The Cult of Personality
Millions of Americans take personality tests each year: to get a job, to pursue an education, to settle a legal dispute, to better understand themselves and others. But where did these tests come from, and what are they saying about us? In The Cult of Personality, award-winning psychology writer Annie Murphy Paul reveals the surprising and disturbing story behind the tests that claim to capture human nature.
Combining cutting-edge research, engaging reporting, and absorbing history, Paul uncovers the way these allegedly neutral instruments are in fact shaped by the agendas of industry and government. She documents the dangers of their intrusive questions, biased assumptions, and limiting labels. And she exposes the flawed theories and faulty methods that render their results unreliable and invalid. Personality tests, she contends, produce descriptions of people that are nothing like human beings as they actually are: complicated, contradictory, changeable across time and place.
The widespread use of these tests has deeply troubling consequences. Students are being consigned to narrow categories even as they’re still growing and developing. Workers are having their privacy invaded and their rights trampled. Companies are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, only to make ill-informed decisions about hiring and promotion. Our judicial system is being undermined by inaccurate evidence. Perhaps most distressing, we are all increasingly implicated in a “cult of personality” that celebrates the superficial over the substantive, the static over the dynamic, the standard and average over the distinctive and unique.
Compelling and insightful, this book is an eye-opening account of a collision among the needs of business and bureaucracy, the imperatives of a lucrative and largely unregulated testing industry, and the eternal human desire to make sense of ourselves and each other.