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The Duplicitous Origins of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The+complexity+of+the+human+mind+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Pixabay%2C+photo+credits+to+John+Hain%29.
The complexity of the human mind (Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to John Hain).

The complexity of the human mind (Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to John Hain).

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to John Hain

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to John Hain

The complexity of the human mind (Photo courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to John Hain).

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Humans, as creatures of logic, are more comfortable with complex subjects when they are broken down into less complicated pieces. If one can understand the parts that make something up, then they are closer to deciphering the whole. One such complex topic is, ironically, the human psyche. Human are complicated creatures that are fully unique in their behavior. They defy most classifications in terms of behavioral modes. They make seemingly nonsensical decisions and often act in self-destructive manners in direct violation of otherwise-universal laws of animal behavior. So in an attempt to demystify it, many people have tried (with varying degrees of success) to deconstruct the human psyche into simple and quantifiable parts.

In recent years, one such attempt has risen to the forefront. Known as the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, it claims that human personalities fall into sixteen categories defined by four different prevailing values. These values are how introverted (or extraverted) someone is, how often their intuition (or sense) forms perceptions, how often they use logic (or their feelings) to make judgements, and how often they use their judgement (or perception) to apply information they have learned. Whichever value is dominant is given one letter as representation, and the four letters form the personality type. For example, someone who is extroverted, intuitive, governed by their feelings, and perceptive would be an ENFP or the “Campaigner.”

Most people who take the test and read the description of their personality type are immediately convinced that it is a perfect description of their personality (whether or not this is actually true). It is for this reason that it is used by a plethora of businesses to gauge their employees’ compatibility with the company. As a result of this use, it is immediately assumed that the Myers-Briggs is backed up by some reputable scientific research. This is not the case.

Many psychologists question its credibility, such as Dr. Margaret Britz of Clemson University who asserted, “Most of the research suggests the MBTI is only marginally effective in determining the suitability for employment.” In addition, multiple studies have also called the Myers-Briggs’ accuracy into question. This is likely due to the test’s duplicitous origins.

It was formulated by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. Briggs was inspired by her daughter’s future husband, whom had a different world view than her and her family. Despite possessing none of the necessary education, skills, or expertise required to publish a reputable study of this magnitude, she set to work. She took a heavy amount of inspiration from the works of Carl Jung, a landmark researcher in the field of psychology, extrapolating on his work with unfounded “observations.” Briggs’ research consisted of her and her daughter interviewing a multitude of people, which in theory, should indeed help to catalog different tendencies in humans (if one does the requisite follow up research). In actuality, her study was, at very best, inherently flawed and, at worst, totally baseless.

There are a multitude of reasons for this, with failure to follow up and unfounded presumptions being chief among them. Once a subject had been interviewed, there was no follow up research conducted on them at a later date. As a consequence, any conclusions reached were impossible to verify. The other major issue, unfounded presumptions, resulted from a flawed approach to gathering data. Briggs only asked her first participants why they acted in the way they did. She then assumed that all of her following subjects had similar reasoning behind their actions. Further exacerbating this issue, Briggs also extrapolated heavily on the aforementioned reasoning. This resulted in conclusions about human personalities’ that were not only unfounded, but also false.

To her credit, she did manage to gather huge amounts of data over forty years. However, this is no substitute for education, expertise, or actual hands-on experience in psychology. Ironically, her test was flawed because she made assumptions about her subjects that are still taken as fact because people assume it has a reputable scientific basis behind it. It is also taken as fact because many people refuse to accept it as false; human behavior would seem nonsensical once more. This would in turn ascertain that humans are not creatures of logic and are rather governed by completely erratic emotions. So how could the MBTI possibly be accurate?

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