A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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reader comments: MBTI®

23 Sep 2000 
I just completed the MBTI™™ Qualifying workshop and it is clear from your "analysis" that you don't really understand the purpose, the definitions and how its' used. There is a huge gap in your interpretation of the MBTI™. If you went through the one week Qualifying workshop yourself where you actually learn how to administer the assessment to others, you would have a greatly improved understanding. Your comments are way off base. Until you've done that (i.e. first hand experience) it's inappropriate for you to post such broad ranging, seemingly authoritative comments.

Audrey Weston

reply: Really? All I need do is take the one-week Qualifying workshop and I can then understand MBTI™ as well as you do? Where do I sign up?

8 Apr 1997
As a sociologist now working as a management consultant, I was interested to see this "Myers Briggs" test which is held in such high regard in my new occupation. Well, I am astounded that it ever took hold. What an insidious invasion into our working lives! To think that people are routinely tested with such instruments prior to obtaining employment. I actually think it's cruel. People must be very hurt when they find their personality is unsuitable for a particular job. Frankly, I'd be more upset if I "passed" one of those tests! For those who need the job, though, it's not a laughing matter.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have never been convinced of the statistical reliability or validity associated with testing what I deem nominal or ordinal data. But what worries me most is that people could be assessed without context.

Anyway, thank you for your page. I will draw your comments to the notice of all who uphold tests of this type.
Keep up the good fight!
Debra Rosser, BBus PhD.

3 May 1996

The personality description you quote in your Skeptic's Dictionary may seem general, but once one becomes familiar with the nuances of the system, the precision becomes obvious.

Reading through all sixteen MBTI™ descriptions, you will probably find traits in several which fit you. This is because each type is a collection of functions which are shared between types. However, only one description should seem accurate in its totality.

There are valid criticisms of MBTI™, but ambiguity between the types is absolutely not one of them. I can tell you *exactly* the differences line by line between the description you present, and any other type you can name.

Little of the profile [you give] fits me, or most of the people I know who aren't INFPs. BTW, where did you get that profile? It's actually pretty good.

Knowing your type (if INFP truly is your type), I can say that there is a good chance that you are a fussy eater, have pretty harsh mood swings (which you keep mostly to yourself, and maybe one or two trusted confidants), and have a pretty good grasp of electronic devices. You probably avoid casually discussing sex. A lot of your philosophical discussions probably end emotionally, because you become personally committed to facts. You are probably quite forgetful, have more trouble than most making appointments, and live very sloppily.
S. Taylor

reply: I do avoid casually discussing sex. I do keep mostly to myself and have very few confidants. I am not a fussy eater, am pretty even-tempered, don't have much of a grasp for electronic devices; rarely, if ever, do I get emotional in philosophical discussions. I have a pretty good memory and have rarely missed an appointment. I am not a neatness freak, but I'm not sloppy, either. Well, at least we know you are not clairvoyant!

I like the Skeptic's Dictionary, but I feel compelled to try to briefly explain the Meyer-Briggs (MBTI™) test which you have unfairly represented.

If you haven't already, check out the 16 different groupings instead of just looking at one. I do NOT claim that the test itself is accurate or that people are often drawn towards a specific personality description because it describes how they WOULD LIKE to be rather than what they are.

reply: I thought that the purpose of the test was to accurately describe a person's personality. And one of the purposes to which I have seen such tests put is to "recommend" certain occupations or professions to people based on the fact that a significant percentage of similar personality types are in those occupations or professions. Frankly, outside of the obvious (such as noting that a "loner" is not likely to find satisfaction in being a rock star), I find the idea of suggesting to people that they should seek a profession that suits their personality to be a hindrance, not just to them personally, but to society as a whole. I think the idea is personally and socially regressive and detrimental. The benefits of being surrounded in any job or profession from a variety of "types" of people far outweigh the benefits of fitting people to jobs by personality. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that if you are incompetent at math, you are not going to make it as a physicist. On the other hand, what real good do you do when you tell someone on the basis of a personality test that they would be suited for economics or international business? In my view, you have just provided them with another "decision-maker" and one which is not a whole lot more valuable than the Ouija board or the fortune teller with her crystal ball.

