Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

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The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test designed to assist a person in identifying some significant personal preferences. Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed the Indicator during World War II, and its criteria follow from Carl Jung's theories in his work Psychological Types.

The Indicator is frequently used in the areas of pedagogy, group dynamics, employee training, leadership training, marriage counseling, and personal development. However, scientific skeptics and academic psychologists have criticized the indicator in research literature, claiming that it "lacks convincing validity data" and could be an example of the Forer effect..

The registered trademark rights in the phrase and its abbreviation have been assigned from the publisher of the test, Consulting Psychologists Press Inc., to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust.

Historical development

C. G. Jung first spoke about typology at the Munich Psychological Congress in 1913. Katharine Cook Briggs began her research into personality in 1917, developing a four-type framework: Social; Thoughtful; Executive; Spontaneous. In 1923 Jung's Psychological Types was published in English translation (having first been published in German in 1921). Katharine Briggs' first publications are two articles describing Jung's theory, in the journal New Republic in 1926 (Meet Yourself Using the Personality Paint Box) and 1928 (Up From Barbarism). Katharine Briggs' daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, wrote a prize-winning mystery novel Murder Yet to Come in 1929, using typological ideas. She added to her mother's typological research, which she would progressively take over entirely. In 1942, the "Briggs-Myers Type Indicator®" was created, and the Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook was published in 1944. The indicator changed its name to the modern form (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®) in 1956.

About the indicator

The indicator differs from standardized tests and others measuring traits, such as intelligence, instead classifying people's preferred types. According to Myers-Briggs Theory, while types and traits are both inborn, traits can be improved akin to skills, whereas types, if supported by a healthy environment, naturally differentiate over time. The indicator attempts to tell the order in which this occurs in each person, and it is that information, combined with interviews done with others who have indicated having the same preferences, that the complete descriptions are based on. The indicator then, is akin to an arrow which attempts to point in the direction of the proper description. The facet of the theory which posits that the features being sorted for are in fact types, and not traits which can be improved with practice, is hotly debated.

However, proponents of the indicator will explain that to learn about one's inborn traits is to create the opportunity to improve how one applies them in different contexts. In that sense, the MBTI can yield much personal change and growth.

The types the MBTI sorts for, known as dichotomies, are extraversion / introversion, sensing / intuition, thinking / feeling and judging / perceiving. Participants are given one of 16 four-letter acronyms, such as ESTJ or INFP, indicating what their preferences are. The term best-fit types refers to the ethical code that facilitators are required to follow. It states that the person taking the indicator is always the best judge of what their preferences are and that the indicator alone should never be used to make this decision.

Items & Scoring

The MBTI includes 93 forced-choice questions, which means there are only two options. Participants may skip questions if they feel they are unable to choose. Using psychometric techniques, such as item response theory, the MBTI will then be scored and will attempt to identify which dichotomy the participant prefers. After taking the MBTI, participants are given a readout of their score, which will include a bar graph and number of how many points they received on a certain scale. Confusion over the meaning of these numbers often causes them to be related to trait theory, and people mistakenly believe, for example, that their intuition is "more developed" than their sensing, or vice versa.

During construction of the MBTI, thousands of items were used, and most were thrown out because they did not have high midpoint discrimination, meaning the results of that one item did not, on average, move an individual score away from the midpoint. Using only items with high midpoint discrimination allows the MBTI to have fewer items on it but still provide as much statistical information as other instruments with many more items with lower midpoint discrimination. The MBTI requires five points one way or another before it is nearly as sure it can statistically be concerning a preference.

Type dynamics

The Sixteen Types
The table organizing the sixteen types was created by Isabel Myers, who preferred INFP (To find the opposite type of the one you are looking at, jump over one type diagonally.)
Population Breakdown
By using inferential statistics an estimate of the preferences found in the US population has been gathered.

