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Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Fortune Cookie or Reliable Test?

Uploaded 3/4/2021, approx. 25 minute read

Today, we are going to discuss one of the most widely used and one of the most widely contested personality assessment tests. It's everywhere. It is used by corporations. It is used by individuals. It's available online. You can do it with pencil and pen. You can do it by clicking your mouse. It has three versions. One of them contains 93 or 94 questions. The European version is 88 questions. One of them, the second level, is 144 questions. And the last level, level three, is 228 questions or 288 questions, depending on the variant.

And it is by far, by far, the most well-known personality assessment test in the world. And yet, it is a cause for controversy and harsh criticism by all the major experts, psychometric experts.

Actually, one of the words leading psychometric specialists, his name was Robert Hogan, wrote in 2007, most personality psychologists regard the MBTI as little more than an elaborate Chinese fortune cookie.

Now, that's as bad as it gets when it comes to scholarly criticism.

MBTI, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is the topic of our lecture today.


Mind you, this is a literature review. This is not an analysis of the test itself. If you want an analysis of the test itself, go online. There's a lot of material.

Start with Wikipedia. The article has quite a few factual errors, but the overall thrust of the article is pretty accurate.

The most important study regarding MBTI had actually been conducted almost 20 years ago in 2002. Robert and Mary Capreiro, published a meta-analysis comprising thousands or hundreds of studies regarding the MBTI. And surprisingly, it came out pretty positive.

Their study was published in Educational and Psychological Measurement 2002.

Most of my talk today is based on the latest edition, 2020 edition, of the Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences published by Springer. That was last year. And in this encyclopedia, there are several entries dedicated to MBTI. One of them is written by Scott P. King and Brittany Mason. And the other one is written by the one and only Fernham.

If you are N-H-A-M, I think his first name is Adrian, if I remember correctly. Yes, Adrian Fernham.

Now, the Myers-Briggs, it has an amazing history. I'll give you just a hint. It involves a whodunit. It involves a crime novel. It involves a feminist. It involves a mother and a daughter. It involves secret machinations in World War II.

It reads like an Agatha Christie thing. It borrows from the writings of a psychotic Swiss psychologist, but then builds upon it in a way that the psychologist, the Swiss psychologist himself, Carl Jung, or Feynman, had rejected the MBTI.

Actually, the MBTI had been invented before. The author of the MBTI realized that Jung had his own type theory.

She first came up with a four-type theory, a theory of four types of people. And then, one year later, Jung's book had been translated to English. And when she had read it, she dumped her own theory and adopted his.

It's an amazing history. It deserves a movie, if you ask me.

And I strongly recommend that you go online and find everything about it.


So the Myers-Briggs indicator is based on Jung. It's actually an inventory. And as I said, it comprises various forced choice questions.

Now you remember from the previous semester that a forced choice question is a question where you are forced to choose an answer.

And in a minute, I will go into details.

My name is Sandvaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, and I'm your professor of psychology.

This is part of unit five. Don't get confused. And don't complain to me how hard it is to study via video lectures. It's as hard on your poor professor who has to record these lectures and research them a bit in advance.

So we're all in it together.

Pandemic is not pleasant or conducive to learning for any of us.


Okay, Bobot. Now, the test has eight factors and four dimensions. Put them together, you get four dichotomies, four pairs or pairings, introversion versus extroversion, sensation versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, judging versus perceiving.

Once you have answered all the questions, you are classified into one of 16 personality types based on the largest score that you had obtained in each of these scales.

So, for example, if you score higher on introversion and intuition and feeling and judging, you will be classified as introverted intuitive feeling judging or IIFJ.

Get it very simple.

Your four highest scores, the first letters are your type.

Now the test provides scores on each dimension and these are usually cut off scores. So the extroversion introversion, for example, dimension has a normal distribution with high scores considered extroverted and low scores considered introverted. And it is because of its simplicity and because of its intuitive appeal, because Jung touched upon our common sense view of other people and how we experience ourselves.

His type theory is very down to earth as opposed to most of his other writings. And so it was easily translatable into a test which is today the world's largest used test. I mean, most widely used and known test in the world. Many millions of people take it every single year.

