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March 22, 2013 7:57 AM   Subscribe

The Myers-Briggs personality test with its 16 character types is used by companies the world over but is it as valuable as its popularity suggests?
posted by Lanark (146 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll just get my opinion out there, it's astrology for smart people.
posted by KaizenSoze at 8:00 AM on March 22, 2013 [83 favorites]


Voight-Kampff FTW
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:00 AM on March 22, 2013 [21 favorites]


Oh yeah. The MBTI has been long known to have a low test-retest reliability: your score on it at one point in time does not have a very high correlation to your score at another point in time (except for the intraversion-extraversion component). So it's not really measuring something stable.
posted by shivohum at 8:02 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


"...but is it as valuable as its popularity suggests?"

Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies here.
posted by Drastic at 8:03 AM on March 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


It does provide us with this almost joke though:

Q:What was Jesus' Myers-Briggs type?
A: INRI
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:03 AM on March 22, 2013 [86 favorites]


Tags: cute.

Test: Meh. I took a pychology class with many non majors. Some were stunned to learn that it took many studies to validate any theory. In the real world, one study or report or news article is considered enough to base policies on.

MBTI is like that. All most of us know is that because it was good enough for someone else, it's good enough for us.

It leads to an odd form of stereotyping, and a 'black and white' versus 'shades of gray' view of the world.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:05 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always found that skewing my answers to mess with people's perception of me was one of the highlights of corporate horseplay!

Given the ease of manipulation, a half hour conversation with someone gives me a better idea as to who they are then the MB.
posted by HuronBob at 8:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'll just get my opinion out there, it's astrology for smart people.

If the Myers-Briggs is astrology for smart people then what's astronomy for dumb people?
posted by komara at 8:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure it's useless but I also reliably test as ENFP, so there's that.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:07 AM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


It leads to an odd form of stereotyping, and a 'black and white' versus 'shades of gray' view of the world.

It feels like Myers-Briggs leads to an form of self-stereotyping, where people essentially say "oh well, I could never be any good at that, I'm an INTJ!" which would be fine except that I feel like people take one test, classify themselves and then never reflect on whether or not that classification means anything.

If the Myers-Briggs is astrology for smart people then what's astronomy for dumb people?

Astrology. Astrology is astrology for dumb people.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


I've always observed a confirmation bias in these test. I find in myself/my results what I 'want to hear' about myself, and more so about others. I do not think that this is necessarily a good thing when we all have to interact in a world that does not necessarily conform to such a bias.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2013


It's nonsense, and it's part of this whole movement where we don't want managers or human resources to make any actual DECISIONS about people but do everything entirely by "objective" standards ... that may or may not be valid methods of measurement, and may or may not be measuring what you want them to measure, but BY GOD they're OBJECTIVE so you can't be held accountable for hiring and firing decisions. It's accountability by totally removing accountability.

(See also: How cell phones makes it so that junior executives never, ever make decisions on their own because the senior guys are a phone call away, and are no longer expected to decide things, just to relay decisions up the chain. Accountability by removing accountability.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


"If the Myers-Briggs is astrology for smart people then what's astronomy for dumb people?"

TMZ?
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 8:09 AM on March 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


ZeusHumms: "It leads to an odd form of stereotyping, and a 'black and white' versus 'shades of gray' view of the world."

16 bits per pixel gives a pretty decent gray scale!
posted by idiopath at 8:09 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I thought it was really cool as an awkward teenager, but now as an awkward adult I realize it really is mostly just confirmation bias. And thinking you are a certain way is really not helpful when you're trying to change.

Besides, everyone knows that haruspicy is where the real truth lies. That's why I carry a BB gun and a pocket knife at all times. Gulls know the future.
posted by selfnoise at 8:09 AM on March 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Then again my own personal classification of personalities distributes into "those about to rock" and "those who shall remain unsaluted," which is useful in its own way.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:10 AM on March 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


If the Myers-Briggs is astrology for smart people then what's astronomy for dumb people?

Stars - they're just like us!
posted by Iridic at 8:11 AM on March 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I recommend the Big 5 for your personality psychology needs. Tests are available online, the dimensions are easy enough to understand, it's taken seriously by psychology researchers, it's not a complete crock, and all that.
posted by Jpfed at 8:12 AM on March 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


I recommend the Big 5 for your personality psychology needs. Tests are available online, the dimensions are easy enough to understand, it's taken seriously by psychology researchers, it's not a complete crock, and all that.

But can it be reduced to a single number that can be pushed through Six Sigma?
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:14 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've always been suspicious cause I can get widely different results if I take the test in a different mood or mindset. I think the last time I took it I got ENTJ which I attribute entirely to the fact that I had recently met a whole bunch of fitness goals and felt like king shit of fuck mountain.

But I'm a Libra we're supposed to be skeptical and indecisive.
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


From the first Guardian article:
For example, in the category of extrovert v introvert, you're either one or the other; there is no middle ground.
Most tests I've seen give you a percentage. I've tested as 50% P, 50% J, for example. Whether HR departments or otherwise are hip to that is another question.
People are far more sophisticated than any basic yes/no test could ever hope to encompass.
Likewise, I've seen versions that have a Strongly Agree/Agree/Indifferent, etc.

Agree about its limitations, but (as I believe Kurt Vonnegut once said about astrology), the value is to provide a framework for people to talk about who they are, not the scientific validity of the thing.
posted by seemoreglass at 8:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


"16 bits per pixel gives a pretty decent gray scale!"

MBTI is 4 bits. 16 total combinations. That makes a pretty shitty grayscale.
posted by mystyk at 8:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


The business world loving the test and serial-numbers-filed-off offshoots did give me this fond memory, though.

This particular one was only a brief one ("one" here meaning a corporate softskills Large Group Awareness Training waste of everyone's time), centered around something like the Myers-Briggs test only that repeatedly diluted and simplified until it was kind of a homeopathic Myers-Briggs. It only used 2 axes instead of the 4, or something like that. Anyway, one of the axes that was preserved was the thinking/feeling breakdown; we all had to take it and share scores. I of course buried the needle on the T side, and happened to be situated that most of the people in the room had the opportunity to share before they got to me. When they did, I calmly announced, "it says here I'm 'dead inside.'" (Holding onto my poker face while the HR rep's face froze and she got the Windows hourglass icons briefly in her pupils as the room laughed is probably one of those entries on the good side of my karmic scales, right next to the feather.)

That employer was super into the LGAT thing at the time. My other fondest memory of them was thoroughly disrupting an entire exercise intended to take an entire half day, by recognizing they were running everything through a mathematical form of the Prisoner's Dilemma, calmly describing to my half of everyone exactly what the structure was and how that would inform my vote for how our half should vote every round. That if the rest of the group wanted to outvote me, that was cool, but trust me people, this is game theory and this is the optimal strategy for the large number of rounds intended. The other team fell into synch right away, and we blew through the exercise intended to eat up 4 hours in about 30 minutes. The people running it had no backup plan and no idea how to handle it, so we all got to go home early. People were clapping me on the back for a few months afterwards about that.

Which is all very tangential, but whenever big business falls in love with a thing, that's usually a sign that thing's not particularly awesome.
posted by Drastic at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2013 [42 favorites]


If the Myers-Briggs is astrology for smart people then what's astronomy for dumb people?

enneagrams! ZING!
posted by liketitanic at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


The Myers-Briggs is hilarious because every time I take that self-administered web-based one, I end up at like 51%/49% on 3 of the 4 categories.
posted by griphus at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Forer Effect.

