How Useful is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test?
By Sylvan

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Research Paper


Sylvan Craig

How Useful is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test?

Do you know who you are? Psychologists do. Personality tests designed by psychologists ask simple questions regarding decision-making, feelings, and thoughts which aim at helping people understand themselves and their lives. Do you feel more comfortable with concrete information or theories? Are you relieved or in need of a new task when you finish a job? Would you rather go out late clubbing, or stay in relaxing? Questions just like these can be found in the most famous and frequently used personality test in the world: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This test has been used for more than 60 years (MBTI) and although it is the most widely known personality test, there are hundreds of similar tests, which hope to guide people toward a better understanding of themselves and others. Personality tests give people guidelines for their own unique personalities. Temperament, which is how we behave due to our environments, is not unique. (Keirsey 2). Personality tests are used daily in high schools, colleges, and businesses all around the world to determine who should work in certain places, who should attend which schools, and predict who should think and feel what. When the Myers-Briggs test was first developed, the developers’ goal was to help people be successful, understand themselves, and understand each other. Tests like the Myers-Briggs have been used for decades by individuals, but tests are used by businesses as well to scan and evaluate employees (MBTI). I have been intrigued by the differences and similarities in people for as long as I can remember. People fascinate me, and I’ve always wanted to understand what separates us from eachother, and why. When I took the Myers-Briggs test as a junior, I was amazed at how the test was able to pinpoint me to a type (INFJ) so well. I think being connected to a specific type is extremely interesting and informative. This paper will discuss the Myers-Briggs and other personality tests, the controversy of tests, and the usefulness of the Myers-Briggs. While personality tests may give people and businesses outlines of individuals, they are not useful in providing people with help and guidance toward major decisions.

Personality tests are used frequently in business and school settings, and have become used more and more every year since the first personality test (the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI) was created in 1941 (MBTI). The Myers and Briggs foundation believes personality testing helps people understand why they think in the way they do, why relationships with certain people may not work out, why they are unhappy with their work, and why they think and act in the way they do.

Businesses are now using personality typing to scan the people they hire and be much more selective about who works for them (Haray 1). In the buisiness world, tests are taking the place of getting to know someone the old-fashioned way: through conversation. Close to 40% of employers today use some kind of personality test to determine how good a candidate could be for a specific job or type of work, and who will be the most successful (Lorenz). In this modern and quickly growing world of ours, technology and scientific thinking have put friendly and personable habits on the back burner, since scientific results can feel more trustworthy than what someone is saying. Prospective employees are handed a personality test to fill out, and are later contacted after their results are judged and considered. The results of personality testing in some cases has become all the person is, like an impersonal way of understanding someone. Although the Myers-Briggs and other personality tests do not use numbers to describe a person, they use short words which can describe a person quickly. For example, a person is either an “E” or an “I”: an extrovert or an introvert. A boss could quickly judge a person on just that first factor, and perhaps stop right there if the person doesn’t match their demands. Personality tests make dishonesty an option, but they are centered around guiding people who give real answers about themselves and their feelings.

