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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: MBTI®

note: I'm not accepting any more comments on the MBTI®. The comments below and on the other two pages linked to this page were made before major revisions of the entry in January 2001. Nevertheless, I'm still not accepting any more comments on this or any other kind of personality typology instrument.

07 Nov 2000 
(The program described below seems worthy of MBTI®)

The lack of any critical examination of the program is interesting.

The Wall Street Journal Workers Wear Feelings On Their Hard Hats And Show True Colors --- On Oil Rigs and Assembly Lines, Sensitivity Training Pays Off; Blue-Yellow Meets Red-Green By Chip Cummins

11/07/2000 The Wall Street Journal Page A1 (Copyright (c) 2000, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) NEW ORLEANS -- Jimmy Nobles has worked on offshore oil rigs for 25 years and still vividly remembers how cramped living conditions and tyrannical bosses used to fray nerves. The result: shouting matches and even the occasional fight.

Not anymore, at least on Transocean Sedco Forex rigs, says Mr. Nobles, a burly 50-year-old dressed in blue company coveralls at a Transocean training session here. "It's a different deal," he says, spitting tobacco juice into an empty Coke can. "We care about other people's feelings." 

Indeed, roustabouts, never known for wearing their emotions on their sleeves, are being asked to wear them on stickers on their hard hats. The stickers have the words, "START TO UNDERSTAND ME," and next to that, two colored dots, which are supposed to tell co-workers about the personality under the hat. 

For instance, "yellows and blues are touchy. They like to touch and hug, no problem. Greens don't like that," explains Mr. Nobles, who now teaches "well-control" classes at a company technical school. He's a combination red-yellow and says it fits. "Reds are driven," but his yellow side shows up in his fondness for people, he explains, slapping a visitor on the back. 

Businesses have long used sensitivity training and popular psychology to help employees and managers work together. With the help of a Minneapolis company called Inscape Publishing, some are taking the effort to a new level, labeling workers with colors or letters in the name of team-building and getting along. 

Assembly-line workers in Kentucky, police officers in Kansas, electricians in Texas and construction crews in Florida have all been assigned letters as a way to assess their styles and their colleagues' behavior. Carpenters and plumbers in New York City use the same system. Inscape, a closely held company, sells the training as $15 "personal profile" tests through about 5,000 distributors. The program draws on work published by Harvard-trained psychologist William Moulton Marston. His 1928 tome, "Emotions of Normal People," begins: "Are you a `normal person?' Probably, for the most part, you are. Doubtless, however, you have occasional misgivings." Dr. Marston is better known in psychology circles, however, for his unscrupulous promotion of an early lie detector during the Lindbergh kidnapping trial. He and his machine appeared in magazine ads for razors, and he advocated the use of lie detectors in marriage counseling. Later in life, he created the comic-book heroine Wonder Woman. 

Based on 28 multiple-choice questions, a person going through Inscape's "DISC" training is assigned a letter -- D for dominance, I for influence, S for steadiness or C for conscientiousness -- that best describes his personality. 

Tommy Curtiss, a project manager at S&J Electric in Fort Worth, Texas, says he is a hard-charging D, something akin to a Transocean red. After going through training with his workers, he says, he now understands that a co-worker who is a C (the green sticker on Transocean rigs) needs clear organization. "I can see how his little world is set up," says Mr. Curtiss, amid a tangle of electric cable and cement molds. S&J workers don't wear their letters after their training, but groups are small, and everybody seems to remember who's what. 

Gordon Culley, a carpenter-on-call for Installinc, a New York City online service that sends tradesmen out on jobs, is a C. He says the most useful part of the training wasn't understanding himself, but figuring out how to treat everyone else. If he comes across a customer who's a talkative I, for instance, "I will explain the world." 

Transocean, the offshore driller, has taken the training a step further, using colors instead of letters. It says it started the training a few years ago to help middle managers communicate better. Now it's standard for the company's 8,300 workers world-wide. The company says it helps people get along better, especially in the stressful and sometimes-dangerous environment of an offshore oil rig. It's also providing a little glue to a company still figuring out how to integrate corporate cultures after a string of acquisitions, says Lewis Senior, Transocean's manager for health, safety and the environment. "We're trying to get into people's minds and hearts," he says. Mr. Senior's booming voice still carries the lilt of his native Yorkshire, England, despite 27 years on offshore rigs. He helped design Transocean's colors training, borrowing liberally from DISC, popular psychology and business self-help books. In the no-frills conference room of a New Orleans Best Western hotel, he addresses a class of 45: "Every single thing you do is a reflection of your colors." 

