• The Myers-Briggs Debunked?


    It was a rite of passage when I was in college, everyone took the Myers-Briggs personality test. Turns out I was an INFJ. 🙂

    Chances are you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or will. Roughly 2 million people a year do. It has become the gold standard of psychological assessments, used in businesses, government agencies and educational institutions. Along the way, it has spawned a multimillion-dollar business around its simple concept that everyone fits one of 16 personality types.

    Now, 50 years after the first time anyone paid money for the test, the Myers-Briggs legacy is reaching the end of the family line. The youngest heirs don’t want it. And it’s not clear whether organizations should, either.

    The Myers-Briggs has been exceedingly popular since its release around 50 years ago and since then more than “10k companies, 2,500 colleges and universities and 200 government agencies” have used the test.

    One small problem. Turns out science researchers are questioning (and have been for a long time) the validity of it.

    Yet despite its widespread use and vast financial success, and although it was derived from the work of Carl Jung, one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century, the test is highly questioned by the scientific community.

    So, what’s the problem?

    “What concerns me is the cultlike devotion of many consultants and practitioners to it without the examination of the evidence,” says Adam Grant, a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

    Despite the far-reaching use of the assessment in organizations, the academic psychological community has been slow to embrace it. No major journal has published research on the MBTI, which academics consider a strong repudiation of the test’s authority. What makes this even more striking is that CPP has three prominent psychologists on its corporate board — Carl Thoresen, Wayne Cascio and Christina Maslach — who presumably could have used their stature in the field to help.

    Other problems?

    Academics would contend that is precisely Myers-Briggs biggest flaw: It’s about belief much more than scientific evidence. And it’s administered by leadership coaches who, by and large, have no formal education in the science of psychology.

    “People like it because it reveals something they didn’t know about themselves or others,” says Wharton’s Grant. “That could be true of a horoscope, too.”

    Even Katharine Downing Myers concedes that “psychologists had no use for the indicator; they felt that Jung was a crazy mystic.”

    Today the copyright holder of the test is old and younger family members are disinterested in the project.

    Katharine recently retired from the meetings but still gets the notes.

    She lives by herself in a two-bedroom cottage in a Quaker retirement community just outside Kennett Square, Pa. It is 25 miles from where she was born 86 years ago, and 25 miles from where she met Peter.

    When they die, the copyright will go to the Myers-Briggs Foundation, which funds research and helps maintain the nonprofit Center for Applications of Psychological Type. They both have children from separate marriages, but “they won’t be putting into it what Peter and I do,” Katharine says. “For Peter and me, it became our life’s work.”

    When asked if he is sad his children won’t carry on the family legacy, Peter replies, “Yes, but that’s the luck of the draw.”

    And so the old pair made the decision to end the line here.

    Among the Quaker cottages, where Katharine intends to live out the last of her years, she still feels the presence of Myers-Briggs. She has started a small group of retirees who meet to talk about Carl Jung’s theory and the indicator that has been such a force in her life.

    “It was a family that didn’t think you had to go to a class to learn something,” Katharine recalls of her mother and grandmother-in-law. “You could just learn it on your own.”

    The 2,500 people who got their Myers-Briggs certification last year likely agree.

    It’s a fascinating read, highly recommended if you’ve ever (or are planning) on taking the Myers-Briggs or other personality tests.


    Category: In the News


    Article by: Beth Erickson

    I'm Beth Ann Erickson, a freelance writer, publisher, and skeptic. I live in Central Minnesota with my husband, son, and two rescue pups. Life is flippin' good. :)


    1. I’ve taken the test a few times (I’m an ENTJ). I’ve found that I have much in common with other ENTJs, and the ENTJ notes make some very successful predictions about me (like my interest in universal truths). The test must do something right.

      1. It’s hard to say whether the test is accurate or if we’re dealing with self fulfilling prophecies. I found the test to be fairly accurate, but in retrospect, I have to wonder if it’s like a horoscope in that it’s vague enough to be “accurate.” It would be great if scientists took a good look at it to determine its efficacy. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

        1. I think it accurate enough. The presenter was an entertainer not a shrink. The point of the exercise, as I recall, was to clue in the team as to the different personality types in the group and that each needs a bit of consideration for successful social interactions (team work) and in that I thought it quite successful.

    2. Beth,

      Thanks for the interesting information. I’ve taken the test several times. I always thought it was bunk, and it is nice to finally know I’m not alone in that impression.

      On an unrelated note I wonder why none of the bloggers here have latched onto the tragic story out of Pakistan in which volunteers who administer polio vaccine to children are being killed by Islamist nut jobs? Thousands of children are going to die or be permanently crippled because of the program had been shut down. It is a tragedy in the making.

      1. You have an interesting point. I’ll definitely look into the story and write about it tomorrow. Thanks for the tip! I’ll look forward to your insights into the situation. 🙂

      2. ERV has a post up ’bout Pakistan. Appears to be revenge for the CIA using the vaccination program as cover for their Bin Laden search.

