As I mentioned in my About me section, I’m a big fan of storytelling. I believe stories shape human lives and the way we see the world; they give our minds the opportunity to travel to other places and let us escape from reality for a brief period of time. Also, stories often set examples for us; they create characters and groups that we can identify with and find our strengths. Groups that we belong to (or believe so) shape the main part of our identity. Harry Potter characters and their fandom aren’t any different. I still have to meet a Potterhead who doesn’t know which Hogwarts house he belongs to and why.
Today, I wanted to talk about how would the Sorting Ceremony in Hogwarts look like if Dumbledore decided to employ a Muggle psychologist and send the Sorting Hat to a well-deserved retirement and what does sorting ceremony actually say about us and our favorite characters.
One of the things that differ psychology from other social sciences is the usage of psychological tests. Since the beginning of the 20th century, they develop and use different tests which have become one of the best methods to observe the differences among people. One of the main purposes of testing is classification – sorting someone in a category based on specific criteria. That’s exactly what the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series does – he sorts the students in the four houses based on his set of criteria, as he sings every year before the Ceremony. Let’s see how they look.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.
It seems that Sorting Hat’s decisions are based on students’ personality traits. Personality traits are internal, relatively stable and enduring attributes that make us different from other people or similar to them. They describe what we are like, how do we react to our environment and how does our environment react to us.
So, as we all know, the Gryffindors are brave, the Ravenclaws are wise, the Hufflepuffs are diligent and the Slytherins are sly and cunning. But, what does that really mean?
Gryffindors are described as brave and daring through the whole series. Psychological researches show that by that, people usually imply two personality traits. One is extraversion – the tendency to seek out social stimulation and opportunities to engage with others. These individuals are often described as being full of life, energy, and positivity. The other one is openness to experiences, which refers to seeking new experiences and excitements, creativity and need for changes.
Hufflepuffs are described as loyal, just, hardworking and nice. These attributes are connected to several personality traits.
Concepts of justness and niceness in personality psychology are tightly connected with agreeableness – the trait that describes people who are usually warm, friendly, and tactful. They generally have an optimistic view of human nature and get along well with others. Being hard-working can be connected with the personality trait called conscientiousness, which implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientious people are efficient and organized, they exhibit a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully and are generally organized and dependable.
The Ravenclaw house highly values the wisdom and willingness to learn new things. Therefore, we could assume that students sorted in this house would score higher on the need for cognition (NFC) – the trait that describes how people differ by putting effort into learning and wanting to carefully think about the topic. Those people are usually inclined to debates, problem-solving and discussing ideas.
And, in the end, the Slytherins. They are often portrayed as the bad guys – the first information that we ever hear about them in the books is Hagrid saying “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”. They are often sly, cunning and would do anything to achieve their own goals. So we could assume that Slytherins would score high on the Dark Triad of personality (sounds a bit like the Dark Mark, right?). It consists of, as the name says, three personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. People high on Machiavellianism are sly, their thinking is cold, practical and immoral and they are oriented towards achieving power and money. Those with pronounced narcissism are proud, arrogant, think they’re entitled and good leaders, while those with pronounced psychopathy show tendencies towards aggressive behavior are prone to intimidating others and being irresponsible. The base of all three traits of the Dark Triad is the tendency towards domination in the society and towards their own progress. Sounds familiar?
Sorting Ceremony without using magic
So, if a regular Muggle psychologist like myself would be entrusted with the task of sorting the first-year students into houses, I believe many of us would starve to death waiting for the banquet to start. I would have to measure every single trait mentioned above for every single student. If we want our test scores to be as reliable as possible – and we would, because it practically determines the child’s life in school for the next 7 years – we would have to use longer versions of the tests. After testing, I would have to manually score the tests, draw the results of every single student and decide on the method of classification I would use. Would I use the criterion-referenced assessment, which would mean that every student who scores higher than some pre-set result on extraversion is sorted into Gryffindor? What about those who score high on more than one test? Or would I use norm-referenced assessment, where some percentage of students who score significantly higher than others on some test would be sorted in a matching house? Decisions are to be made.
I’ve actually done a similar thing. I worked in the Human Resources Department for a brief period of time. Among other tasks, my duties included assisting in a selection process. That basically meant reading the job description, determine which traits are essential for a future employee, choose tests to apply, give tests to people, conduct a brief interview and then aggregate all that data to a single sentence – are they eligible for a job or not. As, of course, we wanted to assess the people as good as we possibly can, they usually completed around a dozen tests. And God is my witness, I wished for something similar to a Sorting Hat EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. There are two main reasons why:
First one is the tests themselves. Most of the psychological tests used nowadays are very well developed and thoroughly researched, but they’re not perfect. They’re not perfectly reliable, which means errors are possible, and they may or may not represent the measured trait correctly, which must be taken into consideration when scoring a test.
The other reason is obvious – people lie. As House M.D. would say, “Everybody lies”. Now, I do believe that everybody wants to show their best at a job testing, which includes twisting the answers a little bit. That’s okay – if you didn’t want to show your best when applying for a job, I’d call you crazy. But that doesn’t make it easier for me.
These reasons made yours truly’s life a living hell. You have imperfect tests, people who lie, a big chunk of data and have to decide about their destiny – will you recommend them for a job or not. That process often took a couple of days of careful thinking and analyzing the data.
So, the life of a Muggle psychologist is pretty hard. Sorting Hat does the same thing better and in much less time. The longest it took him to make a decision is if I’m not mistaken, five and a half minutes. Some of my “Hatstalls” took five and a half DAYS. It can also enter the person’s mind without their permission and see what he needs to decide.
Whose decision is more accurate?
So, we’ve agreed that Sorting Hat’s decisions are WAY faster than a Muggle psychologist’s ones. But, is there a difference in the accuracy of its decisions?
The American research squad decided to check that. They’ve asked the members of Pottermore to fill out the questionnaires for the above-mentioned traits. The participants have indicated their Pottermore house, their desired Pottermore house and filled out the questionnaires.
All of the houses except Gryffindor have confirmed the expected results – the Hufflepuffs scored higher than others on agreeableness and conscientiousness, the Ravenclaws on NFC and the Slytherins on the Dark Triad.
And what about Gryffindors?
Even though the people who were sorted into Gryffindor didn’t show significantly higher results on extraversion and openness than members of other houses, those who wanted to be sorted into Gryffindor scored higher on those traits than others. That beautifully shows the same thing that Dumbledore taught us.
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
For every psychologist, these results are pretty astonishing. Personality tests usually ask you about your common behavior – such as, how often do you hang out with people or do you get angry easily. The Pottermore quiz, as most of you know, has none of it. It asks you do you prefer the moon or the stars or which magical object would you prefer. It’s almost a miracle that it is correlated with the mentioned traits. Rowling, without a formal education in psychology, still managed to gripe a part of this well-researched field. If that’s not magic, what is it?
So, what do you think? What is your house and do you find yourself in these traits? Have you ever been to psychological testing and how did you feel?