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What Are You?

March 28, 2003 11:44 IST

Voyages of self-discovery have a new avenue -- the Internet

Sanjay Ramanath has learnt a lot about himself recently. That he has excellent emotional intelligence, for one. He is a romantic kisser', his social insight is good and the perfect religion for him is Unitarian Universalism. Best of all, this Bangalore-based technical support engineer has learnt all of this without uttering a single word or leaving his desk.

How? By filling out a personality test online. "The results are so true. Everything sounds like me," he says. Sites offering free identity-revealing tests appear to be the latest craze online. By sifting through a few multiple-choice questions, millions are learning to classify themselves as 'optimists', 'rationalists' or 'traditionalists'.

Leading the trend is eMode, which has catered to the curiosity of over 100 million test-takers since its launch. The site offers over 100 tests and bills itself as 'The No.1 Destination for Self-Discovery'. The tests usually take 5 minutes and range from the serious ('Do I have a personality disorder?') to the entertaining ('What kind of a kisser am I?') to the pointless ('Which popular brand of soft drink am I?'). The most popular tests are those that straddle entertainment and insight.

Dr Feroz Nadiadwala, a member of the Delhi Psychiatric Association, believes the growing popularity of tests like these is "an assertion of identity." He links the trend to the Internet's reputation as a place where people invent, rather than reveal, identities. "People find out who they are, then start forwarding email to their friends to tell them about it." He goes on to say that most people are trying to confirm their self-image. "They want to make sure their perception of themselves is accurate."

Sanjay agrees. "I like the way I am," he says, smugly.

Queendom offers an extensive list of psychological tests that help surfers understand themselves better, learn and grow in process. The site also offers free advice, if necessary. Akhil Muthanna, a technical writer, calls such tests ‘a social activity', to some extent. "I get tired of the technical stuff," he says, "and I find these tests interesting. My friends take the same tests, we compare notes and try some self-discovery."

And self-discovery there definitely is. After taking an assertiveness test, for instance, Akhil was asked to avoid being aggressive. "While I've always been aware that I am assertive, it made me think about how my actions are perceived by others," he says. Not that these revelations don't have their pitfalls. Many tests are 'self-reported', with answers reflecting people's own opinions of their behaviour and attitudes. That may account for such satisfying portrayals. Some tests try and do better, by asking the same question in a variety of ways or describing complex situations and seeking reactions.

For most users, the biggest worry may be an overdose of introspection. "Although it can be helpful to think about yourself," says Dr Nadiadwala, "you can think about yourself too much. You can label yourself in ways that are unhealthy. Sometimes, you are your own worst enemy."

Thankfully, in cases like these, there's always a test for narcissism too, online.


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Vidya Srinivasa Rao