Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Target Has Some Mildly Offensive and Probing Questions for You

The discount chain Target has been getting all Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) on some of its customers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that an e-mail survey designed to compare the mind of the Target shopper to that of the Walmart shopper has been pulled after some recipients got upset with the tone of the questions. According to the Journal Sentinel:
The e-mail survey, which hit Target customers' computers on Friday, asked questions such as whether they feared their lovers might leave them and whether, if they disappeared from the face of the earth, anyone would notice.
Ah, yes, the old asking-existential-questions-to-find-out-if-our-customers-will-fall-for-Walmart's-appeals-to-middle-class-consumers gambit. We're all familiar with that, aren't we?

The survey-takers were to answer the questions by choosing from a range: "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Here are some of the gems the Journal Sentinel highlighted from the test. Excuse me, survey.
  • My partner is likely to reject me at some point unless I am better (smarter, better looking, etc.) than any other potential mate.
  • I deserve to be loved and respected.
  • I am a superior person.
  • I am afraid of being rejected by my friends.
  • I can be sarcastic and cutting when I need to be.
  • Sometimes when I am reading poetry or looking at a work of art, I feel a chill or a wave of excitement.
  • I don't like to waste my time daydreaming.
  • I'm not known for my generosity.
  • Poetry has little or no effect on me.
  • I often get into arguments with my family and co-workers.
  • I try to be humble.
  • It makes me crazy when the plane isn't moving and the pilot doesn't announce why.
Ooh, yeah, that's the stuff. Let's separate those red state authoritarians from the poetry-loving daydreamers. First we'll conquer Walmart, then the world.

Questions like this, though they have little or nothing to do with shopping habits, may help a retailer learn about what makes a shopper tick.

Now compare those questions to these I found on the Internet, questions that are allegedly part of the famous and ubiquitous personality test, the MMPI. (Ignore for a moment that they were posted by a fellow who calls himself "ThugCop"):
  • There seems to be a lump in my throat much of the time
  • A person should try to understand his dreams and be guided by or take warning from them
  • I enjoy detective or mystery stories
  • I work under a great deal of tension
  • I have diarrhea once a month or more
  • Once in a while I think of things too bad to talk about
  • I am sure I get a raw deal from life
  • My father was a good man
  • I am very seldom troubled by constipation
  • My sex life is satisfactory
Whether those are actual questions from the MMPI or not, I can assure you, dear reader, as a Minnesotan who has taken the test, that the questions are very much like those. My favorites include "I am a secret agent from God" and "I am afraid of door knobs."

The MMPI was invented decades ago by University of Minnesota doctors, specifically psychologist Starke Hathaway and neuropsychiatrist J. Charnley McKinley, to help diagnose mental illnesses. Minnesotans deemed "normal" by a team of doctors were polled and compared to known deviants, and thus a personality test was born. And for whatever reason, it has become an American standard.

An article from the August 2004 issue of The Believer described the test's development:
But for all the plain pragmatism that went into its development, the test Hathaway and McKinley ultimately produced was without a doubt one of the weirdest creations in the history of man's attempts to understand himself. One observer has puckishly, though accurately, described it as "a Joycean soliloquy in Whitmanic rhythms, the interior monologue of a neurotic modern Everyman."
(The italics are mine.)

Hmm. That last part reminds me of the Target questions, like "Poetry has little or no effect on me." This poetry's kind of sneaky.


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