These methods of employee selection and self-realization had to begin from someone’s theories, personal motivation, and intense interest. That first person was Carl Jung, who was the first to develop the theory that people have different psychological types. He believed that people have two functions which determine personality: how we perceive things, and how we make decisions. Jung theorized that there are two ways to go about each function. For example, we can either perceive information through our senses or our intuition, and we can make decisions through feeling or logic. Jung’s theory is that people use each of the four functions (sensing, intuition, feeling, and logic) every day, but different people use the functions more often others, which determines where people fall within his eight types. Jung also studied people’s behavior and pinned them as extroverts (people with tendencies to be outgoing, full of energy, and social) or introverts (people who tend to be calm quiet, and more frequently tired by people). The most important and dominant factors in personality are extroversion vs. introversion, according to Jung, and they are the prefixes to his eight types. Here are three examples of Jung’s eight types: Extroverted Sensing, Introverted Sensing, and Introverted Intuition. The Myers-Briggs test has twice as many type results as Jung’s eight type personality test (Papanek 20). Isabel Myers and her mother Kathryn Briggs began studying the work of Carl Jung in 1923 when his research on psychological types was first introduced to the United States. Three years after she began closely following Jung’s work, Briggs published an article about personality typing, which was the first publicized piece of her and her daughter’s work. From 1941 to 1943, Myers and Briggs investigated how different personalities are suited for different jobs, and they helped people find jobs which matched their personality. Isabel Myers died in 1980, and in 1984 the Myers and Briggs Foundation was formed to continue Myers’ hopes to use personality typing worldwide. She hoped that people would accept themselves and appreciate and understand others after taking the test. The Myers-Briggs test was so popular because it was the first test of its kind, and in the 1970s, more than one million people were taking it annually (MBTI). The Myers-Briggs philosophy is that “every type has it’s own merits and no single personality is better than another.”

It takes the average person 25 minutes to complete the Myers-Briggs test , which has a series of questions asking how the taker feels, how they act, and how they think in situations (MBTI). Staying honest while taking the test will promise accurate test results, and it’s important that the takers think in terms of how they feel in general while answering the questions. Some people may get too specific and think, “sometimes I would rather go out and party, but other times I would prefer to watch a movie at home,” but it’s important to stay general so the test can indicate who the taker is overall. Once the test taker has completed the questions, they will be given four letters which represent words. There are 16 possible letter combinations (personality types) someone could end up with. There are four sets of letters, and two letters in a set, but each test-taker will only end up with one letter per set. The first set of letters is “I” vs. “E,” which represent introversion and extroversion, and the second set of letters is “S,” for sensing vs. “N,” for intuition. The third letter test takers receive is either an “F,” for feeling, or “T” for thinking. In her research of Jung’s types and through her own studies, Myers discovered that there is another function just as important as the rest: judging vs. perceiving, which are now the fourth and final set of letters: “J” for judging vs. “P” for perceiving. The four sets of letters can be represented more clearly by these judging factors: our flow of energy, how we take in information, how we prefer to make decisions, and the basic lifestyle we prefer. Although almost all people have a mix of preferences, everyone has a dominant, or stronger, preference within each factor (Personality Type). The scoring of the MBTI is on a scale, and a person can be really far into the introverted side of the scale, or closer to the middle. Even if someone is one point closer to the introverted side, they will get an “I” on their test. Since it’s possible (but unlikely) for people to be almost in the middle for each section, some may not feel as pin-pointed to their assigned type, given that they are not “in very deep,” but still part of that type. (MBTI) The Myers-Briggs test does not determine intelligence, and measures who we are, now what we can do or know. Our flow of energy is associated with how we receive most of our stimulation. People are either more stimulated from within themselves (introversion), or by external sources (extroversion). How we take in information involves how we feel more comfortable in learning and absorbing information. People more likely to trust their five senses (sensing), or rely their intuition (intuitive). The third factor involves how we make decisions, and refers to either making decisions based on logical consideration (thinking), or personal value systems (feeling). The first three were designed by Jung and studied by Myers and Briggs, but the fourth preference was discovered by Myers. The last type of preference is about how we feel comfortable living day-to-day. People either feel better in structured, organized, and purposeful environments (judging) or they’re comfortable in flexible, open, and casual environments (perceiving).

