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Answers to some common MBTI objections

September 21, 2013

Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die

This article lists four points often given against MBTI. To summarize:

1. The MBTI does poorly on reliability. Research shows “that as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again,”

2. Although there are data suggesting that different occupations attract people of different types, there is no convincing body of evidence that types affect job performance or team effectiveness.

3. A: in the MBTI, thinking and feeling are opposite poles of a continuum. In reality, they’re independent: we have three decades of evidence that if you like ideas and data, you can also like people and emotions. …research shows that people with stronger thinking and reasoning skills are also better at recognizing, understanding, and managing emotions.
B: the feeling type is supposed to tap into my orientation toward people and emotions. But this lumps together three separate traits that capture a positive orientation toward others, the tendency to feel negative emotions, and the receptivity toward these emotions.

4. One of the key elements missing from the MBTI is what personality psychologists call emotional stability versus reactivity — the tendency to stay calm and collected under stress or pressure.

Even introversion-extraversion, the trait the MBTI captured best, is incomplete. …it turns out that like all personality traits, introversion-extraversion is shaped like a bell curve: it’s most common to be in the middle. The vast majority of us are ambiverts: in Dan Pink’s words from To Sell is Human, most people are “neither overly extraverted nor wildly introverted.”

These were my responses:

1. What the MBTI instrument is measuring is Clarity of Preference. If a person gets a different result, it means their clarity has changed (and if they get 50/50, it means they’re totally unclear).
I don’t think there’s any instrument that can fix this. People’s clarities of themselves will change.

Another commenter mentioned it being “classification” rather than “discovery”.
Yes, it’s classification, used as a guideline for the true “discovery”, which is mainly on their own. In MBTI administration, it’s really not even all about the “test” (questionnaire and its results); we’re instructed to describe the preference and have them guess from that what they might be even before giving them the results!
So if they take it again and get a different result, it may mean they’ve simply discovered more about themselves and their true preferences from before. That would be a good thing!
It wasn’t designed to be some absolute identifier, which is what it seems people seem to be expecting of it.

2. The preferences do give ideas of what aspect of a job or team the person might be geared toward. But again, there are many other factors that can change that. Type is just a loose guideline there.

3. These are preferences. everybody does both, but some will lean more toward one, and some toward the other. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about T/F; particularly F. Feeling isn’t directly so much about “emotions”; the dichotomy is best expressed as a rational focus that is either “impersonal” or “personal”/”interpersonal”. A personal or interpersonal focus may pay more attention to emotions, but it’s really defined more as “mirroring a person’s inner state and adjusting one’s behaviors accordingly” or attempting to “display the correct relationship to an event or person” (where an “impersonal” focus is going to “detach” from people and things and look at them more as objects, of course). [Edit: T is a judgment basically made in terms of “true/false”, while F is in terms of “good/bad”].

As for “three separate factors” it covers, which links to an abstract on the Five Factor Model (FFM), I believe a mistake the factor analysts of that system have made is overlooking temperament in their correlations. Particularly the work of Linda Berens, who expanded upon Keirseys temperaments and added another type group, the “Interaction Styles”, which resemble classic temperament, which was historically factored by I/E with something called “people/task”. She also discovered a hidden “people/task” dimension in Keirsey’s temperaments. Both of these factors (which are loosely connected with both T/F and J/P) will resemble FFM “Agreeableness”. It may also figure some in the missing “Neuroticism” scale (the “emotional reactivity” mentioned in point 4), since Eysenck originally used that with the classic temperaments, in place of people/task.
If FFM theorists or others had ever done an analysis with temperament and Interaction style factors, perhaps we would have seen more matches.

4. The original Myers’ work did include a fifth factor (corresponding to Neuroticism) called “Comfort/Discomfort”, (which included subscales, as the other four factors were broken down into), but these were eventually integrated into the subscales of the other factors for Steps II and III. Again, it may actually be built into temperament and Interaction Style, since it did start out as a temperament factor.

As for I/E; again, MBTI is measuring preference clarity. It allows that not everyone is a hard introvert or extravert (And I think Jung even said this somewhere himself). If you prefer one side, even so slightly, it is enough to apply the letter, and the orient the functions.

