Personality Tests and “Muchness”

A friend of mine came to visit a couple weeks ago, and he had me take the “Color Code” personality test. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. It divides people into red (control-oriented), blue (intimacy-oriented), yellow (socially-oriented), and white (peace-oriented) personalities.

There are plenty of tests like this — Myers-Briggs, enneagrams, etc. — that result in classifying the taker into some class or archetype. I think they’re fun, and even useful. They provide frameworks for looking at oneself and one’s relationships. I don’t expect that any of them are The One True Truth, but insofar as they offer guidance and understanding I’m certainly a fan of them.

My biggest complaint with these kinds of tests is that the results only address quality, not quantity. To use the Color Code as an example, take the following two individuals:

graph(3)The Color Code test would return the same results for both of these people — primary red, secondary blue. But, obviously, that’s missing a big part of the story. Jill has a “muchness” (thanks Johnny Depp, for introducing me to that useful word) that Matt lacks.

Culturally, we treat personality like an attribute (or set of attributes) when it’s really a skill (or set of skills). In other words, we treat personality like eye color: you can have brown eyes, or green eyes, or blue eyes, but you can’t have brown eyes AND blues eyes AND green eyes (well, unless you’ve got some freaky eyes…but you know what I mean). And so we look at people as being ambitious or fun or quietly nice, but we have a hard time seeing that a person can be ambitious AND fun AND quietly nice.

I think it’s more useful to look at each personality trait as a “well” — a source of power that can be drawn on. Sometimes it’s good to be assertive, and sometimes it’s good to be conciliatory. In the graph above, Jill has more access to being conciliatory than Matt does, even though both are primarily assertive. And that’s a difference that you won’t see in the personality test results.

(On an unrelated note, when I started my current school program, the student orientation included having us all take personality tests. I decided to answer the questions randomly, and the test results said I was “an ambitious reformer”. The funny thing is, even though I knew the results were entirely spurious, they affected my self-image and the way I interacted with my classmates and teachers. That was an awesome placebo effect!)

I believe that developing a “muchness” of soul is one of the primary reasons we get to experience this earth life. I recall a student FHE at BYU where the lesson focused on personality traits. We all took a test similar to the Color Code test, and the group leader talked about the results. He said, “Obviously Jesus had a ‘white’ peacemaker personality.” Really? I think the idea of a “one-dimensional god” is a common perception among Christians. Yet it’s not what I see when I look at the character of Jesus in the Bible. And it’s not what I see when I look at the depictions of the prophets and holy men and women of scripture and history. They are vibrant, capable, multi-dimensional individuals, who have access to a variety of perspectives and powers. And that kind of example is, I believe, worthy of emulation.

13 comments for “Personality Tests and “Muchness”

  1. You are clearly unfamiliar with the ‘other’ side of personality testing–the Big 5. Developed and commercially administered in a number of ways, the Big 5 are 5 orthogonal traits that are considered to be essentially the core of personality dimensions. There’s a TON of argument about things like facets of each of the Big 5, whether or not the Big 5 should be the Big 6, and whatnot, but it definitely capture what you are talking about. The Big 5 are:
    Openness to Experience
    Neuroticism (or stated positively like the others: Emotional Stability).

    In Western Cultures, this is a fairly stable list in terms of factor analysis (I’m not going to try to explain how that works) — that is, if you do an FA on Americans & another on Europeans that have all taken this test, the factors break out pretty much identically.

    Take it to some other cultures and you get #6: Integrity (which is subsumed into conscientiousness in western cultures). Hence arguments for 6 vs. 5.

    I prefer the model with 6 for non-empirical reasons (philosophical, etc), and given that the empirical evidence is ambivalent…

    The other thing about this is it allows for comparison of HOW conscientious two (or more) people are–which the Meyer’s Briggs & others do not.

    The more you know…

  2. “He said, “Obviously Jesus had a ‘white’ peacemaker personality.” Really? I think the idea of a “one-dimensional god” is a common perception among Christians. Yet it’s not what I see when I look at the character of Jesus in the Bible. And it’s not what I see when I look at the depictions of the prophets and holy men and women of scripture and history. They are vibrant, capable, multi-dimensional individuals, who have access to a variety of perspectives and powers.”