In the past, introversion was considered withdrawn, unusual, and sometimes unhealthy, but that’s unfair and untrue, as 25% of the nation is made up of introverts. Stereotypically, outgoing, extraverted people are seen as nice, and welcoming, and introverts are viewed as self-absorbed and quiet. In fact, introversion doesn’t have anything to do with how self-absorbed someone is, or their kindness. People who are introverted are just as friendly as extroverts, but they tire more easily. A word often used to describe an introverted person is “reserved.” They may enjoy parties, clubs, and raves, but by the end of the night, they’re usually tired and ready to calm down at home or with a few friends. Words which are associated with introverts are “territoriality,” “depth,” “internal,” and “concentration.” Extroverts, who are social, expressive, and outgoing, make up about 75% of the nation. Extroverts usually enjoy crowded and energetic events, and do not tire easily. Words which can be associated with extroverts are: “sociability,” “breadth,” “external,” and “interaction” (Keirsey and Marilyn Bates 14-16).

People who receive an “S” on their test (75% of the US population) like factual information and statistics. They focus on reality and don’t panic themselves with what might happen. Sensing people grow through experience, and are down-to-earth. They’re practical, realistic, and sensible. Those who receive an “N” on their test are daydreamers, and are often artists and writers. They’re interested in theories, and live in anticipation, intensity, and restlessness. Intuitive people are easily distracted and usually don’t usually finish the projects they start. “Ns” are stimulated by inspiration, senses, possibilities, and imaginative thinking. The “S” vs. “N” section is considered the widest gulf between people; sensing people and intuitive people are extremely unlike, even more so than extroverts and introverts (Keirsey and Marilyn Bares 16-19).

About 50% of Americans are “Fs” and 50% are “Ts.” People who end up with an “F” at the end of their test are usually seen as emotional, friendly, and concerned with feelings, intimacy, and values. They “wear their heart on their sleeve”. Words which could be used to describe Feeling people are “values,” “persuasion,” “personal,” “sympathetic,” “ humane,” and “harmony.” “Ts” are seen as logical, unemotional, unsentimental, remote, thought-based, and very tough-minded. Words to describe Thinking people are “policies,” “criteria,” “rules,” “impersonal,” “justice,” “categories,” and “analysis,” (Keirsey and Marilyn Bates 20-21).

People who get a “J” on their test almost always have strong work ethics, feel relieved after finishing a piece of work, and like the feeling of closure. They usually put work first, and can be seen as inflexible. Judging people can be rigid, inflexible, and decisive. Words to associate with “Js”: “responsible,” “planning,” “concentration,” and “schedule” (Keirsey and Marilyn Bates 22-24). Perceiving people feel very different about work and tasks than Judging people. They usually have lenient work ethics, and are open to new ideas. They’re often aimless procrastinators. Words to describe a perceiving person: “free-spirited,” “flexible,” “unconcerned,” and “unplanned.” About half of the US population is made up of Perceivers. Although some people fall into certain categories and others do not, all people don’t fall solely into their own category. For example, a Perceiver is no less judgmental than a Judging person. In this example, “judging” does not equate to our form of “judgmental”: mean and cynical. These words describe the person’s dominant feature of the category; we all demonstrate some of each piece (Personality Type).

Once their test is complete, takers will receive one of the letters from each of the four categories. Even though people can scan the general information regarding introverts, extroverts, and so on, and they can probably decide which category they fall into after reading facts, the Myers-Briggs test gives takers much more specific and personalized results. The placements above are not specific—they are general descriptions of all people. There are 16 very different and specific results which are formed after the person is placed. The final Myers-Briggs results are: INFJ, ENTJ, INTJ, ENFJ, ENTP, INTP, ESTP, INFP, ISTP, ENFP, ESFP, ESTJ, ISFP , ISTJ , ESFJ , and ISFJ. Each of these 16 types has a very detailed and specific analysis. Some results are more rare than others—the rarest type is INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging) and between 1% and 2% of the nation have this result. Interestingly, the most commonly repeated type is ISFJ (introverted, sensing, feeling, judging), which only has one letter difference from the rarest type in the nation. About 14% of the country’s test takers are ISFJ. (MBTI). Although these types have only one letter difference, they are very different from each other.

