The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

I am sure a few of you have already rolled your eyes. Maybe you’re a skeptic, maybe you’re tired of hearing about the test from your friends or seeing it on dating profiles. For those unacquainted, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test that is quite popular nowadays.

History

The test is the brainchild of Isabel Myers and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs. The two became grossly interested in the ideas of one Carl Jung, the founder of  analytic psychology. Jung believed that the ultimate goal of the individual was self-realization, which involves exploring the different facets of one’s personality with the goal of integrating them together. Inspired by this framework, Briggs wanted to create a tool that could help people become aware of the multiple dimensions to their personality so that it can aid them in reaching their full potential. Borrowing and adapting the ideas from Jung’s book, Psychological Types,  the MBTI was eventually born.

The MBTI

I won’t go into great detail here but there are 4 dichotomies. Each person is believed to have a dominant function in each dichotomy. With 4 categories and 2 functions in each, there are a total of 16 possible types. For example, an INFJ or ESFP.

  1. (E)xtroversion/(I)ntroversion – Whereas these terms have grown to have different meanings, the way Jung originally interpreted them was to describe how individuals attained energy. Those who feel rejuvenated by spending time alone were introverted, while those who became galvanized by being around others were extroverted.
  2. (S)ensing/i(N)tuition – This facet has to do with how one processes information. Those who are more in touch with their senses rely on the concrete input they get from their present environment (through hearing, seeing etc.). Meanwhile those who favor using their intuition would rather trust information that comes internally or through insight.
  3. (T)hinking/(F)eeling – These two functions relate to how we make decisions. People who are thinkers rely more on objective assessment of different variables using logic to make their choices. People who are feelers think with their hearts, and tend to use subjective experience to make decisions.
  4. (J)udging/(P)erceiving – The final dichotomy has to do with how we use information once we’ve processed (or experienced) it. Judging types lean towards being organized and relying on established rules or ideas. Perceivers are much more flexible, and tend to be more open to spontaneous changes.

Validity

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the flaws with the MBTI. Psychometric validity (does the test measure what it claims to) and reliability (how consistent is the test) are vitally important for any kind of test or measure, especially if it wants to be taken seriously in the academic community. Having said that, the reliability and validity of the MBTI are dubious at best. Multiple researchers have addressed some of the limitations and flaws of the design of the MBTI (Boyle, 1995; Pittenger, 2005). Here are two of the big ones.

  1. The design of the measure is categorical, it’s one or the other. In other words, if you are extroverted it means you are not introverted. We all know better than that. In reality, people are a balance between the two – the variable is continuous. The way the test is designed, it is not sensitive to the fact that people are not black-and-white and could operate on both sides of the different dichotomies.
  2. The second problem is the test-retest reliability. Many who’ve taken the test will get one result the first time, and a different one the second. Perhaps this is related to first issue. If someone takes the test on a day they’re more in touch with their intuition function, the results of the test would likely reflect that. A good personality inventory would be sensitive to differences such as that and would reliably lead to the same outcome if an individual took the test again.

Once you have received your type on the test, you can read up on what the core strengths and weaknesses of that particular type are. There’s a wealth of other information such as what your different relationships (friends, family, romantic etc.) are likely to be like, what kind of career paths would be a better fit, and how you could continue to grow and develop as a person as was the original vision of Katharine Cook Briggs.

There are a couple of different places to take the test and there are a few different versions with slightly changed or new methodology as well; however, the basic makeup of the test is the same. I’ll include a link to the site that I particularly like, you can take it for free on there.

Take the Test

Thoughts

I first took the Myers-Briggs in my freshman year of college. It was a tumultuous time in my life where I was thrust into a new environment and just starting to figure out who I was as a person. I took the test and got my type designation, and became terrified at the profile for what my type was like.

