By Meghan Barr
NEW YORK — For a compulsive online quiz-taker like Chrissy Noh, the temptation was too great to resist: “Which sandwich are you?”
After answering a series of unscientific, seemingly unrelated questions, which included selecting her favorite doughnut from a lineup of frosted pastries, she had her answer (grilled cheese, for the record). And she’s not the only one who’s comparing herself to sandwiches lately. Go on, admit it: Chances are, you’ve been doing it, too.
A recent explosion of silly online personality quizzes, most of them created by the young social media mavens at Buzzfeed.com, has everybody talking about which state they really ought to be living in and which Harry Potter character they really are. Buzzfeed says the quizzes are smashing traffic records and generating more Facebook comment threads than any viral posts in the site’s history.
Experts say the phenomenon isn’t surprising given the age-old fascination with that central question — “Who AM I?” — and a desire to compare ourselves with others in a social media-obsessed society.
On a recent snowy day, the 37-year-old Noh, who lives in New York City, admitted that she and several friends spent the afternoon taking quizzes and texting each other screen shots of the results.
“It turned into an all-day group text message fest, where it was just picture after picture of, oh, what rapper are you?” she says, laughing. “What career should you actually have? Which sandwich are you? Which member of One Direction should you marry?”
Personality quizzes have been around for decades, gracing the covers of women’s and teen magazines with questions designed to lure us in. Nor are they new to the Internet, where online quizzes can be found aplenty on sites like Zimbio.com, among others.
But the recent wave of quiz popularity can be traced directly to Buzzfeed’s New York City headquarters, where a team of about 100 content creators have been producing one to five quizzes every single day for the past two months.
The most popular quiz — “Which State Do You Actually Belong In?” — has generated about 41 million page views.
“For our most viral quizzes, the results have to be meaningful in some way,” says Summer Burton, BuzzFeed’s managing editorial director. “It’s not that they are scientific. It’s just that what they say means something to people as far as their own identity.”
A scroll through the “QUIZZES” page on Buzzfeed.com reveals a bewildering assortment, many infused with pop culture references. Which celebrity cat are you? Which pop diva? Which “Girls” character? What career should you actually have? Which generation do you actually belong in? What kind of dog would you be?
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.”
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.