Algorithmic Personality: The Informatics of Psychological Traits, 1917–1937
The central argument of How We Became Our Data is that for the past one hundred years we have been organized by a politics of data within which control is exerted by the many formats of our information. Over the past century we have become informational persons whose lives are increasingly conducted through an information politics. This chapter traces personality metrics amid an episode in the stabilization of a prestigious subfield in scientific psychology, namely personality psychology. In 1917, Robert Sessions Woodworth of Columbia University produced for the U.S. Army the first personality test in the history of psychology. Personality testing, rating, and assessment soon took off and could be considered a consolidated field by 1937, when Gordon Allport of Harvard University produced the first academic textbook on the subject of personality psychology. This chapter builds on work in the history of psychology by genealogists including Nikolas Rose, Arnold Davidson, and Michel Foucault. In doing so, it offers a unique angle of attention to the underlying algorithms by which personality psychology achieved scientific success. The result is an account of the informational conditions still central to contemporary conceptions of mind, behavior, achievement, and ability.
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