Pages Navigation Menu
Categories Navigation Menu

The Myers-Briggs Assessment is No Fad – It’s a Research-Based Instrument That Delivers Results

The Myers-Briggs Assessment is No Fad – It’s a Research-Based Instrument That Delivers Results

By Rich Thompson, PhD, Director of Research, CPP

The validity and reliability of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument has been documented in thousands of peer-reviewed journals and case studies, and its publisher, CPP, Inc., freely makes its supporting data publicly available. I should know — I head the research department and team of psychologists that’s tasked with keeping the MBTI instrument up to date. In fact, its efficacy is so well-established that I find myself scratching my head when I come across the kind of criticism recently levied by Adam Grant.

While I can’t fathom why a Wharton professor feels academically justified in making such an attack based on anemic sources — only one piece of actual research, the thesis of  which could be easily contested by dozens of peer-reviewed articles — I’ll be happy to address a few of his complaints.

Grant compares the MBTI assessment to “a physical exam that ignores your torso and one of your arms.” To be clear, the MBTI instrument was never intended to be a comprehensive assessment of one’s entire personality, and it doesn’t claim that individuals of the same type are exactly alike. According to this logic any bit of insight into a person’s preferences for thinking, behaving, communicating, working and learning is useless because it doesn’t identify everything that makes them tick. Countless managers, counselors and psychologists at Fortune 100 companies feel otherwise. For them, identifying certain common dimensions of personality is tremendously useful in team-building, conflict management, leadership development and numerous other applications.

However, to fully appreciate the absurdity of the physical exam comparison, let’s take it a little further. Is he suggesting that a routine physical exam is a comprehensive assessment of one’s overall health? Does a 30-minute visit with a physician screen for every disease that a person could possibly have? Of course not. To make such a determination would require multiple exams and most likely take weeks to complete. By the same token, it is not reasonable to expect the MBTI assessment, or any other assessment, to provide an all-encompassing view of one’s personality. It is reasonable to expect it to accurately identify certain aspects of personality which affect one’s day to day functioning and outlook, and that is exactly what the MBTI instrument does.

Grant also plays on a familiar criticism of the MBTI assessment’s forced-choice format, which identifies an individual as either preferring Introversion or Extraversion, Sensing or Intuition, Thinking or Feeling and Judging or Perceiving. This criticism is unrepresentative of both the theory behind the instrument, and its measurement capabilities. The Myers-Briggs assessment merely says that we’re predisposed to behave in certain ways, not that our behavior is limited to one direction or the other. According to the theory, we use both preferences of any dimension, but we’re innately predisposed toward one. A right-handed person prefers their right hand. The fact that they’re capable of using their left as well, and may even have become very proficient at it, doesn’t render their designation as “right-handed” less accurate. Likewise, the fact that someone prefers Introversion doesn’t preclude them performing in an Extraversion capacity — it simply means that it will require more of their energy.

Furthermore, the Myers-Briggs assessment actually does have a means for determining the degree to which a person identifies with a certain preference. It is called the “Preference Clarity Index (PCI),” which measures how clear an individual is about a particular preference — slight, moderate, clear, and very clear.

It’s also important to point out that his encapsulation of the Thinking/Feeling dichotomy is grossly unrepresentative. It does not, as he suggests, indicate one’s ability to think, reason or manage emotions. Rather, it describes how one is naturally predisposed to make decisions, either placing more weight on logic and facts (Thinking), or on how those decisions will affect people (Feeling) — factors which play into most people’s daily decisions and have nothing to do with one’s logical or emotional capacities.

Grant, who says that he took the MBTI instrument twice and got contradictory results, declares, “I’m not schizophrenic.” This is good news, but to his larger point that the MBTI assessment lacks test-retest reliability, I would counter that in actuality the test-retest correlations for the most recent version of the Myers-Briggs tool are in the range of .57 to .81, which is considered quite good for psychometric assessments. In fact, instances where people receive different results typically occur when they have a low Preference Clarity Index (PCI) along a certain category. For example, if results initially show a slight preference for Extraversion, that individual might at a later time show a very slight preference for Introversion. Someone with a clear or very clear preference will typically not show conflicting results from a subsequent assessment.

