Tilly: The BuzzFeed quiz and you

BY ZACH TILLY | MAY 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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You know about BuzzFeed quizzes: Which one directioner looks most like your dream Corgi?; How many days could you survive without pepperoni?; Which “Rugrats” grandparent are you turning into?; etc., etc.* They’re diverting — sometimes fun, often grating.

On Thursday, Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker slid down, down the ivory tower into the dregs of millennial minutiae to examine what primordial forces compel proto-adults to take and share BuzzFeed quizzes by the score.

Her line of reasoning goes that BuzzFeed quizzes capitalize on a psychological concept called the Forer effect: people tend to believe that vague positive assessments (of the type offered by quiz results) are tailored specifically for them. It’s the same reason many people enjoy, and believe in, astrology; to feel guided by some type of prognosticating power provides a little confidence boost.

BuzzFeed quizzes, Konnikova argues, privately offer some subjective validation and publically offer a way to identify with online communities. The example presented — “Which ‘Game of Thrones’ Character Are You?” — gives people private confirmation of their positive traits (You’re a sly devil like Tyrion) and a way to publicly connect with other would-be Tyrions in a an increasingly fragmented world.

Konnikova’s conception of the egocentric pull of the BuzzFeed quiz is compelling and plays in to any number of generalizations of the Selfie generation; her latter point about community rings somewhat true. But this colossal overthinking of an Internet trend didn’t satisfy me completely. So let me take a crack at another explanation.

First, let’s not complicate things unnecessarily — any publicly taken BuzzFeed quiz is about nothing more than pure amusement.

I’d also argue that it’s not egocentrism but a certain postadolescent insecurity that drives people to BuzzFeed quizzes in private. The site, particularly through its ‘What _____ are you?’ quizzes, is peddling a combination of pop-psych mysticism and comforting nostalgia that targets like an opiod the 20-something’s inability to contextualize herself or himself in the real world.

What I mean to say is that BuzzFeed quizzes offer a self-serving shortcut to understanding your place in society, as told by a writer for a temporarily still-hip website.

To return to the “Game of Thrones” example for a moment, I took that quiz and got Robb Stark. The meaning of that result, to me, is not that I really share any of Robb Stark’s traits but that within the society of Westeros, Robb Stark is the type of person the zeitgeisty people at BuzzFeed think I might be.

For a better examination of this trend, let’s look backward. The genesis of the online personality quiz — for the BuzzFeed generation, at least — is the Harry Potter Sorting Quiz, of which there are hundreds of versions online. The main motivator for the young person taking such a quiz is not to discover and flaunt her or his Hogwarts house affiliation (especially if you wind up a Hufflepuff), but rather (by virtue of some less-than-cutting-edge psychoanalysis) to determine how you might have fit in to the Harry Potter universe from the perspective of an outside appraiser.

Ultimately the BuzzFeed quiz is useless when it comes to learning about yourself (no more useful than astrology, at least), but it does provide an interesting window into what the Buzzfeed hivemind thinks about you and that, to me, is way more interesting.

*My answers are Niall, five, and Grandpa Boris, for the record.

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