The Cult of Personality

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Psychologists as true social scientists are educated to study or examine the validity and reliability of any research. While she is not the first to come forward, Annie Murphy Paul has done for psychological testing in her book The Cult of Personality, what Eric Schlosser has done to the fast food industry in Fast Food Nation (2001). Paul has exposed personality testing not as the great psychological tool it was meant to be but instead as an unregulated for profit industry with far reaching consequences.

The author’s close examination of personality testing exposes it as mainstream pop psychology, not much different in predicting a person’s temperament than astrology. Because personality tests have been so widely used in a variety of settings their use has become a widely accepted norm with little attention paid to their evident flaws and limitations. Paul clearly documents that despite the wide public acceptance and use of personality testing the tests have received little if any scientific study. Psychologists and other researchers have unfortunately been behind the promotion of the personality testing industry. From a desire to find some way to measure who people really are, and to place them into organized categories, psychologist, physicians, lawyers, and employers have pounced upon personality testing as if it was a golden chalice. In reality none of the tests that Paul documents have ever been put through any rigorous or scientific study to prove their validity or reliability. These tests are being used to determine who one should marry, what occupation to pursue, the status of one’s mental health, or the outcomes in court cases, custody battles, and parole hearings despite being highly subjective. Paul’s research indicates that to use these instruments without any scientific validation seems as barbaric as using phrenology or a crystal ball to determine personality. And yet use of these tests continues.

Paul provides a highly descriptive, well written, well documented, and at times humorous account of the development, history, theories, and current usage of personality tests. Major personality tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), Rorschach, and the Myers-Briggs are highlighted. She also provides intriguing biographical information on the major proponents in the field of personality testing. This book represents a landmark study for the field of personality testing and should be read by everyone interested in psychology.