If you seek to better understand yourself and others you're probably really into personality typing tests. Aside from the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the enneagram is another deep dive into personality typing. But, how accurate is the enneagram test? Is it legit? "The accuracy of the enneagram types depends to a great deal on how well the user of the model can interpret the elements of the model," the Enneagram User Guide explains. "The difficulty in learning the enneagram types doesn't come from a lack of learning resources. The difficulty comes from learning how to interpret all the concepts and labels used."
For the most part, psychiatrists seem to agree that the Enneagram is a legit way of charting people’s personality types. A 2020 paper called the “The Enneagram: A Primer for Psychiatry Residents” published in the American Journal of Psychiatry is a great primer on its use and accuracy.
In one study, Morgan Alexander, B.S., and Brent Schnipke, M.D write that “The Enneagram is a robust system that integrates all the concepts generally accepted to be necessary for a theory of personality, and its validity appears promising.” Even comedian Chelsea Handler is a big proponent of the method, chatting to her psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel on her podcast about how it helped her.
At first glance, the enneagram can look like complex geometry. With nine types, 27 subtypes, and three basic centers, there's a lot to learn. I took an enneagram test and it revealed that I am type five, also known as ”the investigator.” This means I tend to be cerebral, intense, perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated, according to The Enneagram Institute. This lines up pretty well with my MBTI type INFP (the Mediator) and my StrengthsFinder type: strategic, adaptability, input, intellection, and ideation. According to the Enneagram User Guide, how accurate your enneagram assessment depends on how you interpret the results of your test as they relate to your life.
"The difficulty comes from learning how to interpret all the concepts and labels used. For example, the passion of type [seven] is said to be 'gluttony.' If I look up 'gluttony' in the dictionary it says something like this: habitual greed or excess in eating," the Enneagram User Guide noted. "That is NOT what type [seven] is about. The idea of 'passion' and the word 'gluttony' need to be reinterpreted in terms of the enneagram types. Often that reinterpretation begins with a statement such as the passion of type [seven] is 'a gluttony of the mind' and then continues. There are dozens of words like 'passion' and 'gluttony' that are associated with the types. That's a lot of interpretation to learn."
Basically, you shouldn't take all of the words literally. The enneagram is subjective, kind of like astrology, which means you have to interpret the results as they apply to you. HelloGiggles writer Toria Sheffield took the enneagram test, for instance, and revealed that her results were eerily accurate. "The results got into things like my deepest fears, my greatest insecurities, and my key motivators for doing many of the things I do — both the good and the bad," Sheffield wrote. "Sometimes it was almost cuttingly accurate — as if your most honest, no-BS friend sat you down and told you exactly what you needed to work on."
Like Sheffield, I also found my results to be pretty spot on. According to the enneagram, my basic fears are being useless, helpless, and incapable. My basic desire is to be capable and competent. In addition to my basic type, I also have two wings, or adjacent types. One is the iconoclast, which means I am always questing beliefs and institutions that other people blindly follow. My second wing is the problem solver, and this could not be more accurate: I am the go-to person friends come to when they want advice because options that others don't consider are glaringly obvious to me.
Statistical Solutions, a dissertation editing service, reported that The Enneagram Institute's Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) is 72% accurate, which is a pretty high score for this type of test. "Studies concluded the instrument as scientifically 'valid and reliable’ as a test instrument with 'solid psychometrics.' The internal consistency reliability scores show that the RHETI ranges from 56 [percent] to 82 [percent] accurate on various types; with an overall accuracy of 72 [percent].
Of course, as with any personality test, the Enneagram also has its skeptics. As Luke Smillie, director of the Personality Processes Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, told Inverse: “Frankly, the enneagram is probably at the top of the list of ‘tests I would not recommend.’ It is pseudoscientific at best.”
But there are also experts using the Enneagram as a tenet of their practice. Dr. Rebekah Tennyson is a clinical psychologist in Oxford, England who has trained with Enneagram University and incorporates it into her work. On her site, Dr. Tennyson says: “What I love about the enneagram is that it doesn't stop at understanding where we are and how we got here— it offers a path for growth. When we understand what we do and why, and what our blind spots are, we can be more intentional about how we live.”
However, only you can determine if your results are accurate for you. Whether or not you're a reformer, a helper, an achiever, an individualist, an investigator, a loyalist, an enthusiast, a challenger, or a peacemaker depends on how you interpret your enneagram results, which means that you shouldn't take all of the words in your type literally. Curious? Take the enneagram test to see how accurate it is for you. It's kind of creepy how on the nose it was for me.
Additional reporting by Marianne Eloise
Alexander, M., & Schnipke, B. (2020). The enneagram: A Primer for psychiatry residents. American Journal of Psychiatry Residents' Journal, 15(3), 2–5. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp-rj.2020.150301
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