The 16 categories do a good job grouping personality traits. While nobody is 100% in one category, I am an "INTP". Basically, INTP are quiet, logical, scientific folks. People who like to dig around in computers, mathematics, and other complex systems. INTP people are often uncomfortable around large groups of people, don't understand or know how to flirt, and are often "dateless". They tend to have only a couple good friends. INTP's are not "party goers". As you can see, this hardly is so general that it describes everybody. The description I gave is rather extreme -- most INTP people are not complete "socially retarded" nerds, as my quick description might imply. :)

reply: Well, I beg to differ with you about the generality of these traits. Some of these traits fit me; others don't. On the other hand, even if it is true that there are 16 basic personality types, what good is this information? Are you going to suggest that some types are superior to others? That people should strive to (a) find out what type they are, and then (b) try to change to a better type? Are you going to prejudge people on the basis of their type? Are you going to interpret their words and actions according to the stereotype of their type? Are you going to tell them things like, "well, the reason you are so shy is because you are an INTP?" If you really want to hinder a person's growth just tell them that they are an XYZ and then view them with XYZ blinders. What social or personal value does this way of thinking have?

The personality indicator does not tell anyone MORE than they put into it, but knowing someone's personality type allows you to predict their reactions to different situations reasonably well.

reply: Where is the evidence for this? What studies show that by knowing a person's personality type you can predict specific behaviors? Maybe you are thinking of the studies which find a correlation between INTPs and computer programmers? that kind of thing. Astrologers find correlations between mars and soldiers. So what? What kind of important, specific predictions can be made from Myers-Briggs classifications that can't be made by anyone who knows a person well? I know there are some social scientists think that they can tell you who will be likely to be dishonest or become a criminal on the basis of a test. Good evidence for the validity of these tests is lacking.

The traits in the test are:
(I)ntroverted vs. (E)xtroverted
i(N)tuitive vs. (S)ensing
(T)hinking vs. (F)eeling
(J)udging vs. (P)erceiving

I suggest reading some explanations on these traits to understand more about the differences between them.

reply: I suggest that dividing people into these categories does more harm than good. For example, thinking and feeling are not opposed to one another. We do not think deeply and seriously about things we do not feel strongly about. Where there is no passion, there will be little good thinking. I know the origin and history of this Platonic bifurcation of human nature and I think it has been more misleading than insightful. Of course, people do not do their best thinking when they are under the spell of a strong emotion such as anger or jealousy. On the other hand, some strong emotions, such as fear, stimulate some people to do their best thinking: it forces them to focus like never before and to make decisions which, under ordinary circumstances, they find it hard to do. And, of course, there are some people who rarely think critically or do a rational analysis of anything: they react emotionally to just about everything. And there are some people who don't seem to have feelings, who intellectualize just about everything. But most of us are thinking/feeling beings and have integrated personalities. We are not "right brain" or "left brain": we use the whole brain. We do not find life requires us to be either practical or theoretical, introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, judging or perceiving, male or female, yin or yang, but all of these things. What are contradictions and opposites to some, are complementary and integrative to others

The biggest thing that learning about this personality test did for me is reinforce how people are different. One person may be a warm, empathetic, touchy-feely person that loves to flirt while another is relatively quiet and analytical. We sometimes forget that people are different. My parents are IS*J's. They have very strong work ethics (never idle) and are EXTREMELY neat and clean. Unless it's mine, you will never see anything dusty or a dirty dish left 15 minutes after a meal or anything out of place. I am not messy, but I'm not as clean as them. I prefer to organize my thoughts (and my very organized not-an-icon-out-of-place computer is an extension of my "thoughts") more than my outside world.

reply: People are different. But there is something I have learned from 25 years of teaching that no test can reveal: people are often very different from how they appear and what they say on a test. Most people do not reveal themselves to others. There may be evolutionary reasons for this. Some of the warmest, touchy-feely types are sadistic and brutal; some of the coldest, seemingly inhuman types are the kindest and most humane. To understand how really different people are, throw away your Myers-Briggs classifications and try to see people by how "they" define themselves through their words and actions, not how you or a group of social scientists define them.

This test is not scientific and has no place in an office situation to evaluate people (especially to accept or reject them based on the results).

reply: Well, we agree on one thing, at least!

A rather lengthy message, but I felt that this item [the Myers-Briggs entry] was out of place and treated unfairly in your Skeptic's Dictionary. I'm sure that some people may read more into the test and think that it's some magical measure of something, but it is actually nothing but loosely grouping people based on their personality preferences.
Tony Schreiner

reply: I don't think the Myers-Briggs entry is out of place in a book about pseudoscience. Obviously, I feel and think this test has implications and nuances that transcend and warp classifications of people based on preferences and synchonicities. The test encourages and embraces harmful delusions.

27 Jun 1996
There have been peer-reviewed studies of Myers-Briggs; you can definitely make testable predictions of correlation. For a *political* example, an educational organization called the _Advocates for Self-Government_ has noticed that the vast majority of Libertarians test out as i(N)tuitive (T)hinking, which is a type that is quite rare in the general population.