However, this does bring up a challenge that CPP constantly faces, in that there are a lot of MBTI knock-offs out there, particularly on the web. Often we find that people who receive radically contradictory results have actually taken a fake assessment, rather than the Myers-Briggs instrument, which can be accessed online at MBTIonline.com.

Grant states: “a test is valid if it predicts outcomes that matter.” That’s a pretty narrow view of assessments. While it is true that the MBTI instrument does not predict performance or satisfaction within an occupation, to position this as a criticism is misleading because it gives the impression that the assessment is intended to provide this kind of insight – it’ not. Some instruments are predictive, some are descriptive, and the MBTI tool falls in the latter category. No, it doesn’t tell you what career you’ll be successful in. However, people find that knowing their own personality type and the personality type most prevalent in the career they’re entering to be very helpful. Such insight, for example, may be extremely beneficial when it comes to communicating, presenting ideas, recognizing where workstyle and other difficulties may arise, and in enabling groups of people of varying personality preferences to work together cohesively.

Grant asks why the MBTI assessment remains popular, and poses several convoluted explanations. Allow me to pose a much simpler and more straightforward explanation — people find its insights useful. Like all popular tools it has its critics, but it is well-established that the Myers-Briggs instrument meets all requirements for psychological tests, and CPP openly publishes information substantiating its validity and reliability at www.cpp.com/MBTIvalidity (the Center for Applications of Psychological Type also publishes information on the reliability and validity of the Myers-Briggs assessment at http://www.capt.org/mbti-assessment/reliability-validity.htm).

If it didn’t do what it’s supposed to do, or if it lacked a solid research-based foundation, it wouldn’t be used by the world’s top organizations, including Hallmark Cards and Southwest Airlines. It has withstood more than 50 years of scientific scrutiny, and has been cited and reviewed thousands of times. It’s not a fad, and, if the thousands of organizations and millions of people worldwide that reap its benefits have their way, it’s not going away anytime soon.

17 Comments

  1. Very good information you’ve provided. Beside the reasons to use MBTI that you’ve mentioned, I find it very useful in the field of marketing and sales. Instead of trying to market to “everyone,” it is far more effective to have a laser like focus and market to a specific type of customer. MBTI allows you to do that, because you know the preferences of the clients up front.

    I type Adam Grant as an SP. Kiersey calls this temperament the Artisans. But I call them the “warriors,” because they have many excellent traits that you’d want in a front-line fighter. Among other things, they are scrappy, quick witted, and opportunistic. But they also have some negative traits, like a constant fear of being left behind by their colleagues. Because of this, they tend to show off (such as doing feats of courage) to prove to their peers that they are relevant. I’m just speculating here, but his original article appears to be a bit show-offish, which is what I’d expect from a person with the Warrior personality temperament.

  2. I am thrilled that a representative of CPP took the time to weigh in on the aforementioned article. I was admittedly both flabbergasted and highly concerned when I read the article referring to MBTI as a “fad”. As a matter of fact, I commented on the original article asking how a thoroughly researched assessment could be referred to as a “FAD”?

    Thank you for providing this information.

  3. Thanks for this critique. At celebritytypes.com we have also answered Adam Grant’s critique here:

    http://www.celebritytypes.com/blog/2013/09/why-adam-grants-critique-of-the-mbti-is-useless/

  4. I am also extremely glad that a representative of gave such a reasoned response to Adam’s quite mean spirited attack. I have encountered the article on at least 4 sites I follow and have commented extensively so will only “cheer”CPP here.

