There are two popular articles floating around online called “Why the Myers-Briggs® Test is Totally Meaningless”, and “Goodbye to the MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die.”

I’ve read both articles a number of times, and am always amused by the huge lack of effort they took to understand the MBTI®. The articles ridicule the MBTI assessment, saying that it classifies people as pure introverts or pure extroverts, feelers or thinkers. However, the Myers-Briggs assessment denies anyone being a pure extrovert or introvert. The MBTI® does tell you if you prefer extroversion over introversion, but that you have two introverted and two extroverted functions (thus, really implying that all of us are a form of ambivert). The MBTI® also says that all of us use thinking and feeling, we just prefer one over the other. Carl Jung himself, whose study on psychological type is the basis for the MBTI®, did not believe in a pure introvert or extrovert. He said “there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” It appears that neither of the authors of these articles did any in-depth research concerning the test, the strict validity testing that has been performed over the last five decades, or any research into the cognitive functions which form the underlying basis of the Myers-Briggs® assessment.

That brings me to my next subject. While I’m a big supporter of the Myers-Briggs® psychometric assessment, I have absolutely zero faith in the free online tests very loosely resembling the MBTI®.  Over the last decade, a plethora of copycat personality tests have arisen all across the internet. These tests don’t claim to have undergone any reliability or validity tests, and they don’t consider the underlying cognitive functions that are a vital part of determining true type. Yet hundreds of thousands are flocking to these tests because they’re free and they’re fun! I even relied on these tests before I took the MBTI® practitioners course. The only problem with these tests is that now we have thousands of mistyped people who are attached to the idea of a personality type that may not actually suit them. This matters because you won’t be able to get the right kind of help or advice you need for your type if you’re looking in the wrong place.

Has the Myers-Briggs® Assessment Been Thoroughly Researched?

The Myers-Briggs® psychometric assessment has been through a rigorous series of reliability tests, and has been scrutinized by psychologists, social workers, neuroscientists, and teachers. If you look through the MBTI® Manual, you will see numerous tests that were administered to determine its validity and reliability. They measured test-retest scores, they adapted and re-adapted the test until it fit an incredibly high standard. They had to use responses from over 3,000 adults to decide which questions were doing the best job of sorting people into their type preferences. Mary & Isabel’s Library Online (MILO®) catalog at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type  provides over 11,000 research studies on the MBTI instrument.

One book that shines a more scientific light on the validity of the Myers-Briggs® types is The Neuroscience of Personality by UCLA professor Dario Nardi. He discusses how the MBTI® and the cognitive functions correlate with brain activity. He was able to give EEG brain scans to people and map their activity to see how well it coincided with the theory of the cognitive functions.

Will you find this same intense scrutiny and research applied to that ever-popular 16 Personalities test or the Human Metrics online test? These tests shows no validity or reliability research; there’s no manual showing tests that have been performed to determine their accuracy. As much as these free tests can be fun, they are far less able to accurately define your type than speaking with an official MBTI® practitioner or determining your type through study.

Online Tests Can’t Replace the Personal Nature of the MBTI® Assessment

When I attended the MBTI® Practitioners Certification Program last August, I learned that as a practitioner we’re not even allowed to give out someone’s 4-letter type until we’ve sat down with them face-to-face. Only after that one-on-one conversation do we give them their type. During this conversation, we talk about each preference with the client, ask them which preference they feel they relate to more, and help clarify any questions or confusion they might have had. Sometimes this conversation causes the practitioner to change the type that the questionnaire revealed, because the indicator is only part of the process involved in typing someone. That personal conversation is a very important step that vastly reduces the number of mistyped people out there. If I were administering the MBTI® and just giving out the scores without these one-on-one conversations I would be “breaking the rules” as a practitioner.

“I’m an INFJ/ENFP/ISTJ!”

The INFJ personality type is one of the types that is most likely to be given in error from a free online test. The INFJ is one of the rarest types in the world (hence its appeal to many people), comprising less than 1% of the US population. However, when I had an ESTJ, ISFJ, ENTP, INFP, and ESFJ take the 16 Personalities test, they all got an INFJ result. My ENTP friend re-tested later and got an ENTJ result. I’ve had ESFPs get ENFP results numerous times on Human Metrics. My extremely ISTP husband never fails to get an ISTJ result from any online test. I myself have taken the test and have gotten an INFP or INFJ result every time, but it’s never the same year after year.

Blogger Heidi Priebe explains this well: “Of all the mistypes that happen between any two types in the MBTI, INFPs mistyping as INFJs is by far the most common one – and this is not necessarily the INFP’s fault. INFPs are the least stereotypically perceptive perceivers. They tend to be quite routine-oriented and not particularly spontaneous in nature – they are open-minded and explorative in their thoughts, not their actions. However, since most free online type tests measure perception based on how physically spontaneous one is or is not, almost all INFPs test as INFJs when they first take an online quiz.”

This is what happens when a personality test is introduced that hasn’t undergone numerous validity and reliability tests to make sure it’s on the right track.

This is also what happens when tests don’t take the cognitive functions into consideration. My ISTP husband shares no common cognitive functions with the ISTJ, but the free online tests don’t know that. The test just sees that my husband is ever-so-slightly organized and so it tacks on a ‘J’ to the end of his type and all is solved. He could never relate to all the articles for ISTJs when we believed that was his type. As soon as I realized he was an ISTP everything made sense and he was able to actually get something useful out of the MBTI®.

So What’s the Big Deal?

The problem with this is that when individuals are mistyped, they tend to get attached to their type and feel defensive if anyone calls it into question. Now, to be fair, it’s not really anyone’s business what someone’s type is unless that person asks for opinions. I’m not the kind of person to point fingers at all the people I feel are mistyped and tell them they’re wrong. That tends to bother people. I’m writing this post as a warning to people who might be confused about their type. I know that most of us want to know our type so we can understand ourselves better, understand others better, and get a firmer grasp of our strengths and weaknesses. It’s going to be harder for someone to do that if they’re attached to an incorrect type and finding resources for someone who is wired differently than they are.

Another problem with thousands of people being mistyped is that it changes the perception of that type throughout the community. An ENFP in a group for ENFPs surrounded by actual ESFPs, INFPs, and ENFJs might feel really confused about why they don’t fit in with all the other “ENFPs”. Heidi Priebe goes over this in her post “How Mistypes Have Warped the Descriptions of Each Intuitive MBTI Type”.

If you can’t afford to take the official MBTI® with a practitioner (I know it’s a bit pricey!), do some studying on your own! Grab a book like “Please Understand Me II” by psychologist David Keirsey, or “Gifts Differing” by Isabel Briggs-Myers. Study the cognitive functions and determine which ones you use the most. If you feel like you’re not relating to a lot of aspects of your “type” it’s very possible that you’ve been mistyped.

But My Type Is So Cool!

I know. All these types have gifts that are going to appeal to different individuals. I kind of wish I was an ISFP myself, and sometimes I get tired of being an INFJ. But each personality type is amazing! There’s not one that’s better than all the rest. We also don’t have to let our types “box us in”. I believe that sensors can be analytical and intuitives can be practical. I know that feelers can be intensely logical and thinkers can be driven by compassion. I’ve met reflective, shy extroverts and talkative introverts (albeit in a small group of close friends).

Sometimes it’s best to wipe the slate clean of letters and start over again. You’re more than a four-letter type, and if you want to learn more about how to grow and develop in your type try to take the time to make sure you’re trusting the right resources.

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MBTI, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and Myers-Briggs are trademarks or registered trademarks of the Myers and Briggs Foundation, Inc., in the United States and other countries.

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