Why is the Myer Briggs Test Totally Meaningless?

This article discusses in length why the Myer Briggs Type Indicator is totally meaningless by delving into different arguments put up by critics and looking into scientific research, popular theories and historical data to assess how reliable and valid the test really is.

What is the Myer Briggs Type Indicator?

Are you familiar with an INTJ or an ETSP? Do you have any idea what they mean or who they could possibly describe? These are not some secret codes but terms that are used to describe the personality types of people who have taken the Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The Myer Briggs Type Indicator is a self-report questionnaire based on Carl Jung’s theory that individuals experience the world using four psychological functions namely sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking with either one of these being the dominant factor. The personality test determines which of these functions best describes a person hence detailing their personality, strengths and attitudes; it assigns one of the 16 personality types (just like INTJ or ETSP) to the individual taking the test.

Why is the Myer Briggs Type Indicator Totally Meaningless?

According to the Myer Briggs Company, more than 1 million people take the MBTI online every year and an estimated 80% of fortune 500 companies use it in their human resource practices. Not to mention that the test is so popular that it is actively used on dating sites, university campuses and numerous websites where people are just trying to make sense of who they are. How is it that something so popular can be so meaningless? Well that’s what we are about to find out!

The Fault in the Design

Yes. The fault lies in the design and not the stars! In this section we will be looking at how the structure and design of the test and the ease of accessing it have led to issues with reliability, validity and a reductionist element present in the results of the test.

It Simply Lacks Reliability.

A number of studies have shown that at least one third of the people who take the test – even with just a few weeks’ gap in between their attempts – get a different outcome. The reason behind this may be because of error variance that occurs with this test; it is the variance caused by extraneous variables and not the independent variables that leads to scores close to the cut off range and thus ends up in classification errors (Hunsley et al., 2003). Sometimes the case is that one different answer could result in an individual ending up in an entirely different category.

It is Easy to Use!

The ease with which the Myer Briggs Type Indicator can be purchased allows poorly trained practitioners to use it to enhance their consulting businesses; it can be bought by anyone who has completed a certified program by CCP in partnership with the Myer Briggs Company or has a college degree and has completed a course in the use and interpretation of psychological assessments. Unfortunately, it is the ease in acquiring and using it and the hype created around it that means any person who is not professionally certified can employ the MBTI and use it to gain results that may not be reliably obtained.

 

It Does Not Measure What it is Supposed to Measure.

After in depth analysis, it was found not to be related to other measures that are used in figuring out job or vocational preference and psychological tendencies. Furthermore, it has little correspondence with the two prevailing scientific measures of psychological structure; Eysenck’s 3 and 5 factor models. Hunsley and his contemporaries went on to conclude that is it an insufficient measure of personality after discovering that is does not follow in line with much of Jungian theory or data that has been gathered from well-established inventories of personality.

MBTI: A Reductionist Approach.

Reductionism is the theory that everything can be reduced to its basic parts; it can be studied in a simpler manner instead of looking at it as a whole. The MBTI has been accused of following a reductionist approach in that it provides a very simple picture of what a person truly is by assigning him or her a category. Even Carl Jung’s theory states that we function on four psychological functions and not just one of them however, the test chooses to place an individual in one category and not on a continuum that defines how much of the ‘four psychological functions’ we use. The personality of an individual is not static. It is a dynamic and self-organizing system that must be studied wholly to truly understand it.

The Origins of the Myer Briggs Type Indicator.

One would expect that the MBTI, a very popular psychological assessment tool, would have been created by renowned psychologists of the past. That, however, is not the case.

Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers

Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers developed the Myer Briggs Type Indicator and began testing it in 1942. They had no formal training in psychology (Briggs had a degree in agriculture while Myers in political science) and developed the test using help from various individuals including Edward Hay, who had an HR background and knowledge in test making and statistical analysis. The developers used Carl Jung’s ideas but modified the terminology so people were assigned a category after answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a series of questions; even Carl Jung claimed that people are better off being placed in a continuum rather than categories because they tend to lie in the middle and not at the extremes. Having no formal training in the discipline or in psychological assessment and interpretation, Katherine and Isabel left a huge question mark on the test’s validity and reliability.

Carl Jung: An Unglorified Mystic.

Many psychologists are critical of Carl Jung’s work which was done in an era when psychology had not yet become a science. His theories were purely theoretical and not based on scientific experiments however due to his influence during the time, his ideas gained much popularity amongst the people. This is another reason why many consider the Myer Briggs Type Indicator to be totally meaningless as it is not based on scientifically backed work.

If Its Meaningless Then Why is it so Popular?

That’s a good question! Well, it is not the first time that something which isn’t really what it claims to be gained so much fame in so little time. Let us look at why the MBTI is so widely used.

It’s Fun!

Keeping in mind current trends, people will just about try anything to learn more about themselves whether it’s through their horoscope, some online test or a ‘psychological’ assessment like the MBTI. People like making sense of themselves; they want to learn more about who they are and what they should actually be doing in life. That is exactly what the MBTI does. It tells you more about your personality traits, your likes and dislikes and what preferences you have in terms of work and career. Maybe that explains why it is so popular yet meaningless in terms of science and research.

A Successful Marketing Tool.

Like we highlighted previously, the MBTI is easy to purchase. You do not need a formal education in psychology – what you need is an expensive certified course provided by the CCP – to become a practitioner in the Myer Briggs Type Indicator. Many platforms use it to make money by pulling in clients with the tagline that they will help them make better choices in terms of their education, career path, marriage choice and lifestyle.

It is the New Trend!

The Myer Briggs Type Indicator is everywhere! Most companies and organizations have realized the power of the test and how much they can manipulate it to pull out money from customers and help increase their client base; from educational institutions, hiring companies, therapy centers, recreational facilities and match making companies to everyday activities people like to indulge in to learn more about themselves and the others around them. You can’t escape it.

Conclusion

In the article we discussed what the Myer Briggs Type Indicator basically is and why, despite being so popular, it has various issues in terms of its origins, test design and test results and why it cannot be considered a reliable and valid tool. It is necessary to determine whether or not a tool can be considered scientifically valid and reliable before one can use it just on the basis that it is the ‘trend’.

Frequently Asked Questions: Why is the Myer Briggs Test Totally Meaningless?

Is the Myer Briggs Type Indicator scientifically proven?

Although the domain of personality is a scientifically proven one, the Myer Briggs Type Indicator that is used to measure or describe one’s personality is not valid or reliable as it is not based on scientifically proven theories.

 

Why is the Myer Briggs Type Indicator unreliable?

People who take the test again get different results compared to their first attempt.

 

What are the limitations of the Myer Briggs Type Indicator?

It does not account for external factors like the setting in which the individual takes the test or any recent situation the individual came out of.

References

https://www.vox.com/2014/7/15/5881947/myers-briggs-personality-test-meaningless

https://www.psycom.net/myers-briggs-personality-type

https://shop.themyersbriggs.com/certification/mbticertification.aspx

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