September 7, 2019 0

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

So there’s a 93 question test called the Myers
Briggs type indicator. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s the most
widely used personality test in the world. And the company that makes, CPP, reportedly
earns about $20 million dollars from the 2 million people that take it and companies
that administer it every year. You answer these 93 questions and it tells
you you’re one of these 16 different personality types. But the only problem is that this test is
totally meaningless. Clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, anyone
working to understand human behavior who doesn’t have a stake in the financial success of this
test doesn’t believe in it. They don’t use it at all. So, let’s step back a little. In 1921 Carl Jung, an enormously influential
early psychologist, hypothesized that humans fall into a number of different types. There are perceivers and judgers. People who
prefer sensing over intuition. There are thinkers and there are feelers. But even at the time he realized that most
people don’t fit neatly into one category or another. Most people are extroverted in some circumstances
and introverted in others. He wrote: “Every individual is an exception to the rule.” A few decades later a pair of Americans who
had no formal training in psychology, Catherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers decided to take these ideas and turn them
into what they called a type indicator. In 1942 they first began testing it. They took Jung’s types but slightly altered
the terminology and changed it so that every single person was assigned only one possibility
or another. You couldn’t be a little bit of an extrovert
or a little bit of an introvert. But people don’t actually work that way, so
the results simply aren’t reliable. One study found that as much as 50% of people
who took the test twice arrived at different results even though it was only 5 weeks later. CPP peddles the test as ‘Reliable, valid,
backed by ongoing global research and development investment.’ And a reported 89 of the Fortune 100 companies
and 200 federal agencies use the test to separate employees and potential hires into
‘types’ and assign them appropriate training programs and responsibilities. But multiple studies have shown the test totally
fails to predict people’s success in various jobs. The really strange thing is that there are
leading psychologists on their board and none of them use the test in their personal research. In 2012, Carl Thoresson, a Stanford psychologist,
admitted that it would be questioned by his academic colleagues if he used the Myers Briggs
in his research. “Why is the Myers Briggs so popular?” Well, it really on gives positive results
and it plays into the idea of people fitting neatly into categories. People love categories. You can’t take the test and be told you’re
selfish or lazy or mean. Because the descriptions are vague, they’re
hard to argue with. This is called the Forer effect, and is a
technique long used by purveyors of astrology, fortune-telling, and other sorts of pseudoscience to persuade
people they have accurate information about them. There’s something really attractive about
assigning ourselves personalities. That’s why horoscopes are so popular and Buzzfeed
quizzes go viral. But the truth is that human personalities
are really complicated. We all have different facets and different
nuances that make us span a lot of different categories at once. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking
the test as a fun, interesting activity. The Myers-Briggs is useful for one thing:

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