As an undergrad majoring in psychology, I was moved and inspired by the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. Often referred to as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, this personality test is perhaps the most controversial of its kind. Critics claim the science supporting MBTI doesn’t add up. On the other hand, those who do believe in its utility often do so in the extreme.
Upon first taking the test, I was revealed as an INTJ. Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging. According to the book, Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsy, this was less than 2% of the population! At that point in my life, I truly felt alien to my fellow humans. The test proved my feeling, I was rare! It also gave a sense of normalcy to my experiences and thoughts. Among other things, it reported that I couldn’t stand small talk! Wow! I was reading my fortune!
Many other aspects of the INTJ type seemed to illustrated my personality. The way I chose mates, patterns of thought, the way I physically held myself…. I was amazed. I suddenly became the guy who was giving this test out to people at parties.
Also, taking the test many times throughout the years, I always was revealed to be the same type, INTJ. And so, the test appeared to be reliable. I gave it to girlfriends, friends, family members and strangers. I wanted to know them, of course. But more importantly, I used the test to explain myself.
INTJ’s live in their heads, have a hard time with intimacy and may not check in with you for years. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
This was a helpful tool, it explained the abstract way I express love. I did this by vulnerability and sharing deep…thoughts. Not feelings, exactly. But thoughts on feelings.
Nonetheless, the MBTI has had a great impact on my life.
This is your ultimate guide to the MBTI.
What Does it Measure?
The MBTI evaluates four dimensions.
- First, Introversion vs. Extraversion. (I vs. E)
- Introversion is described as getting “energy from [one’s]…inner world”. Extraverted people are excited around others and like to excite others by talking and relating.
- Next, Sensory vs. Intuitive (S vs. N).
- This is really about how you take in and process information. Sensory leaning folks tend to simply believe what they see or hear. Intuitive folks tend to try to make some meaning out of the things they see or hear.
- Third, Thinking vs Feeling (T vs F).
- This, not as simple as it seems on its face, refers to decision making. Thinkers consider facts and ideas whereas Feelers tend to consider people and their feelings.
- Finally, Perceiving vs. Judging (P vs. J) describes how you present yourself outwardly.
- Perceivers are spontaneous and adaptable, whereas ‘Judgers’ are more structured and organized6.
You are asked a series of questions measuring which end of the four (4) sliding scales you end up on. Then, based on these results, you get a 4 letter designation. I, if you are more Introverted than Extraverted, S if you are more Sensory vs Intuitive and so on.
From these distinctions, the 4 letters reveal your ‘type’. Your personality is described from your type.
One of the cornerstones of standardized test is reliability. Essentially, a reliable test should measure the same things, the same way each time. If those measurements are applied consistently, the same results should be provided. Researchers have found that 50% of those who take the MBTI get a different result when retaking the test five weeks later3,13. Professor of Psychology, (University of Pennsylvania) Adam Grant, says the test is not reliable, valid, independent or comprehensive1. Critics also report the test is widely embraced because it leaves out the negative. It celebrates personality without qualifying it into good or bad3.
The MBTI was influenced by Carl Jung’s archetypes. Some researchers refer to it as the “Jungian Horoscope”10. The mother/daughter team that forged the inception of the MBTI had no specific training in psychology. Rather, they were enamoured by the idea of understanding and classifying personality in types. Associate Professor at Oxford University, Merve Emre, reports a similar story to the one I reported. She came across the test and upon taking it, felt “seen” for the first time. She wanted to use this language of personality. Through careful study, she eventually became a skeptic. Emre believes that personality is not fixed. Instead, the MBTI is based on the “fantasy” of human “characters” having a “knowable interior”2.
The psychology field virtually overlooks the MBTI completely. There is effectively no scholarly published research on the test. It has been ignored by the scholarly journals. Instead much research focuses on the Five-Factor Model, based on current research driven ideas about personality8.
