Up in the sky, look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… you! (In your dreams.)
Imagine this scenario: it’s your lucky day. You’ve been granted the opportunity to be the only person in the world with a superpower. Before getting overly excited about the thought of controlling the minds of your enemies, your choice of superpower is between two.
The first is the ability to fly. This isn’t a mere “leap tall buildings in a single bound” type of deal. This is flying, without the use of an airplane, up to 1,000 mph. A human airplane, if you will.
Your second choice is the capability to turn yourself invisible without having to track down Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. “Invisible” in this scenario means having the power to turn both yourself and anything you’re wearing transparent, but everything you pick up would be visible.
Ok go! Which one would you choose?
Now how did you choose it? And why?
Flight or invisibility: This was the question posed by John Hodgman in his podcast “Superpowers” for This American Life over a decade ago, where several people answered honestly and without hesitation, and could probably do the same thing today. The choice seemed to be a no-brainer for most, like they were being asked to decide on their favourite chocolate bar. Perhaps you had a similarly speedy response.
While no one in the real world has mastered flight without assistance (squirrel suits?) or is able to turn themselves invisible at the drop of a hat (this one is harder to prove, actually), most people are able to come up with an answer to the question on the spot.
This leads to an interesting thought: does your choice of superpower reveal anything about your personality? Can this one question be boiled down to disclose individual traits, similar to the Rorschach Test?
Experts split on effectiveness of quiz
“What do individuals’ choices of superpowers tell you about their personality? The answer to that question is almost nothing,” says Clinical Psychologist Duncan Day, PhD, who specializes in Neuropsychology. “It might tell you something, but it would be the same thing as sitting down with them and learning about the kinds of answers they give.”
He says that while these types of personality tests were used freely in the past in an attempt to categorize people based on their decisions, the practice is no longer popular.
“There were all kinds of these types of scenarios and questions that were being used, like ‘if you could be any kind of a tree, what kind of a tree would you be?’” Day says. “So the idea is very similar in that you’re asking a question where the subjective response is supposed to reveal something about how that person works, or how they make decisions. What those questions really reveal more about are the thought processes and the assumptions of the person asking the question.”
While one person might assume choosing invisibility could indicate insecurities or introverted tendencies, to others it may mean something very different.
“You could ask a hundred different people what they think the superpower of flying would mean to them and they would all come up with a different foundational reason,” Day says. “What if somebody has never read a comic book in their life or hasn’t seen any of the horrible movies and they have no idea what you’re talking about? They might just say ‘well, you can’t fly.’ They have a hard time choosing. You’re making assumptions about the type of person they are, but they have no common ground with your sense of assumptions about their answer.”
Life Coach Tanya Conner-Green takes a different stance from that of Day, stating instead that the choice would be shaped by your personal experiences.
“From my experience, I’d say it’s that wherever they are in their life right now that would define what power would be useful for them and getting people to what they want out of life,” Conner-Green says. “Prior life choices, life experiences, memories and assumptions of what it would be like or feel like or what that power would bring to their life, expectations, all of these things would inform them about how they would choose.”
In the podcast, Hodgman asked several people to make their choice and while the answer had a 50/50 possibility, the way in which each individual arrived at the decision varied dramatically.
One of the women questioned chose invisibility as her power of choice, a decision that was immediate. Her reasoning was that it would make it much easier to steal expensive clothing from Barney’s. Not exactly a superhero move, but hey, that’s her choice.
The superpower of flight was attached to a sense of popularity for one of the males surveyed. He chose flight because as the only person in the world to be able to fly, he would earn instant celebrity status and “gain groupies.”
“Your life experiences will shape your answer, or something that you’re wanting in that moment may be different from something that you’re wanting in ten years from now, for example,” Conner-Green says. “If you’re a mom of five kids all under the age of five you may want invisibility to get away. Or you may be 20 years old and that might shape your answer differently because you just want to explore the world. It’s more whatever’s going on for you in that timeframe.”
So, Conner-Green would say, the man who chooses flight for fame would do so because that it is what is important to him in his current lifestyle, rather than his overall personality traits.
“The question is a good one and it’s an age-old one because everybody measures or tries to learn about someone through asking questions,” Day says. “We’d love to have a single question that did it all; that sorted everybody. That’s the holy grail of measurements is this one magic question that answers all of the possible things, but the reality is that it simply does not exist.”
Yahoo Canada readers, which superpower would you choose and why?