The interaction of two, three, or four preferences are known as type dynamics, and when dealing with a four-preference combination it is called a type. In total, there are 16 unique types, and many more possible two and three letter combinations, which each have their own descriptive name. Additionally, it is sometimes possible to observe the interactions that each preference combination will have with another combination, although this is more unorthodox. Complete descriptions will contain the unique interactions of all four preferences in that person, and these are typically written by licensed psychologists based on data gathered from thousands of interviews and studies. The Centre for Applications of Psychological Type has released short descriptions on the internet. The most in-depth descriptions, including statistics, can be found in The Manual.

The type table

The type table is a visualization tool which is useful for discussing the dynamic qualities and interactions of preference combinations. It will typically be divided by selecting any pair of preferences and comparing or contrasting. One of the most common and basic has been used to the right. It is the grouping of the mental functions, ST, SF, NF and NT, and focuses on the combination of perception and judgment. Alternatively, if we group by the rows we will have the four attitudes which are IJ, IP, EP and EJ. There are also more complex groupings, such as combinations of perception and orientations to the outer world, which are SJ, SP, NP and NJ, or combinations of judgement and orientations to the outer world, which are TJ, TP, FP, and FJ.

Cognitive function dynamics in each type

In each type, all four of the cognitive, or mental functions, which are sensing, intuition, thinking and feeling, are present and arranged in a different order. The type acronym is used as a quick way to figure out this order, which is slightly different in introverts and extraverts. An important point to remember is that the first and last letter of the type are used as guides to figure out the order of the middle two letters, which are the main priority. The chart below this section has the dynamics worked out for each type.


If the first letter of the type is an E, such as ESTJ, then the dominant function is extraverted. The next step is to figure out to which of the middle two letters this applies. If the last letter is a P, then the dominant will be the second letter, the perceiving function, Sensing in this example, and if it is a J, then it will be the third letter, the judging function - in this case, Thinking. Thus, we can tell that the first or dominant function in the ESTJ is extraverted thinking, and the second is introverted sensing. The third function is the opposite of the second, and in this case is extraverted intuition, and the fourth is introverted feeling.


If the first letter of the type is an I, such as in INFP, then the dominant is introverted. To figure out which of the middle two letters this applies to, look at the last letter, which indicates which function is extraverted. If it is a P, then the introverted dominant function will be the third letter, which is the judging function, and if it is a J, then it will be the second letter, which is the perceiving function. (The process may seem backwards and slightly confusing for introverts.) Already it is possible to tell that the INFP has an introverted dominant, and since their perceiving function (iNtuition) is extraverted, the dominant must be the judging function (Feeling). Thus the dominant function is introverted feeling, and the second function (the auxiliary) is extraverted intuition.

The four functions alternate in orientation. For introverts, the sequence would proceed introverted, extraverted, introverted, extraverted. The third function (the tertiary) is the opposite of the second, and the fourth is the opposite of the first. For an INFP, with introverted feeling and extraverted intuition, the third function is introverted sensing, and the fourth is extraverted thinking.

Function table

Dominant or first Introverted Sensing Introverted Sensing Introverted Intuition Introverted Intuition
Auxiliary or second Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Feeling Extraverted Feeling Extraverted Thinking
Tertiary or third Introverted Feeling Introverted Thinking Introverted Thinking Introverted Feeling
Inferior or fourth Extraverted Intuition Extraverted Intuition Extraverted Sensing Extraverted Sensing
Dominant or first Introverted Thinking Introverted Feeling Introverted Feeling Introverted Thinking
Auxiliary or second Extraverted Sensing Extraverted Sensing Extraverted Intuition Extraverted Intuition
Tertiary or third Introverted Intuition Introverted Intuition Introverted Sensing Introverted Sensing
Inferior or fourth Extraverted Feeling Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Feeling
Dominant or first Extraverted Sensing Extraverted Sensing Extraverted Intuition Extraverted Intuition
Auxiliary or second Introverted Thinking Introverted Feeling Introverted Feeling Introverted Thinking
Tertiary or third Extraverted Feeling Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Feeling
Inferior or fourth Introverted Intuition Introverted Intuition Introverted Sensing Introverted Sensing
Dominant or first Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Feeling Extraverted Feeling Extraverted Thinking
Auxiliary or second Introverted Sensing Introverted Sensing Introverted Intuition Introverted Intuition
Tertiary or third Extraverted Intuition Extraverted Intuition Extraverted Sensing Extraverted Sensing
Inferior or fourth Introverted Feeling Introverted Thinking Introverted Thinking Introverted Feeling

