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Monday, April 16, 2012


ESFJ. Same as the Myers Briggs I took at work.

INTP, as always. That may explain why I'm not a very good blogger. Not extroverted enough, worried I haven't considered all the possibilities, an odd sense of privacy (at least it doesn't quite make sense to me), and not being that interested in what seems to concern everyone else.


While a blog might not suit you, I bet you can be a fascinating conversationalist because it can be easier in conversation to introduce all of the qualifications, facets and subtleties of a subject that emerge naturally as you think out loud. I would also guess that for you to really express yourself, you'd need conversation with a very curious, nimble thinker who doesn't have to ask what your point is because they don't understand curiosity without concrete or immediate practical applications. And they would have to be someone who understands the difference between being attacked and encountering complex thinking that could include some loose ends, dynamic patterns and some discomfiting observations.

So am I way off or does any of this have a ring of truth?

Of course I'm a fascinating conversationalist!

You have perfectly described the conversations I have with my youngest daughter's husband. We tend to drive my daughter a bit nuts sometimes, but mostly she's learned to just keep the beer and wine flowing and occasionally interject her opinion that we're both obviously wrong.

I ran into them at Barnes & Noble when they were on their first date. He commented on the book I was buying and 20 minutes later my daughter tapped me on the shoulder and said... "Mom, he's my date."

That was 12 years ago and he's still one of the few people I didn't give birth to that I can be completely myself around.

There are two types of people who subscribe to MBTI: those who do and those who don't. I have commented on several blogs, numerous times and try to be objective and non-threatening, but, when blogmasters feel threatened by my opinions, I leave...no hard feelings.

So here is the bomb: I think Myers-Briggs is outmoded and, therefore, obsolete. Why? Because "types" are becoming rather indefinable. It may have something to do with things discussed by Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions tome.

Or maybe the obsolescence I sense would have happened anyway. I reluctantly admit: I just don't know.


Your skepticism is in step with that of many psychologists who question the validity of three of the four constructs. If I had to guess, most of the criticism of the MBTI comes from psychologists rather than lay users in business and organizational development work. The professional skepticism of the MBTI arises from examination of the research. I think the growing popularity of the Myers-Briggs owes less to the strength of the research than to the factors I mentioned in the post: wide availability because of lay examiners, easy administration, scoring and interpretation, and the availability of easy to understand narrative summaries.

That said, there actually is considerable support for introversion/extroversion dimension. It's one of the extensively supported big-five personality factors and there are many instruments that measure the tendency. There is considerably less support (though not none) for the other dimensions. I'm a skeptic/agnostic (as I hinted in the first sentence of the post) and don't use the Myers-Briggs in assessments. It doesn't address the matters that I'm typically asked to address when I get a referral. But it is interesting to me because so many people find the integrated interpretations remarkably consistent with perceptions they have of themselves and of people they know well.

I have often sensed a commonality between tests like the MBTI and the personality profiles given by astrological Zodiac signs.

They both tend to present candidates with flattering but prosaic results that are anodyne and contain enough universal touchstones to ring true, if only by chance.

I'm not saying that tests such as the MBTI are as random as astrological profiles but once you get past rather obvious traits, such as extroversion vs introversion, the fine gradation is somewhat ad-hoc in my admittedly layman's opinion.


Known among psychometricians as the Barnum Effect, which is something we try to avoid like the plague (I think successfully) in psych evaluations. How you do that is with test development validated by testable predictions, which is a weaker area of MBTI validity for the three functions other than introversion-extroversion.

Thanks, Doc. I had deduced as much---just wanted some input. You always offer good insights. I do not have a dictionary handy, so--what is anodyne, anyway? Moreover, what are universal touchstones?
I just wonder about these things.

Your Friend and Supporter,
The Carpenter

Scientifically, as you say, there are questions about the MBTI - and still I'm fascinated by it. Intuitively it feels right to me (and, after all, I am an N). :)

One study I came across that challenged the MBTI, analyzed whether individuals who score high on one of the pairs within a function (say, Intuition) are likely to score low on the other (Sensing). They used a version of the MBTI where one could score high on both, or low on both. They found no correlation. They argued that the Myers-Briggs model predicts that a negative correlation should be seen - if the pairs of preferences are really opposite ends of a given 'dimension' or 'function'.

