Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Color me blue

There's been a recent surge in popularity of questionnaire-based tests that supposedly tell you which of four "personality colors" you belong to.  (Here's a typical example.)  You're given questions like:
When facing a big project, you are...
  • deadline-driven
  • worrying
  • researching
  • making it a group effort
And after twenty or so questions of this sort, you're sorted into one of four "color groups," a little like what the Sorting Hat does at Hogwarts, only less reliable.

I throw in the "less reliable" part not only because we are being given a schema that puts every human on the Earth into one of four categories (hell, even the astrologers admit there are twelve), but because the whole thing relies on self-assessment.  When you take these tests, you're not finding out what you're really like, you're finding out what you think you're like.

Which is clearly not the same thing.  We're notoriously bad judges of our own personalities.  In their 2008 paper "Faulty Self-Assessment: Why Evaluating One’s Own Competence Is an Intrinsically Difficult Task," Cornell University psychologists Travis J. Carter and David Dunning had the following to say:
(A)lthough the exhortation to ‘know oneself’ has a long and venerable history, recent investigations in behavioral science paint a vexing and troubling portrait about people’s success at self-insight. Such research increasingly shows that people are not very good at assessing their competence and character accurately.  They often hold self-perceptions that wander a good deal away from the reality of themselves...  (T)he extant psychological literature suggests that people have some, albeit only a meager, amount of self-insight.
And they quote Ann Landers's trenchant quip, "Know yourself.  Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful."

So trying to reach self-discovery from a series of restricted-choice questions you answer about yourself has about as much likelihood of revealing some hitherto unguessed truth as those Facebook quizzes that claim to tell you what character from Game of Thrones you are.

What is more vexing is that despite the fact that these tests are only telling you what you think about yourself, the whole "color group" thing is gaining a lot of ground in the business world as a way of improving relational dynamics in the workplace.  Don't believe me?  Check out this article over at Knoji by M. J. Grueso, who tells us the following:
Most companies use a color personality test in order to better understand these personality differences and how to make it work for everyone.  Understanding the different personalities is important not just for big companies but for us as individuals as this will make it easier for us to learn how to better deal with colleagues and clients...  Experts have determined that there are four basic personality types. Yellow, Red, Blue and Green.  And it doesn't have anything to do with a person's favorite color.  As an individual, learning our color personality is also important.  First, because it helps us to better understand ourselves and why we react to certain situations a certain way.  Second, when we understand who we are, it allows us to open ourselves to at least try to understand others as well.
Which all sounds pretty nifty.  But then I started wondering, "Who are these experts?"  And I found out that the whole color-personality thing was the brainchild of one Carol Ritberger, who is the "renowned psychologist" mentioned in the link in the first paragraph of this post...

... but who actually isn't a psychologist at all.  She describes herself as an "innovative leader in the fields of personality behavioral psychology and behavioral medicine," but later goes on to say that her credentials are "a doctorate in Theology and a doctorate in Esoteric Philosophy and Hermetic Science."

Which are about as related to the science of behavioral psychology as alchemy is to chemistry.

But despite having no apparent training in medical science, she claims to have the ability to do what she calls "intuitive healing:"
Our mission is to provide programs that train participants in the science and art of intuitive diagnostics, qualified to work in concert with medical practitioners in the process of healing. 
We stand at the threshold of a time of compelling change-a positive major shift is taking place, and that shift is having a dramatic impact on our lives.  We are compelled to talk about it and to seek to understand it.  It is awakening a new energy force within each of us that is causing dynamic change to occur within the physical body and the human energy system.  We are changing to forms of light that are not as we have previously known them, and are becoming more vibrant, more radiant, and more empowered.  This new energy force is changing our way of thinking and is illuminating a whole new dimension of our persona.  It is creating the need for intense self-exploration and we are being nudged, pushed, and driven to learn more about who we really are.  It is fueling the desire to better understand ourselves-its energy is assisting us in seeking to get in touch with our very souls.  We are being guided to look beyond the obvious and that which our five senses understand.  This new energy force is sensitizing us to the need to develop our thinking while our mental processing remains the same, and the way we perceive our lives is going through a radical change.  Consciousness, as we have known it, is expanding... 
Medical intuition is both an art and a science.  It is a learnable diagnostic skill that provides insight into how the body, mind, and spirit connection interrelates with one's health and well being.
I don't know about you, but if I've got some sort of medical condition, psychological or otherwise, I'd prefer to be treated by an individual with the proper training and credentials, rather than by someone who diagnoses me through "intuition" and babbles about undefined "energy forces" that are "changing our physical bodies" and "expanding our consciousness."

So the whole what-color-are-you thing (1) doesn't tell you anything you didn't already believe, (2) is only as accurate as your own ability to self-assess, and (3) was developed by someone whose grasp of science sounds tenuous at best.

Be that as it may, you'll probably want to know that I'm a "Blue."  "Blues" are tightly-wound, orderly people with good attention to detail, but who tend to be fretful, quiet, pessimistic, and sensitive to criticism. We need to be "more open about our feelings" and "more willing to try new things."

All of which would be immediately apparent to anyone who's known me more than five minutes.  So as a step toward Socrates's ideal of "Know thyself," it doesn't really get me very far, not that I expected it to.


  1. Gordon,

    I just ran into one of these tests, they seem to have gone viral. It also seems like "Dr." Ritberger has ditched blue as a color and now it is red, green, yellow, and an awful shade of orange. In addition to the false introductory claims that this woman is a psychologist, (it is illegal for her to practice clinical psychology with either of the PhD degrees she claims to have) there is also no information anywhere on the internet about any PhD program offering a degree in "Esoteric Philosophy and Hermetic Science". On her website, she certainly makes sure to drill in the point that she has a PhD. Every mention of her name is as follows "Doctor Carol Ritberger PhD.". This seems a little redundant. Additionally, on the "about Carol" section of her website she does not attribute her knowledge of psychology to her academic history but to a near death experience that left her, "literally able to see the human energy system, the aura, to identify energy congestion, protrusions, depletions and blockages that are affecting the body's ability to function properly and sustain good health. Literally... As somebody who is fairly familiar with the physiological functionalities and perceptual capabilities of the human eye, I am uncertain of how a near-death experience could affect the visual system in a way that allows mythological constructs to be perceived in any form other than delusions and hallucinations.

  2. I had a heart attack ten years ago, and for a moment my heart stopped (straight line!). I was unconscious and then I was laying 6 days in artificially inducted coma and was treated with hypothermia. After gradually returning to full consciousness my mental abilities were normal (whatever does it mean), i.e. my eyesight was normal, as were all the other senses, i could think and remember. I even preserved my characgter, my personality. I didn't experience any revelation. I didn't see any aura, no ghosts or angels, no violet energies, and in the moment of loosing consciousness because of heart arrest, i didn't see THE tunnel and THE light at the end of it. Neither THE film of my entire life did roll before my dying eyes. My friend said, I din't went far enough dying. It's true, I'm still alive. I think I'm a miserable human being and there is no help for me. :)

  3. Actually, during my near-death experience almost 50years ago (drowning) I did see the tunnel and the bright light and I did hear the choir of angels and I even had conversations with dead relatives. When I was resuscitated I saw the world through a thin blue haze and this lasted for a week. Then I went back to normal. I wonder if I missed an opportunity there.

  4. I’m trying to get more info on her color categories to determine if she plagiarized Dr. Taylor Hartman’s “The Color Code,” which is at least 30 years old if not older.