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Is The Meyers-Briggs Test Meaningless?

mbti-meyers-briggsThe Myers-Briggs personality test is used by companies the world over but the evidence is that it’s nowhere near as useful as its popularity suggests.

I was recently reviewing some psychological lectures for my real job. One of these was on personality tests. The speaker mentioned the Myers-Briggs test, explaining that, while well known (I personally know it from a Dilbert cartoon) the Myers-Briggs test isn’t recognised as being scientifically valid so is largely ignored by the field of psychology. I tweeted this fact, thinking it would be of passing interest to a few people. I was unprepared for the intensity of the replies I got. I learned several things that day.

1. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is used by countless organisations and industries, although one of the few areas that doesn’t use it is psychology, which says a lot.
2. Many people who have encountered the MBTI in the workplace really don’t have a lot of positive things to say about it.
3. For some organisations, use of the MBTI seemingly crosses the line into full-blown ideology.

So how did something that apparently lacks scientific credibility become such a popular and accepted tool?

The MBTI was developed during World War 2 by Myers and Briggs (obviously), two housewives who developed a keen interest in the works of Carl Jung. They developed the MBTI based on Jung’s theories, with the intention of producing a useful test that would allow women entering the workforce to be assigned jobs that would be best suited to their personalities.

This is already enough to make some people wary. Myers and Briggs weren’t trained scientists, but you don’t need to be scientifically qualified to make a very valid contribution to science. Look at Galaxy Zoo. Also, deriving all your information from a single source is always questionable in science, even if it weren’t the work of Jung, whose theories were/are very influential and far reaching but largely scientifically untestable and subject to numerous criticisms. But the debate around the validity of Jung’s theories certainly isn’t something I could settle in a blogpost.

The trouble is, the more you look into the specifics of the MBTI, the more questionable the way it’s widespread use appears to be. There are numerous comprehensive critiques about it online, but the most obvious flaw is that the MBTI seems to rely exclusively on binary choices.

Read more: Nothing Personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test | Science | The Guardian

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6 CONVERSATIONS

  1. I find myself talking about Meyers-Briggs quite a bit.

    Positives
    (1) common business language
    (2) consistency
    (3) self-awareness of how we perceive ourselves and how others see us

    Negatives
    (1) Assumptions it is based on is no longer valid.
    (2) No next steps on how to execute findings to improve human capital or training.
    (3) Gained unfounded cult status that can restrict new ideas and innovations.

  2. the problem is that too many people rattle of the 4 letters that apply to them – and forget that there is a lot of nuance in between that gets ignored – MB has me nailed – and I find it most helpful in knowing how to better engage with another ‘type’ – should you live by it … no – but is it a useful tool when properly understood with other tests … yes

  3. I find it interesting that a writer who has never taken the MBTI can make such definitive statements about its worthlessness, simply based upon tweets in response to his comment that the MBTI is not used by “real psychologists.”

    He did a little research and found that Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers Briggs had no scientific training (true) and that it was aimed at housewives returning to the workforce after WWI. Now, my certification training gave a wee bit more background about these women and the work they did to research, document and revise the instrument. Every instrument starts somewhere (returning housewives?) but evolves as the audience evolves, as has the MBTI.

    Talk about either/or! He damns the instrument as psychobabble at the same time he demeans the instrument for creating either/or – you are an extravert or you are an introvert – nothin in between. In fact, the dichotomy of E/I is rich with nuance and yes, you can be smack dab in the middle.

    And if you venture into MBTI Step II you can get deeper insight into each question, how you responded and how those responses might interact with each other.

    I guess you can tell I like the instrument and I use it. And I tell those I work with, “it is not an absolute, it is not a test, there is no right or wrong, and the only thing this gives you is insight into why you may prefer a certain behavior over another. Once armed with that knowledge, you can begin to make better choices.”

    Is it helpful? I worked with a leadership team welcoming a new CEO and introduced the MBTI as a way to begin to recognize that everyone was not out to get everyone else – a phenomenon that began before the CEO arrived. It made a useful communication tool. But when the CEO found, after several months, that he couldn’t get the team to understand where he was trying to go, we talked about why that might happen, and found that he preferred iNutition (big picture) to details, and his team was predominantly Sensors (detail oriented). A small change to get them involved in working out the details move them forward lightyears.

    And you want to understand conflict? Look at the Thinkers and Feelers. One focuses on logic, one focuses on his own personal values. For either preference, it is very hard to see the other side, but having a method of talking about it without making it personal, can be incredibly helpful.

    It is scientifically valid? I have a two-inch book from my certification program that provides just about every research finding possible. But I know that, if you help people get to they why, in terms of their and others’ behavior, the tool can be helpful.

    Just don’t damn something that your entire research thesis is looking up two women on Wikipedia.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom of (real) experience here Carol. Certainly put’s the Author’s Article in proper perspective.

    • then again – that has proven to be the world we are moving towards – why bring on an expert with facts – when you can rely on your own less informed opinion.

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