This Is Why Those Online Personality Quizzes Are So Irresistible

This Is Why Those Online Personality Quizzes Are So Irresistible

What city should you actually live in? Which "Star Wars" character are you? What does the way you speak say about where you're from? Can TIME predict your politics (by asking about your dog preference)? Are you Drake?

Unless you've been living under a proverbial rock (or nobly sworn off social media), you've likely taken, or at least observed others taking, one of the personality quizzes recently circulating the Internet. (Full disclosure: I'm a grilled cheese sandwich who should've gone to Yale.) Not only are they flooding our newsfeeds, but Slate reports that the New York Times' most popular story of 2013 was the dialect quiz that aimed to guess where you're from based on, among other criteria, how you pronounce Mary, Merry and Marry. And while anyone who grew up reading Seventeen knows the idea of navigating life through multiple choice questions is hardly a new one (after all, who doesn't need to know if you should ask your crush out?), personality quizzes are, decidedly, having a modern viral moment.

So why exactly can't we stop taking them, even when common sense tells us the veracity of some of the results is probably shaky at best? While the obvious answer is that they're a fun way to kill time, psychologists suggest that there might be something more at play. "I think it's fun, but I think it also does touch something about our own sense of our unfolding story," says Robert Simmermon, Ph.D., a psychologist in Atlanta Ga., who specializes in media psychology. "I think it really goes to a sense of narrative psychology."

The theory of narrative psychology is that humans make sense of their lives by organizing events into stories that fit together over time, creating our own "biographies" to explain who we are and where we come from. "It goes into our own ongoing developing narrative and it gives some credence of ourselves as heroes of our own story," he tells The Huffington Post. What's more, he explains, personality quizzes give the "illusion of authenticity," as these assessments can offer an opportunity to reaffirm the judgements we've already made about ourselves. "It reinforces a sense of ourself, whether it has any legitimacy or not," says Simmermon, who was pegged as Obi-Wan Kenobi in one online test. "We know it's not literal, but we hold out maybe a little secret part of ourselves that hopes it is true." (And the worst case scenario is that you might end up a Neville Longbottom when you fancy yourself a Harry Potter. "You never see these quizzes, 'Were you more like Hitler or Mussolini?'" he says.)

What's more, people are always looking for venues for self-awareness, explains Steven Meyers, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Ill. "You could introspect and think about yourself, however that has its limits," he says. "When we take these self-assessments it gives us another mirror inward."

People, he explains, tend to triangulate three questions when making sense of their lives: Who am I? Who do others think I am? And who do I want to be? "These tests, especially when we share the results online, allow us to think about all of those questions in fun ways," he says. "Magazines have been using this for years and years because of that same pull to learn more about ourselves has always been there."

The added dimension to this iteration, though, is social media, as people trumpet their results and wait for the feedback of their friends and followers. "I think a lot of people are really wondering, 'What do other people think of me?'" Meyers says. "And this is a really innocent and non-threatening way of finding out."

The results, however, are often more for entertainment value than a result of hard science (the methodology can border on "absurd," Meyers says). But there are actually well-studied resources for people who want to learn more about their personalities online, including The SAPA Project and the University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness assessment, he says: "So if people really want a more reliable and valid source of information, they can find it on the web. However most of these are not the ones that we see on Facebook or on popular websites."

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