Below, the MBTI personality archetypes, after David West Keirsey . Keirsey adds four "Temperaments": SP - Artisan; SJ - Guardian; NF - Idealist; and NT - Rational.

Inspector Protector Counselor Mastermind
Crafter Composer Healer Architect
Promoter Performer Champion Inventor
Supervisor Provider Teacher Field Marshal

Controversy surrounding the cognitive functions

Isabel Myers interpreted Jung's writing as saying that the auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions are always in the opposite attitude of the dominant . Many , however, have found Jung's writing to be ambiguous, and those who study and follow Jung's theories (Jungians) are typically adamant that Myers is incorrect . Some Jungian s assert that Jung made explicit the point that the tertiary function is actually in the same attitude as the dominant, providing balance. More recently , typologists have examined the relationships between all four functions in both attitudes —introverted or extroverted. Whether looking at the four functions, or eight "function attitudes," the inferior function remains most unconscious (least developed).


iStJ iSfJ iNFj iNTj
iStP iSfP iNFp iNTp
eStP eSfP eNFp eNTp
eStJ eSfJ eNFj eNTj
Keirsey's four temperaments within the MBTI.

Hippocrates, a Greek philosopher who lived from 460-377 B.C., proposed four humours in his writings. These were blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Around A.D. 190, Galen corresponded these to four temperaments: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic. In 1978, David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates reintroduced temperament theory in modern form and identified them as Artisan, Guardian, Idealist, and Rational. After developing modern temperament theory, Keirsey discovered the MBTI, and found that by combining Sensing with the perceiving functions, SP ( Artisan) and SJ ( Guardian), and iNtuition with the judging functions, NF ( Idealist) and NT ( Rational), he had descriptions similar to his four temperaments.

The Manual states on page 59 that, "It is important to recognize that temperament theory is not a variant of type theory, nor is type theory a variant of temperament theory." Keirsey later went on to develop the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which was first included in his book Please Understand Me.

Correlations to Other Instruments

McCrae & Costa present correlations between the MBTI scales and the Big Five personality construct, which is a conglomeration of characteristics found in nearly all personality and psychological tests. The five personality characteristics are extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability (or neuroticism). The following study is based on the results from 267 men followed as part of a longitudinal study of ageing. (Similar results were obtained with 201 women.)

  Extraversion Openness Agreeableness Conscientiousness Neuroticism
E-I -.74 .03 -.03 .08 .16
S-N .10 .72 .04 -.15 -.06
T-F .19 .02 .44 -.15 .06
J-P .15 .30 -.06 -.49 .11
The closer the number is to 1.0 or -1.0, the higher the degree of correlation.

These data suggest that four of the MBTI scales are related to the Big Five personality traits. These correlations show that E-I and S-N are strongly related to extraversion and openness respectively. T-F and J-P are more weakly related to agreeableness and conscientiousness respectively. The emotional stability dimension of the Big Five is largely absent from the MBTI.

Study of Scoring Consistency

Split-half reliability of the MBTI scales is good, although test-retest reliability is sensitive to the time between tests. However, because the MBTI dichotomies scores in the middle of the distribution, type allocations are less reliable. Within each scale, as measured on Form G, about 83% of categorisations remain the same when retested within nine months, and around 75% when retested after nine months. About 50% of people tested within nine months remain the same overall type and 36% remain the same after nine months.