The estimate is about five million and it has been translated into almost 30 languages. In 1985, a guy by the name of DeVito, not the actor, described the MBTI as probably the most widely used instrument for non-psychiatric populations in the area of clinical counseling and personality testing. But is a popular test also valid? Is the fact that the test is popular, does it prove that it's valid?

For example, we use astrology, zodiac signs, and each zodiac sign is actually a personality type. Could we say that astrology is a personality assessment tool, that it is valid, that it has any relevance, that it's reliable?

Most, the overwhelming vast majority of scholars would find the idea extremely funny.

Now, popularity has to do with marketing, but does it have to do with psychometric excellence? You heard Hogan, he says that's a fortune cookie, the MBTI. Do I agree with him? Do you agree with him? Do others agree with him?

We're going to review all the literature, well, most of the literature until very recently. We're going to try to make sense of what qualified people, people who are into the study of psychological tests, psychological structured interviews, psychometric psychology, what do these people think?

So we said that MBTI is based on Jungian theory, and we said that it's a fourth dimensional model, you could say even four-factor model, and that four letters represent a particular type.

The TI in MBTI stands, as you remember, for type indicator. And types are categories of membership. And now the thing is that they are discontinuous. If you have a certain type, you can't be another type.

So it's like dividing all of humanity into 16 gigantic drawers. And if you're in one drawer, you can never exit the cupboard and move to another drawer.

One of the problems with the MBTI is if you take it a few years apart, your type changes.

That's a fact. I tried it on myself. I've asked many other people, and it's documented in the literature. And so it casts a great doubt on the reliability of the MBTI, unless we assume that people change fundamentally within two years, which is a very difficult assumption to make and seems to be both counterintuitive and counterfactual.

In trait theories, most trait theories, including factor models like the five-facto model, people are on a continuum. They're on a spectrum. They're somewhere on a range. We don't say that people are either or. We say that people are mildly like this or mostly like this. We place them on a kind of visualized range.

The theorists, the theoreticians of traits, they see the difference between individuals quantitatively, not qualitatively. They don't have a dichotomous view. A dichotomous view typifies infantile defense mechanisms like splitting.

When we think in an infantile immature way about other people, we say, he is all bad. He is all good.

And that's not applicable to any human being except me, of course.


Now, typological theories suggest a discontinuity between similar behaviors.

So typologies, like Jung's, like many others, contrast and contradict with trait theories.

There's a fight to the death, conceptual death between trait theories and typology theories.

Trait theories believe that on all variables, there is a continuum that cut off into types is arbitrary. It's also wrong or it follows some cultural or societal conventions or even gender bias.

Type concepts are now completely out of date. There's a debate between psychologists and psychiatrists, for example, regarding personality disorders.

Then one of the main problems with personality disorders is that they are types, they are categorical, while the entire stream, scholarly stream of psychology and so on, goes towards a dimensional approach.


Watch my previous video made today about the differences between the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the ICD, the International Classification of Diseases.

So to start with, the MBTI is in trouble. It's in hot water because it purports, it attempts to divide all the variety and diversity of humanity into 16 groups, which raises a few eyebrows, mine included, admittedly.

And so let's try to delve deeper into the philosophy.

Myers and Macaulay, Myers and Macaulay in 1985 developed the variant of the MBTI that we use today. And they suggested that four personal preferences affect how people believe in all the situations.

So they're the ones who actually introduce the four scales, the four pairings, the four dichotomies that I had mentioned before.

I remind you, extraversion, introversion, sensing, intuition, thinking, feeling, judging, perceiving. Each individual belongs to an opposite on this scale. You can't be in the middle. You can't be a bit thinking and a bit feeling.

But of course we know that most people are a bit thinking and a bit feeling. Still, you have to choose one.

I mean, the test actually forces you to choose one. You're at a pole, at an end of each of these. You're this, you're not that, you're that, you're never this.

So according to the manual published in 1985 at the time, extroverts relate more easily to the outer world of people and things.

