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The Truth About Myers-Briggs Types

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most widely used psychological test. It is also one of the most misused psychological instruments. Here is some additional information, criticisms, and cautions concerning this very popular test. Read More

What problems?

"So, there are problems with both the theory and the construction of the MBTI."
What problems? The fact that two women interpreted Jung's theories (hypotheses, really)? Are their ideas less valid than Jung's?

The Big 5 is no better

I keep hearing how the Big 5 personality profile is better than MBTI because it has a continuum, and people are scored with numbers. It uses a spread of 5 points, from -2.5 to +2.5.

So… If that is better, then explain to me what is the difference between two people, where one person has a score of -1.3 on the trait of agreeableness, and another has a score of -1.4?

You can't do it. No one can.

The only way you can show difference is when the scores between the people are very large, say -1.4 and +1.9.

Did you get that? You might as well use a dichotomy: an either/or. Which is exactly what MBTI uses. Incidentally, the trait of "agreeableness" measures the same as the "Thinking vs Feeling" trait in MBTI.

The other aspect of continuum scoring, which the Big 5 uses, is that it is difficult to see the effects of trait combinations. With simple letters, it is easy to compare a person with the NT combination versus the NF letter combination. Even though they share one letter-trait in common, they are completely different but yet completely predictable. Letter-combinations pop right out in the research data. Meanwhile, with the Big 5, you're still trying to figure out the difference between a -1.3 and a -1.4 score that you haven't even bothered to look at how the other traits interact together.

MBTI may have its flaws, but I find it far more useful and infinitely more practical than the "scholarly" systems like the Big 5.

It's about validity, not practicality

The Big Five has been well-validated, including both construct validity and predictive validity. There is virtually no evidence of predictive validity for the MBTI. But your concerns are about the practical use of the Big Five, and it is really a research tool, although I'm sure that you could provide good feedback to someone using it. But, that still doesn't have anything to do with the poor psychometric properties of the MBTI. Look at some of the criticisms of MBTI.

Data is data

rriggio wrote:
The Big Five has been well-validated, including both construct validity and predictive validity. There is virtually no evidence of predictive validity for the MBTI.

Here is the big secret you don't want people to find out…

The questions used in the Big 5 personality questionnaire are similar to the four traits of the MBTI. Here is a comparison:

Big 5 --> MBTI

Extroversion --> E versus Introvert (high values of Extroversion correspond to having the E trait in MBTI)
Openness --> S versus N (High "openness: values corresponds to having the iNtuition trait in MBTI)
Agreeableness --> T versus F (high agreeableness values correlate to having the Feeling trait)
Conscientiousness --> J versus P (high values of Conscientiousness correspond to the person having the Judging trait)

The only difference is that Big 5 has the Neuroticism category, which doesn't have a correlation in the MBTI. But I don't trust people to self report on neuroticism anyway.

To sum things up: what you're saying is that MBTI has no predictive values, but when it reality, they are measuring the same traits. Therefore, by your logic, the Big 5 should have no predictive value either.

Your argument, doesn't make logical sense. If MBTI doesn't have predictive value (and it measures the same things), then Big 5 doesn't either.

My perspective is that they are equal in validity. I use data from both systems, because they are both measuring the same aspects of a person's personality. But I'm not going to throw out the validity of the MBTI because you don't like that it doesn't have numbers associated with it. Data is data.

" There is virtually no

" There is virtually no evidence of predictive validity for the MBTI."

That's because people are mistyped through the use of ridiculous tests. If you properly type someone according to the actual theory behind Jungian typology, then the predictive validity becomes amazing. But this requires a LOT of time and a good working knowledge of the principles behind Jungian typology, just to administer a valid test, which can only take place face to face and one on one, because each answer has to be carefully examined. You can't just throw a questionnaire at a bunch of people to answer on their own. Which means that nobody is interested in investigating it *seriously* :/

yes, yes

Yes, yes, the psychometric properties of the Myers-Briggs self-report test are poor. We get it.

It remains true that:
1. The Myers-Briggs categories are almost identical to the Big 5 traits (with the exception of neuroticism). They are valid dimensions of personality, even if the test isn't very good at measuring them.

