“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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