One way you quickly learn about a person is by obtaining a small, easy piece of information that tends to suggest a larger, more complicated trait.
For example, I’ve found that if someone blogs or reads blogs regularly, they are almost always above-average interesting. Litmus tests of this sort are especially helpful when reality collides with someone’s aspirational identity — situations where self-delusion dominates direct answers. If you ask someone, “Are you okay being alone?” most people will say, “Yes.” If you ask, “Are you concerned with how strangers might perceive and judge you?” Most people will say, “Not at all — I’m independent.” But then you might ask, “Do you mind eating at a restaurant alone?” Ah-ha! (Admittedly, there are obvious limits to these things.)
Here are three litmus tests I heard from other people which I found interesting:
1. In how much detail do you plan vacations?
Some people plan their vacations / adventure travel in hourly detail and book all hotels and flights in advance. Others book one roundtrip flight and figure out all the details once on the ground. Where you fall on this question is supposed to reveal whether you are a need-to-be-in-control planner or flexible and adaptable.
2. Do you like sharing your food and tasting others’ food at a meal?
If someone offers you food off their plate to try, do you tend to take it? This is supposed to reveal whether you appreciate diversity and are inclined toward experimentation.
3. Were you popular in high school?
High school is an awkward experience for many teenagers still trying to find themselves. Unless you’re a stunningly beautiful girl or a star athlete guy, to become popular in the treacherous hallways of high school requires strict fidelity to the moving target of what’s cool. If you were popular in high school, you probably took the easy path of conformity rather than the hard path of self-discovery. Or at least that’s my sense of what this litmus test implies.
All seem relatively reasonable, though I see myself as the exception to the first two. I happen to plan my trips more than most but I am also quite adaptable, or so I think. I’m not keen on sharing food at a meal because once a plate of food arrives I’m firmly focused on getting the job done sin ayuda. Yet I still see myself as highly experimental and appreciative of new experience.
It does seem generally true that popularity in high school is negatively correlated with intelligence and independent thinking. As far as I can tell, the only girls who are popular in high school are either really attractive or backstabbing mean girls. However, high school popularity for both genders seems positively correlated with networking and communication skills.
The comments in my post on litmus tests three years ago had some interesting other examples.