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What Is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment of personality based on questions about a person’s preferences in four domains: focusing outward or inward; attending to sensory information or adding interpretation; deciding by logic or by situation; and making judgments or remaining open to information. The MBTI was initially developed in the 1940s by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabell Briggs Myers, loosely based on a personality typology created by psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

When responses are scored, the assessment yields a psychological “type” summarized in four letters, one for each preference: Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I); Sensing (S) or Intuiting (N); Thinking (T) or Feeling (F); and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). The results combined into one of 16 possible type descriptions, such as ENTJ or ISFP.

While the MBTI is used by many organizations to select new personnel and has been taken millions of times, personality psychologists and other scientists report that it has relatively little scientific validity. Psychologists who investigate personality typically rely on scientifically developed assessments of traits clustered into five (the Big Five) or six (HEXACO) domains.

Is the Myers-Briggs Legitimate?

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Why do experts take issue with the MBTI? One reason is that while the Myers-Briggs assigns people distinct types, scientific evidence indicates that personalities do not fit neatly into 16 boxes.

Traits are more accurately viewed not as categorical dichotomies—extrovert or an introvert, thinker or feeler—but as continuous dimensions: For each trait, an individual can rate relatively high, low, or somewhere in the middle, and most people fall in the middle. Personality tests favored by scientists, such as the Big Five Inventory, describe each personality not in categorical terms, but rather based on how high or low a person scores on each of five (or six) non-overlapping traits.

The MBTI’s type-based feedback is also not especially consistent; a person who takes the test twice may well receive two different type designations. Moreover, the MBTI omits genuine aspects of personality that have negative connotations, such as neuroticism (emotional instability) or facets of low conscientiousness. It is untrue that the MBTI measures nothing at all, however. Research suggests that when MBTI preferences are evaluated as continuous dimensions, rather than split into categories, there is some correlation with scores on the Big Five traits.

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