The _Mental Measurements Yearbook_ (MMY) has lists of references to articles in peer-reviewed journals in which the MBTI™ test is used. An excellent review of MBTI™ is apparently given by Anthony DeVito in the 9th MMY, and two additional reviews in the 10th MMY. The recently published 11th MMY does not include these. The MMY are available in the reference section of most college and university libraries.
Glen Raphael

reply: Now I have one more useless piece of information about Libertarians!

06 Aug 1996
Your site, especially many of the links you have provided, was a real find for me. I just wanted to thank you for the trouble you put into it, and for the Skeptic's Dictionary. I sampled the entry on Myers-Briggs, and I must say that you are right on target with your analysis. I'm a recovering management trainer, so I have taught courses to managers based on MBTI™, and on other less sophisticated knock-offs of it, on many occasions over the years. Being a skeptical person by inclination and education (took lots of philosophy in undergraduate school back in the Dark Ages), I rather quickly found that the various personality typologies were more of a barrier to understanding and getting along with people than an aid in doing so.

I found that people, when presented with a schema such as this, focus on the means to the exclusion of the purported end. In interactions on the job, it quickly became clear that people were spending all their mental time trying to fit others into the appropriate personality category so they could apply the approved "interaction algorithm" and get along with them. I also found that they were spending damn little time listening, asking questions, making suggestions, floating and modifying hypotheses, and all the other things you have to do to actually communicate and work with others. They never got that far, because nobody had told them to do so. I eventually had to get pretty loose with the approved curriculum, and add techniques that they could use to do something useful with what I was purportedly there to teach them.

This is not to say that these instruments don't have some use for some people; for better or worse, some folks seem to need what they perceive to be an objective, authoritative, scientific source of insight on themselves that they haven't the inclination or training to develop on their own. And, I have seen a few people benefit in a genuine way from the impetus that tests such as this provided for some self-analysis and reflection.

By and large, though, I've found that MBTI™ and others of its ilk contribute more to the establishment and perpetuation of a corporate priesthood (complete with holy writ, oracles, acolytes, rituals, and an arcane lexicon) than to increased productivity through understanding and cooperation. Don't let anybody snow you on this stuff: there are few good answers to your question "what's the point of all this?" A cost-benefit analysis of this stuff would undoubtedly come out very badly for everyone except the peddlers.

.... keep up the good work. People do appreciate it, and I hope you have fun doing it.
DeWitt L. Beeler ,
Knoxville, Tennessee

18 Jul 1996

Thank you for your comments/responses on the Myers-Briggs in the SD. Very well put. I remember how annoyed I felt last year when we had to spend an entire class period going over our MB "types". The first comment the facilitator made was this: "You'll know who the introverts are already. They're the ones who won't be talking during this discussion."

The new trend is to claim that the difference between 'extroverts' and 'introverts' is "all about energy." Supposedly, being an 'introvert' is not something to be embarrassed about anymore-it just means that one gets their 'energy' by being alone vs. by being in a group. That makes it all better, right?

Colorado State University

9 Dec 1996
Firstly, the Skeptic's Dictionary is an ambitious undertaking and very stimulating (and entertaining). Secondly, could you please expand on your entry about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, if possible? Your entry seems to have taken for its objects of critique only the most irresponsible and dogmatic of interpretations of the MBTI™ theory. I agree with and appreciate your point that a personality test which rigidly dictates occupations based on a framework of personality types does more harm than good. Yet, this is not the approach that I have found in the literature. The two books that I have read (Gifts Differing by Isabel Myers-Briggs, Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger) have stressed the uniqueness as well as the commonalities of human beings. They have stated that specific interests, abilities and values differ according to the person, regardless of type. In addition, these writers emphasize that successful people of all types are found in all occupations. There is much more to a person, after all, than her or his temperament. The temperament however is, according to this approach, a stable and useful indexical tool for developing an understanding of a person's preferred style of perception, organization of perceptions and motivation. I've interpreted the writers' occupational suggestions to be catalysts for a person to proactively design her or his own career plan.

reply: I've expanded the entry, but I doubt if it will be any more pleasing to you.

You ask, "What kind of important, specific predictions can be made from Myers-Briggs classifications that can't be made by anyone who knows a person well?" Good question. I think that the MBTI™ is no substitute for the patient work of getting to know a person. In fact, that seems antithetical to the spirit in which the theory was put forth. I also agree that, as you say, "To understand how really different people are, throw away your Myers-Briggs classifications and try to see people by how "they" define themselves through their words and actions, not how you or a group of social scientists define them." Yet, I still see no contradiction with the MBTI™ schema. In fact, your position sounds very similar to what I've read in the books on MBTI™. The book which I read most closely (Do What You Are) was actually not written by social scientists but rather by occupational consultants.

reply: I wonder how many of these "occupational consultants" are trained to do scientific or philosophical analysis of the concepts they work with. This seems to be an area ripe for abuse; for, whatever training these consultants have, it is probably greater than that of the people who hire them to do their dirty work. Furthermore, those who hire these consultants to make their companies more productive can easily coerce employees to take the test whether willing or not.