Introverts, the main interests of introverts are in the inner world of concepts and ideas. Sensing and intuitions, intuition are ways of perceiving. Sensing is through the five senses. That's what we say, sensing, and through known facts.

While intuition is more unconscious, it looks for possibilities, interconnectivities, relationships. It's a kind of an unconscious network approach.

And the two ways of judging are summed up by the opposites of thinking, which stresses logic, impersonal processes, computer-like, and feeling, which is based on personal values and personal judgments.

The final dimension is combination of perception and judgment.

Judging types show preference for planned, decided, orderly way of life. They are into Jordan Peterson, Oder, Starktrough, Rodnar Mose-Zheim, and the perceiving type is more flexible, more spontaneous.

According to McCray and Costa, McCray, M-C-C-R-A-E, and Costa is simply Costa.

In 1988, the MBTI is pretty unusual, actually. It's an unusual personality assessment test.

And for three reasons.

Number one, it is based on classic psychoanalytic theory, Jung's, which is an extinct species in today's academe. We don't teach Freud, we don't teach psychoanalysis, and we don't teach psychoanalytic theories or psychoanalytic psychodynamic theories. They are passé. They are not science.

Psychology is a science. These are pseudoscience. They are forms of literature pretending to be a science.

Now we do experiments. Now we work in a lab. Now we wear white coats, and we call ourselves doctors.

So it's not nice to recall the origins, the dirty origins, the occult and esoteric origins of your profession.

And the MBTI does this shamelessly. It admits, I come from Jung.

Second thing, the MBTI measures, it's supposed to measure types, not traits of continuous variables, as we just said.

And finally, it is widely used to explain individuals' personality characteristics, not only to professionals, but also to the individuals themselves, to co-workers, to friends, to families, to intimate partners.

In other words, it's an accessible assessment tool which, between you and me, is bad for business, because the more we maintain monopoly through arcane language, the more we license this, the more money we make.

And if there is any group, any group that is avaricious and greedy, it's psychologists and psychotherapists.

Trust you, me. I'm one of them.


Now, the MBTI has evolved since then, and there are numerous studies, etc. There are journals. There are institutes. You name it.

It, in this sense, resembles a bit Scientology.

Now, many studies over the years try to find the location of MBTI within the personality factor space, because there are many theories and models, factor models, models which try to isolate factors that, when they are put together, create the personality.

So, Saginaw and Klein, Saginaw, S-A-G-G-I-N-O, and Klein in 1996, they tried to find correlations between MBTI and Cattell's 16 personality factors and Iseng's personality questionnaire to other tests, personality assessment tests.

So, they made factor analysis, and it yielded five factors in MBTI, not the four that everyone uses.

They argued that the E-I dimension is clear, but the T-F dimension is not sufficiently pure because it loads on different factors.

McCrae and Kostai in 1988 found that the four MBTI indices that measure aspects of four of the big five dimensional personality do it well.

They found that E-I was correlated with extraversion. S-N was correlated with openness, T-F with agreeableness, and J-P with conscientiousness. J-P is, of course, Jordan Peterson.

Now, Fanham in 1996 also provided evidence supporting exactly these results, but he found neuroticism to be correlated to both E-I and T-F, and Fanham had invested a lot of work over the years in trying to study the MBTI because, I think, like me, he intuitively felt, he couldn't, of course, prove it immediately, but he intuitively felt that the MBTI is very powerful somehow, somehow his power captures something.

And so, he went really deep, and he looked, for example, at the correlations between MBTI scales and the 30 subfactors of the five-factor model, and he found high correlations between E-I and gregariousness, warmth and positive emotions.

In other words, extraversion between S-N and ideas and fantasy and aesthetics, in other words, openness, between T-F and tender-mindedness and trust and altruism, in other words, agreeableness, and between J-P in order, of course, and deliberation and self-discipline.

There are studies, except Fanham, there are studies that try to look at the interrelationship or the correlation or whatever you want to call it, the mapping, the possible mapping of MBTI into other tests, like, for example, the fundamental interpersonal relations, orientation, behavior, and intelligence tests.