    Tim I would like to defend the poor old SP just a little. As an ISFP certainly can see where some of your points stem from but as a educator who ( used the MBTI since the 80’s) worked with thousands of SP’s teens over a 32 year period only a few SP adults ( in academia) I think the writer of the article might not be an SP. I know it is wrong to speculate on another’s type just from his article but I just want to give you another perspective.

    Just speculating Tim, I might agree with the SP guess if we knew that Adam had lost a job or some lucrative contract then maybe but I don’t that a “theory” would illicit that much passion from the SP. I think the SP might just bat the information away like an troublesome bug if they did not agree with the results. SP’s have written and taken so many things through school that misrepresented their intelligence, ability etc. that one more little, so called “test” ( I know it is not one) probably would not phase them. We are all so used to coming up short in the standardized assessment department I don’t know that Adam as an SP would have made the distinction between another test and the indicator. A confusing explanation sorry but I think he is tooooooo!!! overwrought about the MBTI for him to be an SP.

  5. Thanks for posting this. A number of us have been posting our own replies and rebuttals to Mr Grant’s article on LinkedIn. My recommendation was that, if his “results” changed so drastically, he should ask himself why his _responses_ changed so drastically. The MBTI doesn’t tell you your type; you tell _it_ based on your responses to the questions.

    If your responses are so widely inconsistent over a short time, you need to have some serious internal conversations with yourself.

    • Very true!! It is telling that he “blames” the test for conflicting results rather than addressing his own inconsistencies.

  6. I believe MBTI is neither fad nor highly predictive scientifically based assessment and not a test. Yes, a test is used to examine someone’s knowledge of something to determine what he/she knows or has learned and so it measures the level of skill or knowledge that has been reached, whereas an assessment is the process of documenting knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs, usually in measurable terms and so the goal of an assessment is to help the person being assessed make improvements/adjustments from this feedback as opposed to simply being judged. And so, MBTI is a more of an assessment than a test to provide feedback to individuals to help them make improvements or adjustments to his or her behavior. Now, where else do we get feedback to help us to make improvements or adjustments to our behavior? All the information from an instrument panel in a car. What if this instrument panel (i.e. MBTI Feedback Q&A) is giving incorrect information (i.e. put you as ENFJ when you are really INFP) or if someone else (i.e. MBTI tester and HR department) incorrectly installed the panel and the information from it is inaccurate let alone already imprecise (yes, the MBTI test is imprecise and has no info on variability) or the instrument panel does not reflect the changing conditions inside and outside as time goes by or it does reflect the changing conditions but, unfortunately, the information is only given to you now and then (i.e. you are ENTP today but ISTJ in 3 months and the MBTI assessment is only administered by your company every year). How useful is this to your driving (i.e. professional advancement)? If we go back to MBTI’s usefulness argument, doesn’t logic dictate that you or your company will make incorrect adjustments?

    Just as plenty of arguments for the validity of MBTI’s use in HR, there are also equal amounts of against the validity of the use of MBTI (see http://www.indiana.edu/~jobtalk/Articles/develop/mbti.pdf) . Yes, there was another form of “assessment” linked to likely behaviors and it was invented by the Greeks in 5th century BC and was frequently referenced by Aristotle around 4th century BC. It is called physiognomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physiognomy). This assessment had been studied, modified and used for almost 2000 years before it was discredited by modern science in the late 19th century and it is now considered pseudoscience. It is possible MBTI too is pseudoscience and if the results of its assessment are applicable, it would be for highly restricted conditions and so should not be widely used.