The human mind seems wired for these test results to be convincing.
posted by bilabial at 8:23 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The only personality test I put any faith in is the Sorting Hat.
posted by The Whelk at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2013 [25 favorites]


"The Myers-Briggs is hilarious because every time I take that self-administered web-based one, I end up at like 51%/49% on 3 of the 4 categories."

Pretty much everybody does. That's why it's so useless. It really is like reading horoscopes, or more specifically, like that classroom exercise where everyone gets "personalized descriptions based on a survey" but they're all exactly the same.
posted by mystyk at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2013


Cecil Adams on Meyers-Briggs.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:25 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only accurate thing this test has told me is that I am more an introvert than extrovert. Which I already knew. All the other bits are so dependent on context that it's kind of useless.
posted by rtha at 8:29 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which is all very tangential, but whenever big business falls in love with a thing, that's usually a sign that thing's not particularly awesome.

Never trust the suits.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:30 AM on March 22, 2013


Interesting how both the debunking articles put particular emphasis on words like "housewife" and "grandmother" to describe its creators. Cecil seems to do better.
posted by darksasami at 8:31 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The only personality test I put any faith in is the Sorting Hat.

The sorting hat is a terrible tester; it is established that if you ask it hard enough it may well give you a different house.
posted by jaduncan at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've always thought mine, ISTJ, fit me perfectly. Not sure what use it has beyond that, though.
posted by tommasz at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2013


Hey, thanks for the Big 5 shout out. I like it a lot. However, I'm not sure this tells me more than my IntP profile did.
Extraversion 	 ||||| 27% (15 percentile)
Conscientiousness||||||| 37% (11 percentile)
Neuroticism 	 ||||||||| 44% (40 percentile)
Agreeableness 	 ||||||||||||||| 75% (51 percentile)
Openness	 ||||||||||||||||| 85% (65 percentile)

Calculated by http://personality-testing.info/tests/BIG5.php

posted by DigDoug at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2013


That's so Ravenclaw of you to want an infallible testing system.
posted by The Whelk at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


I think MBTI is interesting, but not much more than a snapshot exercise in introspection. Using it in a corporate situation to determine which sector a drone worker is best suited to is like the stupid "career aptitude test" we took in Junior High, which my guidance counselor used to try and steer me away from the high school classes I was most interested in.
posted by usonian at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2013


the value is to provide a framework for people to talk about who they are, not the scientific validity of the thing.

The problem is that the framework is shitty. If you're talking about human personality, the MBTI is a crappy vocabulary, conflating unrelated things and separating things that are related. It's an awkward basis for the space it purports to span.

And if you get into the nitty-gritty of the pseudo-theoretical framework that guides it (where the interpretation of T/F and P/J changes depending on whether you are I/E), the fact that the distribution of scores on these traits is unimodal and centered at 50% makes it seem utterly nonsensical.
posted by Jpfed at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whyte's book The Organization Man had an appendix that told you how to cheat on personality tests which were quite big back in the fifties when the book was written. Might be useful now if they are coming back. Great book in many ways.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2013


"but is it as valuable as its popularity suggests?"

Define "value".
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Our company uses this, and so far, it's a very warm-fuzzy thing; to help YOU be YOU and so on. It doesn't seem to correlate with who gets promoted (that I can tell). I work with a lot of engineers, who are happy to be labelled whatever and then go back to their schematics and forget about it.

Talking about it does feel like talking about astrology, for sure. "Oh, you're an X! I bet X is hard/easy for you!" Eh.

There is certainly room for a "labeling is disabling" effect here, though. The only thing that prevents that is that none of the categories are negative (maybe "judging" but only to certain people). If your company decides only to promote certain categories, that could definitely be a problem. But one-on-one, most bosses go by their relationship with you, good or bad, rather than whatever random scores you get on a random test.

I would actually be slightly more worried if they used a more accurate test, because that would feel more intrusive. "You clearly worry too much and have dishonest tendencies when under stress. Promotion denied!"*

In a way, the M-B's vagueness is what makes it so reassuring. Like astrology, there is no Best built into the system itself. It's just vaguely descriptive and flattering.

*(Actually, I have no idea what other tests tell people about you).
posted by emjaybee at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's so Ravenclaw of you to want an infallible testing system.

Damn right, bitches. Now give Hermione back.
posted by jaduncan at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


but whenever big business falls in love with a thing, that's usually a sign that thing's not particularly awesome.

In my current work I have to constantly deal with people who think Net Promoter Score tells them basically everything they need to know about their customers.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2013


I'm messy, introverted and critical, based on the big 5 test. I think my "I'm often severely depressed" answers affected my "I'm pretty much never anxious" answers, though, and I'm not sure why, because it seems to be conflating personality with illness.
posted by jeather at 8:45 AM on March 22, 2013


I'm messy, introverted and critical, based on the big 5 test. I think my "I'm often severely depressed" answers affected my "I'm pretty much never anxious" answers, though, and I'm not sure why, because it seems to be conflating personality with illness.

I should note that the particular test that I linked is not "canonical" or necessarily a particularly good measure of the big 5; there are other tests.
posted by Jpfed at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2013


My first exposure to MBTI was in the mid-90s. Taking the test was our introduction to the accounting firm that had acquired the computer consulting company I worked for at the time. I have no idea what they expected to do with it, since as far as I know they never looked at the results. The one thing that was dead on about the test was scoring me heavily for introversion and mentioning that in a work context I did not like to be touched. Guess what the first thing the person who gave me my results did?

Eventually, after about a third of our staff (including myself) quit due to the various incompetencies of our new accounting overlords, those that remained bought themselves back and put the business back together again.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2013


I see the value in the MBT as mostly a quick look at one's self, not as a Final Label for All Time. If you take the test and say "Well, YEAH, I'm extroverted," then, okay. But some folks don't know themselves as well as they think they do, and why not have a method for taking a closer look, right? Besides, it's not really helpful as a way of figuring another person out; it's more about you looking at you.

It's a sketch, not a permanent record.
posted by grubi at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I reliably test as ENTP. Use that however you may.
posted by grubi at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2013


I've found the MB test incredibly useful. I've taken the test ten times in twenty years, and have always gotten the same results: INTP. The description of my type is (in my case) incredibly accurate, enough that several people have just guessed it outright, and the few other INTPs I know feel the same way. It helped me a LOT when I was younger to know I wasn't the only one in the world wired that way, and it helped me a LOT to read about other types of people who have other focuses/priorities. Turns out they weren't trying to piss me off, they just don't give any percentage of a fuck about logic or being on time! OH JOYOUS DAY!

So yeah, I think I'll stick with my own positive experience with the MBTI rather than allow the perennial chorus of metafilter scoffers ruin yet another path to self-discovery and wonder. Tempting as it is to flip around and scoff like the cool kids, I'm going to cling to my "astrology for smart people". It's been a lot more useful than any other metric I've found, and I'll be damned if I discard a helpful tool just because some jackasses misuse it in business or some other jackasses ridicule it on metafilter.
posted by chronkite at 8:59 AM on March 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


Geeks love the MB personality test!
posted by Legomancer at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


chronkite, seconding your experience, right down to the results. I went to a small high school and was a social outcast weirdo and realizing that other people thought the same way I did and that I was not the only one was very reaffirming.
posted by zug at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


At my UU congregation, a few of us call them "Unitarian Horoscopes". Quite a few others hate that joke. I usually come up the same as what they claim Thomas Jefferson would have been (INTP?) even though I'm pretty sure Jefferson never took the Myers-Brigg and I would never own slaves. Also, he created the Jefferson Bible, whereas I hate editing other people's work.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Speaking as a fellow person-who-tested-as-an-INTP-and-found-it-comforting-to-think-I-wasn't-alone-and-not-be-judged, don't the scientific problems with the test bother you at least a little bit? I mean, if you were an archetypal INTP, they certainly should :-)
posted by Jpfed at 9:10 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me, tests like these are too momentary -- like a blood test. Outside of mental "fasting" I don't see how you can assume that one instance of this test will yield an accurate overall picture. What if I just had coffee? What if I am sleepy? What if I just watched Oprah?

