Nothing personal: The Questionable Myers-Briggs Test

The Myers-Briggs personality test is used by companies the world over but the evidence is that it’s nowhere near as useful as its popularity suggests

I was recently reviewing some psychological lectures for my real job. One of these was on personality tests. The speaker mentioned the Myers-Briggs test, explaining that, while well known (I personally know it from a Dilbert cartoon ) the Myers-Briggs test isn’t recognised as being scientifically valid so is largely ignored by the field of psychology. I tweeted this fact, thinking it would be of passing interest to a few people. I was unprepared for the intensity of the replies I got. I learned several things that day.

1. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is used by countless organisations and industries, although one of the few areas that doesn’t use it is psychology, which says a lot.

2. Many people who have encountered the MBTI in the workplace really don’t have a lot of positive things to say about it.

3. For some organisations, use of the MBTI seemingly crosses the line into full-blown ideology.

So how did something that apparently lacks scientific credibility become such a popular and accepted tool?

The MBTI was developed during World War 2 by Myers and Briggs (obviously), two housewives who developed a keen interest in the works of Carl Jung . They developed the MBTI based on Jung’s theories, with the intention of producing a useful test that would allow women entering the workforce to be assigned jobs that would be best suited to their personalities.

This is already enough to make some people wary. Myers and Briggs weren’t trained scientists, but you don’t need to be scientifically qualified to make a very valid contribution to science. Look at Galaxy Zoo. Also, deriving all your information from a single source is always questionable in science, even if it weren’t the work of Jung, whose theories were/are very influential and far reaching but largely scientifically untestable and subject to numerous criticisms . But the debate around the validity of Jung’s theories certainly isn’t something I could settle in a blogpost.

The trouble is, the more you look into the specifics of the MBTI, the more questionable the way it’s widespread use appears to be. There are comprehensive critiques about it online, but the most obvious flaw is that the MBTI seems to rely exclusively on binary choices.

Read more on the Guardian website>>