The Enneagram is another personality test which shares similarities to the Myers-Briggs, but has it’s own system. The Enneagram focuses on psychological motivation, and emphasizes emotional outlooks. It’s most commonly used by people seeking self-help, but it’s also used by councelors, teachers, businesspeople, managers, and psychologists. The Enneogram has nine personality types, which are general in comparison to the Myers-Briggs results. It’s a diagram with nine points, each of which have a label (for example: type one, the reformer), and are connected to two other points. The points they are connected to are what they could become, or are most similar to (Papanek 28).

The first Enneogram type is called “The Reformer.” Reformers are motivated by improvements in a communities, and they’re usually scared of making mistakes. Reformers are typically orderly, but can be harsh and bossy. The second Enneogram type is called “The Helper,” and soft-hearted, caring, and generous people who would sacrifice their own comfort for others usually fall into this group. “The Motivator,” which is the third type, is encouraged by success, full of energy, kind, and very competitive. The fourth type is called “The Artist.” Artists are quiet, intuitive, soft, and show care for others. They’re honest, self-conscience, creative, and sad at times. “The Thinker,” type five, consists of curious, hard-thinking intellectuals who ponder deep subjects. They concentrate well and usually have a strong understanding of academics. They’re frequently socially uncomfortable. Type six is “The Loyalist.” Loyalists are responsible, defensive, brave, supportive, and are always willing to help others. They’re dependable and competitive as well. The seventh Enneogram type is “The Generalist.” Generalists are usually happy, and full of good spirits and joy. They can be easily stressed and tired, but they’re fun to be around. Type eight is “The Leader.” Leaders are commonly aggressive, intimidating, and organized. They make decisions quickly and can be unfair. People who fall into the ninth and final Enneagram type are called “The Peacemakers.” Peacemakers are understanding of all, flexible, helpful without solving problems, and can be unwilling at times (Papanek 29). The Enneagram is unlike the Myers-Briggs test because it has fewer results, which means many more people fall into the same category. The Enneagram is a personality test; however, it doesn’t focus on specifics as the Myers-Briggs test does. This test does not claim to hold the same usefulness as the Myers-Briggs because it doesn’t offer detailed profiles or show how certain types could operate in certain professional situations better than others (Papanek 29). I think the Enneagram is interesting and can provide knowledgeable insights about people, but it doesn’t have as detailed or as many questions as the Myers-Briggs test, and I feel like it’s not as solid because of it’s simplicity.

The Rorschach Ink Blot Test was developed by Hermann Rorschach in the early 1900s. The subject is shown ten standard abstract images (ink blots), and is supposed to explain what they think the images most closely resembles. This test measures test takers’ emotions, personality, and even intellect. This test is used today to highlight and focus on abnormities in the creative sense, or to determine if someone has an inability to follow normal thought process (Papanek 13). While the Rorschach test claims to measure personality, it differs from the Myers-Briggs because it works with the subconscious and psyche, rather than conscious decisions and thoughts. This test was originally designed for the ill, but is now being used to test healthy people. The results of the Rorschach test are in no way as specific or detailed as the Myers-Briggs results, and are not helpful in guiding someone to a certain career choice. After all, when it comes to dealing with the psyche and subconscious, scientific results begin to diminish. People against the Rorschach claim it’s too difficult to deceiver creativity and scientific findings (Carroll). I believe the Rorschach Ink Blot Test is useful in determining someone’s deep personality and individual being, but it’s not helpful in determining someone’s career possibilities at all. I see this as a self-help, or self-understanding test.