  1. I just find out, from the links in a post by Linda Berens on Facebook and LinkedIn (, that CPP responded to this article:

    The Myers-Briggs Assessment is No Fad – It’s a Research-Based Instrument That Delivers Results

    I got the link to this from it’s response by the writer of the original article:

    MBTI, If You Want Me Back, You Need to Change Too

    (He call’s Jung’s work “Mesearch” and frames the article as a breakup with one girl, and new romance with another girl, Big Five)

    Here also is another response to him that was done:

    Grant’s arguments remain centered on the alleged rigidity of “Scales” such as I/E and T/F, which was answered in points 3 and 4, above.
    He claims “Giving me a thinking-feeling score is not like assessing whether I’m right-handed or left-handed. It’s more like evaluating whether I prefer soccer or Swiss cheese.” I think that is farfetched, as if Thinking vs Feeling are no more opposites than soccer or swiss cheese, which are totally different things that have absolutely no relationship to each other. HE defines T/F as “whether you prefer to use logic when making decisions” which has nothing to do with “whether you’re concerned about how those decisions affect others”. If you look at the T/F dimension as determining whether one’s focus in decision-making is “personal vs impersonal”, then you can see how they are opposites. (Though you don’t often hear the terms “personal/impersonal”, which I think are much better, but instead “logic vs values/emotions” which is what’s throwing critics like this off.

    He also says “You said extraverts focused on the outer world and introverts on the inner world, but Big Five’s ancestors discovered that this was really about sensitivity to stimulation and social attention.” but there is really no conflict there either. If a person is understimulated by the external world (what this is addressing, and which will include the social) he will tend to turn outward for more stimulation, and if he is overstimulated, he will turn inward. The realm he turns to will also be the orientation his dominant function takes, hence, the typological use of I/E.

    Then all the stuff about research and “evidence for efficacy”, which I’m not as big on. Being an NP, I can take seriously an idea purely as a concept, and if it seems to work for me and some others, then there must be something to it. Hence, I do believe so-called “mesearch” has some validity, in at least giving a rough idea, while a purely empirical approach can have its limitations. MBTI apologists claim to have research, and that is fine enough evidence for me, though opponents still think it is not enough, and I can’t judge who is really “right”. Again, I believe the “scientific” approach is heavily colored by an STJ (empirical S + Te) perspective, which is precisely the sort of thing type theory was made to point out.

    I also in the course of this find more stuff on the evolution of classic temperament theory [continued]:

  2. Another similar article, to the above:
    Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

    I believe the judging of the theory (not just the test, but Jung himself altogether) over “empirical testing” betrays one of the very preferences (S) the theory outlines, and the tendency to declare that THIS [perspective] determines the “TRUTH” of what a valid theory is (ignoring the N preference, which sees value in a theory by other than empirical means, which is being regarded as basically nonsensical) is precisely the type of misunderstanding the theory and test was designed to address.
    People, including much of mainstream “science”, seem to forget that they are not infallible, and it’s a matter of different perspectives.

  3. Found this paper criticizing Jon Niednagel, of Brain Types Insitute, which the “right-left rain types” of both Lenore Thompson’s “ship crew analogy, as well as Bruzon’s “Fundamental Nature of the MBTI” are based on.

    [in my browser, leads to an automatic file download rather than loading a page]:

    If you say “OK, it doesn’t have the falsifiability we desire in scientific testing to consider it a valid “science”, then that’s one thing, but to compare everything that fails this criteria to “astrology” (i.e. to take the lowest possible referent to liken it to) is showing a very limited perception, and a kind of arrogance (similar to political conservatives who cite statistical data and then think racial stereotypes they are uttering or attitudes based on them are based on “fact”, and this precludes their being “racist”, but instead renders their opponents as the true “racists”. The paper says science” punishes arrogance”, and the way they rip other people’s ideas apart in just about any math or science subject; you can see the “absolute truth and that’s that” attitude they’re tying to justify).

    The whole argument is about how to define “science”, and the honored pioneers of science centuries ago were those who thought outside the box of the powerful institutions and their “professional” leaders (then, the Church), but now, it has been taken over by academics and has become just another system of institutions bearing that same sort of power as the old system of “religion” it despises (and which persecuted the likes of Galileo, Bruno, etc.), and the same attitudes as well; with the “rules” and “convention” and protocol, where true/false is determined more by consensus, than by any “universal” principle. (Universals are often assumed by mere agreement. This shows the difference between extraverted and introverted Thinking; precisely one of the [“abstract”] categories outlined by type theory, and that “Science” gets lopsided in favor of one. But thinking “this is just the truth, that other stuff is nonsense”, they perpetuate the lopsidedness, and so just like I say with “old-time religion”, it becomes convenient to reject the theory that exposes their lopsidedness). It’s in many ways (as Christians have often said, particularly regarding non-theistically presumed evolutionism) become another “religion”.

    Both claim to hold absolute “truth” or “knowledge”. One uses study of ancient documents, the other uses a more physical research and testing. One threatens hell in the afterlife if you don’t ‘believe’, the other casts people into the “hell” of “ignorance” or “superstition” in this life (which is then, nevertheless “punished” in a way, as they put it!) One may simply be more open to new knowledge (which is the basis of the claim to the title “science”), and thus provide more “concrete” means of knowledge. But in practice, that’s the primary difference.
    But both in the process forget their own limited humanity, and that no matter how “objective” the data you’re arguing over, it is still “subjective” creatures who have to receive and process (i.e. interpret) that data, and come to identify with their respective enterprise. Both call the other “blind”, but Jesus says that if one were blind, they would be pardoned, but when you say ‘I see’ (which includes the ‘authority’ assumed to be able to cast others into the bin of “ignorance”, etc), then “therefore your sin [i.e. ignorance, in this case] remains”.

    Typology is essentially based on the way we divide reality. It starts with one’s sensitivity to external stimuli, which is something being accepted in the science of neurology, and yet is the basis of the old temperament categories of “introversion” and “extroversion”. (Galen’s old “hot/cold”. Modern, generally accepted temperament theories such as Birch & Chess, also use categories that can be linked to the old temperament factors). This shape’s whether the ego is predominantly focused on individual or environmental processing of data.
    The Jungian functions are how we PREFER to divde reality in terms of simply what is, or what’s inferred, and in terms of impersonal or personal affect (true/false or good/bad). The theory even explains the science field’s bias; because it is skewed towards “what is” (hence, “empiricism”), and “true/false” (and the latter, based on a more environmental criteria).

    To just throw this all out leaves the perspective of “some people” as simply “better” (i.e. more “scientific”, meaning “knowledgeable”, while everyone else is deceived by “superstition”). It is ironically a lot like old time religion (equally despised by science, especially when they try to argue theism or creationism), who also largely rejects all psychology (“scientific”, “pseudoscientific”, “pop”, or otherwise), because it exposes their human tendencies to skew or misuse what they’re teaching, for the same of some form of control.

    It is very narrow, not recognizing distinctions between things (and you would think people who argue for “science” would at least be a little better at making distinctions between things. Don’t they have to do that with the empirical data they insist one must have? This shows that something is not totally right in these assessments of things.
    It should be pointed out, that one of the functions of type, “introverted Thinking”, is the one that often pays more attention to the finer distinctions making up categories. It’s an individual process of determining true/false. Extraverted Thinking is based on environmental standards, such as efficiency and consensus; which is often connected to what’s efficient for most people, and so finer distinctions that are not seen by all and agreed on can “safely” be dismissed, whether there is any truth to them or not.
    Again, this theory explains these differences in perspective, and as simply a different way of dividing the same reality, one is not better than the other

    Astrology says that personality is shaped by what time of year you are born. There is no evidence supplied for it; ONLY the “testimonies” of people, born around the same time of year, having some similarities (like Capricorns being “stubborn”, hence, the “goat”). The only variable that can be tested is one’s birthday, and once you’ve found people who do not fit, then the theory has been disproven.
    While fitting the whole “stubborn” description well (hence, even my parents, while not really believing it it, would refer to the sign at times when I was growing up), I found that nothing else in Capricorn horoscopes fit. Most of it is about money, and while I always could use more, I just don’t identify with the predictions. So I find temperament/type to explain the “stubbornness” better.

    The difference between temperament/type and astrology, is that in the latter, the categories are determined by a preexisting set factor, of birth date, and then the characteristics are assigned to the categories, and the people assumed to fit. With temperament, the categories are formed by the variables of behavior traits themselves (Whether expressive/responsive, or in type, expressiveness and functional perspective), and people then fit based on what they can observe themselves doing.
    You either “prefer” to do one pole of a factor, or the other.

    Perhaps the problem is, that all of these “instruments”, whether MBTI, or Niednagel’s system, are, as the paper accurately describes, ultimately tied to selling something (which I discuss regarding “self-help” and “spiritual growth” theories, in other posts. Niednagel, for instance, aims his theories at the sports world), and thus claiming to do more than they actually can. MBTI is used by businesses, and several of the other type-related organizations are marketing themselves for stuff like “team-building”.
    So most will produce general, multi-aspect descriptions of types, temperaments, other type groupings (“Interaction Styles”, etc.) and functions that almost no one will ever fit perfectly into, rather than a more testable “either/or” of “preference. The “either/or” is only used in the data collection algorithm of the questionnaire items, and when the type or temperament is put together from this, it is then assumed the larger set of behaviors will include these general traits mentioned in “profiles”. And this will then be extended into predictions about what career the person might be best in, or otherwise how he might behave in future interactions.
    But there will always be factors that can change one or the other of them.
    Whether “nurture” (upbringing and culture, including gender roles)trauma, mitigating circumstances, and even sub-theories like the archetypes, will explain why someone might behave “out-of-preference”, and thus not identify with a description. This is what makes it resemble “astrology”.

    So then, the “pseudoscience” critics come and look at that, holding the theory up to its “percentage of accuracy”, and then dismiss all the concepts wholesale, as being like “astrology”.
    This is why I’ve been getting more into elemental factors, to keep things as simple, and thus able to be individually, directly tested by people, as possible. The theory is good system of categorization, and should not be brushed aside.

  4. Here’s another one trashing the MBTI:

    Edit: Another two, that get hung up on the “either/or” nature of type, and Myers and Briggs not being psychologists:

    It’s really about the way our egos tend to divide reality. S means you focus more on the tangible or practical. N means you focus more on ideas or hypothesis. T means you are more impersonal (how things work, regardless of likes and dislikes) in decisions making, and F means you consider the personal (humanity in general) side of things. It’s all together in all the data we take in, but just like we divide an otherwise undivided space and time into “directions”, we also divide what we perceive and judge. E/I and J/P are “pointer variables” telling you more about the two preferred functions.

    So everyone does all of these things (the theory never denied this), but we all have a preference, however slight, so even varying degrees of preference are not denied.
    People making these judgments are not understanding the whole point of the theory, and so are making assumptions. And a lot of the criticism betrays an “S” perspective (Which is dominant in the West, and especially the “science” field), which does not trust something so asbtract, hence the demand for more “empirical” evidence. This is precisely the type of perspective clash the theory is pointing out. But people think their perspective is the “right” one (causing such clashes and misunderstandings in our interactions), and the purpose of the theory is to make us aware of things like this, so we can broaden our perspective.
    To say it’s “bs” is to say every person perceives things and bases their decisions (judges) the same way.

    Then, there’s the “consistency” argument. MBTI scores are not “strengths” of preference or anything like that, but rather CLARITY of preference. This is how much we are AWARE of what we prefer, in answering the questions. Our awareness can change. So that’s all getting different results really means. It doesn’t mean there isn’t/was never a legitimate preference.

    I really don’t think it’s supposed to be used for hiring. That would in fact be a form of discrimination, and the responsibility for that would fall on the companies using it that way. People of any preference can for whatever reason decide to seek any kind of job (like I’m an N in a heavy S type of occupation). Type can be used to get a sense of where a preson’s strengths may lie. It’s geared toward team building and such.

  5. The dominant function, determining “introversion” or “extraversion” is oriented by “stimuli” that leads you to “turn” (“-vert”) the respective way. What I hadn’t realized was that the dopamine specifically is what provides the “stimulus”.
    This, again, provides a neurological, and thus “scientific” basis, for personality type.

    The article then goes into “ambiverts”, saying “according to Carl Jung, who identified a third personality type on the introverted-extroverted spectrum — but it’s one that we hardly hear anything about. In the classic Psychological Types, Jung wrote:
    ‘There is, finally, a third group … the most numerous and includes the less differentiated normal man … He constitutes the extensive middle group.’
    This middle group consists of the ambiverts.”

    Some MBTI naysayers will point to this, saying that Myers and Briggs totally went off track from Jung, in creating a dichotomy based on “dominant function”, which is what sets each type to a hard “either/or” of I/E (and from there, a whole stack of “function-attitudes”, from Grant’s four to Beebe and others’ eight).

    But the dichotomy doesn’t really rule out “ambiversion”. Amberversion can be one of two things.

    1) By mapping classic temperament to the 10 point FIRO-B scale, it was determined that “Expressive” and “responsive” behavior was a scale, ranging from “compulsive” to totally “moderate”. So a person can express moderately, which would be caused by them being balanced in their need for dopamine stimulation. This will create less of an emotional energy to either “turn outward, to gain more, or “turn inward” to gain less. So they will “express themselves” in a very moderate, and even sluggish way, driven in neither direction, and were labeled by the Arno Profile System (and WorleyID Profile) as part “Phlegmatic”. They “express (or “demonstrate”) as a Phlegmatic”, but respond (or “desire”) as one of the other temperaments. The way this is mapped out, the actual score will still fall on the side of the expressive or reserved temperament they respond as (which pair, depending on the “responsive” score). But still, these are quite literal “ambiverts”.

