Against the Myers-Briggs personality test

Monday, September 19 2022

Against the Myers-Briggs personality tests

Personality tests, like all methods that try to distil you into one of sixteen categories, are reductive, inaccurate, and suggest that you are ossified into an acronym.

The most popular personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), made by mother and daughter Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers. Myers and Briggs had no formal training in psychology and based their theories on Carl Jung who strongly objected to the accuracy and rigour of their test, as well as its relevance to his work.

The history of the MBTI doesn’t improve from there, as it first gained popularity as a helping aid in firing workers: you just needed to show that their personality didn’t fit the company. This still continues today in a more implicit form as certain types are more desirable and associated with leadership traits — never mind that your type may change as you retake the test at a different time, in a different environment, in a different state of mind. My first workplace, one of the top graduate employers 1, had all new joiners complete a personality test in order to suggest what your team and leadership style might be, but good luck climbing the ladder if you weren’t an INTJ like most executives.

My strongest personal objection is that we identify with and limit ourselves to our declared types. Given a result of INTP 2 are we INTP and only INTP? Can we not be ESFJ cooking for our friends, ISFP while working out how to light a fire and ENFP washing up the dishes? Must we be introverted and always so? I view personality as a spectrum that is malleable over time. We may be predisposed to certain behaviours, but have different needs at different times and can adapt to the situation. I loathe the idea of attributing my behaviours to a set of letters, ceasing my agency to a chart of sixteen.

There may be other personality tests that are more accurate and nuanced. I haven’t heard of these, and I’m skeptical by default, given the replication crisis in psychology. The most sympathetic treatment I’ve seen of personality tests is in Merve Emre’s book The Personality Brokers 3, and I would agree that your type is a useful tool for connecting with others and finding a common tribe.

This is part of a series of posts where I write down ideas I believe in. Ideally, these serve as concise documents that others can argue against. I intend to update these articles as I talk to others and update my beliefs.

  1. PwC has been voted the UK’s number one graduate employer in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers for 15 consecutive years. ↩︎

  2. Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving ↩︎

  3. Also published as ‘What’s your Type?’ in the US. Emre was also my English professor at McGill, she’s a brilliant writer and I highly recommend her work. ↩︎