Love Personality Tests? What the Enneagram Test Can Tell You
The Enneagram personality test helps you think about your strengths and weaknesses. But experts caution that it can oversimplify your personality.
The popularity of personality tests
Personality tests on the Internet are a dime a dozen.
Plug in your favorite ice cream, your favorite dog breed, and the last movie you watched, and you can get a detailed explanation of the workings of your inner self in less than a minute. Or at least an overview of which Disney princess you’re most like.
Or you can pay hundreds of dollars and have a professional give you an hours-long personality assessment that may pinpoint every unique attribute, down to the tiniest detail, using well-known tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
These personality tests are so common and compelling because they answer a fundamental question almost everyone has: “Why do I do the things I do?”
Your personality is at the core of everything you do and are, so it makes sense that you’d like to learn everything you can about it.
One personality test circulating on the Internet is the Enneagram. The test relies on Enneagram theory and uses a nine-pointed system that delves into the various qualities you possess. In short, it tells you which of the nine Enneagram personalities fits you best.
It differs from other personality tests because it focuses on how you deal with trauma. The MBTI test, on the other hand, focuses more on your judgment and perception of the world around you. It’s more nurture versus nature.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Enneagram test, including the basis of Enneagram theory, the various personality types, the benefits of knowing your personality type, and how accurate they can be.
Some of the most popular “pop psychology” personality tests are based on the Enneagram of Personality Types, which dates back to the 1900s.
This model divides people into nine main personality types, sometimes called Enneatypes, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. It also focuses on three centers, which include instinct, feeling, and thinking.
Your Enneagram type will indicate which of the three centers is your dominant emotion.
They are often represented on a nine-pointed geometric figure (an enneagram), with each type placed on a point and connected by lines to show how the types interact with each other.
The nine Enneatypes are:
Type 1: The Reformer
Perfectionistic, principled, and purposeful, Reformers are often very rational and idealistic in their worldview. They can also be brittle and uncompromising.
Type 2: The Helper
Helpers are loving, caring, and generous but may also be chronic people-pleasers and possessive.
Type 3: The Achiever
Goal-oriented and motivated, Achievers know what they want and will act decisively to be successful. However, they are often very image conscious and overly driven.
Type 4: The Individualist
Individualists live in their own world and are good at expressing themselves but may come across as self-absorbed, temperamental, and dramatic.
Type 5: The Investigator
This type has a very cerebral way of interpreting the world. They are perceptive and curious but may also come across as very intense, secretive, and isolated.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Loyalists are the foundation of every strong community, valuing responsibility, security, and the good of the whole. However, they can also come across as anxious and suspicious.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Always the life of the party, Enthusiasts are high-energy and fun-loving people who enjoy spontaneous adventures. They may also be scattered, disorganized, and easily distracted.
Type 8: The Challenger
Challengers are confident of their skills and project an air of authority and power. They are natural leaders but may also come across as dominating, wilful, and argumentative.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Easygoing and reassuring, Peacemakers are there to help smooth things over and are good at finding compromises. However, they may do so at their own expense, becoming too self-deprecating, agreeable, and complacent.
(This is what your fears say about your personality.)
How to choose which test to take
Enneagram personality tests ask a variety of targeted questions to see which type you identify with the most. It is possible to identify with several different types, represented as a percentage, as they work together in different ways. Usually, however, one will be the most dominant; this is your “type.”
There are dozens of personality tests and quizzes based on Enneagram principles, but they’re not created equal.
And herein lies one of the biggest problems with the test, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member of Columbia University in New York City. Because it’s not standardized, it’s hard to use an Enneagramc test as a measurement tool.
“You should look at how the test is scientifically validated so you know that it is trustworthy,” she says. “The most reliable one I like to use is The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator.” (This one costs $12. There are other free tests you can take online, but they generally require you to put in your email address or sometimes pay more for the full results, or offer up shorter versions of the test.)
Are the tests accurate?
“Accurate” is subjective when it comes to personality tests, as only you can really know what is true for yourself.
