Since the dawn of recorded history, human beings have always longed to validate their individual strengths and qualities in relation to the rest of the world. One of the ways we do this is by organizing certain shared character traits into personality “types” — from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates’s Four Temperaments, to the latest “Which Hogwarts house are you in?” quiz on Facebook.
One of the most enduring of these personality determinants is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), sometimes referred to as the “ Meyers-Briggs 16 personalities test.” For more than half a century, this test has been used by millions of individuals and organizations worldwide to explore the self, to better understand one’s own personality traits, and to apply that knowledge to an individual’s career choice, relationships, and personal growth.
The Development of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® and the 16 Personalities
It all began in 1923, when Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, read Carl Jung’s Psychological Types. Shortly after, they became avid personality type observers. By the early 1940s, they were researching and developing an indicator that could be applied to understanding the differences in individual personalities. They began testing it on friends and family, continuing over the next two decades until the instrument was fully developed with its categorization of 16 personalities. By 1962 it was ready to publish.
As Isabel Briggs Myers stated: “The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.”
Overview of the MBTI and the 16 Personalities Classification
In looking at an overview of the test, you’ll see that it currently comprises 93 “forced choice” questions, meaning that there is only one choice to make when selecting between two options. Using a combination of four different personality designations, the MBTI then segments subjects into 16 distinct personality types.
It’s important to note that no one of the 16 personalities is the “best” one to have or is “better” than another. Nor are the personality types designed to look for dysfunction or abnormality. Rather, the ultimate goal is to encourage people to further explore and understand their own personality, including their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, possible career preferences, and relationships with others.
The Four Personality Designations
All of the questions on the MBTI are designed to categorize individuals into four key personality designations based on the way they respond to the world around them, gather information, make decisions, and deal with the outside world. Although these are expressed in dichotomies, all of us display each of these to some degree — it’s just that most of us tend to have an overall preference for one or the other.
Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I)
This dichotomy may be familiar to most people, but MBTI differs somewhat from popular usage:
- Extroverts: Extroverts enjoy focusing on the world around them. They tend to be action-oriented and feel energized by social interactions. This outward-facing view tends to make them collaborative.
- Introverts: These types would rather turn toward their inner world. Emotionally, they value their own thoughts and decisions more, and tend to enjoy deep and meaningful social interactions. Their recharge comes from spending time alone.
Sensory (S) vs. Intuitive (N)
This scale describes how people gather information from the world around them.
- Sensory: These people pay attention to the information they take in from reality, especially from their own five senses. They are fact- and detail-oriented and prefer hands-on experiences.
- Intuitive: Individuals with this preference enjoy interpreting impressions and patterns, looking toward the future, imagining possibilities, and working with abstract theories.
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
This scale looks to determine if, when making decisions, the person first looks to facts and data or to particular circumstances, emotions, and people.
- Thinking: For these folks, greater emphasis is placed on facts and objective data. Their decision making tends to be logical and impersonal.
- Feeling: For these people, decisions are weighed heavily upon the people and emotions involved.
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)
This final scale involves people’s actions and dealings with the outside world — do they prefer to get things decided or prefer to stay open to new information and options?
- Judging: These are people who lean toward structure and making firm decisions.
- Perceiving: These types tend to be more flexible and open.
The Myer-Briggs 16 Personality Types
Once the four basic personality designations are completed, the person is then assigned into one of the 16 personalities, based upon the combination of their personality designations.
However, each of the 16 personalities is more than just the sum of the four designations. The four-letter type formula is shorthand for the interaction of the four designations and which ones a person prefers to use first. The MBTI calls this “type dynamics.”
- The Inspector (ISTJ) tends to be reserved, practical, quiet, and to prefer orders and organization.
- The Craftsperson (ISTP) is exceedingly independent, hands-on, and likes to think and work at their own pace.
- The Artist/Composer (ISFP) is aesthetically inclined, sensitive, and easygoing.
