NEW YORK – For a compulsive online quiz-taker like Chrissy Noh, the temptation was too great to resist: Which sandwich are you?
After answering a series of unscientific, seemingly unrelated questions, which included selecting her favorite doughnut from a lineup of frosted pastries, she had her answer (grilled cheese, for the record). And she’s not the only one who’s comparing herself to sandwiches lately. Go on, admit it: Chances are, you’ve been doing it, too.
A recent explosion of silly online personality quizzes, most of them created by the young social media mavens at Buzzfeed.com, has everybody talking about which state they really ought to be living in and which Harry Potter character they really are. Buzzfeed says the quizzes are smashing traffic records and generating more Facebook comment threads than any viral posts in the site’s history.
Experts say the phenomenon isn’t surprising given the age-old fascination with that central question – Who AM I? – and a desire to compare ourselves with others in a social media-obsessed society.
Personality quizzes have been around for decades, gracing the covers of women’s and teen magazines with questions designed to lure us in. Nor are they new to the Internet, where online quizzes can be found aplenty on sites like Zimbio.com, among others.
But the recent wave of quiz popularity can be traced directly to Buzzfeed’s New York City headquarters, where a team of about 100 content creators have been producing one to five quizzes every single day for the past two months.
The most popular quiz – Which State Do You Actually Belong In? – has generated about 41 million page views.
‘A way to kill time’
John Egan, 50, who lives in Austin, Texas, says he gets sucked into the quizzes partly because he’s curious about himself – and because he wonders how his answers will stack up against his Facebook friends’. But the quizzes have little staying power in his brain.
There was one recently about what state you should be living in. Honestly, I don’t remember what state I got, he says. Which says something about these quizzes. That it’s kind of this momentary thrill, if you will, and then you move on. And it’s like a shiny object: Oh – there’s another quiz!’
The quizzes are overwhelmingly upbeat and lighthearted in nature, a calculated decision by the people engineering them. After all, they’re designed to be an affirmation of how you see yourself, not an assessment of who you really are.
Quizzes are an investment of someone’s time, Burton says. So it feels like it would almost be mean for someone to go through the process of taking the quiz and have it say, You’re really cynical and negative and nobody likes being around you.’ The ideal is that the qualities are specific enough that it feels personal, but they’re also a compliment.
They don’t alienate anyone. They’re a way to kill time. They’re fun, says Laura Portwood-Stacer, who teaches media culture and communication at New York University.
Ultimately, the quizzes offer a superficial way to connect with distant friends and allow people to share personal information without compromising privacy, says Gwendolyn Seidman, an assistant professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa.