Are you an introvert or an extrovert? A thinker or a feeler? Most of you are probably already familiar with that I’m talking about, disregarding what’s already obvious in the title. It’s the MBTI, commonly known in the modern world as the 16 personalities test, or as I call it, the Mildly Bogus Type Indicator. It is a world famous personality test developed by Katharine Looks Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in the early 20th century, which involves a set of 90 questions or so, at the end of which the test taker will receive a four or five letter verdict of their personality type, among which are:
- Extravert or Introvert (E/I)
- Sensing or Intuitive (S/N)
- Thinking or Feeling (T/F)
- Judging or Perceiving (J/P)
- Assertive or Turbulent (A/T)
The test is taken by more than 2.5 million people worldwide, and the company that currently runs the MBTI testing programs pockets about 20 million US dollars annually. The test is so common that some people go so far as to decorate their tinder profiles with these four letter diagnoses. I mean hey, it’s at least a great conversation starter.
I was first introduced to this test about 5 years ago, and I was diagnosed an INTP. If we superficially break that down, it would mean I was:
- Emotionally blunt
That made me the perfect psychopath. Within a mere 5 years, I have managed to execute an extraordinary transformation into the contrasting pole: an ESFJ. Huh? Seriously? For real? Are you telling me I’m no longer a psychopath? As you can tell, this bewildered me, and so I naturally started to question the very foundational concepts of the system. After doing a bit of research myself, I came up with 4 reasons on why I think the MBTI is rigged.
It’s not as simple as that, dear
The main problem I find with MBTI’s system is that it relies too heavily on binary decisions. The test delivers a conclusive verdict in a fixed either-or manner, unlike other personality tests that prospects on more spectrum based outcomes. To be fair, the online MBTI test, which you can access here, conveys their results in percent spectrums. However, they then approximate that value unto the side with the dominating integer, hence creating an illusionary assumption that one is a full-blown extrovert or introvert. Imagine two people taking the test, one received a 90–10 on the introvert-extravert spectrum, and another received a 55–45 on that same spectrum. The system marks both as complete introverts, when in reality, the latter could really be no different than the average extravert.
Humans are complex beings
We really are complex, and therefore it would be unjust to categorise a person based on MBTI’s mutually exclusive system. People are never exclusively introverts or extraverts, that’s not how humans work. Human behaviours and actions are stretched across huge spectrums, and where a person falls within that spectrum may fluctuate widely based on a person’s current condition and situation. And that’s just to mention one of the four pillars of the test. Annie Murphy Paul in “The Cell of Personality Testing” reports in her book that three quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again, much like how I did.
It triggers a tendency to fall into a fixed mindset
A unique phenomenon I noticed in many test takers was how they tend to resort to a fixed mindset when it comes to rationalising their actions and understanding themselves.
“I am a socially awkward person who doesn’t know how to function properly in social events, that must be because I am an introvert.”
“People often find my critiques offensive and rude, but that’s just because I’m thinking-based, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Self-justification is often abusive in the long term when used this way because it creates a fallacious, easy-access getaway solution to their true problems. As this hollow solution is mostly temporary, it wears off, the problem recurs, and the self-justification cycle continues.
The right thing to do is of course to face the issue with a sense of objective mindfulness, altering the mental framework, and then taking appropriate measures to achieve positive long-term growth and payoff. The MBTI inadvertently causes some people to entirely brush this pathway off.
“I am a socially awkward person who doesn’t know how to function properly in social events, and so I must face my fears and practice.”
“People often find my critiques offensive and rude, and so I must self-reflect on internal decisions that led me to act this way and change my ways”.
The Barnum effect
The worst part about this test can be explained by the Barnum effect — a term which was coined by psychologist Paul Meehl in 1956.
“If a prompt is written in a manner that is smartly broad enough that it does not appear foolishly public, it can technically apply for anyone.”
That’s how the test has been successfully duping people from the early nineteen hundreds. As personality test specialist Robert Hogan pointed out, the MBTI is just a little more than a Chinese fortune cookie. It really is just that, packaged in a neater, nicer way to make it publicly acceptable as pop psychology’s latest product.
My entire spiel may seem like I’m completely dissing the test, yet I am not encouraging the idea of completely banishing and disregarding the test. Rather, I advise everyone to take it with a pinch of salt, and to embrace it with a more open mindset. Personality tests were created in order for one to get a deeper understanding about oneself, to acknowledge one’s stronger points, and to improve on areas where one is weaker. I personally believe the best way to interpret the MBTI is to master all 16 personalities. Yes! Actively look for characteristics within yourself that you are less proud of, search for ways to improve on those aspects, and then practice them on a daily basis, making sure you’re equipped for a better you in future encounters.
To really wrap things up, let me give you example on how I would personally apply this on a daily basis.
When faced with a tough business decision that you know will be crucial for the survival of your company, you exert a more thinking-based framework.
When you’re about to scold your kid for breaking mama’s favourite vase, you’ll know to utilise a more feeling-based approach.
Remember, rarely anything in this world is black or white — there is almost always an elusive, bewildering grey area in between.