2. The Big 5 is hugely value-laden, and the Myers-Briggs is not. This is a big advantage of the Myers-Briggs, because every personality trait is beneficial under some circumstances and harmful under others. Research on the Big 5 tends to gloss over this.

The problem is in the testing.

The MBTI as an indicator is brilliant. It neatly sums up in a four letter combination the 16 main Jungian types.

The problem is in the way people are tested to figure out their type.

Let's take an example: INFJ (that's what I am, yes :P )

* What it does NOT mean: that I am I + N + F + J

* What it DOES mean: that I have Ni as my Dominant function, and Fe as my Auxiliary.
Here is how it goes:
1. iNtuition and Feeling as my main functions => NF core
2. Of the two, it's my Judging function which is Extraverted => J (which on its own means that I can be either NiFe or FeNi)
3. My Introverted function is Dominant => I (thus NiFe)

You'll notice that NONE of these four letters can be tested for:
- I vs. E only tells you the attitude of the Dominant function. But you can't test for Ni, Fi, Ti and Si in the same way. So there's no testing for "I".
- N vs. S only tells you if your main Perceiving functions is either Se/Si or Ne/Ni. But again, there's absolutely no way to test for both Se and Si at the same time, or Ne and Ni, so there's no testing for "S" vs. "N".
- Same with F vs. T.
- As for J and P, there are pure indicators only here to indicate how the rest of the three letters go together. You might as well test for the colour of the sky that day.

This doesn't mean that it's impossible to determine someone's type. But it's definitely FAR more complicated than just having people answer a bunch of dichotomy questions!

For the record: every single dichotomy test always puts me as an INFP, which is vastly different from an INFJ. It was only when I found a test which tested for the way we use the different functions that I discovered my main function is Ni, and then when I read an explanation about the roles (archetypes) played by each function according to its rank in the type (Dominant, Auxiliairy, etc...), it suddenly all made sense. "I'm an INFJ, duh!"

More of the same arguments

People act differently. Jung, Myers, and Briggs developed a system whereby we could classify those differences. It was as simple as that. Then, applications for the use and development of those differences were developed across various areas of life. A quality critique is most always a useful pursuit as we strive to improve our collective knowledge. However, I find these arguments largely misguided and lacking in substance.

To start, there is the claim that MBTI categorization of type facets is a psychometric problem. We live in a world of categorization. The human brain innately strives to categorize everything. You are correct in pointing out that personality type facets run along a continuum. We are able to and do use all functions. However, we do have a psychological preference for one of the two facets in each dichotomy. The facet of our preference will come naturally, feel more comfortable to use, and be an area in which we can easily excel. Alternatively, we can and do use our non-preferred functions when necessary. Using these functions generally requires a more concentrated effort, and can lead to mental exhaustion and high levels of stress when we’re required to sustain the use of our non-preferred functions. Additionally, we tend to use these functions poorly compared with a person who does have a preference for that facet, and will revert to our preferred function as soon as possible. Thus, while we can and do use all facets across the continuum, we have psychological preferences for particular functions. The categorization of the MBTI facets sort us based on those facets that we psychologically prefer, and feel most comfortable using. These categories do not imply that one never utilizes the processes of a non-preferred function.

Secondly, people can get different results from their MBTI assessment for a multitude of reasons. The theory holds that each person has an innate type preference. During the administration of an assessment, we are asking the person to self-report their preferences for various scenarios and processes. Many people tend to behave differently while in a work situation than they would at home with friends. Chronic or extreme stress, substance intoxication, major life changes, and many other factors easily take a person from being and experiencing themselves normally to being and thinking out of their ordinary. Certified Practitioners of the MBTI assessment understand that persons undergoing major stress or life changes may have difficulty expressing their preferences accurately. Certified Practitioners explain to their clients what a “preference” means, that all people do use all functions at times, and that the client should answer the questions with regard to what they most prefer or feel most at-home doing, rather than answer based on how they must be at work or with certain persons.