So, there's a lot of work done, and some pretty recent work investigated the relationship between dark side personality disorder traits, dark triads, and dark tetraads.

Dark triad is dark triad plus borderline. So, they studied the correlation between dark triad, which is Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and the MBTI.

And there was Fanham and Crump in 2014, not long ago. And for 40 years, we have a literature which is like 40 years old.

Carlin, in 1977, for example, he concluded that MBTI is adequately reliable and that the scales of MBTI seem to be, I quote, relatively independent of each other.

She noted that the tests seem to be measuring dimensions of personality quite similar to those postulated by Jung himself, despite Jung's objection.

I mean, who are you, Jung, to know what you had written?

Okay. Carlin concluded, she concluded that up to, that the content of MBTI was predictive, and that construct validity of the scales suggests that it is, and I quote from her work, a reasonably valid instrument, which is potentially useful for a variety of purposes.

Not bad.

Fast forward 16 years, Murray in 1990 was equally positive. He said that the test, I quote again, has been extensively investigated and has met successfully most challenges to his rationale, test procedures, and test results.

There was a debate in a business magazine. Case and Phillipson said that the MBTI is based on Jung's theory, which is, by the way, not entirely true. It deviates considerably from Jung's theory, which is why Jung disowned the MBTI.

Never mind.

In the debate Case and Phillipson said that MBTI is based on Jung, and Jung's theory, they said, is rubbish because it includes cosmology, symbolism, astrology, alchemy, UFOs, the occult, and what have you.

It's true that Jung had written a lot of trash and nonsense, and most of his late work is absolute trash. But it's also true that Jung was a giant in psychology. I compare it to Wilhelm Reich, for example. Reich was a giant at the beginning, and then he went a little cuckoo.

So Jung started as cuckoo. He had five years of psychosis, but he ended up being a giant of psychology to discard the baby with the bathwater, to throw out all of Jung's work, because he had dabbled in astrology and UFOs, is how to put it gently, unwise.

Those DAWES in 2004 said that it's not really important whether the MBTI is valid or not valid. I mean, the validity and reliability and internal consistency and external consistency and all these measures that we use in order to decide if an assessment test is useful or not.

He said, well, let's put this aside for a minute. I mean, forget the statistics, forget the analysis. Great ideas, great breakthroughs, he said, sometimes come through intuition, inspiration, introspection, and other non-rational sources.

The attacks on the categorical classification of the MBTI says Arnaud strikes at the very heart of any attempt to type measure, and any type of type, any attempt to create apologies of humans.

Arnaud, in 2003, he studied three Jungian personality measures. So he studied the MBTI and two other measures.

And Arnaud and his colleagues noted that an individual with just slight preference is classified in the same category as one with a strong preference.

So they touched upon a real weakness in the MBTI, the fact that it's not dimensional, it's not a spectrum, it's a cutoff.

So you could be at the border, at the boundary of the cutoff, and then there's another guy who is like 10 times worse than you, and you're both the same type. And something's wrong with that, of course.

And so they made something called a taxometric study, a bootstrapping taxometric study. And they wanted to determine whether the Jungian preferences actually exist as dichotomies, or whether these Jungian preferences, you know, extroversion, introversion, and so on, are actually a continuum. They're a set of continuum.

And so when we artificially dichotomize, when we create types by force, we're actually losing a lot of valuable information about people.

And so they made this analysis, which is one of the cleverest pieces of work in modern psychology. They made this analysis.

And they came to the conclusion that the analysis does not support the categorical, strictly Jungian position. It's not appropriate to say you're either this or not. You're either this or this.

Because people are never either this or this. They're usually somewhere in the middle, or they are some mixture, or they are partly this and partly that. And yes, there's always a situation where one trait is dominant and the other is less so. But you can't deny the other just because it is less so. And so it is more appropriate, they said, and more informative to give people a score on a dimension.

McCray and Costa, they aforementioned McCray and Costa, they criticized the MBTI. And they said that their data suggests that Jung's theory is either incorrect or inadequate operationalized by the MBTI and cannot provide a sound basis for interpreting the theory, for interpreting the MBTI.

