Can We Stop Fighting Over the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?

IntrovertDear.com MBTI fighting

“Did you say INFJ? You know that stuff is BS.”

Without hesitation, I was on my feet and into the next room, demanding that the speaker convince me of his dismissal. As I had suspected, he had watched one of many videos about why the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is hogwash made up by a couple of housewives who didn’t know anything. When I confronted him with new information, he backed off, but I didn’t feel like I’d won anything.

The rest of the night, I ran through the conversation over and over in my mind. It had been civil enough, if slightly defensive on both sides. The week before, I had come across yet another video and two more articles insisting that the MBTI is silly nonsense and totally meaningless. But, upon further research, I discovered that none of these were providing the full story.

As with so many similar situations, I could feel the dialogue (both online and in my real life) devolving into a defensive back-and-forth between two groups working upon different facts. MBTI advocates are often unpersuaded by arguments against it, because they know from their own experience that the MBTI can be a helpful tool in self-understanding.

MBTI critics, on the other hand, have had a different experience. They find their results inaccurate or constantly changing, and, after hearing that the women who developed it were not psychologists at all, write the MBTI off as meaningless.

But, when we look at all the facts, there’s really no reason to be fighting.

Is the MBTI Un-Scientific? Yes, Sort Of

Many articles and videos critiquing the MBTI insist that it was developed by two “bored housewives” or something similar, but there’s a little more to the story than that.

Though both Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers held degrees (in agriculture and political science, respectively), neither held a degree in psychology or training in psychometrics. With inspiration from Carl Jung, Briggs and Myers developed their theory from their own ideas and observations. Though Briggs initially developed these ideas on her own, Myers joined, motivated by the onset of World War II, to develop a theory by which people could better understand and relate to each other, even through our differences.

The scientific rigorousness that is required of psychology today was not required in those days. So, though the assessment was tested for validity, it wasn’t tested to modern standards, nor was it developed using the scientific method. In that sense, the MBTI is, indeed, un-scientific.

In his blog post for Psychology Today, Dr. John A. Johnson confronts the accusation that a lay person in professional psychology cannot make meaningful contributions. In fact, he wholeheartedly disagrees. He writes, “Imagine what two smart, highly-motivated women might accomplish if they put their minds to it.” This description is a far cry from the bored housewife stereotypes portrayed by many critics. Briggs and Myers might not have been professional psychologists, but they were college-educated women who were serious and passionate in their endeavour.

The critique that the MBTI is un-scientific is a valid one, but, like most history, the true story is more nuanced. Psychology is and always has been built upon the foundations of behavioral observations that began long before psychology was held to the modern standards of science.

Don’t Put Me In a Box!

Beyond the background of the MBTI, many critics still object to the assessment itself. The first of these objections is that personality traits are more accurately depicted on a spectrum, rendering the categories of the Myers-Briggs assessment obsolete. For example, people typically identify themselves as either an extrovert or an introvert, but extroversion and introversion exist on a spectrum with individuals leaning more towards one or the other.

However, many do understand the Myers-Briggs types as a series of four spectrums, rather than opposing categories.

For example, as an INTJ personality type, I fall more towards the “Thinking” end of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean I am completely lacking in a “Feeling” trait; it only means that on the spectrum of decision making, I tend towards the “T” end.

As a child, this preference was so strong that it expressed itself in resentment for my own feelings and those of others, but, as I matured, I learned to integrate my feelings properly into my personality. Therefore, I likely fall nearer to the middle of the spectrum than I did as a child, but I still ultimately favor “Thinking.”

When looking for evidence of strict categories, research psychologists are typically looking for “bi-modalism,” which is a distribution of data that peaks on either side and dips in the middle. However, many tests on the MBTI do not show this. Instead, we see the majority of the data occurring in the middle, indicating that the majority of tests subjects do not fall near the “extreme” ends of each category, but rather close to the middle where the distinction is less discernible.

However, I think it is still possible to understand the MBTI “categories” as spectrums without doing away with the terminology altogether. It seems the most helpful gift the MBTI has given us is a language with which to express the inner workings of our minds and a pathway by which to relate to others whom we would otherwise struggle to understand.

Let’s Stop Fighting, Okay?

Ultimately, many arguments both for and against the MBTI are valid and reasonable opinions, and research has not yet delivered an absolute or objective sentence on it either way.

No one knows what further research surrounding the MBTI and other personality indicators will reveal. I do know the MBTI types strike a chord with many people (including myself), but there are also people with whom the MBTI does not resonate.

Some people say their result is inaccurate or changes every time they take the test. To them, I say, take it or leave it. If you don’t find it helpful and it does not interest you, then by all means abandon it.

