If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology class, you’ve heard of the Meyer’s Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI). Though chances are, if you can’t remember those class details, you’ve stumbled upon the MBTI on the internet like millions of others. Learning about yourself based on the personality type indicators you were given, can feel pretty encouraging and validating.
Sites like 16 Personalities will not only guide you through a pretty extensive MBTI personality test, but it will also provide you with information as simple as what jobs would be best fitting based on your personality type to what famous historical figures were the same MBTI as you! After receiving your MBTI you’re also allowed to enter discussions within the website community, and purchase a premium profile which aims to help one “dive deeper into their personality and learn how to grow and better navigate the world around them” (16 Personalities.com, n.d.).
I’ve always enjoyed personality type indicators, out of amusement and curiosity I suppose. But like many others am able to point out the obvious fallacies that exist between the indicator and reality. I find myself unable to appropriately answer a question, and often feel as though I’m being categorized and labeled while simultaneously limited by the test. Nothing quite fits “me”.
What is the MBTI?
The MBTI was invented in 1942 by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. Cook had always been a keen observer of people and their differences, and was inspired by the work of psychologist Carl Jung and his theories. Most importantly, his concepts of introversion and extroversion. The mother and daughter devoted their lives to developing the type indicator, hoping to help people to understand their tendencies and choose appropriate jobs. The test uses 93 questions to assess the following traits:
- Introvert (I) versus Extrovert (E)
- Intuitive (N) versus Sensory (S)
- Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) versus Perceiving (P)
Based on the combination of traits people fall into, the test ultimately assigns them one of the 16 labels, such as INTJ, ENFP and so on (Gholipour, B., 2019).
Why do psychologists doubt it?
“Type-based personality tests like Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Ennegram, although popular, do not meet the standards of “good” science. First from a psychological perspective, there is no such thing as a personality “type.” That’s not how personality is conceptualized nor how it works; it’s a gross oversimplification. Personality is influenced by situations, context, unresolved trauma, and many other factors” (Hardy, 2020).
Although interesting to talk about, despite the public fascination, other psychologists have gone as far as saying that type-based personality profiles are no more scientific than horoscopes (Hardy, 2020). But how popular is popular? About 1.5 million people take the test online each year, and more than 88% of Fortune 500 companies, as well as hundreds of universities use it for hiring and training pre-screening (Gholipour, B., 2019).
Whatever “score” you get is based on many factors. Conditions in which you take a personality test can greatly influence the way you answer the questions, and therefore the score you get. Other research shows your personality will change over your lifetime, regardless of intention. Further research shows personality can even make sudden changes, based on situations or experiences. Simply put, the notion that personality is “hardwired” or fixed, simply isn’t accurate (Hardy, 2020). Carl Jung himself said “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum” (Hardy, 2020).
Psychologists’ main problem with the MBTI is the lack of science behind it. “In 1991, a National Academy of Sciences committee reviewed data from MBTI research and noted “the troublesome discrepancy between research results (a lack of proven worth) and popularity” (Gholipour, B., 2019).
The MBTI was born of ideas proposed before psychology was an empirical science; those ideas were not tested before the tool became a commercial product. But modern psychologists demand that a personality test pass certain criteria to be trusted. “In social science, we use four standards: Are the categories reliable, valid, independent and comprehensive?”(Gholipour, B., 2019).
Identity vs. Personality
Identity and personality are two different constructs. Identity is much deeper and is how you view and explain yourself. Identity is generally conceived in the form of stories or narratives about oneself. Personality, on the other hand, is how a person consistently acts and or responds to various situations. Identity predicts behavior, and behavior over time reflects personality (Hardy, 2020).
“Type-based personality tests are not scientific. But they may encourage people to have a fixed mindset about themselves because rather than explaining personality, they give people a sense of identity in the form of a “type” or “category” (Hardy, 2020).
Some of the test’s limitations are inherent in its conceptual design. One example is the black and white categories: You are either an extrovert or introvert, a judger or a feeler. “This is a shortcoming, because people don’t fall neatly into two categories on any personality dimension; instead, people have many different degrees of the dimension,”said Michael Ashton, professor of psychology at Brock University in Ontario (Gholipour, B., 2019).
Not entirely useless
“Some of the shortcomings of the MBTI stem from the complex, messy nature of human personality. Neat categories of MBTI make personality look clearer and more stable than it really is, according to David Pincus, a professor of psychology at Chapman University in California. Psychologists prefer other tools, namely the Big Five, which assesses personality based on where an individual lies on the spectrums of five traits: agreeableness; conscientiousness; extraversion; openness to experience; and neuroticism. The Big Five model has a better record of scientific validation than the MBTI, experts say.
Still, the MBTI is not entirely useless.
People are drawn to tests like MBTI out of a desire to understand themselves and others. “The four dimensions from which the MBTI types are derived are all useful ones for describing people’s personalities,” Ashton said” (Gholipour, B., 2019).
Don’t take it seriously
If you’re as curious as I am, you might still take the MBTI. I can always find curiosity in personality tests and the results that may come about, if nothing else it’s amusing. Through Facebook and other social media outlets there is the ever present “Which superstar/ disney princess/ superhero are you” tests and quizzes.
I encourage you, through your social media quiz taking, horoscope reading and MBTI results, not to take any online personality test results seriously. Question every label, and teach your children to do the same.
As Peggy O’Mara has said, “The way we talk to our child becomes their inner voice.”
Hardy, B., (May 27, 2020), Psychology Today: Don’t Let Your Children Take the Myer’s Briggs https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/quantum-leaps/202005/dont-let-your-children-take-the-myers-briggs
Gholipour, B., (May 19, 2019), Live Science: How Accurate Is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test? https://www.livescience.com/65513-does-myers-briggs-personality-test-work.html
16 Personalities: Personality Test https://www.16personalities.com/
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