As people become progressively more curious about their own personalities, online personality tests have been growing in popularity.
Because they are quick and easy to use, these assessments have become a fun way for people to begin learning about how they think, behave, and act. Some of the personality models within these online quizzes have begun to spark interest; namely, the Big Five and Enneagram.
While the Big Five has been consistently used by psychologists and employers alike, the Enneagram has sprung to fame only recently. These models are becoming well-known resources for understanding ourselves; they’re a modern beginning of personal growth. But how reliable are these personality models? And why should we feel so inclined to use them?
The Five Factor Model, which is more commonly known as the Big Five, is the personality most commonly used for psychology studies and is widely considered the most scientifically validated.
Psychologists have identified 5 independent traits that do not correlate with each other across any population, each trait with its own causes and observable behaviors:
Each trait is represented by percentile, compared to the general population. For example, you may have higher Extraversion than 82% of the population, but higher Agreeableness than only 30% of the population.
The Enneagram is a personality model that consists of nine main, overarching types that interact with one another in unique ways. Enneagram also features “wings,” which help illustrate the dimensions of personality; someone’s wing is their secondary Enneagram type, as it’s common for an individual to primarily show the characteristics of one type, but share a few traits with another type, as well.
The Enneagram dates back more than a thousand years. Though it’s unclear just how it began, it has recently exploded in popularity. It focuses primarily on internal personality traits and attempts to describe deep motivations, fears, and emotional drivers rather than purely behavior.
Personality assessments like Big Five and Enneagram can help us begin to figure ourselves out. However, just like any personality model, they each have their own benefits and criticisms.
Strengths: The Big Five model has been studied by psychologists and is considered to have the most scientific validity and reliability. Big Five has been proven to have precise, accurate measurements for its individual traits.
Weaknesses: Because the results are so individual and unique, it can be tedious to draw general insights and advice from test results making the practical application of the knowledge very difficult. The trait Neuroticism is also tied most closely to negative social outcomes so people are more likely to be upset with their results in regards to this trait.
Strengths: The Enneagram gives people a working guide to understanding their own deep motivations, fears, and desires, which can help with personal growth and self-awareness. It categorizes people into nine broad types, and allows for more specific typing through its use of “wings”. The Enneagram also accounts for personality abnormalities in times of stress and growth, which can help people be more aware of how they react to their circumstances.
Weaknesses: Because the Enneagram results are primarily self-reported and lack significant empirical evidence for their validity beyond observation, the model has been criticized for being overly subjective. Since there haven’t been many studies of the Enneagram, it lacks the psychological evidence to support the ways in which it categorizes personality.
Because each trait is represented by a percentile, Big Five’s measurement tends to be extremely reliable, accurate, and useful for the study of individuals; however, it is not as useful for application in relationships, communication, and business. It is best used for individual personality assessments, population-level personality studies, and counseling or therapy.
Enneagram’s strengths lie in its ability to identify internal characteristics, so it is best used for individual self-help, counseling, and relationship coaching. Though it can help us better understand others, it isn’t meant to be used as a predictor of someone’s actions or behaviors.
Personality tests can be extremely helpful to us in understanding people. We can gain a lot from using models like Big Five and Enneagram, as long as we understand their shortcomings. Personality models are meant to be viewed as a guide; used correctly, they can motivate us all toward awareness, empathy, and personal growth.