Frankly it always bugged me to be labeled a thinker or a feeler. There are times when I put one or the other or both to use. Am I going to "feel" about how to put together a bookcase? No. Am I going to "think" about helping a crying, lost child? No.

So to assume because MBTI labels me as one or the other means I can't do or be good at both is unfortunate.
posted by thorny at 9:10 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have interviewed at least two workplaces where the interviewers proudly stated (even though they were from different companies they had worked together in the past) they were whatever personality-type Field Marshall Montgomery was.

Myers-Briggs is totally nuts!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:13 AM on March 22, 2013


I had no idea there is such hate for the Myers Briggs.

I discovered it in college and felt like it explained the world (and me) so well! So, so well. I even prosletized and got all my geeky friends to take the test. It probably helped that I scored as an extreme in three of the four categories (INT) so I fit so neatly into the niche. Also what chronkite and zug said.

I see the flaws and don't like its use in the corporate context, but it really was helpful to me at an age when I was trying to figure my adult self out. I haven't tested in years, but still think about it occasionally. For example, my mother-in-law, a wonderful woman, is such an S. Things are what they are, and waste no time thinking about "what if."
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


INTP, and I've got no issues with a personality test being "unscientific," as I think of these systems of categorization as interesting starting points and, in my experience, useful psychic maps, rather than rigid predictive classes. Hazy things like personalities are really not quantifiable, in my view, and I like that the MBTI proposes several axes of inclination.There's always room for chaos in any system, but I've found the INTP descriptions pretty accurate for me.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:16 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


What weirds me out is how people toss off their 4 letter results like they're common knowledge. INTP? ESTP? ESFP? ENFP? I think INTJ is one I hear a lot.

These are semaphores I recognize but cannot read.
posted by postcommunism at 9:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Over the years I've been through many seminars that wielded some watered down version or other of the Myers-Briggs tool as part of the "training" content, and I have to say the main thing I've noticed is how a large proportion of the E's mainly took away from the MB discussions the idea that they're justified by virtue of their natural inclinations to be loud, overbearing, and self-centered in work interactions. (Full disclosure: IST/FP last time I took it.)
posted by aught at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Myers-Briggs is pretty tame in terms of terribleness compared to one high school psych textbook worksheet that allegedly measured "Machiavellian" personality traits. Ten minutes of teenagers scribbling on paper and toting up results later, EVERY ONE of us had to give our total (the higher your number was, the more "Machiavellian" you were.

Mine was the highest.

Cue five minutes of solid silence.

Well, EXCUSE ME for having life experiences that make me less trusting than most!
posted by lineofsight at 9:20 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the MBTI is useful because it concretely expresses the idea that people can act and feel and process information and tackle problems in all sorts of different ways, and that all of these different ways of being are okay, but the way you communicate with people might be different depending on their temperament. The benefit to using it in a business setting isn't so much to confirm that you're an introvert or an extrovert; it's to point out that maybe you tend to be more analytical while your boss tends to go with her gut, and you should be aware of this and tailor your communications accordingly.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:21 AM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think the MBTI is useful because it concretely expresses the idea that people can act and feel and process information and tackle problems in all sorts of different ways,

Well, it expresses the idea that they can do those things in 16 different ways.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:23 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been aware of the MBTI and my type for about 10 years. I've gotten the same result every time I've taken it, and the description I get matches me moreso than any of the other descriptions (and the description that's second closest is where my lowest percentage has always been, J/P), so I tend to think there's something to it and not just Forer effect.

The MBTI is an evaluation of self more than anything. How you tend to observe the world, work through problems, work with others, and prefer to manage your time. It doesn't necessarily say much about how a person will behave on the outside or what their interests will be, and if you use it to stereotype yourself, write others off, or excuse bad behaviors and blind spots, you're doing it wrong.

I have found it interesting to find out the results my friends, relationship partners, and family members have gotten after already knowing them personally for a while. It's helped explain certain hiccups in interactions or areas where our style of thinking seems to deviate, instead of the other person simply being inscrutable. For those who have not felt it beneficial in the same way, I can see why you think it's a lot of hooey.
posted by wondermouse at 9:24 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


And nothing in the MBTI says you *can't* be more I than E/more N than F/etc on any given day. It simply a rough sketch of your *tendencies*.
posted by grubi at 9:24 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The point of Meyers Brigg's in a corporate setting isn't anything to do with the actual measurement of people. It is about communicating the need for trying to understand the people you are talking to as being different from you and also as a social lubricant for people from different departments to have some time together and talk about something. Even it is silly.

The fact that it is wrapped up in completely discredited pseudo-science is annoying if you believe it. Take it as what is. A silly party game.
posted by srboisvert at 9:29 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


And nothing in the MBTI says you *can't* be more I than E/more N than F/etc on any given day. It simply a rough sketch of your *tendencies*.

The MBTI "says" what the hack consultants talking to you and your co-workers say it says.

Unfortunately few of them really understand it well enough not to abuse it in off-the-cuff discussions or keep it from being abused later by managers or co-workers making various assumptions about peers based on the results.
posted by aught at 9:32 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


At my UU congregation, a few of us call them "Unitarian Horoscopes".

I first took the MBTI at a UU youth retreat! I don't quite understand why we took it (maybe it was what we had instead of a creed?), but it was better than wandering the woods looking for something that "called to me," which was one of the activities the next day.
posted by Area Man at 9:32 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can be what I think I am. I just have to remember to not cancel out the previous response.

INTG. Yeah. Okay, it's easier than trying to decide what happens if Jupiter aligns with Mars, but harder than just calling in for a credit check. However, it is a valuable tool for revealing whether the interviewer is a blockhead.
posted by mule98J at 9:37 AM on March 22, 2013


The MBTI "says" what the hack consultants talking to you and your co-workers say it says.

And if hack consultants and co-workers aren't involved?

Look, I'm glad you can take comfort in knowing that the MBTI is "complete nonsense"; I guess I'm just a weirdo who *magically* tests the same result every time. Rock on with your bad self, I suppose.
posted by grubi at 9:38 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


While applying for one software development position, I had to take a 'personality test' (I don't think it had anything to do with Briggs-Meyers, but I'm not certain) which asked me to select words I would use to describe myself from a list. A little later, I was presented with the same list of words and asked to choose ones that others would use to describe me.

When I visited the company in-person, the interviewer had a very professional looking folder with all sorts of charts that had been generated by this test. He then spent time going over the various characteristics these charts depicted and the qualities they represented and turned downright weird when he started saying things like (paraphrased from memory) "Your 'B' line is very high, that's a sign of a very details oriented person who can get easily flustered, but I wouldn't worry about that because your low 'D' characteristic is low, and taken together that shows you can easily put those personality traits aside when necessary".

Sounded like astrology to me.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:41 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure about Myers-Briggs, but a lot of the people I work with are probably better evaluated using the multiple spectra of Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:41 AM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Almost everyone I know who has taken the Myers-Briggs, has scored as an INTP. And many of them are weirdly proud of it? Why is this? When you get the INTP result, does the explanation say something like "INTP is the rarest jewel of them all"?

