Heather Keith Freeman (jnanacandra) wrote,
Heather Keith Freeman

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pigeonholing personalities.

So, this self-test meme. We've all seen people ranting about them, we've even probably been getting a bit sick of them ourselves. Yet they're still so damn compelling.

Why? Why does everyone seem to have this need to find out what some random person thinks they are like based on a few multiple-choice questions? Why are we so pleased when we get an answer we like, or the same answer as a friend, and so annoyed when we get something that doesn't seem to fit? Is it related to the ever-expanding morass of self-help books in the bookstores, and the ever-present quizzes in women's magazines? Does it come down to some basic psychological drive? It might...

Humans, as social creatures, do seem to have a need to be able to label each other - parent, child, teacher, coworker, priest, politician, janitor. It provides a convenient way to encapsulate and retrieve information. It's much easier to think of a person as 'the janitor' than 'the person who cleans up the office after everyone's gone home, who's spanish, has a cute smile, and a faraway look in her eyes'.

This makes sense for people we don't know well, or people we don't interact with often - it's an efficient, if error-prone, way to store information about them. But why do we also delight in doing it to ourselves, and to those we are close to? I think it may be because it helps us fit ourselves (and our friends) into the larger puzzle of society. We do have a fairly hard-wired 'us and them' mentality that makes us seek out people like ourselves. If I'm a brown dragon, then my most comfortable place in society is doing brown-dragonish sorts of things, and interacting with other brown dragons.

I've always liked dissecting my own brain - figuring out why I think things, how my thought and emotional processes work. It's the biggest, most complicated jigsaw puzzle I've ever seen, it's right here whenever I feel like working on it, and gives instant feedback. Similarly for those of my friends. I've got my own system for 'personality pigeonholing' people (which I'll post about later). I have actually gained some insight into my own personality through it, in the same way I learn more about myself by reading books on ADD. It doesn't tell me qualities of my personality that I don't already know, but it reveals underlying reasons and larger patterns that I might not have seen before.

So it comes down to a basic drive to put labels to things, as an efficient means of information management, and a way to link yourself to the larger world in some meaningful way. It's also, in essence, a shortcut - our brains are lazy, and if we see a way to get somewhere without having to think as much about it we'll take it.

(Btw - if you made it through this, congratulations :). I'd like to put some version of this on my web page with my other writing, so questions/comments/suggestions of any sort are encouraged.)

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