Continuing our series on personality tests this post focuses on one of the most popular of them all, the Myers-Briggs Indicator or MBTI
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Are you an ENTP or INTJ or ESFJ? Now, before you think we at Brainpundits have lost our, well, brains, these are some of personality type tests that MBTI has to offer. MBTI or Myers-Briggs Indicator is one of the most popular personality type tests out there. Around 2 million people around the world take it annually. It is estimated that around 89 of the Fortune 100 uses this test to hire and manage employees.
It has also inspired various quizzes online based on characters from popular culture like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter etc. But despite its massive popularity and usage among the various organization around the world, the overall psychology community do no deem it to be scientific at all.
This article will trace the origins of the test, explain what is it about and also show the controversy behind it.
In order to tell the story of this test, we will need to go back to one of the major figures in the field of psychology, Carl G. Jung. In 1921, Jung published one of his famous books Psychological Types. In this book, Jung tried to give a formulation of personality types based on his observations. He argued there may exist two personality attitudes: Extroversion and Introversion, and four functions or orientation: Thinking, Sensation, Intuition, and Feeling.
In 1923, one of the contributors to test, Katharine Briggs found this book and made it her gospel. Katharine Briggs was a stay at home mom who had studied horticulture. Jung’s book made a remarkable impact on her and she thought of using the ideas from the book and implementing them in day to day life. A couple of decades later, her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, an aspiring fictional writer, with help from a management consultant Edward N. Hay and her mother debuted the test in 1943.
What is the Test about?
Katharine and Isabel expanded Jung’s original conception into 16 personality types with four binary categories.
Extroversion – Introversion; Intuition – Sensing; Thinking – Feeling; Judging – Perception
The original test had 93 questions, which haven’t changed much in today’s times, and based on the questionnaire, the test groups people into 16 discrete personality types. The details of these types can be seen in the image below.
While it sounds all hunky and dory but when you start scratching the surface cracks start to appear. The problem arises with the test that is there is no scientific validity for the test. A study showed that around 50 percent of the people end up having different results on the test, the second time they take it, that too after just a few weeks later. Other studies have also argued that the test is indeed ineffective in predicting how certain types maybe successful at different jobs.
Interestingly, all the major scientific journals of psychology have no research published based on this test. Whatever few articles that are available on this test are there to point out to the flaws that it has. While on the issue of the Rorschach test, as discussed in a previous article, the scientific community was divided. But on Myers-Briggs Test Indicator, they seem to be united in agreement that this test does not have any scientific validity.
Why is it Popular then?
Then you may wonder if this test is not scientifically valid and the majority of psychologists do not use this, then why is it so popular? The answer lies in a phenomenon called the Forer effect and effective product management by then Edward Hay. After its debut, the test was effectively marketed by Edward Hay, who had connections with General Electric, Bell Telephone and most importantly National Bureau of Statistics. Through his connections, the test got employed in early major corporations. Now, as mentioned earlier, the test is not only employed by various private companies in the world but also various government organizations.
The Forer effect, or the Barnum effect, refers to the psychological phenomenon where individuals are prone to believe that personality depictions apply specifically to them, but in reality, the descriptions are for everyone. A perfect example of this is your daily horoscopes. That is why most descriptions of the personality in Myers-Briggs Test Indicator are positive in their nature. So, one can even say this test – and different inspirations from it – is for entertainment, which is absolutely fine.
The dilemma comes, as Merve Emre argues in her new book argues, that in theory there are clear ethical violations how CAPT and CPP peddle this test without having any scientific basis as reliable; but in practice, many of the companies and organizations that use this test clearly have different definitions of ethics.
So, even though the Myers-Briggs Test Indicator has had a controversial stint with the scientific community. It still enjoys the support of the people at large. And it cannot be denied that this test still remains one of the most popular ones out there.