Because it's an important study of MBTI, McCray and Costa, I'll go a bit deeper into it.

They had a few criticisms. They said that if you read Jung, you find many of his descriptions concern the unconscious life of an individual, not directly accessible to self-reporting. So really Jungians often question MBTI, because they say a lot goes on in the unconscious and people can't report this accurately and genuinely and truthfully in a test, because they are not aware of what's happening in their unconscious.

And only what happens in the unconscious matters, not what is in the conscious.

The second criticism is that Jung's descriptions of the types, the types of personalities, include traits that we know today empirically do not co-vary.

The third criticism is that the MBTI includes scale, the JP scale, of course, that is not part of Jung's theory. So it deviates considerably from Jung.


The next criticism is that the measurement identifies people in terms of dominant functions. And so the measurement decotomizes, preference scores. People are assumed to fit into mutually exclusive groups, but the scores, when they're plotted out, they are not bimodally distributed. In other words, the scores are on a range. They're never here or there. There's no here or. The scores are always on a range.

And the next criticism is that empirical evidence that there are interactions as well as main effects for the types, which follows the description of the types, this empirical evidence is lacking.

Essentially the questionnaire fails, they say, essentially the questionnaire fails to measure neuroticism. They argue that people who use the MBTI should seriously consider abandoning Jungian theory and some of its associated language.

And so it seems that the classification system of MBTI misclassifies people because it puts them at or near the cutting point, far from the cutting point. People who are at the cutting point or near the cutting point fall between the cracks. They're assigned to this end of that pole and they don't belong to either because they're in the middle, the middle people.

And so the classification system fails to note the larger differences within each type.

Over the years, there are assessments and critiques of the MBI and Jungian theory, which are based on this and it's really a problem. It doesn't capture nuances. It doesn't capture subtleties.

It's like the MBTI is like infantile splitting defense mechanism or borderline splitting defense mechanism writ large. Everyone is either or. You're all good, you're all bad, you're all stupid, you're all clever, you're all this, you're all that, you're all extroverted, you're all feeling, you're all thinking, why? Where is that? That's an idealized view of a possible human being, but this kind of human being does not exist.

And practitioners of MBTI say the test was not designed for selection at work. They argue that both internal and external reliability would not qualify the test to be used in a workplace because the minimum status in a workplace are actually very high.

The absurd nature of the test means in essence that people are measured against themselves and the bipolar conception assumes the traits are opposites.

So where are we with all this?

If you ask people which personality tests they've heard of, they would say MBTI or E-N-I-G-R-A-M-B-I. If you ask people which personality tests online have you done, they would say MBTI by far.

So MBTI is the name of the game for most people. And many people will tell you it's useful, it's accurate. But many people will tell you that astrology is useful or accurate. Or fortune telling, reading tea leaves or coffee grounds is accurate and useful. Accuracy and usefulness as reported by test subjects means zilch.

Look it up.


So one of the most attractive features is the message that what you are is okay. You don't need to feel bad because you belong in one-sixteenth of humanity.

In other words, you are not alone. And this is no doubt due to the fact that it does not measure one of the key factors of personality, neuroticism, no adjustment, negative affectivity, you know, the pits, the doldrums.

This is not in the test. The test is extremely optimistic.

It's like all people are healthy.

Now let's divide you in 16 groups. But of course it's a wrong assumption. Something like 15% of people have personality disorders. 34% of today's population have depression or anxiety disorders.

People are seriously ill, you know. They're in bad shape.

And the MBTI does not capture any one of these facts.

Quirk, I told you once, anyone born with such a family name is bound to become a psychologist. It must be very traumatizing.

So Quirk, in the year 2000, provided a simple summary of the strengths and the weaknesses of MBTI. And this is what he said.

The theory provides context and language for understanding individual complexity. A reasonable understanding of a theory is needed in order to administer and interpret the test.

People recognize the types in themselves. They recognize the types in other people.

The typology is a useful way of describing themselves in others' works.

Many people describe trait qualities to type preferences, leading to incorrect interpretations of type.

Types are not traits. Types are not traits.

