Archive for the ‘personality testing’ Category

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, in all its official and unofficial forms, is one of the most popular personality tests in the world today. It is widely used in by human resource managers, student counselors, and by just about any other kind of person who needs to assess others. Indirectly, it frequently determines whether people are hired or promoted, or get the break for which they have been waiting. Yet, for all its widespread use, I remain deeply skeptical of the basic concepts behind Myers-Briggs testing. Not only does it seem too simplistic and scientifically unsound, but, if my results are any indications, it fails to give a consistent enough picture of personality to make it reliable.

As you may know, Myers-Briggs testing is based on four axes: Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I); Sensing (S) and Intuition (N); Thinking (T) and Feeling (F), and Judging (J) and Perception (P). The poles you are closest to can be put into a four-letter abbreviation that summarizes your general tendencies, such as INFJ.

But why these four scales, I have to wonder? Does anything in the study of psychology suggest these four dichotomies over any others? Why, is there not a fifth category, such as visual versus written learning methods? Or physical versus mental activity, or types of organization?

While some additional implications are added to the four axes in the less superficial versions of Meyers-Briggs, the basic structure seems largely arbitrary. The categories are clearly not based on anything impartial. If I show people four blue circles and two red squares, those who are not color-blind or altogether sightless will agree on what they are seeing, but I doubt that people unaquainted with Meyers-Briggs will naturally divide personality into four types, or that, if they do, their four types will correspond to Meyers-Briggs. That’s why, for all the popularity of Meyers-Briggs, many psychologists do not give it much credence.

Similarly, when I notice that Meyers-Briggs gives sixteen basic types of personality, my first reaction is that at least that’s four better than horoscopes manage. The comment is unfair, since people can be anywhere along these four scales, which provides for more variety, but the impression of over-simplicity remains. What, I always wonder, is not being measured by Meyers-Briggs? And what is distorted because it registers on the tests but the tests are unable to diagnose it successfully?

As for the either/or questions that make up many forms of Myers-Briggs testing, don’t get me started. For many people, these are false oppositions. Albert Einstein, for example, preferred solitude for work, but could be extremely gregarious when his work was done. I suspect that most people do not think in terms of either/or on many questions of preference, either – I certainly don’t.

Another point that is deeply misleading is the common contention that Myers-Briggs testing is based on the work of Carl Gustav Jung. Being one of the few people I know who has ever read Jung, I strongly suspect that this claim stands only because almost no one is acquainted with Jung.

In fact, the main precursors to Myers-Briggs that you find in Jung are some simple diagrams with two axes (Intuition / Sensation and Feeling / Thinking), and a separate discussion of extraverts and introverts. The addition of Judging/Perception is the work of Myers and Briggs, and so is the codification – Jung was throwing out conceptual ideas rather than ones that could be observed and given a score. These conceptual ideas can be useful – which is why “extrovert” and “introvert” became part of everyday English – but Jung shows no signs of seeing his axes as something that can or should be directly analyzed. In many ways, Myers and Briggs have gone so far beyond anything that Jung intended that the insistence that their work is in any way Jungian seems nothing more than a rather desperate attempt to evoke the name of one of psychology’s great names to bolster a rather dubious theory. In other words, it’s a marketing ploy — and, personally, I tend to mistrust anything with misleading advertising.

However, the real reason I distrust Myers-Briggs testing is that my results can vary widely, not only from test to test, but also from day to day. Looking at the first four online tests I found when searching under “Myers-Briggs,” I received four results when I took them one after the other: ENFJ, ENFP, ESTJ, and INFJ. Similarly, taking the first one on two separate days, my results were ENFJ and INFJ. For the second test, on subsequent days I registered as an ENFP, INFJ, and INFP.

These results do show some general patterns. For example, I definitely register as relying on Intuition more than Sensing, Feeling more than Thinking, and Judging more than Perception. However, Sensing, Thinking, and Perception do show up, depending on the test I take and the day I took it. As for the extravert/introvert distinction, I seem evenly divided, even when other aspects stay the same.

Possibly, I am more mercurial than most people, or my personality is close to being balanced on the four axes. However, the fact that different variants of Myers-Briggs produced only broadly similar results, and none of them could produce consistent results from day to day makes me incline me to suspect that the problem lies either in the tests or their theoretical framework. If Myers-Briggs was an accurate indicator of personality, then surely it would have some way to register people whose temperament varied. Furthermore, if the results corresponded closely to any objective reality, then more consistency should be present.

Of course, none of these tests were the official Myers-Briggs ones, but online ones whose thoroughness and reliability are questionable. However, I have taken Myers-Brigg tests in the past under more formal conditions, and their reliability was no better. So, again, I suspect the tests are the problem.

At any rate, common sense and direct experience both cause me to be highly skeptical of all forms of Myers-Brigg testing. Like I.Q. tests, Myers-Brigg tests seem to be dubiously conceived, and far more influential than their equally dubious results would warrant.

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