this a personality similarity between the twins?
I’d love to hear what you all think of this idea, and if you think what I said is totally unjustified please let me know too.
‘Failure in a success-oriented culture is hard to take. We are failing and our children are failing in our schools at an alarming rate. Even children who achieve enviable grades are failing to learn much of what we hope to teach them: abstraction, curiosity, and, most of all, appreciation.’
– From the textbook ‘Educational Psychology’