But I do find it helpful — in relating to new people and in self-understanding — and I’m quite interested in the ideas it presents. So, let’s not fight anymore. Let’s just try to understand each other.

When answering what she desired for her life and work, Isabel Myers said, “To be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

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    • KRAFFT

      It’s so great to read something a little more broadly researched on here than the typical listicles, so thank you!

    • SANDEE MARTINDALE

      I don’t really care one way or the other. Taking the MBTI was the first time I finally understood myself I took the test a couple of times and still ended up with the same 4 letters It helped me so much to understand myself, the way i relate to the world and set me on a path to self discovery some people it doesn’t help fine but for me it was a game changer thankyou for the article it made me understand the MBTI better

    • Chad Baldwin

      Here’s the problem with MBTI:

      1. Everyone thinks they’re an INFJ. No one is a sensor.
      2. Online test are terrible and we need to eradicate them. Or make one that is 99.99% accurate… which I think is impossible.
      3. Most people don’t know the functions, which leads to type confusion which makes everyone think they’re and INFJ. The reality is an ISFP can be highly organized not because of the letter ‘J’ but because of conditioning and because they lead with a Judging function.
      4. Stereotypes.

      We need to hold EVERYONE to a stricter standard when it comes to talking about the model, otherwise the validity of the model is ruined.

      That said, you can use it as a tool for good and it does help people. It’s not a hole, it’s a tool to help understand some of your downfalls and strengths.

      • I was first tested in college for MBTI by a trained counselor and I got INFJ. No matter what quiz I’ve taken since, legitimate or otherwise, it always ends up the same. However, I have found that a disproportionate amount of people say they are INFJ’s too. So much for rare (although since INFJ’s are notorious writers, I just wonder if they’re the ones speaking up about it on blogs).

        My sister was one of these, and it baffled me. She insisted she was an INFJ (from a test she sort of remembered in high school) so I finally made her take another test. Turns out she was actually an INFP, which made all the sense in the world. I think a lot of people take tests based on what they wish they were or what they hope to be – and this seemed true of her as well. She still felt drawn to the INFJ type, even though INFP was much more in line with who she was.

        However, I only personally know one other genuine INFJ besides me, and the rest have fallen into ESTP, ENFP, ESFJ, and ISFJ. So the sensors are out there.

        I agree that a stricter test would still be valuable, but I also think we need to approach type as more fluid, like the article suggests. Yes I am an INFJ, but there are a ton of other things that influence personality. I’ve noticed that several INFJ’s prefer to be more isolated than I ever like to be, but that doesn’t make me or them any less INFJ, just variable on the spectrum.

        I like to think of the MBTI as a magnifying glass that is able to zoom in on one part of myself and explain some of the things there. But a magnifying glass is unable to interpret the entire picture.

        • Mike Pesmenski

          I notice a trend moving to a more empirical second study of Jungian Psychology/explanations. Its kinda like technology has caught up to studying the brain and the world is finally getting over Freudian explanations for human behavior in favor of biological understandings. People can hate on briggs but its a step to a deeper understandings of how we actually work. Cognitive Style and Neurology are starting to explain how differently we interpret and prioritize the world. Taking these things into account have helped me really see others and myself and find new directions and approaches… people resent psychology in general how dare you violate my delusions of being unique and a unpredictable individual! Psycology and the social sciences have told me a horrifyingly different story, I start to wonder if part of it is that this is sorta a threat to some pretty deep unconscious beliefs about ourselves.

    • Susan Douglas Anthony

      Every single time I take it I get the same result, INTJ. At the same time I am old enough to recognize how life experiences, including a long career, have affected some of those traits. For example, I have a greater tolerance for small talk than might be typical for my “type ” but that also has to do with having come to recognize the usefulness of small talk in setting people at ease and establishing a rapport with them. That makes me more effective at my job. Scientific validity is a good thing but when it comes to dealing with people there is “art” as well as science.

    • Mike Pesmenski

      People cant hate on Meyers Briggs all they want, cognitive psychology is holding better explanations then Freudian explanations and is starting to be validated by neuroscience. As highly intelligent social mammals cognitive specialization makes a great deal of sense. I didnt make sense until I understood myself from a cognitive perspective and how vastly different my perspective really is from others experience and realize that I have been sizing people up this way and changing my communication tactics from what I gleamed from people as I talked to them. I take it for granted, but this is one of my specializations and I find people rely on me for that the way I rely on others traits in other ways. Those who write this stuff off completely are ignorant, stuff clearly is going on here that can be tested in empirical ways….