In Defense of Myers Briggs

In Defense of Myers Briggs + Personality AssessmentsI’ve read several articles that call the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) useless or meaningless and yet, not only is it the most popular personality assessment worldwide, I believe there are many reasons to appreciate personality assessments if you’re using them correctly.

But, first, why the haters?

Myers Briggs Type Indicator and Jung Typology Theorem: Complaints

It has no predictive power

University of Pennsylvania organizational psychologist Adam Grant says, “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”

Whoa there, who said anything about predictive power? CPP, publisher of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, states that the test helps people “gain insights about themselves and how they interact with others—and improve how they communicate, learn, and work.”

In fact, if you drill down into CPP’s website a bit, you’ll find that “[the test] is not, and was never intended to be predictive, and should never be used for hiring, screening or to dictate life decisions.” Ok, so it has no predictive power. Glad we got that straight.

It is based on type theory versus trait theory

Type theory states that people fit into a category, either right-brained or left-brained, for example. Of course this is not accurate in itself. But if you look at right-brained and left-brained as either side of a continuum, it makes sense that people fit somewhere along that continuum.

Further, it tracks that many people lean toward one end of the spectrum. Type theory simply classifies you according to the side of the spectrum you’re nearer. Trait theory makes more clear that you are on a continuum, but with very similar end results. I would argue that, for laypeople, this is pure semantics.

Test results can be inconsistent

A 1979 study titled “Test-Retest Reliabilities of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a Function of Mood Changes” found that up to 50% of test takers would be reclassified upon re-taking the test.

Because the assessment utilizes self-reported data, I’m not at all surprised the results are inconsistent. After all, they depend on test takers to tell the truth, to be adequately introspective to answer accurately, and to not ascribe any personal bias to one trait over another.

As far as consistency of results go, I can only tell you my anecdotal experience. I’ve taken the official MBTI once and online variations of it literally dozens of times and my type has always been INTJ, with one exception. I tested as an INTP the first time I took the test and I remember consciously choosing responses that I thought would make my then-Type A personality seem more relaxed and approachable because I was being tested for work. Upon reading the descriptions for INTJ and INTP, though, it was clear that INTJ better reflected how I think about myself.

Having your results change doesn’t mean the assessment is wrong; it could mean that you changed your answers to game the system as I did or that you prefer answering the questions according to how you feel in the moment versus long term.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator and Jung Typology Theorem: Strength

Now that we’ve gotten through the naysaying, why do I like the Myers Briggs and similar personality assessments? For exactly the reasons they’re purported to be useful: Because they can help people “gain insights about themselves and how they interact with others.” Because they help us understand who we are and why we act the way we do as well as how to relate to others who react differently.

When I read my assessment findings, I always have aha! moments.

Often our personality traits are so ingrained that we have trouble seeing them and, even when we do see them, we have trouble putting words to them. Personality assessments are, first and foremost, a tool to help us better understand ourselves. And I think we all need more self-awareness and understanding in this world.

When I look at results for other family members, I find that I am better able to understand them as well. Not to assign them to a job or task or to predict how they’ll react in a given situation, just to understand. Understanding underlies the creation of community, family, and global acceptance.

Bottom Line

Should anyone use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to select the “best candidate” for a job or to decide upon promotions or job assignments? Heck no, that’s ridiculous.

Does being designated as one type mean you have no traits of its opposite? Again, no. No one is purely an introvert or extrovert. Think of each trait as a range; your “type” is the trait that is more dominant for you. It’s also possible that you’re so close to the middle that you’re what I call a “star” (or asterisk, meaning you have no marked preference for either characteristic).

So, look at your results with an open, inquisitive mind, absorb what makes sense to you, and let go of what doesn’t. You’ll be a better person for it.

Kate Watson