There is hardly a skill in this life more valuable than understanding how you and the people around you see the world and make decisions. But can the MBTI personality system help you gain that skill or is it unscientific nonsense? Find out here.
First of all, what is MBTI? MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and it is a system that categorizes people in 16 different personality types, according to how they generally perceive the world and make decisions. The types are indicated with 4 letters:
- I for introverted personalities or E for extroverted personalities
- N for intuitive (abstract) or S for sensing (concrete) observation
- T for thinking (reasons) or F for feeling (values) decisions
- J for deciders/judgers or P for observers/perceivers
A quick and easy MBTI self-test based on only 4 questions can be found here.
The system might seem a little simplistic at first glance, but I can assure you that this is not the case. The system is based on the cognitive functions as identified by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Before I go into detail about cognitive functions and function stacks, though, I'd like to address a common question:
Is MBTI (un)scientific?
There are a lot of people out there that like to dismiss MBTI as pseudoscientific hogwash that should be taken about as seriously as astrology. Is there any merit to this allegation? I would say yes and no. Here's why.
Seeing that the MBTI system is based on a form of categorization, saying that it is unscientific makes about as much sense as saying that the color system is unscientific.
After all, colors are just wavelengths of light. And even though we use a system where we differentiate different colors and give them a name, there is no precise point where you can objectively say a wavelength changes from green to blue.
So could you then go on to conclude that colors actually don't exist, are unscientific, a social construct or other such nonsense?
But in reality, we can all clearly distinguish different colors. So whether this categorization of colors is technically scientific or not, I'm sure you would agree that it is useful. And the same goes for the MBTI system, in my opinion.
What about the tests?
That being said, a test to determine your MBTI type can definitely be unscientific. After all, for a test to be scientific, it needs to be both valid and reliable. And there are a number of problems with personality tests that make their validity and reliability suffer.
Firstly, the tests are self-reported, which means that the outcome of the test depends entirely on how self-aware the person taking the test is and how honest they are with themselves. Self-awareness is a skill that doesn't come naturally to people anyway, but it's especially hard to be aware of your own main cognitive function, seeing that it is your default mode of thinking.
What does a fish know of the water in which it swims all its life?
- Albert Einstein
It's inherently easier to detect things that differ from the norm, which is why it's not uncommon for people to type themselves completely upside down.
The outcome of the test is also influenced by phrasing and cognitive bias. For example, to determine whether you're an intuitive or a sensor, the test will ask you questions to find out if your propensity is to perceive the world mostly as abstract patterns or as concrete reality.
Now, as a society, we have somehow decided that the abstract such as the artistic and the visionary is more elevated, more lofty, more grand and therefore superior to whatever is going on down below in the real, concrete world. And this is why most people tend to type themselves as intuitive despite only 25% of the population actually being intuitive. The same goes for thinking versus feeling, because rationality is thought to be the superior mode of decision making.
Lastly, even how you're feeling on a particular day can influence how you fill out the test. Some days, you might feel like you're more of an introvert and other days you might feel like more of an extrovert; depending on the situation you're in and the people you're with. And that will influence the answers you give on the test.
So there are a lot of factors that can skew the results of a test. Whether that means that the tests are unreliable or just the people taking them is for you to decide.
In any case, it makes little sense in my opinion to throw out the MBTI system as unscientific hogwash just because self-reported tests don't always yield reliable results.
The MBTI system was designed to help you understand your own Operating System, and those of others. As such, it can be an incredibly valuable tool to help you understand yourself and the people around you.
Just like with any tool, though, its value depends almost entirely on the skill of the person wielding it. That's why in my next article, I will go into more detail about how MBTI works under the hood.