However, they can be useful for people looking to better themselves, says Hafeez.
“It works best as a tool to help you understand your patterns of behavior, goals, motivations, fears, weaknesses, and strengths,” she says. “They are useful in developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.”
The theory has been around at least since the 1960s, and variations have evolved as tools to help people grow individually, spiritually, in business settings, and in relationships. There is some research showing that it can have a positive effect in these realms.
A literature review found that people who learned their Enneagram type were able to identify strengths and weaknesses that allowed them to “transcend the strengths and limitations of their value system.”
Meanwhile, a 2018 study in the Journal of Adult Development found that people who did 40 to 50 hours of intensive training on Enneagram types experienced greater psychological growth and ego development.
Essentially, the tests are as helpful as you want them to be. Positive results will depend more on what you believe about them and how you use them than the test itself, says Christine B. L. Adams, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher who has studied personality development for over 40 years.
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
Benefits of learning your Enneagram type
It may not be “scientific,” but your Enneagram type can be useful in helping you analyze yourself and make goals. Learning about your personality style—whether that’s through therapy, a book, a video, or a test—helps you explore the “why” of your behavior, helping you understand your underlying motivations, says Dr. Adams.
There are some specific benefits to knowing your Enneagram type, says Hafeez. With information about your personality type, you can:
- Understand your decision-making process
- Learn how to adapt to your environment
- Identify and stop unproductive habits
- Better control your emotions
- Develop compassion for others
- Boost your emotional intelligence
Don’t rely on the Enneagram personality test for answers
There are some potential problems with the test, starting with the oversimplification of personality.
“These tests can be a fun pastime, like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but they are generally too superficial to give real insight into your personality,” says Dr. Adams.
In some cases, these tests can even lead you astray if they give you erroneous information about yourself.
“These tests are easily gamed, to tell you what you want to hear about yourself,” she says. “You also have to ask yourself what you’re getting out of it. Say you’re an introvert. What do you do with that?”
Another issue is taking the results too literally and using the test to justify negative traits or bad behaviors rather than fix them, says Hafeez.
For instance, someone who tested strongly as a “Challenger” may refuse to back down or compromise in an argument because “that’s just the way they are.”
Be careful using them in the workplace
One area in which Enneagram tests have really taken off is in the business world—and that’s a problem, says A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida.
“These types of tests are easy to fake and do not predict performance on the job,” she says, adding that you should be wary of an employer who asks you to take one. If you’re a manager, avoid using one as a tool for hiring or developing employees.
There is a lot of preplanning, research, and data analysis that goes into scientifically developing a valid and reliable personality test that businesses can use to develop or hire their employees, and most Enneagram tests don’t meet this standard, Marsden says.
“Besides,” she says, “even the most vigorously studied personality tests will only account for about 20 percent of the variability in hiring new people anyway, so it’s not exactly the best way to go about hiring your staff.”
Take your results with a grain of salt
If this framework helps you understand yourself better and motivates you to make positive changes, then feel free to use it as a tool, but take your results with a grain of salt, says Hafeez.
“It is important to remember that this test has not been scientifically proven and that your results do not encompass your entire identity,” she says.
Instead of seeing your Enneagram type as the definition of who you are, use it as a starting point to learn more about yourself, says Dr. Adams.
For maximum benefit, she recommends taking your results to a therapist trained in personality development who can help you dig deeper and develop an individual improvement plan.
Next, here are the many ways to be happier.
- Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City
- Christine B. L. Adams, MD, psychiatrist, author of Living on Automatic: How Emotional Conditioning Shapes Our Lives and Relationships, and a researcher who has studied personality development for over 40 years
- A.J. Marsden, PhD, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida
- Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development: "The Enneagram: A Review of the Empirical and Transformational Literature"
- Journal of Adult Development: "Advancing Ego Development in Adulthood Through Study of the Enneagram System of Personality"
- The Enneagram Institute: "The Nine EnneagramType Descriptions"