Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Online Research Consortium Wants to Analyze Your Personality Through Your Writing

I was linked to this site the other day via Jezebel, who touted this quiz that's supposed to tell you your compatibility with someone else based on your written communication styles. From the University of Texas psychology department, there are quite a few different quizzes that are designed to act as "a form of entertainment rather than solid truth." The UT label legitimizes it, I guess, but the tone of the site is pretty strange.

It's kind of a weird site all around. Kind of tongue-in-cheek, kind of self-conscious, but interesting in that many of the quizzes rely on writing to reveal aspects of the quiz-taker's personality. In one of the quizzes, you write a story about what is happening to the people in the picture, in one you write about an everyday object for five minutes, and one is a 30-minute" emotional writing experiment." I'm especially weirded out but drawn to the quiz where you deeply analyze yourself in writing, answering questions like "In thinking of yourself, what are you most proud of, most ashamed of, most worried about? What are the deepest values or beliefs that may be influencing you most?" 

How, though, are these writings analyzed? How is my personality revealed in my writing, at least according to these surveys, to this weird little psychology experiment website? I'm always intrigued and puzzled by what is (perceived to be) revealed about a writer by reading his or her writing. 

In the case of this site, I imagine that word choices, sentence construction tics (personally, I'm known to use semicolons heavily), use of capitals or italics and things like that are what is used for determinations about a person's state of mind. I'm not sure if they're looking at themes like sex or death or motifs like plants or clouds or recurring mentions of the color white. Or are they? 

I'm kind of scared by what the commonly used images and ideas in my poetry (eyes, cars/driving, light, hands, sex, teenage girlhood, clothing and materials, among many) might say about me to a psychologist. As a poet, I'm especially self-conscious about the common conflation of the persona in my poetry with my own, actual self. My writing is quite a bit more flamboyant, more honest, messier, louder, braver and more clear-eyed than who I actually am, I think. But people still think that if I write "I" than the "I" in the poem is Carrie, and sometimes I don't care about the persona conflation at all and sometimes I do quite a bit, getting all tangled up in explaining that no, that didn't actually happen and I don't actually think that, and that my poems are not me, or not really me. Sometimes poems (writing) can just be poems (writing), right?

I don't know. It's a Monday night at 10:54 and I don't feel like submitting a writing sample to this site to see what happens. You should, though, and then comment here and tell us what your results were. Especially if you've got a big secret, four or five hours, and a yen for a $50 iTunes card or money order from the University of Texas. I did take some of the shorter quizzes, including the Demographics quiz and the LIFE survey (apparently I have a very low "suburbanite" score and a very high "preppie" score, whatever those mean). 

1 comment:

  1. I've been hanging out with some poets lately and have noticed what you write about here, the conflation of the writer with the speaker, to, yeah, be pretty prevalent, more so than with prose. My best guess is that it's because poems, as much tighter pieces, don't always build characters as obviously as fiction. But it's weird.