Anyway, if hadn't been skeptical of the Myers-Briggs before, I'd definitely have become skeptical after so many wildly different people came out with the same result. I have never gotten consistent results when I've taken it for funsies, but my most recent outcome was INFJ. just looked up the Wikipedia entry for INFJ, and it does read like a big ol' horoscope.
They are intricately, deeply woven, mysterious, highly complex, and often puzzling, even to themselves. They have an orderly view toward the world, but are internally arranged in a complex way that only they can understand. Abstract in communicating, they live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities. With a natural affinity for art, INFJs tend to be creative and easily inspired, yet they may also do well in the sciences, aided by their intuition.
Come ON, now.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:43 AM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I just had a conversation about this the other night. I had a little dinner party in order to make some professional introductions - a friend is seeking a job in the engineering field, and I am hellbent on getting him one so that he doesn't move away. Because I am a fucking Borgia, and I will marry him off to the highest bidder, and I don't fucking care, that's just how we do, okay?

Anyway, we got around to discussing some vague "professional development" issues, and MBTI came up. I honestly can't figure out why people would consider this a professional development tool, because when I think about how to develop myself professionally, I think: what skill(s) can I us to prostitute myself out to someone? Not: what KIND of a prostitute am I?

Right?

Anyway, they loved this stuff because to them it indicated who they were "supposed to" be in this world. One bemoaned that he had become an engineer, because it turns out he's ill-suited for that kind of rote work. The Greek chorus of engineers agreed with nodding heads and similar laments. Whether it is accurate, it certainly made them feel better about the direction they'd like to take next. I guess my primary complaint is that it reinforces the idea that there is a "supposed to" for anyone. Sure, there are things we've got more or less aptitude for, and things we're interested in. But the whole "supposed to" thing is what got most of us into the positions we're dissatisfied with in the first place! I just can't jive with something that is going to reinforce that in some way, while masquerading as an escape hatch from that very same thing.

I have always scored as an INTJ. I don't put much stock in it, except that I know it represents certain aspects of my personality that I can identify separately. I'm very much an introvert, but I don't wallow in it. I value sympathy/empathy but not sentimentality. I am not a moron, and therefore can tell when a situation doesn't add up properly. And my well-reasoned argument trumps your hunch, even if neither of us knows what we're talking about. The part I love the most is how people react when I tell them that. They look at me with this mixture of horror and curiosity. I think my disdain for sentimentality and my preference for logic/reason rather than feelings/hunches worries people, but could just be idiosyncratic. But put those characteristics in an introvert and they immediately think, "He's clearly got bodies buried somewhere."
posted by jph at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the article: the MBTI is harmless and potentially useful if you're aware of its limitations. That's the problem, though; the MBTI is predominately used in the workplace by HR departments, development/training teams and the like, who can often be clearly unaware of its limitations.

This, of course, is the whole problem. The MBTI is sciency, has the appearance of being tested and validated, without actually having a lot to back it up.

For some reason, HR folks, in particular, love categorization tools like the Meyers-Briggs test, but too frequently don't want to validate or prove them, or worse seek to remain uneducated about their use. Proper stats and blind-validation studies are hard to do right, but ignoring them can really bite you.

I was forced to be a on working group a few years ago, where our HR was hot to develop a similar sort of thing, a set of categories to define what a worker should be able to do in their job. "Core competencies" they called them: things like "teambuilding" and "communication" and specific skills like "data analysis". These "competencies" were then rated 1 to 5 supposedly every position in my organization would be scored on this matrix, by competency and level within that competency.

We were supposed to a) define the core competencies for our set of people (somewhere around 5,000 people) and b) define the levels for the various grades and types of positions. After workshopping for two days, we had something like 20 "core competencies" for our jobs, and neatly ranked levels for each pay-grade. HR had some pretty looking spreadsheets when they were done. It was a close cousin to a Big 5 ranking, but more detailed and somewhat tailored to technical workers.

They then tried to implement that in our organization to assess people, assign their level, and gauge promotions and hiring. It was, as you would expect, a complete ball of fecal matter.

One problem was that no one really understood the categories. Many were over-lapping, "communications", "presenting" and "technical writing" were three, for example. They were idiosyncratically defined too, to put it charitably. A parallel group had done a similar exercise and come up with a completely different set of "core competencies", essentially slicing the pie up into different categories. The system was very confusing and over-defined. HR and their consultants, in particular, encouraged this to be inclusive and "provide multiple factors to assess skill sets".

Another problem was that it was too general, even with 20 categories, to realistically help understand if anyone was a good match to a needed skill set. How did you test someone to assess their level? There were short guidelines written during the workshop, but no one bothered to test them.

So, in terms of trying to quantify a complex system, HR made at least two mistakes. The system was poorly defined---over-determined (too many categories) and non-orthogonal (too much overlap). The data and testing used to arrive at the data used to implement the system was further not controlled (normalized to a scale properly) or tested for robustness (how reliable was the testing).

There are well-established statistical tools for categorization and even ranking with-in categories. They're used by polling firms, population biologists, and forensic scentists, to give a few examples. Many people in that workshop, were, in fact, such people. While we spent the first day and a half gamely producing the matrix they wanted, the last few hours of the second day turned into one of the more scathing technical sessions I've ever been part of. World-renown statistical biologists, scientists in charge of national and international standard methods development, experts who testify on the legal use of statistics and sampling methods in court, all had a go the process and proposed methodology used by HR and their hired-gun snake-oil consultants.

HR closed ranks and pressed on anyway, with their consultant rolling out the implementation over the next few months. It was, as I said above, a disaster. A few years on, HR will not even admit to the fact that the "core competencies" program was ever implemented.

All this to say, that while MBTI may be a fun thing to fool around with at cocktail parties, hiring, firing and promotion issues are far too complicated and important to people to trust with such ad hoc and off-the-cuff sort of systems. For considerably less important things than a person's livelihood, much higher bars for testing and robustness of testing are required. It's time, past time, that the HR profession as a whole come to grips with that.

Big Data (and this is what this is) could possibly by useful for HR assessments, but we're nowhere close to the types of testing that are needed, the quality checks on the testing itself, or on calibrating the test results.

When I encounter one of these things in the workplace, my response is always: prove it. Show me the literature that using it will get me a better employee, higher productivity, whatever. Show me the results, done to a proper standard and I'll consider your system. To date, no one I've asked has ever been able to do so.
posted by bonehead at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sounded like astrology to me.

And a mainstream news article on the possibilities of wormholes and time travel often shows nothing more than the writer's ignorance on the subject, but that doesn't make the study of those things any less science.

To be fair.
posted by grubi at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What about those "Which My Little Pony Are You?" tests? We should get corporate HR to start taking that kind of thing seriously.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:48 AM on March 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


On further reflection, maybe the test's appeal lies in the fact that it doesn't assume that there is some absolutely correct personality. It's not normative. It doesn't have a vocabulary of "disorder". I can see how it could be misused in a corporate situation ("I see you're an INTP, probably not so good for our beer company's party-favor sales position") but it doesn't say there's something fundamentally abnormal about being an INTP. Rare, perhaps, but not unhealthy.
posted by seemoreglass at 9:51 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It can be interesting, and a way to see how other personality types interact with the world and with you. Scores can and should be presented as a point on a scale, not either/or. It is always to be presented as 'how an individual prefers to deal with the world.' I think the 16 personality types are BS.

