By Atena Bishka, MBA, MSc, CTDP

If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. –Richard Feynman

It was in graduate school when I first heard about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I completed the test; and it is not the results that I remember, it is the feeling–a jolly good feeling. The test score showed a pretty portrait. I recognized myself in it, and I liked what I saw. It told me I was doing well and–if willing to pay attention to the good things I just discovered–I was surely on my way to doing even better.

MBTI is a personality assessment tool developed in the early 1940s by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs, after they read Psychological Types by Carl G. Jung. Maintaining that Jung’s theory provided a theoretical link between personality and job performance, Myers believed that different job occupations matched with specific personality inclinations. The idea is that each person’s personality fits neatly into only one of 16 types based on preferences and tendencies across four dichotomies: extraversion (E) vs. introversion (I), sensing (S) vs. intuiting (I), thinking (T) vs. feeling (F), and perceiving (P) vs. judging (J).

It is estimated that more than 2.5 million people take the test annually. With a large market share, the instrument is so popular that according to CPP (formerly Consulting Psychologists Press) it is “used by 89 of Fortune 100 companies to maximize individual and team effectiveness from entry to executive levels” and “selected by the… top colleges and universities [in the US] and by institutions worldwide as the foundational tool for student and alumni career development.”

Why Is It so Popular?
Many people see the MBTI as a “self-insight, insight into others” instrument (Druckman & Bjork, 1991) that helps them grasp their own and other people’s behavior. The reasons why people tend to like the test include:

  • Completing the test is easy and intuitive and can be entertaining. It can be used as warm-up learning and team-building activities to start up conversations and engage people in discussions about their personalities, strengths, and preferences in a non-threatening environment.
  • The clever marketing and business model that sells the MBTI products (including promotional items such as coffee mugs, T-shirts, pins, license plates) has been effective worldwide. There are many professional organizations and businesses that subscribe to the MBTI mindset, products, and services.
  • People tend to agree with and identify with the “wow, that’s me!” portrait drawn by the test scores. There are no bad or upsetting pictures. They all are “ain’t I cute?” type of portraits people would not mind sharing with each other.

What Is Wrong with the MBTI Test?
Although the test enjoys widespread popularity, unfortunately it has no evidence-based worth or research spine. No rigorous or systematic research exists to shed light on how organizations are using the MBTI products and services. Key problematic areas include:

  • Reliability. Does the test measure the personality consistently? No! There is no test-retest reliability. If you repeat the MBTI test, you are likely to receive different scores. Imagine you are 5’6” tall and your height changes each time you measure yourself. I know my height does not budge, does yours? The MBTI test scores would be reliable if the score and personality profile did not change regardless of the number of times you take the test in a given interval. Thus, as a self-assessment instrument the MBTI could at best capture a person’s current state, but not a stable personality feature.
  • Validity. Does the test measure what it purports to measure? Kind of, but not really. The claims of the MBTI are not supported by serious research that backs up other personality tests, such as the Big Five, for example. The statistical analysis of the test does not support the theory used to describe the MBTI.
  • Career planning or counseling and work performance. No proof has been found that there are relationships between test scores and work performance or team effectiveness. There is no evidence of usefulness, nor has the instrument been validated in a long-term study of successful and unsuccessful careers. Thus, there is not sufficient, well-designed research to justify the use of the MBTI in career counseling programs (Druckman & Bjork, 1991).

Other related shortcomings that are well documented by researchers include: flawed statistical structure; problematic scoring of the instrument; item homogeneity; and the assumption that personality falls into mutually exclusive categories (for example, either introvert or extravert), but never a mix of two. Likewise thinking and feeling are not mutually exclusive categories. They can go hand in hand. One can score high both in thinking and feeling, just like one can have both a high Intelligence Quotient and Emotional Maturity.

In short, there is no evidence that the MBTI measures anything of value (Pittinger, 1993).

Final Thought: Be aware of the too good to be true methods and tools! If they disagree with scientific evidence, they can be useless, damaging and costly!

References
Druckman, D., and Bjork, R. A. (Eds.). (1991). In the mind’s eye: Enhancing human performance. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 93-102.

Pittinger, D. J. (1993). Measuring the MBTI… and coming up short. Journal of Career Planning and Employment, 54(1), 48-52.

AtenaBishkaAbout the Author
Atena Bishka, MBA, MSc, CTDP, is a results-focused and seasoned organizational development professional, educator, speaker, and author who has facilitated a wide variety of change management initiatives. Taking a business perspective in her performance improvement efforts, her demonstrated expertise includes learning design, business process improvement, assessment of program impact on business goals, and evaluation of innovative initiatives–all contributing to boosting performance, enhancing capabilities, developing leaders, and transforming cultures. Atena is a frequent conference presenter and has published in the Journal of Education for Business, Performance Improvement journal, and Canadian Learning Journal. Core areas of special depth and interest encompass strategic change management, leadership and talent development, need and gap analysis, instructional design, learning assessment, program evaluation, and research and analysis. Currently she serves as the deputy chair of ISPI Research Committee. Atena may be reached at atena.bishka@gmail.com.