To start off the day's session, he asks the group to draw a few pictures, including the sun, a snake and a house. "The more windows you have, the more open you are," Mr. Senior tells the group after they've put down their pencils. Then, another test. Presented with 28 sets of four words, each worker picks a word that describes him best and a word that describes him least. A typical set: fussy, obedient, firm, playful. The test takers are told how to score themselves and come up with their two colors. Rig workers wear their dots on their hats, while landlubbers post theirs outside their office doors. 

While no one is forced to display his colors, Mr. Senior contends that "people who don't buy into it" walk away. Some question whether the program is an intrusion. Says Tim Callais, a Transocean adviser for operational safety: "They're probably blue people." "Behavioral Styles" charts are posted on the gray bulkheads of many of Transocean's rigs, explaining that people with blue in them dislike change and can be a little wishy-washy. Yellows are emotional and talkative. Greens are cautious and serious, while reds tend to be strong-willed and decisive. Thom Keeton, a red-green rig manager, keeps a color chart under the glass covering his desk for quick reference. If a crew member was "a blue-yellow, he wouldn't come to the point," the 46-year-old Alabama native says. "He'd say, `Hey, have you been fishing? Oh, by the way, No. 6 engine has just slung a rod.'" 

Tom Watkins, a tool pusher and a senior hand on the Discoverer Spirit, Transocean's latest drill ship, is also a red-green. Blunt and to the point, he doesn't like to talk much. "No granola here," he says, hurrying back to finish supervising a job. On the Spirit's mess decks, 27-year-old David Gray, a blue-yellow, chats more freely. He's a little more laid-back, he says, but he can deal with those high-strung red-greens now that he has figured out that he just has to get to the point more quickly. J. Michael Talbert, the company's chief executive officer, declines to divulge his own colors, saying that as CEO he has to be a bit of a chameleon. "I can be whatever color I want to be," he says. Not so, says Mr. Senior, the Transocean instructor, who confides, "He's actually a green-blue." That might describe a guy who is organized and reserved, according to Transocean's color charts. 

After announcing Transocean's latest merger a few months ago, Mr. Talbert has been acting more like one of those competitive reds, Mr. Senior explains. But, he adds, "Once the merger stuff settles down, he'll go back to green and blue."
Gerald Trigo

22 Feb 2000 
Skipping the typical compliments on your great site and getting right to the point, I have a few things to say regarding your entry on Myers-Briggs™.

Suppose I designed a simple, single-question test in which I asked people whether they preferred apples or oranges, then categorized people according to their answer as "apple-preferring" types or "orange-preferring" types. You could argue that these categorizations are worthless, and that they could be used to unfairly discriminate against those whose type differed from that of (say) their manager, and that they might discourage people from expanding their gastronomic repertoire, and that they don't account for people who dislike, are allergic to, or have not tried both fruits, and that they don't account for the fact that some people's preference changes with their mood, and that some people might like both fruits equally well. But to say that the categorizations are universally false because many apple-preferring types also enjoy oranges (and vice-versa) would be to so misconstrue the categorizations that it looks like bias. If your purpose is to discredit the test in an effort to reduce discrimination and encourage greater dietary variety, insisting that the types as defined by the test do not exist at all detracts, however slightly, from your otherwise substantial credibility.

In the same vein as my simple fruit test, Myers-Briggs™ simply asks about preferences and then tells people what their preferences are. Whatever its merits, worthlessness, or dangers, accusing the Myer's-Briggs™ categories of being as random as (say) your comparison to astrology is absurd.

My experience with Myers-Briggs™ is limited to a book I read many years ago called "Please Understand Me", and so I may have an incorrect understanding of it in many ways, and as that book had no particular emphasis that I recall on career choices or job performance I may have been naive about its Orwellian implications. But constrained as I am by my relative ignorance (insert one of your snide remarks here), I have some points to make:

>> MBTI™ assumes that each of us is fundamentally and profoundly oriented towards the inner world or the outer world. <<

No it doesn't. It places each of us on a continuum. Some of us at one extreme end are profoundly oriented toward the inner world; others at the other extreme end are profoundly oriented toward the outer world. Others fall at various points in-between; some right in the middle. Perhaps it's a bell curve, so the number of people at the extreme ends would be few compared to the number of people toward the middle. The number of possible in-between points depends only on the number of questions asked; with a sufficient number of questions, we might find as many in-between points as there are people who take the test. Those who fall approximately in the middle cannot be said to be "fundamentally and profoundly" oriented toward either the inner world or the outer world. That said, I have no doubt that there are individuals who oversimplify in this way, but to the extent that they do so, they misrepresent Myers-Briggs™.

