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The Myers-Briggs personality test: Fact or fiction?

The Myers-Briggs personality test chart

The Myers-Briggs personality test determines where you fall on this chart.

The Myers-Briggs personality test: Fact or fiction?

By Mary Van Doren on November 09, 2017

After more than 70 years, the Myers-Briggs personality test still fascinates

Is there anyone in the universe who hasn’t heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test?

First published in 1944, the Myers-Briggs personality test is wildly popular as an indicator of academic and business talents. CPP, a company that administrates the Myers Test Indicator (MBTI), reports that colleges and universities worldwide use the test, as do 89 of the Fortune 500 companies. And the MBTI  earns some $20 million a year for the organizations that own the rights to it.

One industry that largely disregards the test: Psychology. Mental health professionals tend to regard the MBTI as something more akin to a horoscope than a professional diagnostic tool.

Still, there seems to be a medium ground on the MBTI that is often embraced by lay enthusiasts and counselors of various types. The key is to use the test as an indicator but not a bulletproof diagnosis.

The test itself asks a number of questions about your preferences:

  • Your favorite world: Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
  • How you process information: Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
  • Making decisions: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Structure: Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

The test was developed based on a theory of psychological types that was introduced in the 1920s by Swedish psychologist Carl G. Jung.

The Internet is full of MBTI personality test designations for celebrities, of course, and they can actually be useful when you're trying to understand the different types. Here are a few that are quite informative:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: ESTJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging)

ESTJs are practical, realistic, and matter-of-fact, with a natural head for business or mechanics. Though they're not interested in subjects they see no use for, they can apply themselves when necessary. They're organized and make good administrators, especially if they remember to consider others' feelings and points of view.

President Bill Clinton: ESFJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging)

People who share the ESFJ personality type are the "popular" kids – which makes sense, given that it's also a very common personality type. In high school, ESFJs are the cheerleaders and the quarterbacks, setting the tone, taking the spotlight and leading their teams forward to victory and fame. Later in life, ESFJs continue to enjoy supporting their friends and loved ones, organizing social gatherings and doing their best to make sure everyone's happy.

President Jimmy Carter: ISFJ (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging)

According to Myers-Briggs, ISFJs are interested in maintaining order and harmony in every aspect of their lives. They are steadfast and meticulous in handling their responsibilities. Although quiet, they're people-oriented and very observant. Not only do they remember details about others, but they observe and respect others’ feelings. Friends and family are likely to describe them as thoughtful and trustworthy.

President Donald Trump: ESTP (Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, and Perceiving)

Myers-Briggs says ESTPs are hands-on learners who live in the moment, seeking the best in life, wanting to share it with their friends. The ESTP is open to situations, able to improvise to bring about desired results. They are active people who want to solve their problems rather than simply discuss them.

For fun, consider these fictional characters we're all familiar with:

  • Jack Bauer (24)
  • Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones movies series)
  • John McClane (Die Hard movie series)
  • James Bond (James Bond books and movies)

All of them are ISTP (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving) personality types.

According to Myers-Briggs, ISTPs excel at analyzing situations to reach the heart of a problem so that they can swiftly implement a functional repair. Naturally quiet people, they're interested in understanding how systems operate, focusing on efficient operation and structure. 

ISTPs may sometimes seem to act without regard for procedures, directions, protocol, or even their own safety. But while their approach may seem haphazard, in fact it's based on a broad store of knowledge collected over time through quiet action and keen observation. 

Clearly, the ISTP type is perfect for action heroes! Which famous real people are ISTPs? WWII General Erwin Rommel, Apple founder Steve Jobs, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, filmmaker Woody Allen, musician Frank Zappa, actor Tom Cruise, and Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey.
 

The Myers-Briggs personality test in the real world

As its critics point out, the MBTI puts human beings into black-and-white categories, while in reality, personalities exhibit many gray areas. Therefore, they say, it can’t be used as tool to understand things like career preferences, compatibility or child-rearing.

Psychologist David Pittenger argues that there is “no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation … nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types.”

On the other hand, Dr. W.D. Nicholas, a psychologist and Expert on JustAnswer, notes that “many personality assessments are used to help a client understand his/her motivations and behaviors better. They can also help a counselor understand the client better.”

Dr. Nicholas explains, “Once a personality assessment has been administered and the results determined, people will fit into ‘general’ types. That's not to say that there aren't individual differences, because there surely are!

“But these differences are easier to understand in the context of one's personality ‘type.’ “

And Elliott, a psychotherapist Expert on JustAnswer, recommends two programs he used in his career counseling studies, which, he says are still the two of choice. These are the Myers-Briggs personality test and the Strong career test.

“They can be taken online and are very helpful. This is what you would get if you went to a professional career counselor,” Elliott says.

Another Expert on JustAnswer, psychotherapist Dr. Rossi, also explains that the MBTI can help with figuring out a child’s social issues.

“Introversion is a personality trait that would remain consistent in a person's life. An individual can still learn how to manage their introversion because interaction with others throws one into having to engage socially,” she says.

The Myers-Briggs Foundation itself notes that the purpose of the test “is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people's lives.

“The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.”
 

Loving the MBTI

So, is the Myers-Briggs personality test a useful tool, or just a party trick? Millions of people swear by it, and as the experts point out, that’s because it describes all of us in a positive manner. There is no “sociopath” type! And there’s something to be said for painting all our character traits in their most positive light.

Personality psychologist John Johnson notes that even though the MBTI is too black and white for professional use, “so are many other personality evaluations that are far less scrutizined.”

 Johnson doesn’t mind that he’s going against the tide of professional opinion, because he’s interested in the rights of laymen to enjoy a diagnosis without feeling stupid.

"Academic personality psychologists almost universally criticize the MBTI and similar type indicators for not adhering to their professional standards for psychological assessment," he says.

"The controversy is more between academic psychologists on the one hand and, on the other hand, practitioners in other fields who use the MBTI for workshops as well as people who take the MBTI and find value in it."

And there is no universal standard for measuring personality – yet the different traits people exhibit must be examined in order to understand human behavior. In that light, the MBTI helps provide a framework to understand all our differences.

You can take the test from the Myers-Briggs Foundation here for $49.95. You can also find several free tests online to get similar results by searching for “free personality test." 

And if you find that your test results feel accurate, knowing your type can certainly give you insight into your personality and relationships with others – and self-exploration is a positive and healthy thing.

“Perhaps,” muses The Atlantic, “the MBTI is more of a starting point for self-discovery, rather than a finishing line.”

If you have questions about the MBTI, or other mental health issues, you can engage with an Expert on JustAnswer at any time, day or night, without making an appointment.

Do you believe the Myers-Briggs personality test is a genuine psychological tool, or is it fake science? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.