Myers-Briggs and Other Pseudoscience
By Ty Hagler | 5 Minute Read
Hello, like Adam Grant, I too am an INTJ. I am also an Aquarius and my fortune cookie said, “Today is probably a huge improvement over yesterday.” Each is those statements was equally supported by scientific literature. If you’re a big fan of MBTI, (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), that stings a bit, or not... Now, before you say to yourself, ”it’s just like an INTJ to question MBTI”, I’ll agree with you and support it with my horoscope for today, which said, “Just when you’re ready to steal the show, you discover it’s rigged with alarms and guard dogs. Add a few pork chops and wirecutters to your dance routine, and they’ll never know what hit them.” Kind of eerie, right? Or, maybe that's just confirmation bias at work.
So, what’s going on here? MBTI is taken by 2.5 million people per year and used by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies. Thousands of people have invested time and money in becoming MBTI-certified trainers and coaches. MBTI is taught by career counselors and in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior classes in the business schools. All this enthusiasm despite the fact that MBTI has been consistently discredited by serious psychologists and the social sciences since the 1980’s. Once we make a commitment to an idea, either through public statements, time investments, or financial investments, we are positively biased towards that idea. Given that a significant population of business leaders have some degree of commitment bias to MBTI, this fad won’t be going away any time soon.
I have taken the test multiple times in various contexts and have certainly tried to make sense of the results for self-awareness and how to better relate to others. The days when I’m acting more like an INTJ confirm the test results and I might otherwise ignore the disconfirming times when I exhibit more extroverted traits. Carl Jung advised that “people don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.” We don’t like to have our ideas and beliefs challenged, and therefore seek out only that information that confirms our beliefs. If you take your four-letter MBTI personality type to heart, then you will filter for confirming evidence of your assigned type and be likely to ignore disconfirming evidence that runs contrary to your original type. It is fascinating to note that over 50% of people who re-take the MBTI Test over a 3-month period will receive a different result.
Introvert vs. Extrovert? A False Dichotomy
MBTI does have a stable personality type with the degree of introversion compared to extroversion, though the labeling of an individual as one or the other creates a false dichotomy where the population might be implicitly perceived as skewing to one or the other in a barbell-shaped distribution curve. Daniel Pink addresses this fallacy by introducing the concept of an ambivert, or someone who can both listen and confidently engage with others. Viewed through this lens, the human population follows a bell curve distribution with the majority in the center as ambiverts and the outliers are the extroverts or introverts.
There are a number of personality typing tests that enjoy academic support, though the challenge of creating a consistent repeatable test that succinctly captures the complexity of human personalities is great enough that there isn’t yet a 100% solution. A 2013 paper by Jones and Hartley weighed the benefits of DiSC vs. the Big Five Test. While they noted the popularity of MBTI, they ignored the method without comment.
Psychometric assessments as alternatives to MBTI
If you are looking for alternatives to Myers-Briggs, we have been exploring the following tools. Most of which were suggested by Ray Dalio in his book, Principles, as part of how they create baseball card profiles of each of the Bridgewater staff.
Five Factor Test (Big Five) The Big Five test seems to have the strongest academic support of any of the personality assessments, though it does have its critics. The dimensions are not neutral, however, since some of the traits have positive or negative implications, making it less likely to get widely adopted.
- If you don't mind paying $10, there is a nicely done prescriptive Big Five test here that includes an extra two dimensions per each Big Five trait. Otherwise, you can find several free tests out there that give a more general result.
DiSC Personality Profile. This is a behavior assessment tool based on four traits, Dominance, Influence, Conscientiousness, and Steadiness. There seems to be some overlap between the Big Five and DiSC traits, but not necessarily an easy comparison.
Team Dimensions profile. This is the theoretical model behind the Basadur Simplexity Creativity Profile, but included a fifth dimension of Flexors, who are able to flex between each of the four types.
Stratified Systems Theory. This is similar to the Situational Leadership model, but identifies the organizational skills needed by an individual as they move up from an operations mindset to a purely strategic mindset.