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Understanding The Myers-Briggs Personality Test

Do you remember your family telling you that you were unique? That, despite being one of over 7.4 billion people, no one else can be exactly like you? But what if four letters can sum up everything that you are, and everything that you’ll become? Many claim that the MBTI personality test can do just that.

What is the MBTI?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire is a test that assesses an individual’s psychological traits and assigns them a four-letter personality profile based on their results.  The test was initially developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers as a test to determine a child’s vocational ability based on their personality. Briggs came up with the idea over the course of homeschooling Isabel. After studying psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theories on personality types, she decided to stop pursuing her theories and instead focused on expanding on Jung’s ideas. The end result was that the MBTI was added to the test collection of the Educational Testing Service, the world’s largest nonprofit assessment organization.

CPP Inc., the governing company of the MBTI, claims that over 2.5 million people take the test every year, and boasts that a grand total of over 50 million unique tests have been administered. This number doesn’t include the numerous offshoots of the MBTI that exist in the form of online personality quizzes, or derivatives of the Myers-Briggs used by businesses to assess potential employees. Chances are you’ve already taken the MBTI, or at the very least you’ve come across it when browsing the web. It’s become extremely popular over the course of the last ten years with social media, with users routinely including it in their profiles. Many people would call it the definitive personality type indicator.

Is the MBTI Useful?

While the MBTI has its merits, the reality is that it operates as more of a guideline than a definitive test.

First, the MBTI isn’t wholly reliable. Internal consistency is a factor in academic tests that measures the quality of correlations between items. The internal consistency of the MBTI has been measured at .77. On the internal consistency scale, this is considered to be slightly above-average. This doesn’t sound bad, but consider that more than a few people have reported receiving different personality types through multiple quizzes with the MBTI in a timeframe as short as three weeks.

Second, the MBTI can be vague. Many personality descriptions are short and could apply to many different types of individuals. Similar personalities could fall under the same blanket with no detailed evaluation of potential speech tendencies, mannerisms, or interests. This may have contributed to the popularity of the test through an effect called the “Barnum Effect”, where individuals believe that a wide-ranging personality test is accurate because it feels as though the results were tailored to them.

Lastly, the MBTI isn’t a great choice for businesses. The results rely on the honesty of potential hires while they take the quiz. Many people, this article’s author included, can attest to lying on workplace questionnaires to be more appealing to an employer. The unreliability of self-reporting comprises the validity of the MBTI in a business setting, and undesirable traits in recent hires may manifest far too late for some companies to react to the mistake.

Alternatives to the MBTI

The DISC is a personality traits test that focuses on four core behavior types: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. The DISC assesses an individual’s relationships and their behavior. Employers can also tailor the test to function specifically as an employee screening tool.

Another alternative to the MBTI is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, or KTS. The KTS uses behavior instead of feeling as a model, and focuses on four types of temperaments. These are Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals. Each temperament has corresponding traits as well as proactive and reactive sub-temperaments. KTS has been considered more reliable than MBTI based on the notion that behavior is more directly observable compared to thoughts and feelings.

When is the MBTI Useful?

Although the MBTI is clearly not effective, this doesn’t mean that it lacks some sort of value.

As a personality indicator, the MBTI can provide a solid basis for further personality types. While it’s vague, it can point individuals in the right direction for further study. It isn’t a difficult test to administer, and many variations of the test exist at little to no cost. For personal use, you could do a lot worse than the MBTI. In a professional or academic setting, the DISC or KTS are two tests that can provide more definitive results.

Personality Tests Are Only One Piece of the Puzzle

Despite having our own personal experiences and defining moments, we all fit into some sort of personality matrix. The MBTI and other tests only detail a small part of whatever type you happen to be. Don’t be a slave to a four-letter code. Question your motives, be honest with yourself, and be willing to make mistakes.  In order to fully understand what kind of person you are, you have to take the test of life.

For a list of personality tests, click here.

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