MBTI Part 4: Debunking 3 Common Myths

Many of us are well aware of the benefits the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), as we have experienced it and put it to good use. Yet, there are plenty out there that relentlessly criticize MBTI, as if our real world enrichments are somehow illegitimate. Why do these people criticize MBTI? Perhaps the popularity encourages rebels that want to prove they’re smarter than most. Maybe the concept didn’t work out for some people and they’re upset about it. There’s also the possibility that there are genuine critics that simply believe MBTI is nonsense and aren’t given enough credit in this intro.

Whatever the reason is, I can tell you it’s not because they’re aware of all the facts that surround the issue and concluded that MBTI is obvious psychological sewage. I find that many of the main arguments used against MBTI are merely myths based on shallow observations. In this article, I hope to debunk some of these myths by giving you a more holistic view of the facts surrounding these criticisms.

Myth #1: MBTI is not scientific psychology

If you’ve seen one of the recent episodes of Adam Ruins Everything, or if you know an ISTJ, you may have heard what is easily the most popular criticism against MBTI: “The Myers-Briggs test is not scientific.” It’s not all that hard to believe it’s all made up nonsense that is meant to make us feel good about ourselves, and probably even make some money for test creators in the process. If you do some digging, you’ll find out the origins of MBTI doesn’t sound quite as impressive as everyone seems to be giving it credit for. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there’s more to the story than “Myers and Briggs weren’t really psychologists.” Considering the fact that behavioral psychology was barely a developing field of study at the time, it seems like a rather unfair charge to say that the developers of MBTI did not have the credibility to create such a concept. And it’s also untrue.

Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs were as close to psychologists as was reasonably possible at the time. Briggs aspired to understand human development and help people reach their fullest potential. Myers, graduating with a political science degree from Swarthmore college, was highly educated and had many connections with professional psychometricians. The two of them spent decades researching the psychological works that were available at the time, before even thinking to create a more systematic personality tool. Once they did come up with the idea for the MBTI concept, they dedicated two decades to researching and analyzing thousands of people to further develop their ideas.

Although Myers and Briggs had plenty of qualifications on their own, it is a common myth that they worked alone in this endeavor. Actually, the truth of the matter is that they collaborated with plenty of very experienced psychometricians from University of Michigan, Florida, and California. Likely the most prominent contributor was a Clinical Psychology professor at The University of Florida by the name of Mary McCaulley, PhD. Later, McCaulley and Myers went on to be the two co-founders of Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT). Not exactly the work you see from a couple of random uneducated hacks.

Myth #2: MBTI puts people into oversimplified boxes

MBTI is often criticized for denying the individuality of human beings by categorizing them into 16 inescapable paradigms (32 if you count turbulent and assertive variations). Apparently, the idea of systematizing human beings to a point of assuming someone is incapable of anything outside of their test score is rather upsetting to some people. However, in any kind of disagreement, from politics and religion to which fictitious cartoon characters were the greatest, I find that people will resort to absurdly skewed misrepresentation over honestly informed assessment. That’s exactly what’s happened here. This is the worst kind of strawman argument that a human being can make.

You don’t need a deeper look at the facts and an abnormally thorough history lesson to debunk this myth. An accurate representation of what MBTI does and how it represents itself is really all you’re going to need. For example, MBTI doesn’t claim to be an all seeing system that describes your entire personality characteristics down to the most insignificant detail. Rather, MBTI seeks to identify naturally dominant cognitive functions, which have certain patterns when interacting with other functions. However, the whole point of the test is self evaluation for the purpose of improvement and development. So it’s no surprise to me when someone gets a test result of one type and then a completely different type a month later because human beings are in constant development. Variations in test results just tells us that there’s been a mistype or an individual has increased the capacity of a naturally inferior function.

Another common criticism is that MBTI wrongfully assumes people have to fit into one personality function and not the other. So a thinker (T) could not be a feeler (F). Except that’s not at all how MBTI frames it. All basic functions exist in every human being. However, some functions are more prominent than others, which drives the study of type development. So when someone tests into one trait over another, it’s not a result that claims the complete absence of the other but an inferiority of the other. MBTI openly recognizes that all traits exist in every human being in varying degrees. Some people can be very balanced in a certain area, and others can be extremely weighted on one particular side of the scale.

When Patrick gets upset with spongebob for eating his chocolate bar, when in fact he had just forgotten that he had eaten it himself, he didn’t have a real reason to be upset. In the same way, this criticism is based on assumptions about MBTI that misrepresents the concept itself. Moral of the story: don’t be Patrick.

Myth #3: MBTI fails to ensure job satisfaction

There’s definitely an element of truth to this one. MBTI statistically fails to predict job satisfaction according to tested MBTI types, or at least produce statistics that demonstrate otherwise. However, that’s not the primary point of MBTI.

Critics will have you believe that MBTI was created and designed for the purpose of helping place women in jobs they would be satisfied with while most of the men were fighting in World War II. Not only is this wrong, but it also creates this false assumption that MBTI was just something that was thrown together in a short time to react to the circumstances of the time. Although it’s true that the test launched only a few years after the war started with the intent of helping women figure out where they might be helpful, it was obviously not the core intent of the concept as Myers and Briggs had been studying Carl Jung’s work to develop the concept for almost two decades at that point. The test may have been launched because of the circumstances, but the circumstances were not the origin of the project. Which is a pretty clear indication that there was a greater purpose of the concept beyond the circumstances of the war. MBTI was always meant to help people understand themselves and other people around them, even if it didn’t have a concept name before it’s publication.

The most interesting part of this myth is that fact that it completely contradicts other main criticisms that people raise about MBTI, therefore it doesn’t make any sense. Critics argue that MBTI cannot accurately identify a single personality type consistently, which I agree with because mistypes happen all the time for various reasons. Mistypes can occur as a result of people not being entirely aware of their own tendencies or answering questions for reasons other than their natural cognitive functions, resulting in test results that are contrary to their natural MBTI type. Critics also argue, as stated before, MBTI statistically fails to predict job satisfaction according to tested types. These arguments cannot coexist. Critics cannot simultaneously argue that MBTI types do not relate to job satisfaction AND that MBTI produces frequently unreliable results.

My contention is that MBTI fails to predict job satisfaction because frequent mistypes causes a false understanding of their natural MBTI type. A mistype is as easy as answering a certain questions for a logical or emotional reason outside of natural cognitive functions, which is what the test tries to understand. When the test asks me if I’d rather be out partying with friends or at home watching movies alone, I can answer watching movies alone if I happen to be tired of seeing so many people at the time of taking the test. A circumstantial preference such as this one may logically lead me to answer in a way that is contrary to my natural cognitive function as an extrovert (Clearly, I’m an introvert. I just needed an example). Sometimes we can answer questions that we want to be true about ourselves, which is another realistic way that mistypes can happen. So if it’s so incredibly easy to score a mistype, it’s no wonder job satisfaction fails to be fulfilled according to tested types.


There’s always two sides to any story. Maybe MBTI isn’t as incredible and helpful as some of us think it is, but it certainly isn’t the uneducational garbage that critics think that it is. I find it disheartening that so many critics have so easily believed the negative stories about Myers-Briggs just because they don’t have enough faith in the majority’s thought. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons people criticize it. However, if anyone insists on tearing down the work that Myers and Briggs dedicated their lives to helping millions of people better understand themselves and their loved ones, as it has done, I would hope they would dig a little deeper to better understand all the facts surrounding the issue.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/isabel-briggs-myers.htm?bhcp=1

https://www.opp.com/en/tools/MBTI/Myers-Briggs-history

http://www.personalitypathways.com/mary_mbti.html

 

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