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Why Are We so Fascinated by Ourselves?

Personality tests and horoscopes promise a deeper understanding of who we are. But do these categorizations serve—or just limit—us?

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Have you heard? Your astrological sign influences your personality, your introversion (or extroversion) informs your habits, your sleep patterns explain how you relate to the world, and even your face shape holds insight into… well something. Surely, something.

Our desire to connect all these dots makes sense—wanting to know one’s self is just part of the human condition. But thanks to a TikTok and meme-fueled renaissance of personality tests, our interest in why we are the way we are—or really, what makes us special—seems to be at an all-time high. And as social media introduces concepts like “main character energy,” doing things “for the plot,” and entering one’s “villain era,” it’s easier than ever to see yourself as a character in a story, ready to be categorized and dissected.

Except, well, we’re not characters, we’re real people. And it takes more work to hold space for a real person’s complexity than to quickly learn that they’re, say, an Aquarius or an introvert. The stories and videos below dig into the different ways we, through the internet, endeavor to understand ourselves better—not only how we seem but how we are.

Image by ajijchan / Getty Images

Your Pocket Therapist on TikTok


SL: “As someone who has been consuming astrology content since I was in my early teens, this revelation gives me pause and makes me feel things. But also, isn’t wanting to understand ourselves generally tied to wanting to understand others? (No one tell me if that’s not true.)”

The Reason People Listen to Sad Songs

Oliver Whang
The New York Times

SL: “I like that this extrapolation on a study about why humans love sad songs is not only examining the study, but also examining why we’d want this study in the first place. ‘With whom are we connecting? The artist? Our past selves? An imaginary person? And how can sad music be “all about” anything? Doesn’t the power of art derive, in part, from its ability to transcend summary, to expand experience?’”



SL: “Knowing how our individual selves are connected to our collective experience is much needed, and I believe, totally misunderstood. This is one way to look at it.”

Why Do We Love Personality Tests That Aren’t Accurate?

McKenna Princing
Right as Rain by UW Medicine

SL: “I really appreciate what Milla Titova from the Happiness and Well-being Lab discusses in this piece. Namely: ‘Even though it’s more accurate, it’s harder to think in continuums versus categories. However, life is way more complicated, as we see day after day. Binary things aren’t really binary. Most people are somewhere in the middle.’”

Young Life: Why Does My Generation Love Personality Tests?

Alice Garnett
Prospect Magazine

SL: “In this piece, writer Alice Garnett focuses on Gen Z specifically, and examines why they have an especially soft spot for these tests. ‘For my generation, both the real and online worlds feel increasingly chaotic, as historic markers of stability such as homeownership drift out of reach, while a ton of compulsive content drifts into view. As we spend more time online, young people are looking to social media to find a sense of belonging and community, but where millennials only had to agonize over which Hogwarts house they belonged to, Gen Z has a hyper-specific mass of subtypes to choose from.’”

Samantha Leal

Samantha Leal is a travel and lifestyle writer and editor, currently based in Los Angeles. Formerly the deputy editor at Well+Good, she’s also held editorial stints at Marie Claire, Latina magazine, and The Knot. You can find her writing about—well, lots of things—at places like Travel+Leisure, VinePair, Parade.com, Byrdie, Elle.com, SELF.com, and more. You can find her pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.