    When translating this to type (via the Interaction Styles or Keirsey temperaments, depending on whether the particular scores are in the Inclusion [Social] or Control [Leadership] area), then there too, there will likely be only a very slight preference for one side or the other. But this is still enough to garner the I or E designation (I once tried to add an “A” pole, along with a responsive-neutral one, leading to 81 types, but they don’t all work with the functions).
    There’s also moderate in both scales, which the APS deemed the original “pure” Phlegmatic, which was in older systems, assumed to be introverted and “high”-responsive (“people-focused”), which is now filled by fifth temperament Supine. But again, that will still fall one one side or the other of the I/E dichotomy. The classic behavior descriptions still lean toward I and people-focused (and thus, what’s known as “informative” or “motive focused”, along with “cooperative”; and both classic temperament as well as Keirsey’s “skill sets” made it the “Diplomat”), so in the translation to type, it will still fit in with the Supine in the ISF, INP and NF groups. But theoretically, the Phlegmatic could also fall on the other side as an E, or “pragmatic” SP/NT types (which could partially explain why Keirsey thought the NT was Phlegmatic). But it usually does fit the introverted/responsive ones better.

    2) So when you map temperament to type, and realize that there are two levels of temperament for each type: surface/social and action/leadership, then since introversion and extroversion were originally part of temperament, you can have a “blend” of an introverted temperament with an extraverted one. That person will tend to turn either way depending on the situation, and thus technically be “ambiverted”.

    If we match “expressive” as both Extraversion, and Keirsey’s “pragmatic”, and “reserved” as “Introversion” and “Cooperative”, then you have:
    Extraverted/cooperative: ENF, ESJ. (Normally expressive, but can be slow to approach others in taking action)
    Introverted/pragmatic: INT, ISP. (Normally reserved, but quick to approach others in taking action; “autocratic”)

    So these types will in a way be “ambiverted” as well.

    Here also is a page on the Littauer version of the temperaments where blends where introversion or extroversion match are called “Natural blends”, and those where people/task match are called “complementary blends”:


    In academic circles, the test has long been discredited. While the Myers-Briggs test lumps people into “types,” most modern personality tests measure traits on a continuum. Another objection rests on the test’s inability to predict meaningful life outcomes. “Basically, there isn’t an algorithm that translates how people answer into how they’re likely to behave,” explains Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London. Today, this is considered a crucial element of a personality tests.

    The most dominant model of personality in the field of psychology today is the Five Factor Model, which theorises that the human personality is composed of five key traits, and that an approximate measure of personality can be composed from how we score on each: conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness. “The Myers-Briggs, although it’s a different kind of model, it translates onto the big five,” says Chamorro-Premuzic. “It’s not like it proposes something that is totally alien, or incompatible with how most people describe others.”

    Specifically, research carried out by the inventors of the FFA found that if traits measured by the Myers-Briggs were scored continuously rather than discretely – by measuring personality on a continuum rather than by ‘type’ – that the categories used in the Myers-Briggs test strongly correlated with the sliding scales used in the FFA.

    But there’s also the question of reliability, and why a given type might resonate for some, while ringing false for others. “If you have an extreme score, you might find that it corresponds with [the Myers-Briggs test],” says Petrides. “If you are extremely introverted, there is a likelihood that you will be classified as an I on the [Myers-Briggs test].” For people with more moderate scores, it’s likely that the types will feel restrictive or that they fluctuate between more than one. Perhaps it makes sense that it’s those with the most exaggerated scores – and whose Myers-Briggs type resonates most – who would use the classification to bolster their identities.

    “We are all multi-dimensional beings with many thoughts, feelings, and impulses – some of which are contradictory – and we wonder if there is some stable structure within us, something that sorts out and organises all of the things that swirl around in our head,” says John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, of the Myers-Briggs’ enduring appeal. “The personality tests out there offer a system for identifying what that stable, ‘true’ self might be.”

    MBTI is measuring PREFERENCE, no matter how slight. It seems many critics don’t understand what they’re criticizing. So it’s allowed for people to have a “sliding scale”, but there will still be a “preference”.
    Temperament theory in particular, is based on sliding scales (including I/E).

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