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Apr 27, 2022

"Is it a higher compliment to be called a) a person of real feeling, or b) a consistently reasonable person?" "Are you more successful at a) following a carefully worked-out plan, or b) dealing with the unexpected and seeing quickly what should have been done?" "Which word in each pair appeals to you more? a) scheduled, or b) unplanned?"
Questions like these are posed to millions of current and prospective workers and students every year. They come from personality tests, whether the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Clifton StrengthsFinder, or other surveys purporting to assess personality traits and job aptitude. Through a series of tens to hundreds of questions, personality inventories claim to identify qualities like dominance, neuroticism, or introversion, synthesize a user profile, and determine that user’s fitness for a given job.
But beneath this ostensibly neutral goal of matching a person with their ideal form of employment lies a much more sinister aim: Identifying and weeding out would-be dissenters, labor organizers, and union sympathizers. Additionally, studies have shown repeatedly that commercial personality tests like the commonly used Myers-Briggs have little to no scientific value. Why, then, does their use continue–with anywhere from 60 to 80% of prospective workers taking a personality test–and given their anti-labor history, what harms do they pose?
On this episode, we examine the history of personality testing used in military, educational, and corporate settings; the relationship between personality assessments, labor law, and the corporate consultancy class; how personality testing threatens the livelihoods of people based on race, disability, and other factors; and media’s role in laundering tests as benign instruments of self-realization.
Our guest is writer Liza Featherstone.