Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Neat Little Boxes

Okay, so I didn't get all that work done yesterday. It was a good thinking day, but the ideas were coming randomly and wouldn't be organized, so I couldn't manage to translate them into actual work. However, the house is still moderately clean, and is actually even a bit cleaner because I sorted through some magazines and did a purge. Plus, I cooked dinner and cleaned up right afterward.

Since the work wasn't working, I did some work-related reading. When I go to the library, I like to browse the "new in non-fiction" shelf and pick out random books I think might be relevant or interesting. I'm especially a sucker for pop psychology books about analyzing the kind of person you are because those are great for developing characters. One of the ones I found on my latest library trip was about how you choose romantic partners based on your type and their type, and since I do include romantic relationships in my work, I thought that might be worthwhile to read. If there is some kind of self assessment in those books, I do it for myself as I read because that makes the material sink in a little better. On this one, the questions in the self assessment seemed awfully familiar, and it wasn't because they were from some other assessment like the Myers-Briggs.

As I read further, I discovered that the reason the questions were familiar was that I had participated in the research behind the book. Way back in 2003 or maybe 2004, this thing spread among my Internet friends that some researchers needed a lot of people to take a personality test. It was part of what was supposed to be a scientifically based online dating service, and they needed a lot of people to do the questionnaire to help develop their algorithms. For participating, you would get a free introductory membership to the service. I did the test for kicks because I'm a sucker for psychology and because I've been spectacularly unsuccessful in finding compatible romantic partners, so I was curious what they'd pick for me based on "science." I must have been a real oddball because they picked me for a follow-up test as a "unique personality type." The dating service they were developing turned out to be Chemistry.com, but I never used that free membership because they were more than a year later than they originally said they'd be in launching it, and by the time they launched it, I'd mostly forgotten about it and had more or less given up on dating.

After reading this book, I think I see what they meant by me being a unique personality type. You supposedly have a primary and secondary type in aspects that influence the way you select mates, and my primary and secondary types are apparently in absolute conflict with each other. That's why I have trouble finding compatible romantic partners. The types my primary type would choose are the ones my secondary type would dislike, and vice versa. Supposedly, I'm a creative daydreamer who's also an upright citizen who believes strongly in morals and order, which is rather accurate, but which apparently doesn't go together very often. I guess you don't see a lot of law-and-order creative types, and other law-and-order types don't get the creative thing, while other creative types don't really go for the upright citizen stuff.

However, I think this illustrates the dangers of putting people into neat little boxes based on quiz scores, and it's why I love this kind of stuff for characterization but think it's iffy for real people. Just looking at the raw numbers doesn't give you a full picture. On the category that came out ahead for secondary type, I was only a few points ahead of another type, and that was mostly because most of my answers there fell into the "agree" category just because there was no "don't really care" option and I didn't exactly disagree. On the category that scored slightly lower, there were a few "strongly disagree" answers, but there were also a lot more "strongly agree" answers. A lot of the "disagree" answers were things that depended on the situation (since "it depends" wasn't an option). That was the "exploring" category, and my answers there get weird because I do feel better if I have a plan, but there wasn't an option to say that I use the plan just as a contingency and tend to go off-plan once I'm actually doing things. For me, it's easier to be spontaneous if I know I have a fallback plan. Which is more likely to be an indicator of type -- agreeing a lot because I don't disagree but also because I don't have really strong feelings, or having strong positive feelings for a lot of things while also disagreeing a lot, depending on the context?

I'm not even sure how well some of this will work for characterization since I'm most interested in the characters who don't fall into neat little boxes and who would likely have those oddball answers to quizzes, but it was interesting to see the fruition of something I'd been involved in.

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