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The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves Hardcover – September 14, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743243560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743243568
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,149,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Personality tests are administered to millions of people every year for purposes ranging from career counseling and educational guidance to determining parental fitness in custody battles. But Paul, a former senior editor at Psychology Today, contends that the accuracy of these tests and their diagnostic value have never been convincingly demonstrated; their results are, she says, "often invalid, unreliable, and unfair." This study entertainingly chronicles the often surprising stories behind the creation and promotion of the most popular tests. The Thematic Apperception Test, for example, was developed by the freethinking Harvard psychologist Henry Murray in collaboration with his longtime mistress; its original purpose was to facilitate "deep dives" into the unconscious in search of self-actualization, but today it is used more often by corporations seeking to evaluate job applicants and manipulate consumers. Paul's book is not a closely reasoned assault on the theoretical underpinnings of personality testing (like the critique of IQ testing in books like Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man), but its anecdotal account of how personal quirks, intellectual hubris and institutional biases have shaped the use and misuse of personality tests should lead lay readers to ask hard questions the next time they are invited—or required—to submit to such testing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Paul, mental health journalist and former senior editor at Psychology Today, notes a cyclical pattern in psychologists' devising personality assessments that are widely acclaimed, later debunked, and eventually superseded by the next new tool. She traces the historical roots of personality testing from phrenology in the 1830s to the Rorschach inkblot to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The personalities behind the tests are as fascinating as the tests they devise: Kenneth Clark, who used dolls to show the psychological damage of segregation on black children, fought his own battles with racism; the highly driven Isabel Myers, who borrowed from Carl Jung, brought her own obsessions to the task of developing her now famous test. Paul intersperses history with current uses of, and overreliance on, personality tests to determine everything from child custody and competency to stand trial to school admission and job placement. Paul advises healthy skepticism regarding the efficacy of the tests and advocates for strict confidentiality of their results. A highly accessible and engrossing book. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

One aspect of the book is both entertaining and annoying.
Alan Mead
If you read this book, the next time someone asks you what your "type" is, you'll have a very scholarly way to tell them to get lost.
R. Elliott Ingersoll
What is most disturbing about this book is not the valid cautions which Paul makes.
J. Schreier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Terni Paolo on December 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
The author takes an interesting perspective: she tells the story of how some of the most widely used today personality tests came into being, by detailing the peculiar histories and quirks of the psychologists who devised them.

Her thesis: "these tests tell you more about the people who conceived them than about the people that are actually tested" comes alive with engaging narratives

Each chapter of the book explores the story of a different test via the dreams and work of their creators.

The psychologists the author considers are: Rorschach (chapter 2), Hathaway (MMPI, chapter 3), Murray (TAT, chapter 4), Myers (Myers - Briggs, chapter 5), Clark & others (pre-verbal tests for children, chapter 6), Cattell, Costa & McCrae ( 16PF & Big5, chapter 7). Chapter 8 is about attempts to map personality in the brain by using fMRI and other technological tools but also about how different from all this a life story, can be - and to do this the author tells the story of Dodge Morgan and his solo sail trip, with some breaks where she mentions the work of Mc Adams on the "life story approach"

It is clear from the very beginning where the author stands.

She is very critical of any attempt so far made of "boxing" the complexities of an individual in strict categories determined by some tests whose validity in most cases is very questionable.

The way she uses language and constructs sentences and chapters makes her narrative partial.

However, her passion does not detract from the soundness of her research, so, after her point of view is factored in, reading her book is a very informative and pleasurable experience.
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77 of 89 people found the following review helpful By S. Myers on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There are many good points in this book. For example, Paul rightly draws attention to the potential misuses of psychometric questionnaires, such as the use (or rather abuse) of the MBTI in recruitment. She rightly highlights the dangers of using psychometric questionnaires to limit and stereotype, and gives very good advice on questions the reader should ask prior to completing one.

But the book also contains some anomalies. Having criticized psychometric tests for lack of validity/reliability, she offers no equivalent research to support many of her claims - eg: that the life story approach she advocates is more effective, or that questionnaires lead us to miseducate, mismanage and misunderstand. And some of her statements - such as "there is no evidence that her sixteen types have any more validity than the twelve signs of the zodiac" - are contradicted by research (there have been many studies into both the MBTI and astrology from which comparisons can be drawn).

I should declare an interest, in that I am the author of a psychometric questionnaire (not mentioned in the book) that is used primarily in team building. That means I am acutely aware of how questionnaires can be misused, and Paul does a good job of drawing our attention to those potential abuses. However, when used properly, questionnaires can also be of value to both the individual and the organization, and my concern about Paul's book is that she may be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Although Paul rails against psychometrics and advocates the life story approach, my view is that there are benefits and pitfalls of both. In the final chapter, Paul advocates approaching personality questionnaires with caution. That is excellent advice, but I also suggest approaching her book with some caution, so that the reader can arrive at a balanced view of psychometric questionnaires.
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100 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm not surprised by the hostility of some reviewers. More than any other subject, psychology encourages us to believe, "Everyone's an expert!" And anyone who dares to criticize any variation of Myers-Briggs tests will be seen as attacking motherhood and apple pie. People don't give up illusions lightly.

Among my own career change clients, I am often asked, "Do you have a test that will identify the perfect career for me?" Those who have paid -- often expensively -- for tests inevitably report disillusionment.

Paul has thoroughly researched the origins and scientific quality of several tests that are commonly used to make serious decisions about people. As she says, they're used by parole boards, HR departments, counselors and more. You can be denied custody of your children on the basis of a flawed test. In science, flawed doesn't mean "better than nothing." It means "useless."

Her criticism of the MBTI is right on. Psychometric theory incorporates two ways to evaluate tests -- reliability and validity. Reliability means you'll get consistent results each time you take the test. Yet 47% of test-takers change types when they retake the MBTI. Validity means the test measures what it's supposed to measure, yet there are no objective ways to compare the sixteen types.

And while some test-takers and reviewers claim people get great insights from their test results, Paul demolishes this response. Over fifty years ago, a psychologist gave people a test. He then put together a combination of sentences taken from horoscopes and gave each test-taker the same "results." These people rated accuracy of these "results" an average 4.2 where 5 is highest -- and several scored the accuracy as a perfect 5!

Her dissection of other tests is even scarier.
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