You’ve been transported deep beneath the earth into a labyrinth of tunnels. You have a sword and a communications device, and your objective is to return to the surface. A figure appears in the dark ahead of you. Do you: (a) Use your communication device to say hello; (b) Formulate a contingency plan for escape and then approach the figure; or (c) Pause a moment to try to read its body language before stepping forward to approach the figure? [to interpret your preference, see end of post]
Personality traits are traits are traditionally assessed by asking people to rate how much various descriptive statements match their own personality, like “I enjoy talking to strangers”. This cheap and easy approach has enjoyed great success – people’s scores on such tests tend to be impressively consistent over time, and they predict important outcomes from health to career success. However, the questionnaires are far from perfect. Research volunteers might not properly engage out of boredom, for instance. Job candidates might deliberately fake their scores to give a favourable impression.
An exciting possibility for overcoming these issues, according to a new paper in Personality and Individual Differences is to use a “gamification” approach – present people with behavioural options in engaging game-like scenarios and deduce their personality traits from their choices.
To test the gamification approach to personality testing, John-Luke McCord at Louisiana State University and his colleagues consulted 11 personality psychology experts to help develop their tunnel-based game scenario. They ended up with 27 choice situations with the various options carefully worded to reflect the likely preferences of high scorers in the main “Big Five” personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness).
The team then recruited 77 volunteers on Reddit (r/SampleSize) and had them work their way through the game and also complete an established questionnaire based method of assessing the Big Five traits, the IPIP-50. Based on the results, they tweaked the game and in a follow-up study gave the revised version to 98 undergrads, who also took the IPIP-50.
Combining results from these two studies showed that participants’ trait scores based on their game choices correlated moderately with their trait scores as ascertained from the established personality questionnaire. This was true for all five main traits, with the correlation being weakest for openness (correlation was 0.14) and highest for extraversion (0.41).
Finally, the team tried to obtain higher correlations between the game scores and questionnaire scores by trying out a new version of the game with more Reddit volunteers, this time with the choice options in each scenario worded to reflect different levels of one specific trait (more or less extraversion, for instance, rather than interpreting the choices as reflecting the influence of different traits). The game scores correlated with the questionnaire scores for all traits, except conscientiousness, perhaps because all players, regardless of their own personality, recognised the most conscientious option as optimal.
On reflection, however, McCord and his team said that perhaps they were barking up the wrong tree by trying to make the game and questionnaire results correlate as highly as possible, “as the ultimate goal is to accurately measure personality, not perfectly reflect an existing measure.” As their core motivation is to create a more realistic measure of personality (and especially personality-driven decision making), they added that it might be better to evaluate their game “with field studies or naturalistic observations”.
This paper was intended as a proof of concept, which the researchers believe they’ve achieved. Further refinement and a more technologically complex game could provide an even more accurate and realistic way to measure personality. “We believe that the future of game-like personality testing has promising potential for both research and practice,” the researchers said.
Interpreting the scenario options: The researchers say that choosing (a) would indicate higher trait extraversion; choosing (b) would indicate higher trait conscientiousness; and (c) would be taken as a sign of openness. My own preference – to immediately leg it in the opposite direction – is not given as an option, but would presumably reflect high trait neuroticism.