>> it assumes that only those who are not sticklers for following the evidence of the senses are imaginative enough to see beyond what is to what could be. <<

Nonsense, for two reasons:

1) It's a test of preferences, not abilities. A preference for the senses does not require an inability to use the imagination. And vice-versa. That said, a strong preference for one is likely to lead to more frequent and enthusiastic use of it, and that in turn is likely to lead to greater skill in that area.

2) Again, it places everyone on a continuum. Some people are at the extreme ends of the continuum, but others are at various places in-between.

>> there are those who go against the evidence of their senses not because they are imaginative or creative, but because they are stupid or demented. <<

The absence of stupidity/intelligence and demented/sane axes is not in itself evidence against the validity of the axes for which it does test -- only a reminder of their limitation.

>> However, MBTI does not mean by "feeling" what the rest of us mean by it. <<

This gem comes after a long-winded diatribe about the inadequacy of the thinking/feeling axis, which is as much as to admit you merely set up a straw man to tear down. It seems your only real point here is that they should have used a different word than "feeling".

>> Reading these profiles is like reading something from Omar the astrologer .... Psychological tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are little more than parlor games. They will be validated by their seemingly good fit with the data, in the same way that astrologers and biorhythmists find predictive patterns fitting their readings and charts, i.e., by confirmation bias and the ambiguity of basic terms. <<

Hardly anyone would fit one profile exactly; that would require being at one extreme end or the other of each of the four axes. Most people fall somewhere in-between on all of or most of the axes, thus will not be a perfect fit with any one profile. A person who was heavily weighted one way or the other on all four axes would likely fit one profile more than any of the others -- not because of any voodoo, but simply because the profile was a reflection of their answers on the test. Rather than pay a lot of attention to the 16 prefabricated profiles, what would be more useful for most people is to read about the 4 axes and derive a custom profile based on how far from the middle they were on each axis.

>> even if it is true that there are 16 basic personality types, what good is this information? <<

Gaining insight into the range of how others think and what motivates them, which can lead to more harmonious interaction with others.

None of which is to say that Myers-Briggs™ is scientific or worthwhile. I thought it lent some useful insight into understanding how other people think, but I was a teenager at the time and perhaps I would have gained similar insight since then without the help of Myers-Briggs™. Also, though I have found it enjoyable and worthwhile to discuss with friends, that of course is just another testimonial, thus meaningless in this context.

I think one way that Myers-Briggs™ is often misused is that people who are not very far toward the extremes read themselves in the profiles as if they were at the extremes, cubby-holing themselves into one of the 16 types when in fact they are only an approximate fit for that type.

Oh -- almost forgot: I'm an INXJ. Now you have one more piece of useless information.
Greg Lovern

reply: I think you've provided us with more than one bit of useless information. I will only say that I have not denied nor do I intend to deny now that many people find the MB typology useful for understanding others. I have not denied nor do I intend to deny now that many people find the MB typology useful for understanding themselves. I also do not intend to alter anything I have written about Myers-Briggs.

18 Feb 2000
I took the Myers-Briggs™ test several years ago, and my INTP type is something I'll always remember. It's been very useful in self-understanding. I often recall my perceiving nature because I take many things into account, but I have trouble making decisions. Much more so than most people.

The other letters were accurate, as well. It is nice to look at certain personal behavior and then look back and say, "Well, that's because I'm introverted," or "That's because I'm a strong thinker." Actually, I'm quite proud of my type; I'd rather be thinking than feeling, and I think that a perceiver (as I understand the word) makes a better freethinker than a judger.

The personality profiles are not like astrological readings because the former are based on your actual personality data that you provide. I can see how you could think they are similar; after all, my personality profile isn't 100% accurate, and I see bits of myself in other profiles. But that's because nobody fits completely into one of the 16 boxes. But overall, it's accurate. One of your readers reproduced part of an INTP profile, and it was so me, especially the part about INTPs being dateless and not knowing how to flirt. I do enjoy parties, which INTPs are not supposed to do; however, I enjoy them for two reasons: 1)I've become more extroverted over the years, and 2)Most parties I go to are sponsored by my campus freethought group, so I'm with people like myself who enjoy intelligent talk and philosophical discussions.

I agree that using Myers-Briggs™ in hiring practices is a bad idea. However, it's useful for most people on a personal level. By just remembering my four letters, I always have a simple guide for understand aspects of my personality.
John Franson

30 Jul 1999 
I believe your article on the Myers-Briggs™ theory was written in 1996, however I just read it today. I think it helped me more than all the reading I've done trying to identify my "type."

