Stylish bearded guy in glasses and blue shirt covering mouth trying to keep secret looking excited.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is basically astrology for slightly-less-dumb people. Nonetheless, it’s probably the most popular personality assessment in the world. That’s a big f’n problem.

Whether you’re a Kyle or a Karen, a Chad or a sad virgin (INTJ), what you aren’t is a damn Dungeons and Dragons character that fits neatly into one of 16 classes with corresponding special abilities unique to each. That’s not how anything works, except maybe that failed saving throw against deception that caused you to fall for this bullshit in the first place (seriously, how low is your INT score?).

Someone rolled all 3s.

A Brief History of the BS

The MBTI was created by two ladies with a rudimentary college education. Katharine Cook Briggs had a degree in Agriculture, and Isabel Briggs Myers seems to have dropped out of college to get married. They’re often characterized as “housewives” in criticism of the MBTI, but to be charitable, that’s somewhat unfair. Both were, however, fans of the early psychologist Carl Jung, and based much of the test on his work.

And that’s the catch: Carl Jung was to Psychology what a Hot Pocket is to nutrition: sure, you might feel satisfied for a short period of time, but eventually it’ll become clear that it was—and you are now—filled with piping-hot garbage. Jung was into some hoakey shit including (and appropriately), Astrology, along with ESP, Telekinesis, and other force abilities.

Have you heard the tragedy of Darth Kermit the “Wise”?

You’d think that would be enough to make anyone with aspirations of being taken seriously as a scholar to distance themselves from Jungian concepts, but these things are precisely what attracts a lot of people to them in the first place. Some intellectuals, like Jordan Peterson (above), wrap themselves up in ephemeral Jungian gobbledygook to justify their own non-falsifiable beliefs. And that term describes much of Jung’s actual work in the field of Psychology after splitting from Freud: non-falsifiable, and consequently, low in external validity which is just a tiny bit necessary if you’re going to try and meddle in other people’s minds and lives. This isn’t about Jung though, so if some uncomfortable fee-fees are welling up from your Shadow, go clean your room, eat a plate of raw hamburger, and then read the rest.

This stock photo described itself as “Handsome suspicious man looking at camera”.

The Synchronicity of a Multi-million-dollar Industry

If you’ve ever taken an MBTI test at your workplace as a part of the employment process it might be a good idea to dust off the resume: you’re employed by idiots—and not just ordinary idiots, the special kind of idiots that fill out those ridiculous “Which Game of Thrones Character Are You?” questionnaires. If judgments are being made that affect people’s ability to pay for their rent, healthcare, and feed their children, shouldn’t they be based on actual science instead of bullshit?

Of course not, not when there’s money to be made selling that bullshit to people who should, but don’t, know better. The field of Personality Psychology is actually one of the most empirically-valid of all the disciplines, up there with Neuropsych and Behavioral Genetics. Yet the implementation of psychometrics outside of academia seems to lose something in translation when it hits the human resources departments, and perhaps chief among the examples of this is the widespread use of the MBTI in corporate America.

According to Lillian Cunningham at the Washington Post, CPP, the company with exclusive rights to the MBTI test, pulls in upwards of $20 million a year selling the bullshit test to under-informed, overpaid PowerPoint pushers.

This one described itself as “Bearded man in glasses feeling surprised”. Us too, buddy.

TL;DR (not a MB personality type)

The MBTI wasn’t created by actual psychologists, let alone personality experts: it was created by superfans of an early psychologist who had as many—if not more—bad ideas than good: Carl Jung. It’s basically the fan-fiction of personality tests.

The MBTI has poor external validity: it does not produce empirically-valid data that applies to practical, real-world use. It does, however, produce a bunch of money and wastes employee time.

It has garbage test-retest reliability: the same person taking the test multiple times can receive multiple results. If assigning letters to your co-workers is genuinely important to you it’d be just as useful to drop a can of alphabet soup off your workplace’s roof and read the sidewalk. It’d be significantly cheaper too.

If you, for some reason need to do a personality inventory on yourself or others, the most empirically-valid, reliable test is still the classic Five-Factor Model which scores people on Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Unfortunately, this doesn’t sort you into Hogwarts houses or assign you bonus character attributes; it just gives you scientifically valid data.

We should probably apologize to this guy for abusing our stock photo license deal

Further Reading

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