    3. I have taken multiple assessments, MBTI, DiSC, Ennegram, etc. and I come out the equivalent of MBTI INTP in all of them. Something to be said for consistency in core concepts or me or both.

    4. Based on Jung? How cute. The two women who created this scam were not psychologists or psychiatrists, but said, “hey if we say it’s based on our interpretation on Jung, that will legitimize this and we’ll be famous”. This is about as scientifically accurate as astrology, yet college graduates cling to this nonsense like it’s the last piece of candy in the jar and they’re five years old. I am frustrated at the amount of money the company I work for is throwing at this when we could be using it intelligently. I haven’t seen pure silliness of this scale since they began putting self proclaimed psychics on the payroll at law enforcement. Remind me again what century this is????

      1. Great point. I have seen the four letter abbreviations on countless resumes and have largely ignored them until I was just now curious enough to look up the results. It is a system largely used by young women.Unfortunately, if I don’t hire some young women I am about to go to prison. So I have to learn this system out of necessity and it is not a pleasant experience.

        1. I’m sure they’ll find working for you a very pleasant experience, too. Hope you enjoy your get-out-of-jail-free card, you pompous old turd.

    5. The first time I took the test I got entj type but that was who I decided to be that day. The second time I took the test I got isfp type on another day so does that mean this test is total BS?!… but it is used by so many employers in pre-employment screenings. Employers unshakable belief in this BS test is equivalent to self delusion! And the unemployed, I among them, wonder why we can’t get work. This scam needs to be brought to the light and burned out of existence.

    6. I think the test is a useful stepping stone toward a greater understanding of the body of knowledge of the psychology in the same way that I like to go back as far as possible in music history and up through current musical trends. It is also similar to appreciating precursors in other fields, genetics, physics… I see inconsistencies that render the Myers-Briggs unusable beyond its spot in the timeline of psychology history. For example, aggression is not necessarily borne out of logic or even sanity. It can be, but is not necessarily. Slapping the label ‘logical’ on aggression and then enforcing it with aggression is irrational. Furthermore, nurturing behavior can be motivated as often by irrational beliefs (nurturing a bug) or purely experiential enjoyment (playing with dolls). It can also be motivated by logical understanding of human growth and development. Women, according to my reading of the timeline of large-scale access to academic education through the course of human history, had to rely on limited resources for developing their intellectual tools. Men had access to academic education and opportunity to hone intellectual tools, such as academic knowledge and formal reasoning to understand and solve problems relevant to survival and building upon fields of knowledge or tools for discovery, innovation and creative expression. The implementation of rational thinking in the approach to rearing children has been overlooked by earlier famous and influential thinkers. The devolving into enforcing the association between aggression, destruction and logic by sheer force seems to be a consequence of the pervasiveness of that false association. Logic is a tool that can be expressed, behaviorally by both nurture and aggression. Impulsive or hedonistic motives can also inspire nurturing and aggression. In fact, almost any behavior can be defended by a logical argument that may or may not be built upon an empirically evident premise. In sum, I believe Jung was incorrect to associate logic with either gender. I believe that logic is simply associated with academic education if complex and formal and adulthood, generally, if more simple and informal. Furthermore, one sees the emotional and behavioral manifestations of thoughts in others and can identify more easily with those who we think look more like ourselves. Another explanation that I think is plausible for Jung’s association between logic and masculinity is that he is aware of his own thoughts, feelings and behaviors but has less access to the thoughts driving the feelings and behaviors of others, particularly those who he identifies with less readily. One barrier to intellectual identification is sexual desire. Aggression can limit humanity’s ability to logically protect life itself, if the prevailing belief is that logic is exclusively associated with aggression and destruction. I think Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Jeanne d’Arc, Thyra, even Lise Meitner (who declined the offer to participate in the development of the atomic bomb on reasoned moral grounds), all had logical reasoning behind their defense of nonviolence. Lastly, nonviolent ideas promulgation and focus on constructive behaviors and life is not mutually exclusive with logical reasoning any more than it is with unreasoned, hedonistic or impulsive expression of emotion. Violent ideas promulgation and focus on destructive behaviors and death is not mutually exclusive with logical reasoning any more than it is with unreasoned, hedonistic or impulsive expression of emotion. Are terrorists more logical than patient K-12 teachers? Are insult hurling politicians more temperamentally disciplined than healthcare professionals who care about the mental and physical experience of others? Is a care ethic mutually exclusive from an ethic built on principled reasoning or can they work together? Is educational background actually influential in how one constructs a rationale about any topic? These questions are rhetorical but also not well represented by what I perceive is being expressed as common knowledge or trendy behavior. Some people can articulate better than I, but I would like more people to take fresh eyes to these life impacting constructs about nurture and aggression.

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