Even in it’s popularity and frequent use, there are skeptical individuals who question the tests’ abilities (Myers-Briggs). Robert Todd Carroll, who wrote The Skeptic’s Dictionary, believes the Myers-Briggs format is made so it’s difficult to verify any claims it makes because it is unscientific, meaning it’s missing a hypothesis and evidence-based, factual information. Carroll says, “no matter what your preferences, your behavior will still sometimes indicate contrasting behavior. Thus, no behavior can ever be used to falsify the type, and any behavior can be used to verify it.” (Myers-Briggs). The most common skeptical claim against the Myers-Briggs is that it’s so vague and complicated that any act or behavior could be considered a type, which can lead to the “Forer effect”, meaning people think results are made just for them when they’re really made for a wide range of people. Carroll criticizes Jung’s original work as well, and pointed out that “the only scientific Jung performed was in the field of astrology.” (Myers-Briggs). The whole meaning of the test is doubted; Carroll pointed out that there is such a thing as introversion, and extroversion, but that being divided into different groups of types means nothing. He states that it’s the only factor for psychologists to use to explain people around them. It’s a common belief that the Myers-Briggs test is not helpful, cannot be used in life, and is not an aid in making major decisions, but rather it’s a way for individuals to understand themselves and each other on a digestible level.

People in question still doubt that the Myers-Briggs test has any scientific qualities at all, and doubt its level of truthfulness (Myers-Briggs). The Myers-Briggs test has been used, loved, questioned, trusted, and criticized by countless people since it’s first release over 60 years ago. This test is well developed and has proved to be able to show people their own types after undergoing a series of easy questions. Over the years, people have been placed into the 16 categories, some being astonished at the exact connection they made, and how they believe they were put in the perfect group, and some questioning the meaning and truth behind their results. Without a doubt, the Myers-Briggs has sparked thoughts, debates, and arguments.

When I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator I was given the result INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging). Like I stated before, takers can fall anywhere on a scale between the two points. I am an “extreme” INFJ, since I have a majority in each of these groups. I received eight points towards being an extrovert but thirteen towards being an introvert. Six on the sensing side, but twenty on the intuitive side. I have sixteen points in the feeling section and eight in the thinking section. Eighteen for judging and a mere four for perceiving. The profile I was given tells me I am exquisitely empathetic, and my sensitivity may almost border on psychic. It says I have deep concerns for people, relationships, and emotions, and that I’m a quiet and insightful friend who values trust. True. Intuition is primary, and perhaps the most dominant factor to my type. True. I have an extreme passion for creative expression. True. Ideas, insights, and possibilities motivate me and hold my interest. True. To my amusement but not surprise, my profile even said that under stress I compulsively attempt to organize and become exceptionally self-critical. I think that’s interesting, considering I just cleaned my entire room even though I have homework to do in every class tonight. INFJs can be powerful helpers and are often found in the fields of psychology. Cool, especially since I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a psychologist since seventh grade. I can’t argue with anything the Myers-Briggs says about INFJs…or me, actually. While reading about myself and nodding in agreement is amusing, I don’t feel it can help me in finding a job, or a college, for that matter. If I had no idea what I was going to do with my life and I took the test and it said I am likely to be an athlete, I don’t think I would race after a career in athleticism. Even though the test has proven to be right-on with me, other people may not fall so clearly into a group, and should not follow the test’s light suggestions about professions. Jobs are important and we should look into what’s behind certain areas of work before we jump in. Just because the Myers-Briggs said I’m likely to go into psychology, and I’m interested in it, and that’s what I’m going to major in when I’m in college, that doesn’t mean it’s the same case for other people. It’s important to get involved in activities you like, and then go from there.

Through intensive study, research, and personal experience with the test, I have come to realize that the test is a fascinating way for someone to learn more about themselves, and connect with the things they already knew about themselves. I think this test is accurate and connects people to their real personalities. I do not, however, believe that the Myers-Briggs test is very dependable or useful in life. Although it’s fun, interesting, and thought provoking, it does not provide enough concrete answers or explanations for a person to decide a career or new way of life based on the test. Myers and Briggs originally claimed that the test is life changing and that it could help people to find just the right career. This doesn’t guide people towards career options, interests, or ultimate decisions; rather, it suggests a couple of careers. The results of the Myers-Briggs test are interesting, but are not useful in determining professions.