Additionally, there are decades upon decades of research into the facet dichotomies, and the reliability and validity of the assessment. One simply has to have access to the appropriate databases. CAPT maintains a library where scores of research publications are held. The Journal of Psychological Type can be reviewed online for free: ( And if that is too much, there are texts that summarize much of the research that has been conducted. In addition, recent neuro-scientific evidence by Dr. Dario Nardi at UCLA supports the “fundamentally” different ways the brains function across the sixteen types used in the MBTI assessment. Thus, there is plenty of research available for various aspects of the functions of type and for the assessment itself.

Are there limitations? Of course there are limitations. No single assessment (psychological, intelligence, personality, substance addiction, or forensic) will ever represent a person in their entirety. The assessment does not attempt to capture the intricacies of one’s religious upbringing, cultural or environmental influences, intelligence or ability, or even maturity in utilizing the preferences. The MBTI assessment is used to help a person understand their psychological preferences so that they can find ways to utilize their strengths, develop their areas of challenge, and create a lifestyle in which they may find more satisfaction.

Is the assessment mis-used? Absolutely. Now, the mis-use of the assessment is certainly worth writing home about. Results from the MBTI should never be used to select employees or determine the compatibility of couples. There are inherent strengths and areas of challenge in each of the sixteen types. Employees can use their results to help them understand and define work environments in which they may find more satisfaction. For example: Structured work environments tend to be favored by _S_J types (without regard to the T or F preferences) as they do tend to value structure, routine, and reliability. Alternatively, a highly structured and routine work environment may send _N_P types flying through the nearest exit. However, the results do not speak to intelligence or ability.
Couples can use the results of the MBTI to understand their communication and conflict styles, and learn how to stretch their preferences when trying to reach their mate. This holds for the parent-child relationship as well. The assessment should not be used to make compatibility determinations, but can and should be used to help those in relationships relate better.

The MBTI assessment appropriately serves the purpose for which it was developed. It is a highly informative and important tool, and can absolutely help people find ways to organize their lives in ways that can bring higher levels of satisfaction across various domains of life. I have read the arguments against the MBTI. More commonly than not, these arguments first invent and then refute uses of the MBTI that not even the MBTI claims as uses of the instrument. Then these same arguments are regurgitated by the next naysayer. Highlighting practical limitations is an important conversation and serves a vital function to administrators and users of any instrument. But it is important that, before publishing strong arguments against any instrument, the arguments contain a useful depth of knowledge on the subject and be analytically sound.

The problem with the Big Five

The problem with the Big Five is that it measures character flaws, not personality. Low conscientiousness a character flaw by definition. Low agreeableness isn't a good thing either - any mature person knows it's important to respectfully stand one's ground. Low openness is basically just low intelligence, while extremely high openness suggests mental health issues. And I certainly can't see anything good about high neuroticism.

Instead I'd recommend using Myers Briggs with the full 81 types - use an X when a person is in the middle on something.

With this notation, XSFJ would probably be the most common type. SFJs see etiquette as a high priority, so a lot of them hover between E and I.

I recently took the Myers

I recently took the Myers Briggs test and was impressed with what I found out about myself. I was so stuck on wanting to be an attorney I never thought about any other options. When I went to school I realized that it just wasn't for me. Not only did I not like the classes them self I heard about how their were so many over crowded Law Schools. The chances of me making real money would be slim to none. Who can afford those student loans, especially when your not making good money. I took the test and found out I was completely different from the court room type. I actually realized I had an entrepreneurial state of mind. I ended up going for marketing and loved it. Now I work in a ad company and run a business on the side. If your confused about where your career is going or hate your job, check out this link and take one of the MBIT test. Trust me, it helps.

Using the Big 5

The Big 5 seems to have trouble catching on due (in part) to practicality and marketing. Towards solving that problem, here is practical tool for facilitating an interactive Big 5 assessment debrief with a small group. Individuals receive their score report, receive definitions of the dimensions, but their scores are missing dimension labels. As a group, they try to determine which scores correspond to which dimensions using what they already think they know about themselves. Includes references to a number of measures of the Big 5, some of which are public domain. It is recommended to use more than one measure to demonstrate consistency across instruments measuring the same thing in slightly different ways.

Anderson, M. H. (2008). Discovering your personality: A group exercise in personal sensemaking. Journal of Management Education, 32(5), 651-676.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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