I realize you are busy, but I just wanted to say how frustrated I was trying to fit myself into one of the 16 boxes. I seem to fit well into three of them! This is about the third time I have gone through the rounds of taking the tests and reading all the material I could find. I suppose it has to do with the desire to find the "perfect" job that will make me happy forever.

I agree with you especially, that the factors are not mutually exclusive. I feel, for example, that I am very intuitive and "sensitive." However, I am also a great thinker and love to analyze things. (Hence obsessing about the test). I laughed when one person giving feedback to your article assumed you were "a picky eater who missed appointments..." etc.

Anyway, thanks for your article. I am a skeptic who can't accept my own skepticism.
Ronnie Ellen Levine 

07 Jan 1999
I greatly appreciate your Skeptic's Dictionary site. Regarding MBTI
®, I have to agree with your assessment and criticisms. I have taken the test in the past and tested out as an ISTJ. At the time, the description given to me seemed to hit the nail on the head - I read every line and said "That's me."

Of course now looking at that I see certain things that do not fit. For example, an ISTJ is supposed to be orderly and an organizer. One look at my apartment or my desk at work will exclude me. Although my car is immaculate. Maybe I'm an ISTJ only in my car? After reading the various comments from other readers, it sounds like I must be an INTP. To quote from the letters, "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"." Of course, some INFP things fit as well, but I suppose one would argue they would be similar.

However, it is also stated by another proponent, "Introverts speak before they think while Extroverts need to speak their ideas and bounce them off others. In a class discussion setting, the Extrovert always has the advantage while the Introverts are unable to speak "quickly enough"." Well, by that definition, I'm the most Extroverted person you've ever met. Kinda throws a monkey wrench into that diagnosis, huh?

One comment did strike a chord. "[P]ersonally 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)." I can certainly agree that as one who always felt weird, there is comfort in being categorized, because it makes you feel more normal to think that you have a category. The fact that someone can explain you and group you with others means you are not so strange - and most people are comforted to find out they are "normal".

I appreciate the distinction that is made on the terms used for classification not corresponding to their common lay meanings. Reminds me of the definition of the word theory. But overall the positive influences of MBTI® seem to be outweighed by the negative outcomes. I agree with your comments about how using the types gets in the way of really learning what a person is like.
Keith Irish

22 Sep 1998
I was interested in your comments on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
® analysis. The team in which I work recently went through a MBTI® session presumably as a team-building exercise. It was actually a lot of fun and confirmed some previously held beliefs about the way some team members think (though we were all pretty well acquainted beforehand).

Judging by the general hilarity of the participants, I don’t think any of us took it too seriously. But it was presented by a "qualified" facilitator as a serious psychological tool, with many years of verification and recognition by the professional psychological fraternity (though no specific references to the verification were provided).

I had actually done the test (and other similar tests) many years before, and it yielded exactly the same result. I guess this is not surprising, since my prejudices and preferences would not have changed significantly. It was this consistency that was claimed as evidence of the test’s validity.

While I have no vested interest or desire to defend or debunk the MBTI® process, I would like to look a little deeper into your comment "The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator begins with the assumption that there are four basic categories by which people should be classified."

My interpretation of the four by four matrix is not that it is an assumption about the basic construction of the population, but simply a reflection of the structure of the test. The process can only resolve the population into 16 categories because that’s all it attempts to do. If it attempted any deeper analysis, it would get very complicated indeed.

It’s a bit like those images on TV where the identity of a person is disguised by overlaying a coarse pixel image of their face. It’s not an assumption of how a human face is constructed, it’s just a bunch of coloured squares which represents the original image as best it can. For a recognisable image you need a finer grained picture, but that doesn’t mean the coarse picture is "wrong", it simply doesn’t provide enough data. I agree that as an employment selection tool, a Myers-Briggs Type® Classification is at best useless, and at worst open to prejudicial assessment.

I did however find it useful in gaining some insight into the preferences and practices of my workmates. We talked amicably about such things as what people find annoying, or what pleases them. This all helped us get to know each other a little better, and become a little more tolerant of each other’s idiosyncrasies. As a structured forum for discussion, it was probably as good as any other device.

It seems that most people feel more comfortable when they can put themselves and other people into little labeled boxes. If the MBTI® process provides a relatively independent and non-threatening method of doing so, then perhaps it is better than leaving us all to our own haphazard judgements, prejudices and jealousies.
Cam Douglas

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