    Let it be shouted from the rooftops. The scriptures–shoot, life–present insoluble theological problems if you think the divine personality is a line.

  3. Benjamin, you’re correct that my experience with personality tests is of the parlor variety, not the academic variety. Thanks for pointing out the Big 5 — I’ll have to check it out.

  4. By the way, Benjamin, when you say that integrity is subsumed into conscientiousness in western cultures, does that help explain our ecclesiastical fascination with white shirts and ties for men and modest dresses for women — because we culturally associate a conscientious appearance with an integritous personality?

  5. Re: Jesus/Peacemaker White, I’ve always liked Talmage’s description of the Savior in context of the cleansing of the Temple scene:

    “His nature was no poetic conception of cherubic sweetness ever present, but that of a Man, with the emotions and passions essential to manhood and manliness. He, who often wept with compassion, at other times evinced in word and action the righteous anger of a God. But of all His passions, however gently they rippled or strongly surged, He was ever master. Contrast the gentle Jesus moved to hospitable service by the needs of a festal party in Cana, with the
    indignant Christ plying His whip, and amidst commotion and turmoil of His own making, driving cattle and men before Him as an unclean herd.”

    I think personality can be made up of hard-wired “temperaments” (a la Myers-Briggs types), and learned-controlled behavior. My natural introversion (and related fatigue with crowds and people) leaves me inclined to stick to myself. I have learned (in large part through service in the church) to reach out to others, to engage. My introversion is still with me (still a strength–I can work alone, I can ponder, I can understand the fellow introvert), but I am in control of my personality.

  6. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test a couple of times, once as part of a workshop to improve cooperation between the people working for the Air Force and those working for the EPA and the California State EPA, and a second time for a year-long Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce leadership training program. While the questions seem to work in placing you on the various scales, just reading the descriptions lets you figure out where you would fall on each of the dimensions. In the second case, we were shown information about how the test reflects a correspondence between personality configurations and various occupations. For example, public school teachers and police fall in the same box, while attorneys generally come within a couple of adjacent boxes in the matrix. I was interested to hear that successfully married couples generally share many traits, but that complete similarity tends to make the marriage uninteresting.

    The existence of such classification schemes indicates that we really do have personalities that make us like some people and unlike others. I think it would be a service to teens and young adults (and their parents) to educate them about this fact, and that they don’t have to feel pressured to conform to the personalities of some group at school or church, or even in their own family. It would also be useful information to help them consider future careers, not only to recognize where they would fit in, but also that a career that looks attractive might place them in social groups where they don’t fit in and make it harder to build the informal personal relationships that are key to success and satisfaction in many occupations.

    It may also help someone who is feeling dissatisfied with their life to consider whether they are temperamentally suited to the job they spend so much time doing.

    What I learned in the first Myers-Briggs test was that my personality type was closer to that of the people in the regulatory agencies than that of most of the Air Force people I worked with. It confirmed my own conclusion that, but for the fact that I went into the JAG Corps, I may not have enjoyed a long term career in the armed forces.

    Does anyone know if there is a significant compilation of personality test data that shows a correlation with LDS membership or levels of activity? I know there are a bunch of social sciences professionals at Church HQ who work with tools like this, even though they don’t necessarily publish the data they find. There must be a lot of tests done at the various BYU campuses as part of various courses; do those show any trends, or are Mormons pretty much a mix like their neighbors?

    I concur with the criticism of trying to pigeonhole Jesus Christ into one stereotype of personality. The problem with the official creeds of Christendom is that they basically describe God as not having a personality, that is, no emotions. The picture is of an entity with supreme intelligence and ability but no passions, essentially a very powerful Mr. Data the android of Star Trek: TNG on steroids. I read Alma 7 as describing Christ as experiencing compassion for every member of humanity as he experiences our suffering, our emotions. He has an emotional intelligence that the Nicene God lacks, by definition.

  7. Isn’t Jesus just brilliant white light that contains all the colors of the spectrum?

  8. Taylor Hartman, author of The Color Code (and the test) claims that Jesus is a perfect blend of all the colors.

    You can learn more about the test here:

    Joseph Smith, by the way, was a yellow.

    I’ve actuallly found this test more useful in understanding personalities than any other test I’ve encountered.

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