In business, I've experienced it in team-building events and, oddly, customer service training. The idea is that attendees will develop an appreciation for other personality types and their strengths. In practice, I've experienced it being used to ridicule and dismiss anybody who doesn't fit leadership's ideas. I would not agree to taking it again in a work environment, or would research the desired personality type, and apply it to the test.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on March 22, 2013


What about those "Which My Little Pony Are You?" tests? We should get corporate HR to start taking that kind of thing seriously.

I am 20% Rainbow Dash*, 60% Twilight, and 20% Fluttershy.

I have no Rarity whatsoever.

*The coolest 20% obviously.
posted by emjaybee at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


(I am Twilight Sparkle, btw)
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


BrodieShadeTree: ""If the Myers-Briggs is astrology for smart people then what's astronomy for dumb people?"

TMZ?
"

Clever, very very very clever. :)
posted by symbioid at 10:07 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mine is STFU, btw.
posted by symbioid at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Call me a dire traditionalist, but I'll stick with the good ol' Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and Thematic Apperception Tests, thank you very much. At fifteen, a combination of the two indicated that I was a firebug with fascist ideation who was fond (but not intimately so) of a distant sister and inclined to portray human relationships in rigid and not-very likelike ways, though in reality I was just super gay and not fully aware of it yet and I picked up all sorts of physical and emotional tics from my best friend, who was the very model of uncontrolled OCD.

The report detailing my characteristics was literary in a way that four magical letters will never be, and, in many ways, was right on the money.

I'm no longer a firebug, though I do toast marshmallows over the stove when I'm sad.
posted by sonascope at 10:10 AM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


But at other times I get GTFO. So... Yeah - it's hard to say, there's clearly a T + F correlation, but could you get more divergent with the S/G and the U/O? I mean ferrealz! Now go away.
posted by symbioid at 10:10 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I would quit a company that took this seriously.
posted by empath at 10:14 AM on March 22, 2013


Mine said I was a Water Sign born in the year of the Rat.
posted by kyrademon at 10:25 AM on March 22, 2013


I endured an organizationally mandated MBTI test once, and it was only under the threat of open revolt that the nonprofit management backed off their plans to post everyone's type outside their office door.

I thought that woud be the nadir of my experience with pseudoscientific personality tests, until a prospective employer asked me to take a test in which you arrange cards of various colors in whatever order just kinda feels right, and this provides keen insight into what sort of person you are. I started my color series with the black card. Believe me, if you want the job, don't pick the black card first.
posted by itstheclamsname at 10:25 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mine said I was a Water Sign born in the year of the Rat.

I don't remember exactly what mine said but I think it was something like "Quidditch Hat Rack"? Anyone have any idea what that means?
posted by griphus at 10:30 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


and it was only under the threat of open revolt that the nonprofit management backed off their plans to post everyone's type outside their office door.

It's one of the sad aspects of corporate use of the MB index that many of the people involved sincerely think they're helping you a great deal by pigeonholing you and your co-workers with this half-based pseudoscience, and are honestly stunned at the idea there could be anything involved other than "fostering understanding and synergy" or some such thing.
posted by aught at 10:32 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's the deal with the Big 5? It seems like each attribute is very much not-neutral: In every instance of the short description at the end of the survey, it seemed like one pole was "good" and the other "bad," or at least desirable/undesirable.

Is that the intent of the scale, or did that page do a poor job of explaining it? 'Cuz the description appears to be putting pretty fishy value judgments on things that maybe don't need that.
posted by jsturgill at 10:56 AM on March 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure about Myers-Briggs, but a lot of the people I work with are probably better evaluated using the multiple spectra of Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.
posted by TheWhiteSkull

You broke Ru's number one rule (Don't Fuck it Up!) It's Charisma not Creativity! Now, Sashay, away!
posted by vespabelle at 10:58 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine there are many HR departments that are under pressure to conform to corporate measurablity initiatives. There's always some level or some position where demonstrated improvement needs to be shown, and so they gravitate towards these kinds of tests.

If nothing else the MBTI seems to be short. When I first started taking it, there was a short and a long version. The long was OK, but the short was was very, very short. MMPI is a 2-4 hour endurance run.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:04 AM on March 22, 2013


I just took that Big 5 one. As expected, I'm middle of the road for everything (just like Meyers Briggs), except for the Relaxed/Anxious one where I scored so far to the left they probably think I'm in a coma.

Us unclassifiables should form a 50% club.
posted by phunniemee at 11:04 AM on March 22, 2013


Is the MBTI big throughout the world, or is it mostly used in the US?
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:04 AM on March 22, 2013


If the 16 types were equally distributed they would each be 6.25% of the population.

From Wikipedia:
INFJ is the rarest of types, usually accounted as being between 1–3% of the population.[2][3][4][5]
INTJs are one of the rarest of the sixteen personality types, and account for about 1–4% of the population.[2][3]
INTPs are one of the rarest personality types, accounting for 1–5% of the U.S. population.[2][3][4]
ENTJs are among the rarest of types, accounting for about 2–5% of those who are formally tested.[2][3]
ENTPs account for about 2–5% of the population.[2][3]
ENFJs account for about 2–5% of the population.[3][4]
ENFPs account for about 2–8% of the population.[3][4]
INFPs are one of the rarer types, accounting for about 4–5% of the population.[3]
ISTPs account for about 4–6% of the population.[2]
ESFPs account for about 4–10% of the population.[2][3]
ESTPs account for about 4–10% of the population.[2][3]
ISFPs account for about 5–10% of the population.[2][3]
ESTJs account for about 8–12% of the population.[2][3]
ESFJs account for about 9–13% of the population.[2][3]
ISFJs account for about 9–14% of the population.[3][4]
ISTJs account for about 10–14% of the population.[2][3]

So they aren't exactly even, but they don't fit a typical bell curve either.
posted by Lanark at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2013


At least the MBTI kind of legitimizes and points out the value of some of the personality traits that are less prized by corporate America, like Introversion and Feeling. I, personally, was relieved to know that being quiet and emotional weren't mental defects. I'm not so sure a lot of people realize they aren't.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate horoscopes. I love MBTI. Particularly this version.

I think one of the reasons for the MBTI's continued popularity among geeks is that it offers an abstract framework which embeds the intuitive thinking component into some well developed archetypes which, while unscientific, arguably contribute to some level of self-awareness. On the other hand, the Big 5 breaks things down into superficial yet highly value charged and predictable qualities, giving you and the HR department a slightly uncomfortable list of all the things you're not very good at, but not much insight.

and it's ENTP to you
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 11:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's the deal with the Big 5? It seems like each attribute is very much not-neutral

Ya, according to the Big 5, I am, like, the worst person in the world.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:11 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm always 100% I, more often N than S, and the other two are a coin toss.

Also, Ravenclaw and Twilight Sparkle.
posted by Foosnark at 11:16 AM on March 22, 2013


Ya, according to the Big 5, I am, like, the worst person in the world.

I've heard that from people about you but I have assured them it is not so.
posted by jaduncan at 11:17 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I tested myself and I'm an ESTJ along with Herbert Hoover, Fidel Castro and Ice Cube. Awesome.
posted by vespabelle at 11:17 AM on March 22, 2013


My first reaction to this thread was hope that there would be enough data in it to make a histogram.

How INTP is that?
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here come the test results: "You are a horrible person." That's what it says: a horrible person. We weren't even testing for that.
posted by empath at 11:20 AM on March 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Anything that a lot of people do, and which has feedback loops which tweak it depending on how satisfactory the outcome was, has the potential to become useful no matter how silly the theory used to justify it may be.

