Snapshots of the Mind
© 17 September 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
other posts


Personality, IQ, fatalism, and growth.


IQ (intelligence quotient) claim to measure transferable reasoning skills: a 130 is more likely to do well at crossword puzzles than is a 70. Personality tests claim to measure classes of preferences and tendencies: an E on the MBTI prefers to unwind with company than alone. Achievement tests claim to measure aptitude and experience with particular subjects: an A on a calculus exam is better able to solve integrals than is an F. Career aptitude tests claim to measure suitability and enjoyment of various careers. And so on.

Now I could go into why I use the phrase “‍claim to measure‍” above; I could explain the near-meaninglessness of “‍more likely‍”; but instead I want to talk about how people react to these tests.

There are many aspects of my current self that are in flux. I used to dislike broccoli, now I enjoy it a lot. The amount of peanut butter I eat each day has been falling steadily, if slowly, over the past decade. I would have flunked my differential equations final exam before I took a differential equations class. My relaxed walking pace has dropped about a kilometer per hour in the past two years. etc. I’m alive, and thus I’m changing.

My observations of people tell me most of them believe there are unchanging fundamental elements of their being. I don’t know that there aren’t, I suppose. But I do know that the way people assign immutability to characteristics makes no sense. Two things appear to contribute to a sense of immutability: first, if a test was administered then it’s more likely inviolate; second, if it’s not easy to self-identify then it’s not going to change.

Let’s take an example. If you ask me if I prefer mint or vanilla, I have no investment in the answer and can change my mind tomorrow. If you ask me two dozen distinct questions that get at distinct elements of this preference and then tell me I prefer mint to vanilla, I’m much more likely to treat the answer as some kind of lasting truth. If you do brain activity scans and measure the sensory nodes in my nose and then tell me vanilla releases more endorphins in my brain then does a like density of mint I’m even more strongly inclined to believe you’ve uncovered an inviolate element of my character. But none of these tests changed my ability to like one over the other. Everything that could change to swap my preference before being tested can still change after the tests are completed.

education I have mentioned before my distrust of intelligence tests; the same might be said of personality tests and other too-broad quantizations. But I would gladly be silent in all of these doubts if in return I could somehow convince the world that a snapshot showing where you are does not mean you are not moving and that an indicator of where you are facing does not mean you cannot turn around.

Looking for comments…

Loading user comment form…