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Are Scores on the MBTI Totally Meaningless?

Are Scores on the MBTI Totally Meaningless?

Common criticisms of the MBTI are misguided

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and its spin-offs are among the most popular personality inventories in the world. The MBTI is widely used in organizational workshops to demonstrate how people with similar or different personalities interact with each other. Hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed discovering their personality type by completing the MBTI and similar inventories on the Web.

At the same time, the MBTI has been the target of extremely harsh criticism from the community of professional personality psychologists. A friend recently asked me what I thought about a recent article by Joseph Stromberg and Estelle Caswell (link is external)

that described the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as "totally meaningless." I read the article and found that its authors cited the same complaints about the MBTI that I have heard for decades. This is what I told my friend.

As I see things, to say that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is "totally meaningless" is to exaggerate the shortcomings of the instrument and how it is used.The main complaints about the MBTI that have been lodged over the years (and are repeated in the Stromberg and Caswell article) are as follows:

1. The MBTI was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabell Briggs Myers, neither of whom had formal training in psychometrics or psychological assessment. Briggs earned a degree in agriculture and Myers, in political science.

2. The MBTI is based on psychoanalyst Carl Jung's theory of types. Jung is disrespected by many academic psychologists, who consider him to be a mystic without any ideas of scientific relevance.

3. The MBTI sorts people into 16 type categories, but most personality psychologists agree that individual differences in personality are better described by continuous traits than discrete type categories. They note that distributions of scores on the MBTI scales are continuous, with most scores in the middle rather than piling up at the low and high end, as type theory might predict.

4. Critics claim that there is no research indicating scores on the MBTI predict significant life outcomes such as job performance and satisfaction.

I have a response for each of these criticisms.

1. Briggs and Myers may not have had formal training in psychological assessment, but they were highly intelligent, college-educated, observant, thoughtful, and passionate about understanding personality. Research by Ashton and Goldberg (1973) demonstrated that even individuals without formal psychological training can create personality scales that are just as valid as professionally-developed scales. Imagine what two smart, highly-motivated women might accomplish if they put their minds to it.

2. Ashton, S. G., and Goldberg, L. R. (1967). In response to Jackson's challenge: The comparative validity of personality scales constructed by the external (empirical) strategy and scales developed intuitively by experts, novices, and laymen. Journal of Research in Personality, 7, 1-20.


4. Source: Adrian Michael, public domain

5. 2. Jung's scientifically dubious ideas about archetypes, alchemy, synchronicity, the collective unconscious, the paranormal, and so forth are irrelevant to his theory of psychological types. Jung's theory of types gave us the concepts of introversion and extraversion, which modern, scientific personality psychologists are perfectly happy to use today. While it is true that most modern personality psychologists would be afraid to conduct research based on Jung's theory of types or the MBTI, that has not always been the case. For example, Rae Carlson and Ravenna Helson (both highly-respected, award-winning psychologists) have published empirical research based on Jung's theory of types in the top journal in the field.

6. Carlson, R. (1980). Studies of Jungian typology II: Representations of the personal world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 801-810.

7. Helson, R. (1982). Critics and their texts: An approach to Jung's theory of cognition and personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 409-418.

8. 3. Type th