Brainstorm: You’re not an ENFJ: Debunking the Myers-Briggs Test

Clay Lawhead and Anushuya Thapa

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator divides the world’s personalities into 16 different types. While the labels it produces may be alluring, is there any science behind the test? The Daily spoke to Northwestern MBTI experts and enthusiasts to find out.

CLAY LAWHEAD: I’ve taken this test before. And I’ve gotten two different answers. I got ENFP and ENTP. So I’m interested to see… this is the rubber round, like the tiebreaker. I’m going to see how this works as I’ve grown as an individual.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: I think you’re an ENFP, just for the record.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Okay, a theatre kid ENFP. Let’s see…

ANUSHUYA THAPA: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: a four-letter personality assessment that brands you as Extraverted or Introverted, Sensing or Intuitive, Thinking or Feeling and Judging or Perceiving. It categorizes people into 16 different types using a questionnaire. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

CLAY LAWHEAD: You’ve taken it. Your friends have taken it. And today, we’re going to dissect it. I’m Clay Lawhead.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: I’m Anushuya Thapa.

CLAY LAWHEAD: And this is Brainstorm, a podcast about all things health, science and tech.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: Okay, next question. You often make a backup plan for a backup plan. Who does that?

CLAY LAWHEAD: Yeah, I don’t really do that. I have a backup plan. But not a backup plan for a backup plan, I’m gonna do the small disagree. I am responsible.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: You do have a backup plan, right? Wouldn’t make more sense for me to fill this out for you?

CLAY LAWHEAD: Yeah, but then you need to know me entirely.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: What if you don’t really know yourself as well as you think you do?

CLAY LAWHEAD: Okay, okay. I’m turning to psychologist Prof. Dan McAdams for this. Professor, is this scale even a good way to take this test?

DAN MCADAMS: How do we know that they’re accurate? Well, they correlate highly with how other people judge you. And so they have lots of studies where they ask friends and neighbors and colleagues, okay, let’s rate that person on these dimensions. And you find that people’s self reports are pretty highly correlated, not perfectly, but pretty highly correlated with how other people see them too. So yeah, there is some slippage, no doubt. I mean, they’re not perfectly accurate. But they get pretty good estimates of where people lie on these dimensions. And so there’s a fair amount of credibility in these with respect to these scales.

CLAY LAWHEAD: So the MBTI…works?

DAN MCADAMS: In a nutshell, the MBTI, despite its allure, has absolutely no scientific validity whatsoever.



DAN MCADAMS: First of all, it classifies you as an either-or, and on four different dimensions. But let’s just take the most common dimension, the extraversion-introversion scale, which by the way, extraversion-introversion is a real thing. And there are really good measures of extraversion-introversion out there. But extraversion-introversion is a continual, and most of us are somewhere in the middle of the continuum. And what the Myers-Briggs does is basically say, “You are either one or the other. You are either an extrovert or you are an introvert,” and they kind of cut it right in the middle there. And it’s kind of like saying, “Hey, we’ve got this thing called height. And adults range from about four foot six to seven foot five in height. And we’re going to say, half of those people are short, and half of those people are tall. And that’s our measure of height.” And you go, “Well, you could do it that way. But wouldn’t it be better just to like, say, a person is six foot three, or five foot eight?”

ANUSHUYA THAPA: That’s true, I feel like I’m somewhere in between. Like sure, I want to hang out with people. But does that mean I’m extraverted all the time? I don’t think so…

DAN MCADAMS: The second big problem is even bigger. And that is that the other three things that it measures — thinking, feeling; sensing, intuiting; judging, perceiving — those dimensions, they’re not real. There’s no psychological research that suggests that people differ from the thinking side to the feeling side, or from the sensing side to the intuitive side, it’s just not a psychological, real distinction out there. Everybody thinks, everybody feels, everybody senses, everybody intuits. So those are completely artificial categories for which there’s no evidence for validity. And yet people love the Myers-Briggs.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: So if there’s no psychological evidence behind the Myers-Briggs, why are people so attracted to it?

