The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs, to identify an individual’s personality type among 16 possibilities. The test was based on Carl Jung’s work on psychological type. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator remains very popular; however, psychological researchers widely view it as unscientific and do not use it to measure personality traits.
Key Takeaways: Myers Briggs Personality Types
- The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality test that categorizes individuals into one of 16 personality types.
- The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs, and is based on psychologist Carl Jung's work on psychological type.
- The 16 personality types of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator arise from four dimensions that consist of two categories each. Those dimensions are: Extraversion (E) versus Introversion (I), Sensing (S) versus Intuition (N), Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F), and Judging (J) versus Perceiving (P).
Origins of Personality Characterization
In 1931, renowned Swiss psychologist Carl Jung published the book Psychological Types. The book was based on his clinical observations and detailed his ideas about personality type. Specifically, Jung said that people tend to exhibit a preference for one of two personality attitudes and one of four functions.
Extraversion (often spelled extroversion) and introversion were the two attitudes specified by Jung. Extraverts are characterized by their interest in the external, social world. On the other hand, introverts are characterized by their interest in their own internal world of thoughts and feelings. Jung saw extraversion and introversion as a continuum, but he believed that people generally tend towards one attitude or the other. Nonetheless, even the most introverted person may be extraverted once in a while, and vice versa.
Jung identified four functions: sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition. According to Jung, “The essential function of sensation is to establish that something exists, thinking tells us what it means, feeling what its value is, and intuition surmises whence it comes and whither it goes.” Jung further divided the functions into two categories: rational and irrational. He considered thinking and feeling to be rational and sensation and intuition to be irrational.
Although everyone uses all the functions at any given time, an individual usually emphasizes one over the others. In fact, Jung claimed that more often than not, people emphasized two functions, usually one rational and one irrational. Still, one of these would be the individual’s primary function and the other would be an auxiliary function. Therefore, Jung saw the rational functions, thinking and feeling, as opposites. The same is true of the irrational functions, sensation and intuition.
Eight Personality Types
By pairing the two attitudes with each of the functions, Jung outlined eight personality types. These types include extraverted sensation, introverted sensation, extraverted thinking, introverted thinking, etc.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) arose from Jung’s ideas about personality type. The journey towards the MBTI was started by Katherine Briggs in the early 1900s. Briggs’ original goal was to design a test that would help uncover children’s personalities. That way, educational programs could be designed with the strengths and weaknesses of each individual child in mind.
Briggs started reading Jung’s work Psychological Types after her daughter, Isabel, went to college. She even corresponded with the preeminent psychoanalyst, asking for clarity about his ideas. Briggs wanted to use Jung’s theories to help people understand their type and use that information to be the best version of themselves.
After hearing about personality type from her mother, Isabel Briggs Myers started her own work. In the early 1940s, she began to create the MBTI. Her goal was to help people learn, via their personality type, the occupations to which they were best suited.
The Educational Testing Service started to distribute the test in 1957, but soon dropped it after an unfavorable internal review. Then the test was acquired by Consulting Psychologists Press in 1975, leading to its current popularity.Over 2 million American adults take the MBTI every year, and according to The Myers-Briggs Company, the test is used by over 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies to test their employees’ personalities.
The MBTI classifies individuals into one of 16 personality types. These types arise from four dimensions that consist of two categories each. The test sorts people into one category in each dimension based on their answers to a series of either/or questions. The four dimensions are combined to create one’s personality type.
The goal of the MBTI is to enable people to learn more about who they are and what that means for their preferences in differentareas of life, such as work and relationships. As a result, each of the 16 personality types identified by the test are considered equal—one isn't better than another.
Three of the dimensions utilized by the MBTI are adapted from Jung’s work, while a fourth was added by Briggs and Myers. Those four dimensions are:
Extraversion (E) versus Introversion (I). As Jung specified, this dimension is indicative of the attitude of the individual. Extraverts are outward looking and oriented to the exterior world, while introverts are inward looking and oriented to their subjective inner-workings
Sensing (S) versus Intuition (N). This dimension focuses on the way people take in information. Sensing types are interested in what’s real. They enjoy using their senses to learn and focus on facts. Intuitive types are more interested in impressions. They think abstractly and enjoy imagining possibilities.
Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F). This dimension builds on the sensing and intuition functions to determine how one acts on the information they’ve taken in. Those who emphasize thinking focus on facts, data, and logic to make decisions. In contrast, those who emphasize feeling focus on people and emotions to make decisions.
Judging (J) versus Perceiving (P). This final dimension was added to the MBTI by Briggs and Myers as a way to determine if a person tends to make rational or irrational judgments when interacting with the world. A judging person relies on structure and makes definitive decisions, but a perceiving person is open and adaptable.
Sixteen Personality Types. The four dimensions yield 16 personality types, each of which is supposed to be different and distinctive. Each type is described by a four-letter code. For example, an ISTJ is introverted, sensing, thinking, and judging, and an ENFP is extraverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving. One’s type is considered immutable and the categories an individual falls into based on the MBTI are thought to dominate a person’s personality.
Criticisms of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Despite its continued wide usage, especially in business, psychological researchers generally agree that the MBTI has not held up to scientific scrutiny. From a psychological perspective, one of the test’s biggest issues is its use of either/or questions. Jung noted that his personality attitudes and functions weren’t either/or propositions but operated along a continuum, with people having specific preferences in one direction of another. Personality researchers agree with Jung. Traits are continuous variables that go from one extreme to another with most people falling somewhere in the middle. So while one may say they are an introvert, there are circumstances where they will become more extraverted. By emphasizing one category over another, for example by saying one is an extravert and not an introvert, the MBTI ignores any tendency towards the other category, distorting the way personality actually works.
In addition, while extraversion and introversion have become an important area of study in psychology, the other three dimensions of the MBTI have little scientific backing. So the extraversion/introversion dimension may bear some relationshipto other research. In particular, extraversion is one of the Big Five personality traits. Yet, there is no research showing that the other dimensions identify discrete differences between people.
Reliability and Validity
In addition to the above objections, the MBTI hasn’t stood up to scientific standards of reliability and validity. Reliability means a test produces the same results each time one takes it. So if the MBTI is reliable, an individual should always fall into the same personality type, whether they re-take the test a week later or 20 years later. However, research indicates that between 40 and 75 percent of test-takers are categorized into a different type when they take the test a second time. Because the either/or categories of the test’s four dimensions aren’t as clear-cut as the MBTI would make it seem, people who may actually have similar traits and fall towards the middle of a given dimension may be labeled with different personality types. This also leads to people getting very different results if they take the test more than once.
Validity means a test measures what it says it measures. When subjected to statistical analysis, it was found that the MBTI accounted for a very small percentage of personality differences found among participants. In addition, other studies have failed to find a relationship between MBTI personality type and occupational satisfaction or success. Thus, the evidence suggests that the MBTI doesn’t meaningfully measure personality type.
You many be wondering why the MBTI remains in use if the science doesn’t support it. This may come down to the test’s intuitive appeal as an easy way to understand the self by learning about the type one falls into. Plus, the test’s emphasis on the equal value of all personality types makes discovering one’s type inherently positive and encouraging.
Where to Take the MBTI
There are many free versions of the MBTI available online. These are not the official test, which must be purchased. However, these variations approximate the real thing. If you do choose to take one of these tests, keep in mind the above criticisms of the MBTI and don’t take your results as an absolute reflection of your personality.
- Block, Melissa. “How the Myers-Briggs Personality Test Began in a Mother’s Living Room Lab. NPR, 22 September 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/09/22/650019038/how-the-myers-briggs-personality-test-began-in-a-mothers-living-room-lab
- Cherry, Kendra. “An Overview of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.” Verywell Mind, 14 March 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-myers-briggs-type-indicator-2795583
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