Traditional medicines are like that, the evolution of cooking and the domestication of plants and animals has features of that, and I don't see how language itself could have emerged without such a process, except that prior to a full language there could scarcely have been a theory of how it worked, I suppose.

Meyers-Briggs is a lot like the medieval theory of personality based on the four humors-- which was integrated with astrology, by the way-- and I think Meyers-Briggs would be most interesting if it could be shown that it was not in fact a lineal descendant of the four humors, because then you would have two independently arising systems of personality with a lot in common and you could look for a deeper cause for that similarity.
posted by jamjam at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's the type that can never remember what answer they got the last time they took the MB test? Because I'm pretty sure that's my type.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:30 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Besides, everyone knows that haruspicy is where the real truth lies. That's why I carry a BB gun and a pocket knife at all times. Gulls know the future.

Well, their intestines do, anyway.

I thought there might be something to it, because I consisently test INTJ, heavy on the T and the J, with the I and N more near the E and S boundaries, respectively. When I read the description for INTJ, It was bang on. ENTJ and ISTJ were pretty close. ESTJ, though, was getting pretty far afield.

So in my mind, it rates higher than astrology, which is straight-up Forer effect (when it works at all). That doesn't rule out the idea that I answer the questions based on my self-image, then am pleased when the descriptions match my self-perception, without my having learned anything new or objective about myself.
posted by BrashTech at 11:32 AM on March 22, 2013


That doesn't rule out the idea that I answer the questions based on my self-image, then am pleased when the descriptions match my self-perception, without my having learned anything new or objective about myself.

Q: Do you like large crowds?
A: No.

Analysis: You don't like large crowds.

Me: What unearthly oracle is this that knows me so well?!

So maybe not even unscientific. Just tautological.
posted by seemoreglass at 11:41 AM on March 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


All I know is that these tests have consistently and correctly shown that I am the sort of person who can't resist doing these tests.
posted by Decani at 11:51 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've encountered MB a few times, most recently a few years back on a job interview. I'd cleared most of the technical challenges, and the HR guy whips out the MB kit next and explains what it is. I explained that I was a bit dubious about its applicability to the job, and he took that in stride and explained how he'd had very good results building teams based on it, of course together with all the other qualifications.

I had nothing to lose so I did it. The HR guy was quite willing to discuss in detail what the answers usually indicated, and left me with the test and the literature.

Did I get the job?... no, but they told me I was only beat out by a guy who was currently their main contact at their largest customer, meaning he was the insider. And that it had nothing to do with my revealed deep hostility, thin skin or persecution complex. Prick.

So, I currently think the MB results give a basic insight into a person's basic tendencies, but I sort of resent the information being considered a general public tool for interacting with me. First, I might be introspective and thinky, but I can still give a passable performance as a fellow human being in a 2 hour meeting. I have skills. And second, could there be anything more patronizing than a ham-handed superior's attempt to "get me" by scanning my profile before a one-on-one?

Cos they don't get me. No-one does. Yet they like to talk about me when they think I don't know. But I always know. They 're all so smug, they think they're better than me. I'll show them. I'll show them all.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:52 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


At my work you have to pass a pre-1996 Dr. Who Purity Test in the 90th percentile or you will be FIRED IMMEDIATELY

(not really but I can dream)
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:11 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A couple corporations I worked for were obsessed with these things. I usually hit INTP or INTJ, depending on my caffeine intake for the morning. Either result tending to freak out most of my supervisors for some reason. The last one thought actually found some work that suited me instead of the drudgery I was faced with, which was all kinds of cool.

The worst corporate fad I was subjected to was that insane Who Moved My Cheese. The team I worked with was a pretty rebellious and somewhat intellectual lot thus their tolerance class went into the toilet fast. I remember our table barraged the instructor with ways around the scenario with the last one being "we're just going to enslave the mice and sit back". She never called on us for the rest of the day.
posted by Ber at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I test as INTP or ENTJ pretty evenly. Neither of the descriptions for those results seem to have anything to do with the reality of my personality.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:24 PM on March 22, 2013


I don't give these tests much credit, although for what it's worth, I always come out as INFJ.

The top three results for "famous INFJs": Nathan, prophet of Israel, Aristophanes, and Chaucer. The mind boggles.
posted by badmoonrising at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The top three results for "famous INFJs": Nathan, prophet of Israel, Aristophanes, and Chaucer. The mind boggles.

I don't really trust MB anyway, but trying to ascribe MB types to biblical prophets seems like the height of foolishness. Unless "reprimands kings about their adultery" is a criteria for INFJs in which case feel free to proceed.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:58 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Took an online version right now, ESTP, or the exact opposite of what I got when I took the thing in Colledge.
posted by The Whelk at 12:59 PM on March 22, 2013


The overlap of Jungian psychology and neuroscience is interesting. Dario Nardi's Google talk here.

Nardi's conception of personality typing is that a personality type under any given system functions more as an attractor than as a rigid model. My take on it is that the typing is most usefully conceived as exising in the absence of atypical stimulation of any kind, ie when the person is in a stable state of mind. Being tested, of course, is atypical stimulation, and some people respond more positively and some more negatively to being tested.

The big takeaway is that other people are different and this difference is not only not a bad thing, but broadly "chunkable". Nobody has the time and mental energy to gain a full understanding of your individual personality with all its quirks and features. You don't have time (and according to Kurt Godel, you are unable) to do that for yourself.

But if we can broadly classify you along a few axes that show consistent and reliable results, and you agree with those results, then we and you gain a pragmatic benefit in a number of somewhat stable situations such as a workplace or a family relationship.

At a minimum, it encourages the view that what is stressful/enjoyable for me is not necessarily the same as for you, and however human beings may be brought to that particular enlightenment, including through astrology or bodily humor measurement, we are all better for it. The concept of a diversity of humans is sound, however for whatever reason, much like an understanding of probability, it is not something we mentally "come equipped with by default". The default assumption seems to be that other people are stupid and obnoxious, and their inability to grasp what we mean and do what they should is their fault rather than their diversity. (Our centuries-old legal and religious traditions reek of this erroneous worldview.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:59 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have always tested strongly I-N-T and about 51%/49% J-P. I identify with the described traits of those types pretty strongly, and consistently. This isn't an argument for the validity of the test, from a psychological standpoint, of course; just anecdata.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:01 PM on March 22, 2013


We did this once. I had to bite my tongue and go along, reasoning that if the big boss had been convinced it was of value then it would not be in my interest to stand up and suggest that we also get our Tarot cards read.
posted by thelonius at 1:11 PM on March 22, 2013


-- WARNING: PONY RELATED --
The (self-selecting) Brony fandom poll summarized at State of the Herd Report 2013 (p 52) had a Myers-Briggs component. Strangely, over 25% of the respondents rated as INTJ (introversion, intuitive, thinking, judgment), instead of 1-4%.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only one comment here mentions anything to do with Carl Jung, which is interesting because the MBTI is entirely based off his personality theories specifically those that deal with cognitive functions.

Anyone who is well-versed in both will tell you MBTI is pretty unreliable, but there may be some validity to Jung's theory. There difference is MBTI is prescriptive while Jung attempts to be descriptive.

So, yes. As much as it is psychology for dumb people, it becomes astrology for smart people.
posted by thetoken at 1:19 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I tested a few years back in the Keirsey and got ISTJ. Last year I tested in the Johnson O'Connor and got great marks on visual perception, divergent thinking, and spatial reasoning. And I still haven't really found a good career for me. So, yeah, being good at tests doesn't mean having an easier time finding a satisfying job.
posted by FJT at 1:35 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I last took this a few months ago when I was filling out paperwork to get my 1-year-old into a co-op, non-dropoff preschool thing*, and I got ENFP. Before I quit working to stay at home with my kid I was a consistent INTJ.

