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article imageOp-Ed: Latest insult to your brain — An app to change your personality?

By Paul Wallis     Feb 12, 2021 in Technology
Sydney - If you find phone-brains monotonous, you’ll love this. Someone has found a way of altering personalities with an app. It was a turgid exercise in a turgid culture, and the results are to put it mildly annoying.
The research by the universities of Zurich, St. Gallen, Brandeis, Illinois, and ETH Zurich involved a “digital intervention”. 1500 or so participants used a smartphone app for 3 months. They were then assessed on personality traits like sociability, “considerateness”, and conscientiousness.
In a rather nauseating twist, many participants said they wanted to “reduce their emotional vulnerability” (aka neuroticism according to the researchers, and the two expressions can be very distant). Those who participated for more than 3 months were largely from this group. Support was provided through a chatbot and a digital coach.
The full story of the research is a bit complex and more than a bit irritating.
The findings were that:
• The app didn’t necessarily produce clear changes in terms of reducing personality traits, but some changes were noticeable. Ah…what?
• The researchers said that the process of change could have positive if unspecified health benefits.
Are you a “slave to your personality”?
The researchers found that people don’t have to be “slaves to their personality”. Interesting, if repulsive, turn of phrase. Your own personality is a tyrant slave-driving monster?
Let’s try to clarify:
In most people, “personality” is a pretty ad hoc thing. Moods, issues, environment, you name it; people’s personality is generally a work in progress.
Personality is an acquired thing. Your personality typically develops on the basis of life experience. …Do you need to overwrite it? You do, but in stages, where your relationship to your environment allows it.
Some points:
• Your personality as perceived by other people is almost invariably a collection of impressions, at least some of which are misinterpretations. Your personality as perceived by yourself is a sort of endless necessary critique. Does it need changing? Why? Are you in a great hurry to be someone else?
• Emotional vulnerability is the result of having emotions. Are your emotions wrong? Do you really like lousy situations, miserable experiences by the decade-load, and appalling people stressing you out? Would you like to devalue your emotions? Are you a total hypocrite?
• Conscientiousness is not a medal-winning thing. The word “conscientious” does have an actual meaning. You’re supposed to be conscientious, at least to the extent of respecting your obligations to yourself, and perhaps even other people, you genius, you.
The logic of marketing a personality-changing app
Imagine this scenario:
1. I’ve got the New Persona app; therefore I’m much better than I was.
2. People I know nothing about have created an app to make me a better person by their standards for no definable or personally applicable reason. Isn’t that wonderful?
3. You don’t have the New Persona app? Are you perfect or something?
4. The New Persona app is the New Me. Great, huh?
5. I’ve got the New Persona upgrade! Now I’m even more brilliant!
6. My app is who I am. My app is who I am. My app is who I am.
As expressions of sheer pathos and admission of total inability to manage yourself, this app could be the last word in human mediocrity. It’ll be the pet rock of the 2020s.
This is a step too far in way too many wrong directions. Personality management by app can’t work. Emotions are reactive. People are reactive. Tell anyone to do anything, let alone rework their personality, and you’ll definitely get a reaction.
If you want an app to get people to manage themselves, give them an app that asks the right questions. “Are you happy?” would be one of them. That has a lot to do with personality traits and personality disorders.
Just consider this – On what basis would you change your personality? Not easy, is it?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about University of Zurich, University of St Gallen, University of Brandeis, University of Illnois, Eth zurich
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