The following metaphor illustrates my interpretation of the MBTI™ theory. People may use either hand to perform manual tasks, for example playing table tennis. But for most people either the left or the right hand is preferred. If that hand is used for the task, the pace of learning is quicker and the efficiency is higher. The process (if prolonged) is also less frustrating. As many left-handed people can attest however, it is possible to learn the skill of right-handedness and thus become ambidextrous, multi-faceted. (Indeed, such multi-facetedness is often forced upon left-handed people). But the preferred hand's pace of learning and efficiency is still greater. On the other hand (sorry, I couldn't resist that one), the fact that one prefers a certain hand does not determine for which tasks the hand will be used. One may type, play baseball, clean microchips or perform surgery. Being aware, however, of the fact THAT you prefer a certain hand, offers preparation for the prejudices to be faced in entering a certain field in which the preferred hand is stigmatized. Your approach to the task may be viewed as unorthodox and/or inferior. If hand preference is changed to personality type, I think that the above paragraph is helpful for understanding part of the utility of MBTI™. (Provided Myers-Briggs' framework of 16 proposed types is sufficiently accurate.)

reply: Your analogy of hand preference to personality type is useful only for illustrating prejudice: left-handers have suffered from being stereotyped and what needs to be worked on is not the left-hander's understanding of her- or himself, but righthanders' tendency to stererotype those who differ from themselves.

However, the fact remains that with any proposed framework or philosophical system there is the likelihood that some people will use the framework as proof of their prejudicial conclusions. Or that people will construct dogmatic dictates of behavior. (Of course, this could just as easily happen with the Skeptic's Dictionary. ) In fact, on closer reading of your introduction to the SD, your schema (borrowed from Nietzsche) of the Apollonian and Dionysian skeptics is very similar in kind to MBTI™. You even go so far as to use the term "temperament". But my question to you is this: Are you specifically skeptical of the four continua of contrasting orientations that the MBTI™ theory posits- feeling-thinking, sensing-intuition, etc.,? (Of the feeling-thinking continuum, you write "where there is no passion, there will be little good thinking." In MBTI™ theory, however, the term "feeling" does not equal "passion" as it is most commonly used in everyday conversation. The terms "thinking" and "feeling" are just shorthand terms for more complicated phenomena. Maybe it would have been a better idea for the theorists to pick more obscure words, but I suspect that would still not have prevented misinterpretation.)
Nigel Thompson ps. A suggestion for a new entry into the dictionary: synchronicity.

reply: I admit that I, like most writers, am fond of grand Platonic Eidos or Jungean Archetypes, and use them to illustrate or even argue for a variety of points. But you will never catch me developing a test to determine whether a person is Apollonian or Dionysian, left-brain or right-brain, etc.

I'm surprised that someone who finds the MBTI™ scientific would not defend Jung's notion of synchronicity as well.

26 Nov 1996
I would agree that it is little dangerous to apply Myers-Briggs in the work place -- perhaps by way of suggesting who is likely to be good at their job and who is not. But, as interesting private reading, I think the Myers Briggs test is pretty accurate. Before you pick one type, you have to see where you are on the scale, a lot of people are fairly balanced between types, I think. But I can say that the INFP describes me better than any of the other types, (though I have strong T and J leanings) and that personally I found it a bit relieving to know that I am not quite as peculiar as I sometimes think (And trust me, if you are a very introverted NF (or NT), you will probably have spent a fair amount of your life as the weird one who doesn't quite fit in).

My husband is an ESTJ and we both think that description fits him about as closely as humanly possible (and yes, he had his own miserable patches growing up, but they had more to do w/ family and social pecking order, and not with daydreaming chronically instead of socializing). So, overall I would say that using this test to pigeonhole people is a bad idea, but if you want to use it to try and help in figuring out why someone thinks differently than you, (or just for reassurance that you are not supposed to think like an SJ no matter how long you live w/ one), I don't see how it can hurt, as long as you remember that it's just a rough guideline and not an ultimatum.

Personally I thought was rather comforting to think that there is a reason why I keep having stray thoughts of chucking my engineering degree to go off and write books (I used to be an INTJ in high school, but have become much more sentimental as I age and get further from parental influences). And after all, the whole point of the test, as I understood it, was just to illustrate that it perfectly normal and ok for people to think and act in very different ways (which should be obvious, but really isn't to most of us.)

(Mrs?) Joe Mashinski 

reply: there probably is a reason why you sometimes think of chucking your engineering degree to go off and write books, but I doubt if it is because you were an INTJ in high school.

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