*we bailed on the preschool thing. Not just because they wanted me to take the fucking Myers-Briggs, but it did not raise my opinion of the operation.
posted by purpleclover at 1:55 PM on March 22, 2013


the fact that the distribution of scores on these traits is unimodal and centered at 50% makes it seem utterly nonsensical.
Distributions of height are unimodal and centered nearly around the 50th percentile height; should I be suspicious of my tape measure?

I am suspicious of the linked articles, however. Neither "simple concept that everyone fits one of 16 personality types" nor "you're either one or the other; there is no middle ground" describe the Myers-Briggs tests I took a decade and a half ago, which as you describe returned scores as percentages rather than binary selections. Have the tests regressed since then (or been supplanted by dumbed-down-for-MBAs versions), are these articles criticizing strawmen, or are there different versions of the tests and people aren't even all arguing about the same topic?

If someone tells me that the idea of "height" isn't scientific but then continues to explain that most people can't even be repeatedly consistently assigned to one or the other category of "tall" and "short", then his argument begins to make good sense but it's not as broad an argument as he thinks he's making.
posted by roystgnr at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find if I think just about the different dimensions of the test (like the difference between I/E, J/P especially, in my case), then MBTI has been really insightful. But when I look at the sixteen different archetypes it spits out, I find them to be next to useless. Like many people upthread, I can test differently just about any time that I take it since on 3 of the 4 categories my answers are at about the 50% mark.

But when it comes to understanding why, when push comes to shove, I'm really an I even though I have many E qualities, or why I'm a P when I exhibit many J behaviors, it's been a really useful way to understand myself.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2013


I seriously just took a personality test the other day at my large corporate workplace. The facilitators told our class -- a group of about 30 or so people -- that they used to use Myers-Briggs for this, but have now moved on to using HBDI, or Hermann Brain.

The test involved various examples of the four kinds of thinkers, which, as far as I could tell, were "Mathematician," "Accountant," "Parent," and "Lunatic."

After we all got our scores back, they had us break into different groups, according to the one we scored highest on.

Mathematician Group had about ten people in it. Same with Accountant Group. Parent Group had a little more.

And in the fourth corner was just me.

There was this Jamaican guy in my class, and no lie, it was probably the highlight of my life so far when he bellowed "GREGORY! THE MAN WHO STANDS ALONE"

Anyway, this is all malarkey anyway since I really see myself as more of a House Baratheon with a little bit of Samantha if she was Chaotic Neutral
posted by Greg Nog at 2:12 PM on March 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


I first took the MBTI at a UU youth retreat! I don't quite understand why we took it (maybe it was what we had instead of a creed?), but it was better than wandering the woods looking for something that "called to me," which was one of the activities the next day.

It's definitely less stressful to get "INTP" than to get "Slenderman"
posted by Greg Nog at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I sort of view the Myers-Briggs as infallible, in a certain sense. I mean, it's just spitting back what you told it, and there's little extrapolation there. It's like taking a test that says "How much do you like donuts? 1-10"; you answer 9 and the screen proudly proclaims back, "You are a Donut-Liker™!!!"

Now, assuming that self-reported personality traits from a given moment are indicative of something essential or even useful about one's self...that's a whole 'nother can of worms.
posted by threeants at 3:56 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm an INTP/INTJ and every guy I've ever dated has been an INTP or an INTJ. (Not by design, obviously.) So despite being for damn fools, it has touched my life.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:25 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


jsturgill: "What's the deal with the Big 5? It seems like each attribute is very much not-neutral:
...

Is that the intent of the scale, or did that page do a poor job of explaining it? 'Cuz the description appears to be putting pretty fishy value judgments on things that maybe don't need that.
"

It's definitely not the "intent" of the Big 5 to do this, and it's partly a consequence of having to choose a single word to label a theoretical construct. The way that Big 5 measures were originally designed was to look for lots of different questions that people tend to answer in the same way, and then attach a label to them, not the other way around (sort of: I think the actual history was messier). The awkward problem with this is that the "thing" being measured (to the extent that it makes sense to think of personality variables as real "things") doesn't map naturally onto a single word, so whatever word you choose can be misleading. For instance, while "agreeableness" sounds like an unalloyed positive, it's really not, because the agreeableness scale also subsumes things like "compliance", which isn't always a good thing.

In the case of "agreeableness", I'm willing to concede that the problem is unavoidable, or at least I can't think of a better name. However, the naming of "neuroticism" is a really bad choice which psychologists are kind of stuck with for historical reasons (the name predates the Big 5). A better name might be something like "emotional sensitivity". People who are highly "neurotic" aren't worse than people who aren't: they're just more emotional, which is sometimes an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage.

DigDoug: "Hey, thanks for the Big 5 shout out. I like it a lot. However, I'm not sure this tells me more than my IntP profile did."

I think psychologists would agree that the Big 5 doesn't capture very much about personality. Five numbers to describe someones personality? Not likely. However, unlike Myers-Briggs, a good Big 5 test (most of the online ones aren't good tests) is moderately reliable, is loosely related to the phenomenon of interest (personality), and -- importantly -- its flaws are well-documented, and openly acknowledged. So, as long as you know what you're doing and are careful to keep the flaws of the measures in mind, you can use Big 5 measures in a scientific study. It's not dissimilar to intelligence tests in that sense: a flawed and limited tool, but very useful if used responsibly and carefully. Myers-Briggs, on the other hand, can be pretty misleading. It has poor psychometric properties, and really isn't all that useful for any scientific purpose. I don't know of any psychologist who would recommend using it for any serious work.

In short: the Big 5 won't tell you anything about yourself that you didn't already know. But it will tell a psychologist a little bit about you that they didn't know, using language (psychometric test scores) that can be compared (to an extent) across people. Myers-Briggs? Not so much.
posted by mixing at 4:37 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of the above being said, although the Big 5 is better than Myers-Briggs, my inner psychometrician is still pretty unhappy with it. There is no coherent theory underpinning it, it is far too reliant on one statistical technique (it is built using exploratory factor analysis, but doesn't do well on confirmatory analyses, to my knowledge), and appears to have limited cross-cultural generalizability. But that's psychology for you... we can't measure anything without attaching dozens of caveats.

Actually, I blame people. If you would all kindly make yourselves simpler and less interesting, it would be a great help for the advancement of psychological science. Thanking you in advance.
posted by mixing at 5:07 PM on March 22, 2013


I am curious if any of the above people who've taken the test a half dozen times or whatever are outside the US. I grew up in/was educated in Ireland and have worked among expats for various big British construction consultancies in North America for 15 years and was never asked/suggested to take it or even had it mentioned to me by a "real life" person. I only ever see references to MBTI online.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:24 PM on March 22, 2013


If you consider humans as machines, a minimal adequate description to reproduce one is probably on the order of 10 petabytes or so. Vastly more than 4 characters.
posted by gregor-e at 6:44 PM on March 22, 2013


gregor-e: "If you consider humans as machines, a minimal adequate description to reproduce one is probably on the order of 10 petabytes or so. Vastly more than 4 characters."

Well, yes. I'm fond of this back of the envelope calculation, which suggests the brain makes 10^17 bit ops per second, or about 11 petabytes of data per second. No personality questionnaire is ever going to produce a high-fidelity description of such a system.

