Skeptoid’s Skeptical Take on Myers-Briggs

Skeptoid by Brian Dunning is my favorite podcast. I download episodes onto my iPod and listen to them while driving (earbud in one ear).

I recently enjoyed his take on Myers-Briggs Personality Test. I've seen personality tests used to detrimental effect in the workplace. For example, employees getting pigeonholed by their bosses based on the results of their test. So I was already skeptical (notwithstanding the fact that every McKinsey person I know swears by Myers-Briggs). Listening to Brian's report affirmed my skepticism. Here's the bottom line:

I do find one common theme among mainstream psychotherapists where the use of the MBTI is advised, and that's as a conversation starter. It's a fine way to give people a quick snapshot of what their strengths and weaknesses might be, and of those with whom they interact. To get the dialog going, this is a perfectly valid tool. But as a tool for making career decisions, relationship decisions, or psychiatric assessment, no. Although it would be nice to have a magically easy self-analysis tool that can make your decisions for you and be your crystal ball, the Myers-Briggs test is not it. It is interesting and it does have value as a starting point for meaningful dialog, but that's where the line should be drawn.


Last year I donated to two non-profit content providers: Skeptoid and the Wikimedia Foundation (which oversees Wikipedia, my favorite web site).

12 comments on “Skeptoid’s Skeptical Take on Myers-Briggs
  • I also enjoy audiobooks and podcasts on my iPod, and I enjoyed switching from earbuds to bluetooth headphones.

    The sound is improved, and being wireless can be convenient, particularly when doing something active like working out.

    In case it’s useful to anyone, this set has served me well:

  • A few years ago I took an MBTI test for fun. When I read my type profile, I learned a bunch of specific stuff about myself that I hadn’t previously been aware of — it was quite surprising. I’m generally skeptical of stuff like MBTI, but for me at least, it turned out to be legitimately useful. I definitely wouldn’t want a 3rd party judging me based on my type though.

  • I don’t remember how many years I have made the same comment to posts that mention the MBTI: It is an inspired story, but the majority of personality psychologists don’t take it seriously.

    The Big Five is the dominant paradigm. It’s a factor analysis of a large number of words that describe people. Every adjective applicable to a person falls in one of five dimensions. Where I live, the Big Five is used in recruiting, not the MBTI.

    But personally, I like StrengthsFinder 2.0 better, because it is even more precise about what you ought to be doing at work. A Big Five score has to be processed again to predict job performance.

    To the McKinsey people: The Big Five is MECE, the MBTI is not.

  • I found the Enneagram test to be by far the most accurate personality test I’ve ever encountered. Check out the Enneagram Institute for a free version of the test. When I did Myers-Briggs and other tests, I never thought that they captured the essence of my personality – it only hit on certain aspects. In comparison, I was shocked at how accurate the Enneagram Test was!

  • I agree that the MBTI is limited. However, I’ve found it useful with team-building. As I’ve had to build ad hoc teams, it’s been a useful outline to think about strengths and weaknesses so I could combine people who complemented each other, rather than getting stuck in a rut with existing preconceptions.

    These are all helpful tools. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are more than that. They’re not definitive, and typecasting anyone, for any reason, can be really counterproductive.

  • Ben,

    I thought this was common knowledge so I may be stating the obvious, but MBTI is not a personality test. It is an inventory of a person’s preferred way of dealing with information and making decisions with that available information. There is an interpretive element to the test and one’s MBTI “label” or “score” along a parameter may change over time, as one’s preferences evolve.

    Accordingly, as Skeptoid notes, it is not a tool but for a mediator or an assessor, the knowledge is helpful to begin to construct a picture of the person in front of him/ her or to define a problem per se. For instance, some marriage counsellors use MBTI to understand where differences between husband and wife may be arising from.

    [Relatedly, the blogger LaBeletteRouge, who is a great writer (in my view), is a psychotherapist in the Jungian tradition. I am not sure she has blogged much about MBTI but she would be an interesting person to ask these questions, as she has seen – and written about – therapy experientially both as a client and a therapist.]

  • I didn’t find Skeptoid’s analysis very persuasive. For one, I don’t understand why he thinks the model implies that there should be two bell curves for each factor.

    Secondly, he claims that while the description of his type, ISTJ, seems accurate, the description of the opposite type (by switching all the letters) appeals to him as well. But I think that, after some honest introspection, you realize that what you might like to be is not the same as what you are. Over time, I’ve begun to see how people whose MBTI type is opposite mine are really very different from me in particular ways. Often their strengths are my weaknesses and I’ve found the MBTI useful, as a rough framework, in identifying and improving on these weaknesses.

  • My text isn’t wrapping (due to the URL?). Here’s my above comment without the link:

    In 2004 Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting article for the New Yorker that discussed issues with Myers-Briggs (and similar). Well worth a read. Here’s a link:

  • I was once asked to take the Myers-Briggs test in an interview. I had applied for a position as a PA to a director and I was told the director would decide if he wanted to see me based on the result of the test. Needless to say I refused to take the test and left.

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