DAN MCADAMS: People love to be categorized, I guess. Especially, I think, young people who are looking for their identity, it’s like, “What kind of a person am I? Who am I? And how do people see me?” It’s a fascinating question, indeed. So we’re looking for labels and characterizations that help us understand ourselves, and so there’s something comforting about finding out, “Oh, I’m this kind of type, there’s a bunch of people like me out there, we’re all good, we all like each other,” and so forth. Identity is a kind of funny problem in young adulthood, because on the one hand, you want to be unique and stand out, especially in American society. But on the other hand, you want to find like-minded people, too. You don’t want to be too weird, right? They like the fact that it puts them into a box. And people like to be in a box. And moreover, the other thing is, all the boxes are good. Because the Myers-Briggs will give you a very upbeat characterization of who you are. There are no bad types in the Myers-Briggs.

CLAY LAWHEAD: So, yes, personality tests, but no to MBTI. Even though I was really hoping I’d figure out my type this time around.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: Well, you’re not alone. Over two million people complete the MBTI assessment each year, and the test itself has been translated into over 29 different languages. But when Clay and I talked to a few students who are really into the MBTI, they said the assessment we took, the 16Personalities test, has some flaws.

ANA CORNELL: The 16Personalities (test) is biased towards certain traits over other traits. It biases you towards extraversion; just because you like spending time with people doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an extrovert, everyone likes spending time with people.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: That’s McCormick junior Ana Cornell. We talked to her and her friend Weinberg junior Kate Conner about their experiences taking the MBTI.

CLAY LAWHEAD: I actually met Ana and Kate on a plane to Atlanta over spring break. I mentioned that I made podcasts for The Daily Northwestern, and they both sprung at the idea of doing an episode on the MBTI. They pitched this very episode for the entire 2-hour plane ride.

ANA CORNELL: Women often get mistyped as feelers, men get often mistyped as thinkers. The actual test itself will skew you this one way because of what you think you should do. The questions don’t really accurately access what you’re actually doing.

KATE CONNER: Their profile page? It’s just a bunch of vague words and stereotypes. It puts you very strongly in this role of who you’re supposed to be. They’ll even say stuff like, “INFP ideal match is an ENFJ,” anybody can be anybody else’s match, it doesn’t come down to the four letters that you are. And I think that’s the limitations of something like

CLAY LAWHEAD: Okay, but for such a popular test, there has to be something good about it! Kate, are there any advantages to learning about the Myers-Briggs test and all the different personality types?

KATE CONNER: There’s been a lot of benefits in genuinely understanding that other people think differently and observing actually how I think. I never would have thought about all the times that I forced people to explain their feelings in a logical way and how actually absurd and ridiculous it is to be like, “But why do you feel that?” At the same time, I think that there has been some harm in that we never mean to mean that this encompasses all the diversity in human life, and I think that there can be some danger in that oversimplification.

ANA CORNELL: I have met so many other ENFJs who do not have any real resemblance to me as a person. Even within the categories, the amount of difference between people is huge. There is a danger in boxing people in this one place. Being the same type doesn’t make you the same people, it just means that you will think the same way about a new input.

KATE CONNER: I also think it’s important to know that everybody is responsible for everything. This is the other danger I see with Myers-Briggs, people using it as an excuse. There’s people who learn it and they’re like, “Oh no, that’s what I am, I can’t help it.” You’re not helpless, you are responsible for all the functions.

CLAY LAWHEAD: This episode was reported and produced by me, ENTP Clay Lawhead.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: And me, ENTJ Anushuya Thapa. The audio editor is ENFJ Madison Smith, the digital managing editor is INFJ Haley Fuller, and the editor-in-chief of The Daily Northwestern is INFJ Sneha Day.

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Twitter: @omqclaydoh

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