And let me repeat it a third time. Types are not traits. Don't confuse the two.

The preferences and types, Quirk continues, identify and affirm client individual differences as normal and adaptive.

Type descriptions too easily gloss over real psychological problems which seem underplayed.

Underplayed is an understatement, non-existent.

Questions about surface behaviors competently identify the complex constructs that interact under the surface, where Jung and his followers would seriously disagree.

Quirk continues.

The questions suggest the idea that the typology itself is simple and static rather than complex and dynamic.

Not a good thing. The test yields four scales that are relatively unambiguous in what they measure. The scales look like familiar trait measures and can easily be interpreted as four independent traits, which they are not.

The test requires only four measured constructs to yield rich personality descriptions with broad applicability.

The 16 types are not measures directly.

Knowledge of theoretical assumptions is needed in order to identify the types.

Okay, I gave you an overview of all the big names in psychometrics and psychology and astrology and I know what. What does the humble humble, I mean, had I been modest, I would have been perfect. You know that. What does the humble Saint-Vaknin think about the MBTI?

I like the MBTI. I like it a lot. I realize that he has the qualities of fortune telling. You know, the Barnum effect. If you use sentences that are sufficiently broad, people will apply these sentences to themselves. They would feel that the sentences are accurate because sentence is efficient.

For example, if you use a sentence like you're very sensitive, everyone would tell you, yeah, it applies to me. How did you know? How did you know I'm sensitive? Amazing. You're so insightful. I mean, the broader the sentences, the more applicable they are. And whatever you say about the MBTI, the sentences are too broad, too very broad.

So there's a problem there. It's a bit like fortune cookie or fortune telling. I agree with Hogan on this, but there's a lot of wisdom, cumulative wisdom, institutional wisdom in fortune telling, tarot card reading and so on. The wisdom of the ages comes true.

And typologies, whether they are tarot cards, zodiac signs, MBTI are useful. To deny their usefulness is unuseful. They are useful.

Do I believe that MBTI reflects real 16 types of people? No, I don't believe because I don't believe there are types of people. I believe everyone is a cocktail, a huge cocktail of thousands of ingredients. And so everyone is unique, absolutely unique. And that's why today we don't discuss, we don't use type theories, we use trade theories.

But do I believe that this renders the MBTI invalid, unreliable or useless? Absolutely not. I think it's exceedingly useful, provides insight.

It raises self-awareness. It generates psychological dynamics. It soothes source of function. It soothes and comes down. It helps you to reframe and reinterpret events in your past, other people, interactions you've had, interpersonal relationships.

So I'm all for the MBTI. How valid is it? Well, I doubt it's total validity. How reliable? It's not reliable, from personal experience.

Types change, your typology changes, depending on the mood and the date. But I think it has some validity. It has some validity because the dichotomies are real and they're sufficiently broad, as I said, to capture majority of humanity. So it has validity.

It has no reliability, it's not reliable, but it has utility. No question. Since this is a reading assignment, I'm going to post the bibliography.

In the description of this video, kiddos, better for you to submit the homework assignments on time. Or Uncle Sam and Papa Vaknin will get you. You know, my real name is Osam Bin Vaknin. See you later.

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The narcissist lives in a world of ideal beauty, achievements, wealth, and success, denying his reality. The partner is perceived as a source of narcissistic supply, and the narcissist pathologizes and devalues them to rid themselves of guilt and shame. Moving on from a narcissistic relationship involves acknowledging and accepting painful reality, educating oneself, and gaining emotional sustenance, knowledge, support, and confidence. Forgiving is important, but it should not be a universal behavior, and no one should stay with a narcissist.


Narcissist's Insignificant Other: Typical Spouse or Intimate Partner

Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, but it is always onerous and often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a narcissist, maintaining a relationship, preserving it, insisting on remaining with a narcissist, indicates therefore the parameters of the personality of the victim, of the partner, of the spouse. The partner, the spouse, and the mate of a narcissist who insists on remaining in the relationship and preserving it is molded by it into the typical narcissistic mate, spouse, or partner. The two, the narcissist and his spouse, collaborate in this dance macabre.

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