- The Protector (ISFJ) is reserved, compassionate, and responsible.
- The Advocate/Counselor (INFJ) is gentle and caring, and is a creative nurturer with
- a drive to help others realize their potential.
- The Provider (ESFJ) is a helper, sensitive to the needs of others and intensely dedicated to their responsibilities.
- The Performer (ESFP) is a charming, fun-loving entertainer who loves spontaneity and attention.
- The Supervisor (ESTJ) is a rule-abiding, methodical, hardworking traditionalist, dedicated to getting the job done.
- The Dynamo (ESTP) is thrill-seeking, with an energetic talent for putting out fires.
- The Healer (INFP) is an idealist, with their sights set on the future’s potential. They are guided by their core beliefs and values.
- The Mastermind (INTJ) is a problem-solver, analytical in nature and always looking towards improvement and innovation.
- The Architect (INTP) loves logic and analysis but is always searching for what unifies everything underneath it all. They are fascinated with systems and design.
- The Champion (ENFP) is an energetic, warm, and passionate creator centered on developing new ideas.
- The Commander (ENTJ) is the strategic leader with a vision, quick to see new solutions and organize change.
- The Teacher (ENFJ) is often an organizer and catalyst for human growth, due to a profound ability to persuade others and see their potential.
- The Visionary (ENTP) is a true innovator, and is inspired by complex, challenging problems. They are continually searching for new ways to solve them.
How the MBTI Differs from Assessments with Personality Test Types
Unlike other psychological instruments and personality tests, the MBTI sorts and assesses for individual preferences and doesn’t measure trait, ability, or character. This distinction is why it is called the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator and is not an actual test or an assessment.
For one, it doesn’t evaluate mental health (there are no “bad” or “unhealthy” results). With many other instruments, it’s either good or bad to have more or less of a trait that is being assessed (such as shyness versus having an outgoing nature), but with the MBTI, both categories being assessed are desirable. It also doesn’t compare the test taker’s results to those of other people. Additionally, rather than just adding up the qualities of each separate preference, the MBTI looks to paint a total picture of the interaction between all preferences (type dynamics).
Most important, however, is the fact that the MBTI allows the person to determine their own personality type through a personal verification process —in other words, the final assessment of your type is in your own hands.
As Isabel Briggs Myers herself said: “It is up to each person to recognize his or her true preferences.”
How Reliable and Valid is the MBTI?
The MBTI and its 16 personalities hasn’t been without criticism.
Many experts in the psychology community are concerned about the misuse of the 16 personalities as a strict and automatic indicator. They caution the dangers of using the instrument in this way to determine the “compatibility” of couples, the selection of employees, or in career advising, which all rely solely on the results of personality type. Experts point to the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support the accuracy of the conclusions when the MBTI is used in this way.
What the MBTI does have in its favor is that it can be a good tool for self-reflection if it is used as a starting point to discuss variations in people’s personalities. The person administering it should warn against over-interpreting the results and explain the instrument’s limitations to each individual.
It’s important to remember that the MBTI was intended to be used based on preferences, not absolutes. In fact, there is a whole page dedicated to the ethical use of the test on the official Myers & Briggs Foundation website.
The MBTI Today
The Myers-Briggs Company has published, researched, and updated the MBTI instrument since 1975. Although Katherine Briggs died in 1968 and Isabel Briggs Myers in 1980, the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT), another MBTI organization, continues to do ongoing research in this area.
Although the MBTI can still be taken with pencil and paper, it’s more common to take it online.
Finding Your Personality Type is Just the Beginning of Knowing Yourself
Through therapy, you can use what you know about your MBTI personality type and get tools and insights into how to deal with the things that are holding you back from being your best self. Talking to a therapist can take you beyond just identifying your personality type and instead help you develop a personalized strategy for achieving your goals.It’s one thing to be able to observe how we respond to life and quite another to learn, grow, and improve the quality of our lives.