Say Goodbye to Myers-Briggs, the Fad That Won’t Die

November 5, 2013 at 1:53 am 5 comments

Once in our Learning Sciences seminar, we all took the Myers-Briggs test on day 1 of the semester, and again at the end.  Almost everybody’s score changed.  So, why do people still use it as some kind of reliable test of personality?

A test is reliable if it produces the same results from different sources. If you think your leg is broken, you can be more confident when two different radiologists diagnose a fracture. In personality testing, reliability means getting consistent results over time, or similar scores when rated by multiple people who know me well. As my inconsistent scores foreshadowed, the MBTI does poorly on reliability. Research shows “that as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again,” writes Annie Murphy Paul in The Cult of Personality Testing, “and the sixteen distinctive types described by the Myers-Briggs have no scientific basis whatsoever.” In a recent article, Roman Krznaric adds that “if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category.”

via Say Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die | LinkedIn.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dennisfrailey  |  November 5, 2013 at 7:17 am

    There are several reasons why Myers Briggs is still used and the argument about inconsistency is not as strong as it first appears. Regarding the inconsistency, it reflects the fact that people don’t behave consistently from time to time. I’ve taken the Myers Briggs test several times and although the results have varied, they all center around a particular set of values that I believe is a good reflection on how I behave. The sixteen “types” are, indeed, a rough characterization method – people come in more than sixteen varieties. But they tell us something. For example, if one is consistently classified as one of the introverted types, it is a good indication that one is introverted most of the time and that can be helpful to know.

    So why is it used? Because it’s useful! The characteristics attributed to the sixteen types help organizations achieve balance on business teams and help us all understand the value of having different personality types involved in decision making. Organizations that make the mistake of ignoring this and end up having all the same types on teams tend to make more mistakes.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  November 5, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Could it be that it’s perceived as useful because we remember the times when it seemed to work? Have there been any studies of groups formed on the basis of Myers Briggs typing and the relative success of those groups compared to other more random groups?

      I fear that Myers Briggs could be used like phrenology, to group people (the “willful, disorderly children”) in ways that support our prejudices and limit student potential.

      • 3. Franklin Chen  |  November 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

        Any kind of classification can and is (ab)used against someone. The much-vaunted Big 5 personality theory generated from factor analysis is also susceptible to abuse. For me, what’s most fascinating in conversation when it comes to self-classification is how extremely defensive people get when you question it. For example, I know (to me obvious) introverts who refuse to identify as introverts.

  • 4. Mark Urban-Lurain  |  November 5, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Closely related is the persistence of interest in Learning Styles in various educational contexts: the idea that people have preferred ways of learning (visual, auditory, etc.) and that instructors should 1) determine learning styles and 2) individualize teaching to address them.

    In engineering these continue to persist because they got into the engineering ed literature a couple of decades ago and new people keep ‘rediscovering’ them. They also appeal to engineers who like to instrument phenomena and adjust designs based on the data.

    Here’s two good refutations of Learning Styles:

    Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

    Denzine, G. (2007, June). Five misconceptions about engineering students’ motivation that affect the teaching and learning process. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education, Honolulu, Hawaii.

    The MBTI falls into a similar category (one branch of learning styles is based on the MBTI) and is sensitive to the context in which it is taken, so does not measure underlying, stable dimensions of personality.

    As Pashler points out, there’s a big industry selling these instruments and workshops/training based upon them which is one reason they don’t die.

    The big advantage of these instruments is to sensitize people to the fact that people do vary on several personality dimensions. If you understand this you may not assume someone has the same perceptions / values as you and pay better attention to communication and group dynamics because you realize that others don’t experience the world the same as you do.

  • 5. Michael Kirkpatrick  |  November 6, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I’m really curious about the inconsistency results, because it directly contradicts my own anecdotal evidence. I have never gotten anything other than INTP or INTJ. As for the P/J inconsistency, that measure is always the weakest for me. That is, when these tests report a magnitude of the feature, I’m right in the middle. For instance, if 0 is P and 10 is J, I typically come back somewhere between 4 and 6.

    Of course, anecdotes != data, so I’m curious just how extreme the inconsistency is.

    I agree with Dennis’s view that it serves as one useful heuristic. I’ve never used it as authoritative in any way, but it serves as a nice starting point for metacognitive reflection. By looking at some of the characteristics that are typically associated with INTP and INTJ, I can identify my own strengths and/or weaknesses. And that information is very useful for job interviews, as recruiters like to ask those kinds of questions.


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