    Two comments on CPP’s rebuttal on Adam Grant’s views on MBTI strike me as over-stretching reality: (1) “The Myers-Briggs assessment merely says that we’re predisposed to behave in certain ways, not that our behavior is limited to one direction or the other. According to the theory, we use both preferences of any dimension, but we’re innately predisposed toward one.”. This point about innate predisposition ignores the role of the environment on a person’s behavior. Even though so much has been written about genetic (i.e. innate) predisposition to a behavioral pattern, only in the last decade or so modern science has discovered the role of epigenetics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics) which are hugely influenced by the environment and it plays a major role in complex human psychophysiology such as behavior. (2) “A right-handed person prefers their right hand. The fact that they’re capable of using their left as well, and may even have become very proficient at it, doesn’t render their designation as “right-handed” less accurate. Likewise, the fact that someone prefers Introversion doesn’t preclude them performing in an Extraversion capacity — it simply means that it will require more of their energy.” This point is somewhat inaccurate. Yes the initial expenditure of higher amount of energy to change one’s ways may be there but it is not forever. Basically, the environmental conditions will determine which way someone’s behavioral pattern needs to go in order for that person to be competitive in the real world. One good example is, the professional golfer Ben Hogan started playing the game as a left-hander but he could not find enough left-handed clubs in the market and so he switched to playing golf as a right hander for the rest of his life. (http://www.benhoganfoundation.org/whoweare/aboutbenhogan.php).

    My comment is not an attempt to discredit MBTI or say it is completely useless but a caution to those who believe in it, administer it, interpret results from it and use it to determine the future of individuals, their families and their livelihood. To paraphrase Steve Jobs and use it in a different context, nobody will ever know how brilliant a person is and what that person is capable of achieving not to mention significantly contributing to the success of an organization until that person shows it to those around him/her. Put under the right conditions, any man or woman will become a person they never knew they could be. In my opinion, two of the greatest motivators of change in a person is adversity and misunderstanding a person’s abilities. In this way, perhaps MBTI is useful after all!

    Yes, there is a well-known example of this. A patent office clerk who dropped out of school because some around him believed he had a learning disability went onto show that a universally applicable theory can’t be what it had been accepted to be for so many years and that it is only valid under certain conditions. His name is Albert Einstein and his work on the theory of relativity superseded and limited the universal applicability of a 200-year-old theory of mechanics created primarily by Isaac Newton.

    Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle offered some great advice on abilities of human beings: “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”

  7. I also found this rebuttal, which I think is quite good:

    “In his discussion of the two systems, Grant does get around to pointing out the cardinal flaw in the MBTI: That most personality traits appear to be distributed like a bell curve rather than bi-modally (i.e. as two camel humps). This appears to be a genuine flaw in the MBTI instrument, so credit where credit is due. But on the other hand, Grant neglects to mention the cardinal flaw in the Big Five, namely the Lexical Hypothesis. Unlike the MBTI, which is based on the work of C.G. Jung, the Big Five has no cognitive theory to fall back on. It tells us very little about all the fun stuff – the stuff that we ultimately want to know about each other. That is also why organizational psychologists that use the Big Five often have to resort to MBTI-like descriptions of the data in order to make sense of the results.”

    http://www.celebritytypes.com/blog/2013/09/why-adam-grants-critique-of-the-mbti-is-useless/

  8. At its core, the MBTI is an indicator and not a full profile. It simplifies rather than fully describing the richness and nuance of personality. That in itself is useful.

    It is useful for giving lay people a first glimpse of some elements of personality, and how people may differ. It can help team members ‘get’ each other a little better and maybe communicate more effectively with people who are radically different. I like the light-hearted response I heard in an MBTI workshop once; “I’m not crazy, I’m just different to you.” So yes, well used, in the right context, it can help people who don’t yet appreciate differences in what make others ‘tick’ be more aware and then respectfully understand and work with ‘different people’ (and styles). New team settings are a good example.

    But humans are limited, some say we’re cognitively lazy by nature – we like to compartmentalize things (it’s more efficient) . We innately stereotype and then generalize. Some mistakenly put people in a box and think it captures their personality. Or Leadership. That can be limiting (to put it politely), and when the (unintended) result is people getting stuck with a label it is silly for a start, and if used in hiring or business decisions, is damaging or worse.

    Then, to use a well known analogy, “sometimes when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The way to avoid that as an ethical assessment professional or consultant is to have many tools in your toolbox and use them appropriately. But sometimes people only know one tool and sometimes are in love with it, seeing only its potential uses.