However, I don't think it's entirely fair to compare the "11 petabytes" number to the "smallish number of bits" produced by a psychometric instrument. One is a literal description of the complexity of the system, the other is a crude approximation to one small aspect to the system. It's still a huge approximation, but we use crude approximations all the time in science, often quite fruitfully.

Consider aerodynamics, for instance. The actual behaviour of gases and fluids is very complex (as I understand it), and to simulate them in high fidelity is very computationally expensive. Nevertheless, there are some situations in which you can "get away" with using simpler mathematical approximations. These simpler laws aren't adequate as a description of nature, but they can be good enough approximations in some situations to solve applied problems.

Psychological tools are very much like this. No-one actually believes that the Big 5 is an adequate description of personality, and no-one believes that the Cattell-Horn-Carroll hierarchy is an adequate description of intelligence. They are many, many orders of magnitude too simple. And in any case many (but by no means all) of their failings are very well documented.

But, like many scientific approximations, they are good enough to solve applied problems. IQ tests, for all their flaws, are excellent tools when trying to measure the effects of (say) lead poisoning on cognitive functioning. So, while they are not even close to minimally adequate as a description of a human being, many psychometric tools are more than adequate for answering important psychological questions.

As an aside, I doubt you were directly attacking psychological methods, but I do think it's really important to avoid conflating the question of "is tool X this a good description of a person?" with "is tool X this a good enough description for specific problem Y". In psychology, the answer to the first question is always "no", but the answer to the second question is sometimes "yes".
posted by mixing at 7:19 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Malcolm Gladwell's article on Myers-Briggs.
posted by Bokmakierie at 7:39 PM on March 22, 2013


I agree that this Myers-Briggs is basically one step above astrology but still not actual psychology. I do think it's helpful in giving you tools to talk about personalities and relationships which is a notoriously difficult subject. And there is a real tension between saying 'everyone is a special unique snowflake and you cant make generalizations or learn about them from a book' - which is strictly true but unhelpful - vs saying 'people are certain ways and here is a classification of the different ways people are' - which is strictly false but helpful.
posted by TheGuyWhoSucks at 8:14 PM on March 22, 2013


I designed a Core Competencies list once.
1. Competence

Now fuck off and leave me alone.
It was rejected.
posted by fullerine at 8:51 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never gotten consistent results when I've taken it for funsies, but my most recent outcome was INFJ. just looked up the Wikipedia entry for INFJ, and it does read like a big ol' horoscope.
They are intricately, deeply woven, mysterious, highly complex, and often puzzling, even to themselves. They have an orderly view toward the world, but are internally arranged in a complex way that only they can understand. Abstract in communicating, they live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities. With a natural affinity for art, INFJs tend to be creative and easily inspired, yet they may also do well in the sciences, aided by their intuition.
Come ON, now.


If you can read an off-the-wall description like this and relate to it, does it seem like such bullshit? I test pretty regularly in the realm of INFJ and all of the descriptions I've read do describe me about 90% accurately. I mean MBTI is troubled because of the huge tendency towards self-selection bias, and there's something problematic about corporations using subjective personality tests on their employees, but in defense of that blurb on wikipedia: that is an accurate description of a general personality. That is me.
posted by girih knot at 10:18 PM on March 22, 2013


"If you can read an off-the-wall description like this and relate to it, does it seem like such bullshit? ... but in defense of that blurb on wikipedia: that is an accurate description of a general personality. That is me."

I think the objection is rather that that is an accurate description of most ANYBODY'S general personality, in the way that a typical horoscope is vague enough that it can describe anybody's day. "Affinity for art but may also do well in science!" Like a traditional horoscope, it's vague, broad, and complimentary enough that just about anyone can identify with it and feels good about identifying with it because it's phrased in positive terms. It's like your "personally cast" internet horoscope says something like, You like to be active but sometimes enjoy a rest! And you're like, Hey! I'm a person who sometimes moves around and sometimes doesn't! There must be some validity to this astrology stuff!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:33 PM on March 22, 2013


I'm a PGRJ (via the Beatles preference order personality index)
posted by metaman livingblog at 1:28 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I test as INFJ/P depending on what I've been working on, and way back in the mists of time I think it did help me understand who I was, and that being this way is OK.

Certainly better than astrology, religion, blood type, etc.

Using it, or other personality tests, in a work environment is just dumb though - an employer has much better non-theoretical ways to check aptitude of existing employees, and when given to a candidate any kind of psychometric test turns into an entrance exam instead so results can't be trusted.

But I don't have a boss, so thankfully it's never been a problem.
posted by dickasso at 2:57 AM on March 23, 2013


We sort and categorize people consciously or unconsciously all the time. We catalog friends, family, and acquaintences as "prone to anger," "unsentimental or cold-hearted," "irrational," "predictable or routine," "attention whore," etc. Inasmuch as we might say we're opposed to putting people in buckets or tagging them with stereotypes or labels, we often do that in our heads anyway.

Myers-Briggs is just an assessment tool. Like most tools it can be used well or badly. Businesses misunderstand and misuse the tool often.

The tool identifies an individuals preferences (manifested as "tendencies") on a scale along four axes. When discussing people with my MBTI-aware friends I might use phrases like "very I," "highly S," "somewhat J," "borderline T." It's not black and white. The 16 categories are regional but not specific – like saying that I'm an Oregonian.

I've found the tool useful as it helped me identify where I was having problems communicating with co-workers. In one particular case I couldn't understand why my boss and I kept getting our signals crossed. And then the lightbulb went on. Oh. SJ. Extremely S. She makes decisions only on tangible, precise data. My "what ifs" and "imagine this" are invisible to her. She requires copious documentation. I need to spell everything out in detail. I adjusted my communication style, and our relationship improved many times over. Myers-Briggs is rooted in reality, not in the stars.

(Note: I knew her Myers-Briggs categories by my own assessment of her, not be some corporate exercise.)

Myers-Briggs INFJ here – and proud of it.
posted by LovelyAngel at 6:24 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is MB like a horoscope? It would be fairly easy to test:

Have a bunch of people take MB who have never taken it before (so they didn't know their type).
After they finish, give them the description for the wrong personality type.
Ask them how well the description actually describes their personality.
posted by ropeladder at 6:26 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My company is obsessed — to a freakish, cult-like level — with an MB-Lite system called True Colors. Working in a remote office, I'd managed to avoid HR mumbo-jumbo pretty much since orientation seven years ago. We all got our “colors” [sic] done then, and unsurprisingly, we all came out the same. We're 90% engineers, and we'll tick any box that'll make us stop ticking boxes.

I had to go back to the mothership in the frozen north a week ago to do some long-avoided training, and bam! there were the True Colors again. It was the reason for everything: you said this because you're a green, they did that because they are an orange, ... bloody hell! There were even some non-HR types using it. It was like some invasion of the pod people.
posted by scruss at 6:53 AM on March 23, 2013


Damnit, " true colors" should be the name of a cyndi Lauoer based cult not HR foolishness.
posted by The Whelk at 7:41 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


My company is obsessed — to a freakish, cult-like level — with an MB-Lite system called True Colors.

AW FUCK YES DOGGIES
posted by Greg Nog at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2013


unsurprisingly, we all came out the same. We're 90% engineers, and we'll tick any box that'll make us stop ticking boxes.

also

I've always found that skewing my answers to mess with people's perception of me was one of the highlights of corporate horseplay!

Given the ease of manipulation, a half hour conversation with someone gives me a better idea as to who they are then the MB.


Lovely. "I didn't honestly participate in the assessment, and it failed to figure me out. That's why it's flawed." Um?
posted by grubi at 4:52 PM on March 26, 2013


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