Before purchasing the MBTI, practitioners are required to consent to an ethical code, in addition to meeting the educational requirements of class B and C psychological tests and assessments. After consenting to this code the usage of the indicator is largely unmonitored, which sometimes leads to abuses of the instrument. The ethical code contains, but is not limited to, the following points:

  1. Results should be given directly to respondents and are strictly confidential, including from employers.
  2. Respondents should be informed of the nature of the test before taking it, and must choose to take it voluntarily.
  3. Allow respondents to clarify their results. They are always the last word as to which type is truly theirs. They should then be provided a written description of their preferences.
  4. The test must be used in accordance with The Manual.

Skeptical claims against the MBTI

The basic skeptical claim against the MBTI is that any conclusions made from the types lack falsifiability, which can cause confirmation bias in the interpretation of the results. It has also been argued that the terminology of the MBTI is so vague and complicated that it allows any kind of behaviour to fit any personality type, resulting in the Forer effect, where an individual gives a high rating to a positive description that supposedly applies specifically to them. Therefore it is difficult to validate any of the claims made by the MBTI using scientific methods. Carroll says, "no matter what your preferences, your behavior will still sometimes indicate contrasting behavior. Thus, no behavior can ever be used to falsify the type, and any behaviour can be used to verify it." Scientific skeptics such as Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic's Dictionary, have presented several potential problems with the MBTI. Neither Katharine Cook Briggs nor Isabel Briggs Myers had any scientific, medical, psychiatric or psychological qualifications; Isabel Briggs Myers had a bachelors degree in Political Science. The theory of psychological types created by Carl Jung was not based on any controlled studies —the only statistical study Jung performed was in the field of astrology. Jung's methods primarily included introspection and anecdote, methods largely rejected by the modern field of cognitive psychology.

Skeptics also claim that the instrument's owners, publishers and test administrators, have a clear financial interest in promoting the test as scientific. Skeptics assert that the instrument's owners, publishers and test administrators thus may not be unbiased sources of information about this instrument. Indeed, much of the positive information presented about the MBTI is from the Consulting Psychologists Press (the MBTI's publishers) and associated organisations.

The MBTI has not been validated by double-blind tests, in which participants accept reports written for other participants, and are asked whether or not the report suits them, and thus may not qualify as a scientific assessment. The MBTI has also been criticised on the two measures of any psychometric test: validity and reliability. Test retest reliability is considered to be low, with test takers who retake the test often being assigned a different type. Validity has been questioned on theoretical grounds.

Given the strong philosophical belief in the theory of types (as opposed to the continuum hypothesis), one might expect that scores would show a bimodal distribution with peaks near the ends of the scales. However, scores on the individual subscales are actually distributed in a peaked manner similar to a normal distribution. A cut-off exists at the centre of the subscale such that a score on one side is classified as one type, and a score on the other side as the opposite type. This fails to support the concept of type--the norm is for people to lie near the middle of the subscale .

Forcing a dichotomy leads to people who are very small distances apart on their scores being categorised as being qualitatively different from one another because they fall on opposite sides of the cut-off, while being lumped in with much more extreme scores that fall on the same side of the cut-off.

For this approach to be valid the sixteen different personality types in the MBTI should do more than simply tell us that someone scored above or below the cut-off score, it should pick-out a real subgroup of people who share characteristics over and above the score. This is in fact the view of the designers of the MBTI. However, the existence of these subtypes, independent of the underlying subscales has not been established.

Academic criticism of the MBTI

As well as questioning the scientific validity of the MBTI others have argued that, while the MBTI may be useful for self-understanding, it is commonly used for pigeonholing people or for self-pigeonholing which may be of limited use or even detrimental

The MBTI has also been criticised on the two measures of any psychometric test: validity and reliability. Test retest reliability is considered to be low, with test takers who retake the test often being assigned a different type.

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