But it seems to me that this isn't so problematic. I can imagine someone being high in both Sensing and Intuiting, or in Thinking and Feeling, even though standard MBTI tests aren't designed in a way that can reveal this. Even though Myers-Briggs assumes that they're opposite ends of four continuums, it seems to me that the test (and the theory behind it) could still be valuable if E,I,S,N,T,F,J,P turn out to be 8 independent functions, rather than 4 pairs.

INTJ, as has been the result when I've tested before. Good for careful thought, research, and writing, not so good for anything that requires a desire to perform for others such as lecturing or being the center of a party.

Cheryl Fuller offers a few more thoughts on the subject.

Turns out we're both INFJs.

Cheryl says:

Now someone who knows me only from the classes I teach or workshops I present would likely not know that I am an introvert, certainly not that I am as introverted as I am. I am a relaxed and easy public speaker because over the years I have developed an Extraverted persona that I rely on in those kinds of situations. The persona is like a mask, a role I take on when I am called upon to speak or teach. It is the face I present to the world in those situations.

I have tried and failed to do this so much that I no longer want to do it. I'm tired of getting up in front of audiences and wanting desperately to flee the room, or throw up, or both. One I actually did faint. Beta blockers can help sufficiently to get me through reading a paper, but speaking with preparation and without the words-- all of the words-- in front of me is true hell.

In case you're wondering how Gretchen determined that she was not meant to teach, there it is! I don't want to call people like Cheryl and Jesse Bering (who says exactly the same thing about how he's really an introvert) liars, but...well, let's just say their experience in introversion is quite different from mine.

OK, sorry. that was a snarky rant. If I could delete it I would. Feel free to do so.

I do have to ask one thing, though. Do you think that anyone ever learned anything about themselves that they didn't know before encountering this test?

I agree with Dave's skepticism about the MBTI.

However the problem of MBTI doesn't lay in the dimensions like introversion/extroversion sensing/intuition etc. These ALL correlate to varying degrees with the scientifically accepted Big Five personality traits.

The problem of the MBTI ist the rigid concept of type and that they claim everyone is either/or in the personality dimensions with no room in the middle.
But in reality not everyone is a clear type, most people are in the middle in several dimensions, because everyone lies on a scale between the two sides of the dimensions (even jung did say that back in the time) and it is perfectly normal and common to be in the middle between the two extremes. Thats the way science sees it since more than 20 years and one of the reasons science practically ignores the MBTI.

Hi Dennis,

If the Myers Briggs has any utility, I don't think it would be that it informs a person of some entirely unknown aspect of their personality. It might, for some, articulate and clarify things they hadn't articulated and that might lead to further reflection on certain aspects of personality.

It might also serve as a scaffolding for discussion of internal similarities and differences between people who naively assume that their own ways of processing experience are right and other ways are wrong. So it might open a way for people to examine relationships in a more constructive, less judgmental and less adversarial manner.

I also think that test results showing things that a person already knows might be helpful for legitimizing and de-pathologizing individual differences. For example, in a culture that manifestly values extroversion, some introverts can be very hard on themselves. To see introversion as not only an acceptable human variation, but a quality that confers its own advantages might itself be enlightening.

When I hear people speak positively about their experience with the Myers-Briggs, these are the kinds of things I hear, rather than reports of anything entirely unknown emerging.

Can you foster the same sort of discussions using some other method to provide the scaffolding? Of course.

The above are considerations apart from any questions of MBTI validity. For me, the discussions of personality, test validity and the clinical utility of testing moves into areas too large to address usefully in this forum, except in small bits and pieces. I will say that dropping hitherto unknown information about personality on person isn't likely to be all that enlightening regardless of the tests involved. There's an excellent chance that what isn't known can't be readily integrated into that person's view of themselves, and there are things that, if said, will do nothing but activate defenses. So identifying things a person doesn't know about themselves is generally helpful to a third party who made the referral and, perhaps, only indirectly helpful to the test-taker.

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