The idea of personality type testing is based on a theory that all people have a demonstrable personality type, and that this type can be placed within a universal range. As far as we can see, the theory was developed by Jung, the well known contemporary and protagonist of Freud, although type theory goes back at least to Hippocrates in the middle of the fifth century B.C. when he defined the four humours theory (Sanguine Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic).

Jung’s theory

Jung taught that every personality fits somewhere within pairs of extremes, or dichotomies. He taught that extroverts way outnumber introverts. The extrovert is the person “who goes by the influence of the external world–say society or sense perceptions….” The introvert “goes by the subjective factor….he bases himself on the world from within…and…is always afraid of the external world….He always has a resentment”.

Jung also claimed that

“there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum. They are only terms to designate…, a certain tendency….the tendency to be more influenced by environmental factors, or more influenced by the subjective factor, that’s all. There are people who are fairly well balanced and are just as much influenced from within as from without, or just as little”.

Thinking and feeling is another pair of extremes. “Thinking, roughly speaking, tells you what [something] is. Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not, to be accepted or rejected “. The final dichotomy, according to Jung, is the sensation/intuition dichotomy. “Sensation tells you that there is something….a perception via the unconscious”. [the material quoted here is from the second and the fourth of four filmed interviews Jung did with Richard I. Evans of the University of Houston in 1957 in Zurich.]

History of the Myers Briggs system

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is probably the most popular self-insight psychological test in use today, with, according to the Consulting Psychologists Press Inc., at least 2,000,000 people per year completing it. It is widely used in business, industry, education and government. MBTI profiles are also used in career counselling or as a basis for matching work or life partners or for selecting suitable people for special tasks.

The MBTI was first developed by Isabel Myers (1897-1979) and her mother, Katharine Briggs.

Neither Katharine nor Isabel was trained in psychology. Katharine’s father was a teacher at Michigan Agricultural College, which later became Michigan State University and her husband was a research physicist who became Director of the Bureau of Standards in Washington. Isabel had a bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College, and it was at this college in Swarthmore, a suburb of Philadelphia, that she met her husband Clarence Myers who went on to become a lawyer. It was apparently because Clarence was so different from the Briggs’ family that Katherine became interested in type theory and read Jung’s book Psychological Types.

Katherine introduced Isabel to Jung’s book, and mother and daughter both became keen students of personality typing casting. They came to see type identification as a means to help people understand themselves, and each other, so that they might work in jobs or vocations that matched their personality types. Their stated intention was to make people happier and make the world a more creative, productive and peaceful place in which to live.

What is the Myers Briggs system?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator uses the Jung model of grades between extremes. The four scales of the MBTI system are:

1. Extroversion/Introversion;
2. Sensate/Intuitive;
3. Thinking/Feeling; and
4. Judging/Perceiving.

A series of 120 carefully selected questions are used to establish where the candidate fits into these tables of extremes. The answers to these questions are used to categorise each candidate. The system presumes that there are 16 basic personality categories (it allows that there are variations of these).

Is the Myers Briggs system reliable?

This is an extended quotation from the Gale Encyclopaedia of Psychology,

“With any psychological test, its use is dependent on its reliability and validity. A reliable test is one that produces consistent results over time. For example, IQ tests have high reliability, inasmuch as your IQ as measured today will not be appreciably different a year from now. The MBTI’s reliability is only fair. One study showed that fewer than half of the respondents retained their initial types over a 5-week period. Consequently, we should be careful about making career decisions based on a classification system that is unstable. People change over time as a result of experience. The MBTI may capture a person’s current state, but that state should probably not be treated as a fixed typology. Does the MBTI assist in career counselling? Is the test diagnostic of successful performance in particular occupations? These questions pertain to validity-the ability of the test to predict future performance. There have been no long-term studies showing that successful or unsuccessful careers can be predicted from MBTI profiles. Nor is there any evidence that on-the-job performance is related to MBTI scores. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the MBTI’s popularity and its proven scientific worth. From the point of view of the test-taker, the MBTI provides positive feedback in the form of unique attributes that are both vague and complimentary, and thus could appeal to large numbers of people. It is possible that the MBTI could be useful as a vehicle for guiding discussions about work-related problems, but its utility for career counselling has not been established.”

Personality testing and, MBTI in particular, is here found to be of “only fair” reliability and it’s use, even in career counselling, doubtful.

What implications does this have?

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most thorough personality testing system of its kind. It is an indicator whose major usefulness is in choosing a career or deciding compatibility in marriage or special tasks. As we have seen its reliability is only fair, and this must be taken into consideration when considering this system, but for the committed Christian there are other factors which should be considered.

Although personality testing does not appear to have any ‘spiritual implications’, there is an important issue which is not perhaps immediately apparent. According to the apostle Paul, discerning God’s perfect will for our lives is a matter of being totally committed to God, “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, not conforming to this world, but being transformed by a constant renewing of the mind” [Romans 12:1,2] There are many subtle manipulators in today’s world to direct our affairs. Astrology is one of them. How many people are affected in their decisions by a horoscope read in their daily newspaper? Finance is another subtle manipulator, for instance people are frequently edged into careers for which they are not entirely suited because their ideal choice would command a lower salary. Peer pressure and the prevailing spirit of the age are other choice manipulators. My experience is that adequate time reading the Bible and seeking God in contemplation and prayer (perhaps one hour each day would be a good starting point), will provide a much more reliable directive for our lives than any personality type indicator.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator© and MBTI© are registered trademarks of Consulting Psychologists Press Inc., in the USA and Oxford Psychologists Press Ltd has exclusive rights to the trademark in the UK. Management Team Roles Indicator© and MTR-i©, a development of the MBTI, are the registered trademarks of S.P Myers. S P Myers is no relation to Isabel Myers

Sources of Information

The Skeptics Dictionary

The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology

Kiersey & Bates “Please Understand Me – Character and Temperament Types” Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.

Eysenck & Wilson “Know your Own Personality” Pelican Books

Roth “Introduction to Psychology” Open University