Meyers-Briggs Die Hards
In several places there are stories of people discovering their MBTI type and it being very eye opening to them. This includes Jennifer Fayard, PhD and writer for Psychology Today7. Professor Emre, Oxford University, reports that the test is “a portal to an elaborate practice of talking and thinking about who you are.”2 On the question of validity, the Myers-Briggs company claims that the source of much of the criticism is from very old studies. Since the publications of these studies, the company has continued to do its own research and improved the test.
The MBTI does not predict job performance. However, it does seem to be predictive of the satisfaction experienced in the professional role. In example, those who test a P (perceiving) are thirteen times more likely to be a Rhode Scholar5. So there is some predictive value to the “test”.
The MBTI is the most popular personality test in the world. It is more relatable than modern versions of personality assessments. IE The Enneagram or the Big Five15.
The nature of identity and personality is messy. It’s very human. Dr. Emre sums it up well in the following:
The Power Of Relatable
So two women, before the true dawn of the field of psychology, begin to measure person-related traits. The traits should be predictive of personality. This mother/daughter team create the most popular personality test in history, and it remains so long after they are gone.
The MBTI is much more relatable. It is easier to view yourself as introverted or extraverted, as opposed to mentally framing your level of agreeableness. Then, to further simplify, with MBTI you are assigned letters representing your results: IE INTJ, ENTP etc. These designations (16 combinations) have been given names by several different authors and researchers. Consequently, the translation from the four letter designation to one word title like teacher, make it much easier to connect the results to reality. The Enneagram, for comparison, simply relates that you are “Type 2”. You can easily look this up, but the phrase “type 2” doesn’t reveal anything about your personality.
David Keirsey, Author of Please Understand Me II, provided an enhanced framework with which to look into MBTI.
In the graphic to your left, the names of each type designation made it even more relatable while also building on the Myers-Briggs foundational research.
The Most Celebrated Personality Test of All Time
While the critics are many, the MBTI is the most popular personality test of all time. And again, if it’s not as scientifically savvy as what is expected, it serves as a starting point and useful framework to self-discovery. One of the most entertaining pieces of MBTI culture is the describing of MBTI types by using characters from popular culture, movies, video games or TV. All of this brings the MBTI into our lives and culture, connecting to us in powerful way.
In sum, the MBTI is a great place to start as a tool for self-discovery. While the scientific and diagnostic elements are not observed by the scientific community (and perhaps rightly so), the value is the framework and insight into personality. It also is useful in providing the language to express internal processes and experiences that may not have been possible without it.
Case Study: ME
In the early 2000’s, I discovered the MBTI through Keirsey’s book. I was certainly inspired by the thought that I wasn’t “broken”. My personality was out there, it was studied. The idea behind the book was incredible: please understand where I am coming from. Without this idea, I would be left with Catholic school’s teaching of good vs evil to understand human behavior. The MBTI seeded in me the belief that diplomacy was a useful in dealing with humanity. I took the test several times and always got the same results: INTJ, the MASTERMIND. I loved this name. While it did a lot to explain in neutral terms many of my behaviors, there are some things it didn’t quite connect with.
While I apparently had the outward appearance of confidence (which did rear its head from time to time), I often suffered from severe anxiety and fear of judgement from others. I wanted nothing more than for that explanation of confidence to be true. Yet, it often wasn’t. While the personality test describes me as one who is analytical, I used this ability to a neurotic end. I replayed social situations, fantasies and other things. I was obsessive. It provided a foundation in which to think about my personality as well as described traits to strive for. Conversely, it also gave me excuses to not attempt improvement.
Recently, I took the test again. This is the first time I received another designation: ENTJ. Of course, still similar, I am far more extraverted than I was in my youth. This has shown itself in the changing of the I to E. This time, with this knowledge, I’ll be sure not to let it become an excuse or an explanation. Instead, the good reported in my MBTI results will be a goal to improve and maintain. The not-so-good will be areas where I’ll focus improvement efforts. This is the ultimate way to use the MBTI: to begin self-discovery, be proud of who you are and to assist in developing a plan to improve on your shortcomings.