    When this happens, do we blame the tool, the process or the person?

    Anyway, you hopefully see where I am going. The tool is ok – but only in the right setting, in the right hands.

    I think the whole debate is interesting. It is useful. It is important to discuss these issues. the MBTI is misused and overused by some people. It does not mean it is bad per se.

    But intellectual honesty requires any professional to only work within their bounds of competence. Psychologists are ethically bounds to do so, for example. So, do seek out a full understanding of the domain of assessment and personality. Be open to limitations and flaws. To do otherwise is to be willfully blind.

    remember, as the detracting source articles correctly state, each personality dimension is a continuum, with most people in the ‘middle area’ like on a bell curve. So to split the left and right sides exaggerates the differences in a way that can lose meaning when looking just at the type, which is what people end up remembering.

  9. I would like to know how much money Mr. Grant is being paid to promote the Big Five assessment that he keeps saying is so much better. It all comes down to marketing. i’m sticking with MBTI.

  10. I find the 16 types useful, but an over simplification of personality assessment. I prefer form Q of the MBTI which gives a range of different characteristics within each pair; for instance it will assist in understanding that we can have a gregarious introvert, who look like an extravert. As was said in the rebuttal it’s the source of energy that defines the difference.

  11. My concern with MBTI is that it’s not freely available like the Big 5, so research into test variability/reliability is greatly hindered.

    For this reason, I have to conclude that MBTI really is hiding something, the inference of a bimodal distribution being one of the things being brushed over.

    So come on CPP, make MBTI available for non-commercial use in the same way Big Five is and then maybe we’ll get a clearer picture. Until them, you’re compounding a problem.

    • Hello Mavis, CPP has in fact for several years had a program available for researchers interested in the MBTI to receive assessment administrations and data files at free or reduced pricing (https://www.cpp.com/contents/research_grants.aspx) – we’ve supported dozens of such projects over the past few years. If a researcher has a good project but is hampered by cost we try and remove that barrier.

      The Big Five is a model of personality, not an assessment, and there are many assessments measuring the Big Five, some of which are free, some of which are not. Likewise, there are paid and free type based assessments available.

  12. I’m personally getting tired of having to defend the MBTI to people who read the fad articles and are unable to distinguish between knowlegable and dubious sites and articles. One big help would be a place (could be a webpage) on the CPP site that lists all the peer reviews you mention in your first paragraph. (“The validity and reliability of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument has been documented in thousands of peer-reviewed journals and case studies…”) Then all it would take in rebuttal is a simple cut and paste of that URL to direct people to all the data they need.

    Thanks!

  13. Please post and regularly update a list of research studies. I can’t find it on the CBB site.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Myers-Briggs Assessment is No Fad | MSR Communications - [...] Type Indicator instrument is a researched-based instrument that delivers results. Click here to learn about the valid and reliable …
  2. Why Adam Grant’s Critique of the MBTI is Useless | CelebrityTypes - [...] A researcher affiliated with the official MBTI instrument has also answered Adam Grant here. [...]
  3. This week’s interesting reads… | eighteen and life - [...] The Myers-Briggs Assessment is No Fad [...]
  4. Personality Pedagogy Newsletter Volume 8, Number 1, September, 2013 | Personality Pedagogy Newsletters - [...] 6. The Myers-Briggs Assessment is No Fad [...]
  5. [INFJ] Why Do Psychology Textbooks Never Mention MBTI? - Page 6 - [...] is some data regarding Myers-Briggs. The Myers & Briggs Foundation - Reliability and Validity The Myers-Briggs Assessment …
  6. Creating a Lasting Legacy – MBTI Insights - [...] that reap its benefits have their way, it’s not going away anytime soon”. (Click here for his blog [...]
  7. In Which I Declare my Love for Personality Tests | The Way of the Worrier - […] As Rich Thompson, PhD, explains: […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Feedback
Your message was successfully sent!



6 + 10 =