Myers-Briggs: Meaningless?
Terry Braverman and Company

Myers-Briggs: Meaningless?

Quote for the Week: “The one size fits all approach of standardized testing is convenient but lazy." - James Dyson


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world. An estimated 2million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that makes and markets the test makes somewhere around $20 million each year.


The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.
"There's just no evidence behind it," says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. "The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you'll be in a situation, how you'll perform at your job, or how happy you'll be in your marriage."

The test claims that, based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete "types" — and in doing so, serve as "a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence." Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.

But the test was developed in the 1940s based off the untested theories of an outdated analytical psychologist named Carl Jung, and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality "types" were just rough tendencies he'd observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analysis have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people's success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.

Yet you've probably heard people telling you that they're an ENFJ (extraverted intuitive feeling judging), an INTP (introverted intuitive thinking perceiving), or another one of the 16 types drawn from his work, and you may have even been given this test in a professional setting. Here's an explanation of why these labels are so meaningless — and why no organization in the 21st century should rely on the test for anything.

In 1921, Jung published the book Psychological Types. In it, he put forth a few different interesting, unsupported theories on how the human brain operates.

Among other things, he explained that humans fall roughly into two main types: perceivers and judgers. The former group could be further split into people who prefer  sensing and others who prefer intuiting, while the latter could be split into thinkers and feelers, making for a total of four types of people. All four types, additionally, could be divided based on attitudes, into introverts and extraverts (Jung's spelling). These categories, though, were approximate: "Every individual is an exception to the rule," Jung wrote.

Even these rough categories, though, didn't come out of controlled experiments or data. "This was before psychology was an empirical science," says Grant, the Penn psychologist. "Jung literally made these up based on his own experiences." But Jung's influence on the early field was enormous, and this idea of "types" in particular caught on.

Jung's principles were later adapted into a test by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of Americans who had no formal training in psychology. To learn the techniques of test-making and statistical analysis, Briggs worked with Edward Hay, an HR manager for a Philadelphia bank.

They began testing their "Type Indicator" in 1942. It copied Jung's types, but slightly altered the terminology, and modified it so that a person was assigned one possibility or the other in all four categories, based on their answers to a series of two-choice questions.

Raise two (the number of possibilities in each category) to the fourth power (the number of categories) and you get 16: the different types of people there apparently are in the world. Myers and Briggs gave titles to each of these types, like the Executive, the Caregiver, the Scientist, and the Idealist.

The test has grown enormously in popularity over the years — especially since it was taken over by the company CPP in 1975 — but has changed little. It still assigns you a four-letter type to represent which result you got in each of the four categories:

With most traits, humans fall on different points along a spectrum. If you ask people whether they prefer to think or feel, or whether they prefer to judge or perceive, the majority will tell you a little of both. Jung himself admitted as much, noting that the binaries were useful ways of thinking about people, but writing that "there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum."

But the test is built entirely around the basis that people are all one or the other. It arrives at the conclusion by giving people questions such as, "You tend to sympathize with other people" and offering them only two blunt answers: "yes" or "no."

If private companies want to throw their money away on the Myers-Briggs, that's their prerogative. But about 200 Federal agencies reportedly waste money on the test too, including the State Department and the CIA. The military in particular relies heavily on the Myers-Briggs, and the EPA has given it to about a quarter of its 17,000 employees.

It's 2014. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let's stop using this outdated measure — which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign — and move on to something else.

(Article written by Joseph Stromberg,, July 15, 2014)











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