An Experiment In Pseudoscience

Have you been in need of a little break from the monotony of social distancing, Bailey McOwen has found some reprieve in the popular Enneagram and Myers-Briggs online personality tests. Some people claim that these tests are pseudo-science, and McOwen’s ran the experiments to make sure.

MBTI and Enneagram are popular online personality tests that have been described as “horoscopes for people who think they are too smart for horoscopes”

These past few months of quarantine have left me on the hunt for a hobby that allows me to do what I do best: overanalyze. Recently I found exactly what I have been needing. The subject of my new hyper-fixation has been “personality tests,” specifically Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and the Enneagram. 

After researching these tests and seeing how unreliable they are considered, I began thinking about how despite each of these tests being condemned as pseudoscience, they continue to be awfully popular. Clearly, people identify with them, and I wondered if I would as well.

To quickly get a grasp on what pseudoscience is, let’s look to Karl Popper, a philosopher famous for his method of empirical falsifiability. He declares, “a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable.” Basically, a hypothesis must be testable, and therefore either provable or disprovable, to be considered science.

At large these personality tests are considered pseudoscience because any variation in a single answer based on emotion can greatly alter your result and therefore make it very difficult to either prove or disprove whether you are a certain “type.” This can be seen in both test’s response scale of “totally disagree” to “totally agree.” 

In MBTI, you are assigned a type comprised of four functions out of the possible eight: introverted (I) or extroverted (E), intuition (N) or sensing (S), feeling (F) or thinking (T), and judging (J) or perceiving (P). In the Enneagram there are nine types you could possibly be assigned, with each simply being a number one through nine.

Based on what we now know about the tests and pseudoscience, I thought it would be fun to analyze the pseudoscientific method these tests use. I suspect that it is true that there are noticeable variations in what the results of the test will be based on the participant’s (my) emotions and environment.

To be mildly scientific, I decided to take the MBTI and Enneagram tests three times on three different days to ensure I don’t let one day’s worth of emotions affect all the results. 

On Oct. 6, 7, and 8, I will perform these tests (disregarding any tests I’ve taken before this point). I will describe how I felt during the day, what happened that day that may have required me to make a decision, and what the results I receive mean.

 At the end of these three days, I will make a final statement about whether my results align with the hypothesis that these tests are unreliable and therefore pseudoscience (because this is real, important scientific research).

Tuesday, Oct. 6

Today, I am still riding the high of the grade I got on my first test of the semester. Not to brag or anything, but I didn’t fail. I only had one synchronous class today in the late afternoon that went by pretty fast, and I got to work on a DIY project I enjoy. Overall, I’ve had a pretty happy day.

After taking the MBTI tests I ended up with the result INFP, and after taking the Enneagram test, I ended up with Type 5. According to keystocognition.com, an INFP is quiet and shy and continuously checks in on themselves throughout the day and chooses behavior that matches their values. They also focus on patterns and checking hypotheses and meanings… Okay this is getting weird, let’s move on.

Enneagraminstitute.com tells us that Type 5 is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated. So, far so good. These types seem to align fairly well, so it’s a good start!

Wednesday, Oct. 7

Today’s the long day. I had a synchronous class at 9:40 this morning and a lab from 1:30 to 4:30 this afternoon. I am so tired and busy. Bad, bad day. I may have made some decisions today, but I wasn’t coherent enough to remember making them. Let’s just get to the results.

MBTI came back with INFJ, and my Enneagram stayed Type 5. Since we already know Type 5, I’ll move onto INFJ. According to the same test, an INFJ withdraws from the world to focus on their inner-thoughts or for insight. They are also empathetic and have little trust. This just kind of sounds like a moodier INFP, but okay.

Thursday, Oct. 8

I am feeling rejuvenated after a good night’s sleep, and I only have one class today in the afternoon, so it’s going to be an alright day. I don’t feel too one way or the other today, so I’m kind of excited to see which way I lean in the results.

MBTI today is INFJ, and my Enneagram is Type 5, again. I’m a bit surprised honestly. INFJ sounded like a whiny version of an INFP, so I hope I don’t come across that way in real life. I’m also surprised I was Type 5 Enneagram every day. Then again, there’s only nine types to choose from as opposed to the 16 MBTI types. 

In conclusions, I would have to agree that these tests are not real science. There’s no consistency in the tests, they’re clearly affected by mood, and the questions don’t require any sort of definitive answer from the participant which can lead to even more result variation. 

Despite this, the tests are fun, addictive, and make you feel cool and different than everyone else. They take a decent chunk to time to complete too, so they’re great time wasters for your Zoom classes. Don’t let the lack of science stop you from enjoying yourself!

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