Why We Should Be More Sceptical of Myers-Briggs

Mere Orthodoxy (which you really should be following) has guest posted a piece of mine entitled ‘The Dangers of Appealing to Personality Type’. Within it I make a case for a sceptical approach to personality tests such as Myers-Briggs.

Everyone wants to believe that the mere possession of a particular personality type gives them some sort of privileged access to or claim upon reality, society, or set of skills. Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter, closely associated with the MBTI, will assign you an identity on the basis of the result of your personality test. Here everyone’s a winner. It will designate you as an ‘inventor’, a ‘mastermind’, a ‘fieldmarshal’, a ‘champion’, a ‘healer’, or an ‘architect’ on no more sure of a basis than the fact that your personality skews in a particular direction. This is all entirely independent of anything that you have ever achieved or skill you have developed. ‘English major’ may not yet be one of Keirsey’s temperaments, but Guyton employs it as if it were. When I discover that I am an ESFP or an INTJ, I can enjoy a sense of an innate superiority, entirely independent of actual work and achievement, which the world must acknowledge and validate. I am here reminded of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s remark concerning the piano in Pride and Prejudice: ‘If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.’

Psychometric tests such as the MBTI promise to reveal deep truths about our personalities. Like the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books, through some mysterious alchemy, they will discern our true nature and assign us a named identity accordingly. The scientific basis of the claims of many psychometric tests such as the MBTI is highly dubious and their effectiveness probably has more than a little to do with such things as the Forer effect.

Nevertheless, personality typing can easily become powerfully constitutive of people’s sense of identity, as they start to think of themselves as their personality type in a fairly uncritical manner. The appeal of such tests is quite explicable: they offer a measure of resolution to the existential discomfort of the question ‘who am I?’, a question which is probably pressed upon us with greater urgency than ever before. While such a test may be an improvement on diverting online quizzes promising to reveal which characters I might be in various fictional universes, at least I do not go through life believing that Gandalf-likeness is a crucial key to my identity.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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7 Responses to Why We Should Be More Sceptical of Myers-Briggs

  1. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Meyers-Brigg isn’t complete nonsense, but it is not the most scientifically supported personality test. The Five Factor/OCEAN model is much better. But even there there is argument over adding a 6th factor, and some of the factors don’t even show up in certain cultures! It’s all very useful and does, I suspect, correspond substantially to reality, but shouldn’t be taken too too seriously.

    Furthermore, personality tests don’t measure IQ, creativity, moral foundations or many other important parts of who you are. And, even with more and better tests, I suspect measurement will never be able to capture more than the rough outlines of who we are.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      We don’t really encounter sin and fallenness in the world of such personality testing; even pathology does not make an appearance.”

      The Five Factor model has agreeableness and conscientiousness, which do have moral overtones to them. IIRC, the Six Factor Model has Honesty/Humility too.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      Curiously, the Five Factor model has not lead people to identify with certain types the way Myers-Brigg has.

  2. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    There is also the very important distinction between those who are attracted to a certain area and those who are actually good at practicing it. For example, the very best writers and critics often have very different personalities, characters and opinions compared to the run of the mill members of their guilds (using that term in a broad sense).

    I have to seriously question whether a genuinely literary reading of the Bible or a more poetic view of the cosmos would come anything close to the kind of thing you find in Morgan Guyton or Bryan McLaren. In fact, I would say that the cosmos of poetry at it’s highest levels is largely the same kind of cosmos presumed by natural law, and I’m not sure Guyton, McLaren et al. are really ready to sign up for that!

  3. I have written some further lengthy thoughts in response to Scot McKnight in the comments here.

  4. Matthew N. Petersen says:

    It’s worth noting that the Ainulindalë loses all poetry if it isn’t taken literally. (Though, of course, it is true in the subcreated world, not in the primary world.)

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