'Which (blank) are you?' Online quizzes go viral thanks to sites like Buzzfeed

By Meghan Barr

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 11:05 p.m. MST

Staff members generate the quiz ideas themselves and create the entire thing on their own, though they do receive an edit and feedback before the quizzes are published. "We hire really creative people and kind of tell them to run wild," Burton says.

The trick to creating an addictive personality quiz is similar to the art of writing a good horoscope. It has to be broad and all-encompassing yet make people believe the answer applies to them personally. We know there's little substance to them, and yet we can't seem to stop taking them.

What makes these online quizzes so alluring is that they can be instantaneously shared with hundreds of friends on Facebook for instant feedback, says Denise Friedman, who teaches psychology at Roanoke College in Salem, Va.

"In our age, we're constantly reflecting on who we are, and technology has really changed the way we interact," Friedman says. "I think we are constantly engaging in social comparison and thinking about where we stand."

'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."

And you can take them over and over until you get the answer that validates your own assumptions about yourself. Noh says she may have (ahem) taken the "Which rapper are you?" quiz quite a few times until she was satisfied with the result.

"I kept getting Eminem, which I was unhappy about," she says. "I was like, 'I really want Kanye, so I'm gonna answer these questions until I get Kanye West.'"

But will people eventually burn out on these things? Is there such a thing as one Beyonce quiz too many?

"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. "Once the novelty of the interface and the results wear off, the trend might dip a bit. But I do think this kind of impulse won't necessarily go away. It might just take a different form."

Ultimately, the quizzes offer a superficial way to connect with distant friends and allow people to share personal information without compromising their own privacy, says Gwendolyn Seidman, an assistant professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa. In other words, taking a Buzzfeed quiz is like driving through a fast-food drive-thru on the Internet.

"Those questions are easier to answer than a real personality test," Seidman says. "It's very easy to say, 'This is the candy that I like, this is the movie that I like.' You can turn it into some information about yourself — without actually doing the hard work of really thinking hard about yourself."

Follow Meghan Barr on Twitter at http://twitter.com/meghanbarr

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