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Collegiate Tip-of-the-Month: Personality Tests

— Most human beings, especially most young human beings, want very much to know more about themselves and how they fit in with the people around them. Why don’t I have as many friends as my roommate does? Why are other people so quiet when I always want to talk? Why does my neighbor act so “stuck up” when I’m trying to be friendly? And needless to say, problems in human relations are by no means restricted to young people: Why can’t that other professor in my department ever show up for meetings on time? Why does that junior colleague always act like he’s in charge, even when he isn’t?

Deep psychological analysis is beyond my ability and probably beyond yours too, but even a little analysis can take us a long way sometimes. There is a tried-and-true method of surveying human temperaments using an assessment instrument called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Lengthy, formal versions of this instrument are often administered by professional psychologists, but a variety of abridged versions can now be taken on the web. If you want to do a very simple thing that will help you understand your students better, help them understand one another better, and even help them understand you better, encourage everyone in your college to try one of these temperament surveys, such as the one maintained by

Tests of this kind group people into one of sixteen categories that are given four-letter designations, such as INFP, ENTJ, ENFP, ISTP, and so on. The four letters in order are: E/I (Extrovert vs. Introvert), N/S (iNtuitive vs. Sensing), T/F (Thinking vs. Feeling), and J/P (Judging vs. Perceiving). Is this deep science? No, but it is often uncannily accurate. The test linked above will give you a brief description of your type when the test is scored, and there are many other websites and books available with further details. I have found Kroeger’s Type Talk at Work to be an especially handy reference to use with students.

But how to build this into the life of your whole residential college community? Easy: encourage the members of your college to try the test, and put a sheet of paper outside your college office door on which people can record their types. Bookmark the test webpage on your office computer, and when students are milling around with nothing to do, encourage them to give it a try and add their names to the list. Patterns will quickly emerge and will be conspicuous to everyone: the ENFPs who are the life of the party and can never find their keys; the nice ISFJs who always offer to help clean up and look after sick roommates; the ENTJs who are plotting world domination; the ESTJs bossing people around; and the INTJs—the highest of the types—explaining it all. (Why yes, I do happen to be an INTJ. Thank you for asking.)

Personality surveys of this kind are another example of an effective, low-cost, long-running, co-curricular activity that can truly enrich the life of a residential college, and that can even contribute to smoothing out the college’s operations.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021