The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an instrument designed to evaluate people and provide descriptive profiles of their personality types. Based on the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, it is widely used in the fields of business, education, and psychology.
MBTI was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, during World War II.
The two women were acquainted with Jung’s theories and sought to apply them to help civilians choose wartime jobs well-suited to their personality preferences.
Myers and Briggs felt that this would make people happier and more productive in their work. Consulting Psychologists, Inc. (www.cpp-db.com) bought the rights to MBTI in 1975. The company estimates that it administers MBTI testing to 2 million people per year worldwide.
The MBTI system begins with a test in which participants respond to questions that provide clues about their basic outlook or personal preferences. These responses are scored to see where participants’ preferences lie within four sets of attributes: extroversion/introversion; sensing/intuiting; thinking/feeling; and judging/ perceiving.
The attributes extroversion (E) and introversion (I) are designed to indicate whether a participant derives his or her mental energy primarily from other people or from within. Similarly, the attributes sensing (S) and intuiting (N) explain whether a participant absorbs information best through data and details or through general patterns. The attributes thinking (T) and feeling (F) show whether a participant tends to make decisions based on logic and objective criteria or based on emotional intelligence. Finally, the attributes judging (J) and perceiving (P) indicate whether a participant makes decisions quickly or prefers to take a more casual approach and leave his or her options open.
The MBTI system organizes the four sets of attributes into a matrix of 16 different personality types. Each type is indicated by a four-letter code. For example, ESTJ would designate a person whose primary attributes were extroversion, sensing, thinking, and judging. For each personality type, the MBTI system includes a profile which describes the characteristics common to people who fit into that category.
For example, an article in the Harvard Business Review noted that people who fit into the category ISTP (introverted-sensing-thinking-perceiving) tend to be “cool onlookers—quiet, reserved, and analytical; usually interested in impersonal principles, how and why mechanical things work; flashes of original humor,” while people of type ENFJ (extroverted-intuiting-feeling-judging) are “sociable, popular; sensitive to praise and criticism; responsive and responsible; generally feel real concern for what others think or want.”
MBTI is a popular evaluative tool. Many colleges and universities use it in career counseling to help guide students into appropriate fields for their personality types. In the business world, companies use it to make hiring decisions, identify leadership potential among employees, design training for specific employee needs, facilitate team building, and help resolve conflicts between employees. By giving people an increased understanding of their behavior and preferences, MBTI is said to help them increase their productivity, build relationships, and make life choices.
Proponents of MBTI see the testing system as a valuable aid to personal development and growth. But critics of MBTI argue that its personality profiles are so broad and ambiguous that they can be interpreted to fit almost anyone. Some also worry that, once a university career counselor or employer knows a person’s “type,” that person might tend to be pigeonholed or pushed in a certain direction regardless of his or her desires. Criticism based on “confirmation bias,” namely that people tend to behave in ways that are predicted for them, has been offered but runs counter to experience. This critique asserts that a person who learns that he or she is “outgoing,” according to MBTI, will be more likely to behave that way. Temperaments, however, are not that easily influenced by “hear-say”: shy people labeled outgoing won’t take fire; and schmoozers labeled shy will just continue to babble and hug on.