It matched me to a “T.” It felt like I was reading a textbook about my personality, a lot of my feelings, ways I thought about things, and even weaknesses that I had. It was scary at first but over time it also became helpful. It helped me connect more to the different facets of my personality and learn about myself. For the first time, I really became aware of the “edges of my personality” and became curious to explore who I was. Most importantly, it motivated me to want to grow and change in order to address some of the shortcomings or areas my personality type struggled.

Now a lot of the skeptics will immediately disregard the MBTI due to the lack of strong empirical evidence. As I am a scientist, I do understand that reaction. However, there are thousands upon thousands of people out there all over the world who really do find the MBTI a useful tool in learning more about themselves, and in finding solidarity in their personality type using it as a vehicle for social interaction. To discount the usefulness or significance for those individuals would be rather stubborn, not to mention inconsiderate.

The test is certainly not for everyone. But a lot of people find it pretty cool. If you’ve never heard of it or taken it before, give it a try (there’s a link a few sections above). Worst case scenario – you waste 10 minutes. Best case, you learn something new about yourself.

References

Boyle, G. J. (1995). Myers‐Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Some Psychometric Limitations. Australian Psychologist, 30(1), 71-74.

Pittenger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary comments regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57(3), 210.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

For those who haven’t heard this one, it’s a famous metaphor originally coined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. The premise is simple.

A group of hedgehogs (cute little mammals whose bodies are covered by sharp spines) are trying to get through a very cold Winter. Desiring warmth and intimacy, they try to bundle up close to one another. However, they realize that if they were to try to get close to one another, their sharp spines would cause harm. Thus they are to remain separated and deprived of warmth or intimacy.

This metaphor has been extended to different situations such as the relation between the individual and society, or the plight of an introvert longing for social connection. Today I want to discuss it in the framework of depression.

Peter Lewinsohn was a psychologist who argued that one’s environment and their interactions with said environment are key to understanding depression. Central to his argument was the concept of positive reinforcement, the idea that a behavior that leads to a positive reward or outcome is likely to lead to a repeat of that same behavior in the future. For example, a child that throws a tantrum in a store and receives immediate attention from their parents is likely to throw future tantrums as a means of gaining attention (if you are a parent, please reflect thoughtfully on this).

Lewinsohn suggested that those who are depressed, perhaps as a precursor or as a natural consequence of the disease, struggle with receiving positive reinforcement from their environment. Those who are depressed may not have access to resources or people who can provide them with support or opportunities for happiness. Even worse, those who are depressed may also be less sensitive to positive reinforcers even when presented with them. Without any form of positive reinforcement, there is little incentive in attempting change and those who are depressed are stuck with their negative emotions unable to move past.

However, those who are depressed still desire happiness, intimacy, and social connection. Lewinsohn also argued that depressed individuals may have deficits in social skills that make it harder to receive positive reinforcement from their environment. That is where our friend the hedgehog comes in.

“Don’t be a Debbie Downer.” We’ve all heard that expression. If you’ve ever known someone with major depression, you know it’s not the most fun thing in the world. Depression is a horrible disease, one that not only afflicts the sufferer but their loved ones as well. It can take energy trying to reach someone who is depressed, putting in all your effort to try to engage or have fun with them. Most importantly, it takes patience which is a virtue that not all possess. Many may lose their patience and give up. Or others may feel their own mood being negatively affected and choose not to try anymore.

The individual who is depressed, however, still longs for that social connection or for some kind of positive interaction. Analogous to the hedgehog, as the depressed individual tries to interact with other people in search of positive reinforcement, they may instead experience the opposite with others avoiding them or interacting negatively. In turn, this may lead to depressed individuals isolating themselves further and thus depriving them of future opportunities for positive reinforcement and maintaining their depression. It is a very difficult cycle to be stuck in.

So what is there to do? There is no easy solution. However, if we all become more sympathetic and understanding of the nature of major depression, it is at least a step in the right direction. On the part of those who are depressed, being cognizant that others may want to help and have the right intentions but may not know how to go about it is important as well. Honest communication between both sides could go a long way in not only improving empathy, but also preventing social isolation.