So, you’ve been asked or forced to take the Myer-Briggs personality indicator either because you were in your last semester of school and trying to figure out what to do with your life or because one of the hundreds of resumes you sent out finally got a hit and the company wants you to take the exam.
More than likely you then thought “what the heck is this indicator anyway” and briefly looked it up so you could prepare. But in the process maybe you then got caught up in trying to figure out who you should date based on Myers-Briggs and then you started pigeon-holing people you met by trying to identify their “type” on the fly. Whatever you did, at the end of the day you may have felt you really had a handle on this whole Myers-Briggs thing.
There’s only one problem with that, Myers-Briggs is actually unscientific garbage akin to telling the future with tarot cards or reading your horoscope. Here’s why:
1. A little background, the Myers-Briggs indicator was created by a mother and daughter team, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, in the 1920s with the first version of the indicator coming out in the 1940 s. The “types” that the duo came up with are based entirely on the work of the famed and highly influential psychiatrist, Carl Jung.
2. Katherine Briggs interest in personality types initially derived entirely from her desire to “figure out” her son-in-law. After reading Jung’s work she decided that he was a ‘thinker’ and she was a ‘feeler’ which is telling considering the next three facts.
3. Neither Katharine Cook Briggs nor Isabel Briggs Myers had any, repeat, any certifications in the field of psychology or philosophy, none.
4. This is like me, a writer at Thought Catalog, reading up on the works of Albert Einstein then publishing a book where I claim to have built on his ideas. I’d have no idea what I was talking about and neither did Myers or Briggs.
5. What’s more, Myers and Briggs didn’t even understand Jung’s work. Their belief that personality types are easily identifiable and unchanging flies in the face of everything Jung actually believed about personality types. Malcolm Gladwell has written an entire response to Myers-Briggs where he spells out its main problem according to the book, “The Cult of Personality Testing” by Annie Murphy Paul.
“The problem, as Paul points out, is that Myers and her mother did not actually understand Jung at all. Jung didn’t believe that types were easily identifiable, and he didn’t believe that people could be permanently slotted into one category or another. “Every individual is an exception to the rule,” he wrote; to “stick labels on people at first sight,” in his view, was “nothing but a childish parlor game.” Why is a parlor game based on my desire to entertain my friends any less valid than a parlor game based on Katharine Briggs’s obsession with her son-in-law?”
6. Yes, that’s right, Jung himself referred to attempts to ‘type’ people’s personalities as a silly game.
7. Myers-Briggs was initially marketed to be given only to women during World War 2 so that their male bosses could figure out how to best utilize them during the wartime economy. In other words, they were trying to sell the test to the government and made the claim that they could help determine what women would be best in which jobs. Say what you want about the SAT racket but at least it actually tests something that’s testable.
While many defenders of Myers-Briggs today loudly protest that the exam isn’t supposed to be used as a way to determine what jobs people are good at that’s actually exactly what Myers and Briggs claimed their test was for.
8. Way back in 1957, the non-profit ‘Educational testing Service’ took a look at Myers-Briggs and decided it wasn’t a good test at all. They then ended their relationship with Myers-Briggs. The test was then bought by ‘Consulting Psychologists Press’ in 1975. Consulting Psychologists Press is a for profitcompany.
9. Today, the Myers-Briggs test rakes in about $20 million a year. Considering the types are entirely based on the uneducated opinions of two women from the 1920s who didn’t even understand the subject matter on which they based their own work that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. Then again, newspapers still publish horoscopes every day and Donald Trump is still leading in Republican polls.
Success isn’t a sign of competence just like money isn’t a sign of virtue.
10. So why do so many institutions and corporations use Myers-Briggs if it isn’t scientific and isn’t based on anything scientific? The answer is simple, they’re not scientists or psychologists or psychiatrists either. They don’t know any better. Entire critiques have been written on this very problem. Myers-Briggs is a relic of pseudo-science from the early to mid-20th century and its been in near continual use since WW2 in some form or fashion. It has tradition on its side. Why would a Human Resources Director question tradition when their boss is telling them to use the test?
11. Myers-Briggs is a faith-based indicator, not a fact-based one. It’s like having a witch doctor as your hiring manager.
12. Oddly, it seems to me that dedication to Myers-Briggs among many people who take the exam is based on the exact same concept that gets people to take Buzzfeed quizzes. They want to be told who they are. They want to see how they compare to others.
This is an impulse borne of insecurity and Myers-Briggs makes the promise to do away with that insecurity and tell you the truth.
13. Actual research psychologists do not use the Myers-Briggs indicator because it’s not scientific.
14. Corporations and organizations that give the Myers-Briggs test heavy weight when making hiring or job placement decisions don’t understand the test in the first place and are making a terrible mistake. The test measures how a person feels at that moment on an extreme and unrealistic spectrum of “yes” or “no.” People who’ve taken the test multiple times often get different results each time. If the test was scientific then that wouldn’t happen.
15. The Army Research Institute has declared that Myers-Briggs should not be used as an instrument “for career planning counseling.” In fact, the Institute declared that the entire test was basically just based on stereotypes, not actual types that actually exist in the real world.
16. The test remains popular because all the ‘types’ are flattering, positive, and, like getting your fortune told, vague. People always want to believe positive things about themselves and tend to believe them even when they’re untrue or inaccurate. “This is known as the ‘Barnum Effect,’ named in honor of the great entertainer.”
17. So, what is this unscientific test developed by two people with no psychiatric education actually good for besides supposedly helping to place women in jobs during WW2 (which it didn’t)? One thing and one thing only, getting you to think about how you felt about and approached problem solving in the past, making you question yourself. This is useful as a personal exercise or in a team building setting as long as everyone understands that the results aren’t set in stone at all. You know what else is useful in the same way? Thinking about your decisions and reactions. That’s also free.
But if someone taking the Myers-Briggs believes they’re consulting an oracle that can tell them who they are and what they’re capable of then they’re going to finish the exam knowing less about themselves than they did when they started.