A Short History of This Site

Some of the best things in life start out as happy accidents. I was taking a course on personality psychology when one day our professor handed out an old “Need For Uniqueness” personality test. While filling it out, the student sitting next to me started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” I asked her.

“This question: I would rather be just like everyone else than be called ‘a freak.’

A few hours later I was working on a computer science problem set. I needed a break, so decided to see if I could create an interactive website—this was back in the mid-90s when doing that wasn’t so easy—using that quiz as my inspiration. I didn’t expect much would come of it; putting the quiz online was just something fun to do. Little did I know…

The thing about the Internet back then was that it was young. Really young. If you don’t remember the Internet before Google or even Altavista, then it’s hard to believe, but at the time anything interesting would get media attention. I once put up a page I called The Country Western Song Machine; a week later it was featured in The New York Times, screenshot and all.

A few months after putting up my Are You A Freak? quiz I received an email from Sam, a graduate student at UC Berkeley working on his PhD in personality psychology. He wondered if I’d saved users’ answers to the quiz. He wanted to analyze the data to see what he could learn about people who used the web. Why not? After all, I was curious, too. So I sent the data off. (Since it was all anonymous, as my site still is today, I wasn’t concerned.)

A few days later, Sam emailed me back. He’d analyzed the data and figured out sub-facets and their means and standard deviations; statistical speak for the numbers needed to give people results that would let them be compared with other visitors who’d taken the test. I updated the site to give better feedback, which set an important precedent. I’m proud to say that all the tests on this site are derived from scientific psychological research, and the feedback provided to participants is based on statistical analysis of large amounts of data. In other words: these aren’t your average magazine quizzes.

Over the years, I’ve worked on a number of collaborations with researchers at universities, creating websites that give personality test takers information about themselves while at the same time gathering data for researchers to learn more about human personality. Blurter or Brooder, for example, was created to gather data that looks at differences between men and women and how they express themselves in relationships. (I’m an extreme brooder, in case anyone ever needs to know... ;-)

The most popular of the studies continues to be The Big Five Personality Test, which measures what many psychologists consider to be the fundamental dimensions of personality. The Big Five, as they’re called, describe the five major personality traits: openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. It’s similar to the Myers-Briggs personality test, although they missed one variable. The Big Five also treats each variable as a spectrum—people have varying degrees of introversion or extroversion—instead of a label at either end.

The Big Five is one of the most important tools for understanding personality, so much so that it’s often used with other studies. For example, do people like to smoke or drink more than others do so because of personality differences, or is there a genetic component? If you’re an identical twin, take a look at the Twins: An Interactive Personality Test study to help answer that question. (If you’re not a twin, you can Find Your Star Wars Twin.) There’s even a study looking at Morality and another on What Your Music Tastes Say About You.

It’s been a fun journey and produced some surprising research results (read about research & results). I’ve since moved onto other projects (such as writing a book on food science) so I rarely update this site, but am continually amazed that millions of people still find use in something that I whipped up in my spare time. I smile when I think about all of the people who have learned more about themselves and how much researchers have learned about our personality, all from this little project that started out in a computer lab all those years ago.

Jeff Potter