Friday, June 3, 2016

The Cube Personality Test

If you've been on Facebook the last few days, you've probably at least seen links to the so-called "cube personality" test. A video from Buzzfeed reveals that it is a "Japanese psychology game" meant to reveal hidden aspects of your personality:

Because I'm sure people will ask what I pictured: the cube was quite large and clear, and sitting on the ground. The ladder was leaned against it. The horse was chilling by the cube, without a saddle or reins. I pictured 3 flowers, along the bottom of the cube. And the storm in the brewing background was a sand storm. So according to the test, I have a big ego, I'm open, grounded, and am available to support my friends. I like wild relationships (wild horse), want 3 kids, and I'm seriously stressed out. According to the test, anyway.

What I'm curious about is: how many of you got something similar? The instructions are full of cues, such as asking if the ladder is leaning on the cube. That question may have influenced me to picture the ladder against the cube. In fact, any of the questions throughout the video probably influenced the final picture in my mind of the various objects. And all of that happened so quickly and at such a nonconscious level, I may not have even realized it was happening, believing instead that was how I pictured the scene all along.

We would call these leading questions. And a lot of research says they have a strong impact on memory. Our memory is very fluid, and new information can have a strong impact on memory. One of the top researchers on this topic is Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. In one of the most famous studies on the topic, Dr. Loftus and John Palmer tested the "confabulation effect" - where the wording of the question could change the memory of the event. Participants watched clips of automobile accidents.

They were later asked questions about the crash they viewed, including one question where the verb was manipulated: "About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed / collided / bumped / hit / contacted) each other?" They found that the estimated speed varied by which verb was selected: "smashed" - 40.8 mph, "collided" - 39.3 mph, "bumped" - 38.1 mph, "hit" - 34 mph, and "contacted" - 31.8 mph.

In a second experiment, they added one more piece of misinformation. They used only two verbs, "hit" and "smashed", plus one control condition using neither. But they also asked people if they saw broken glass. Though there was no broken glass on the ground after the accident, over 19% of participants reported that they saw broken glass. And participants were more likely to report seeing broken glass if the question about speed included the word "smashed" (32% of people in the "smashed" condition reported broken glass, compared to 14% in the "hit" condition and 12% in the control condition) - because if the cars were going fast, there would probably also be broken glass.

As I've said before, memory is tricky. When you start asking questions, especially leading questions, the memory will probably change. Whether the "pure" version of the Cube personality test (without the leading questions) is accurate, I don't know. In fact, it may actually be a pickup artist trick. But the version linked above, and the version that has been circulating, really won't tell you much about your personality.

So picture whatever kind of cube/horse/ladder/storm you want.

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