MBTI–flawed but still meaningful

On Facebook today I came across this article in my feed–with the title of:

“Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless”

And I had to respond.  The response is below…
Um.. the critiques that it’s not scientifically valid are totally on.

To say it’s meaningless, however, is somewhat missing the point–in that meaning is not the same thing as scientific validity.

Beyond that–although corporate types will latch onto anything that they think will give them quantifiable/typing results about people–it is them–rather than most people doing mbti–who promote this notion about how this will make you successful in a field.

Anyway–anyone who uses such tests as predictive has WAY BIGGER problems in their heads than this test. I’ve found MBTI to be useful most as a way to teach about diversity in perception, approach, and communication. You’d be amazed–or with you.. probably not!–at HOW HARD it is for people to grok that not everyone sees the world in the same way you do–and that the things that people use to judge whether something is good–or what people are actually doing when they are talking–are pretty simplistic.

Perfect example–(and this rests on the only part of the test–introversion/extraversion–that does have scientific testing behind it..)–when people talk about stuff out loud–it doesn’t always mean the same thing to people. Extraverts–and I’ve watched this in class when I ask them a question–will talk through an idea out loud in front of everyone –but at the end–they don’t just act as if they hadn’t said anything. The points they were making were just discussions of possibilities and at the end they don’t stick to what they said.

Introverts tend to think within their heads first about it–and then only say something when they believe it to be true.


An example of social behavior differences that I’ve found to be true.. 

This is a real difference in how people act–and not everyone understands it. I’ve watched introverted students get ROYALLY frustrated when dealing with an extravert–because they assume that everything said is “meaningful” in the sense of being believed to be true–but it’s not.. it’s just verbal “scratch paper.”

I’ve also seen extraverts complain about an introvert not engaging in all of the discussions–not “bonding” in the conversation/thinking that they are doing—and thinking that the introverts aren’t contributing—when they also then don’t really give them a chance to talk.. (but the introverts then did have something to say..)

If MBTI can be used to make this clear to both groups–it can be meaningful.

Finally–the binary structures they have are clearly bullshit. This becomes very clear in free tests that show you relative numbers (like the humanmetrics site.. where you’ll get I(13), S(1) T(67) P(33)) which shows how far you fell in their binary system. Such a structure is better–in that it gives you a sense more of whether you only strongly or weakly fit their “ideal” types.. and most people fall in the middle–and they vary depending on mood or age…

Now–where the tests really fail is that they don’t actually accurately measure the relative strengths of 4 main traits (SNTF) in a person. Where MBTI can be useful is seeing how people:
S: perceive and process details, facts, sensory information.
N: perceive and process ideas, abstractions, and patterns
T: make decisions, judgements, and ask questions using objective, impersonal criteria & frameworks.
F: make decisions, judgements, and ask questions related to social/human criteria & frameworks.

These things can also be aimed either at the internal, subjective world in our minds (I) or focused more outwardly to the external, objective world around us..

The real flaw in MBTI–is that they assume implicitly in their structure that if you’re good at S–that you must not be good at N. Or that if you are good at F–that T is weaker.

But that’s just bogus. Someone who worked at all of these things could be good at all of these with a lot of work. It might be true that some people’s brains are esp. good at pattern matching–but that might also just be how they were raised–or strongly influenced by it…

So–I reject these “IT’S ALL JUST LIKE ASTROLOGY!” type arguments… Naive understandings and applications of MBTI are terrible–but that’s pretty true of most things. MBTI is an attempt at producing a system of understanding human behavior and cognition–something that humans have a tendency to want to do a lot (see religion, culture, etc..). When people create rigid and “digital” category systems and try to force the analogue reality to fit perfectly within them–they will break and show flaws.

As they should.

But we should not just say the system is totally meaningless–any more than we should say “well, religious theology obviously isn’t scientifically valid–therefore it’s meaningless.” Such pronouncements entirely fail to understand the multiple points of reference that humans use to deal with the universe around them.. and they are more than just a little bit arrogant in their claim to REALLY know how things are..

In the end, I’d argue that MBTI is a tool. It is limited and it can be easily misused–but it does have benefits when used smartly.

And I intend to improve it..


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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