The Myers Briggs test — is it the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
Few people haven’t heard of the Myers Briggs test, whether you’ve completed one during a job application or for a career test. Market research estimates that around 20% of companies use various personality tests. When reviewing Fortune 500 companies, 80% use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and a whopping 89% of Fortune 100 companies do the same.
According to supporters surveyed, working with Myers Briggs tests is used to make better-informed decisions. Or not! We’re all wonderful creatures of habit (think of your daily routines), and as much as we’d protest that we don’t allow habit to influence business decisions, we do.
Every leader intends to make professional decisions based on factual information, supportive data and integrity. But the human mind is a fascinating place, and no matter who you are, we’re all inclined to follow “tried and tested” methods when things have always been done that way. Also, when pushed for time, we’ll settle for what’s familiar; sometimes without question.
Only in the face of a crisis or challenge will we move beyond our comfort zone and look for other options. And by that time we’ve probably already identified risk or damage.
When it comes to Myers Briggs tests, they’re like that comfy pair of slippers you slide onto your tired feet after a long day. They’re old, they fit, and they give you what you want – relaxation. People have been taking Briggs Myers tests since WW2. Generations of workers have taken them, so they must be the best choice when it comes to people management. Right?
Therein lies the danger! The business environment and the science of psychology have come a long way since WW2. Countless studies and analyses have shown that the test is flawed, leaving Myers Briggs debunked time and again.
Have you considered whether the workplace has outgrown personality tests?
What is the Myers Briggs test?
Wikipedia tells us that it’s “a pseudoscientific introspective self-report questionnaire indicating differing psychological preferences in how people receive the world and make decisions.”
Pseudoscience is defined as consisting of “statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be both scientific and factual but are incompatible with the scientific method.”
Myers-Briggs Company, Inc. (the publisher of the Myers-Briggs framework) tells us: “it offers a range of solutions to help improve organizational performance and address challenges, from team building, leadership, coaching and conflict management to career development, selection and retention.”
When you consider that every aspect mentioned in the Myers-Briggs Company’s claim involves business outcomes and the career success or failure of individuals, it's pretty far-reaching. How so? Apart from internal research and publications in the Myers Briggs Foundation’s journal, Myers Briggs tests have no scientific backing. Training, research and administration are all conducted and promoted within the same group; there’s a definite conflict of interest.
Myers Briggs debunked — it has glaring flaws
Although there are semblances of psychological theories, the assessment process and analysis is flawed.
Here are a few of its issues:
- It claims to be predictive
- No claims have been scientifically validated
- It doesn’t measure what it claims to measure
- It’s open to the biases from the constructors
- Categories aren’t independent; some traits correlate with each other
- It’s unreliable giving different results for the same person, even days apart
- It’s incomprehensive because it omits commonly accepted traits (notably neuroticism)
- It’s a snapshot of an individual in the time it takes them to answer from 70 to 76 questions
- Responses are “closed” in that they can only get interpreted according to the theory of indicator constructors in scoring
How do these flaws point to unreliability?
Daily horoscopes are predictive and without scientific backing. Does anyone take their horoscope seriously? They’re just fun; people’s life can’t get boxed into only 12 daily experiences.
And neither can people’s nature and characteristics be boxed into just 16 personality types!
When a system claims to measure certain traits, there must be an internal validation system to guarantee accuracy. Human behavior isn’t static, so it can’t get accurately measured in a single test or assessment that reveals a single, static ‘type’ that will represent the individual for life.
Inner moods and external circumstances easily influence us. Factors, such as the environment, conditions and our state of mind, have a massive impact. If we feel uncomfortable, ill, pressured or afraid, it will subconsciously impact our answers to questions.
We can also manipulate our responses to suit our desired outcome. Although this can get done willfully, it can also have a subconscious element, particularly if the result has significant consequences. This, combined with the “closed” interpretations, leads to inaccurate results.
The only way traits can be identified and guaranteed with a reasonably high degree of certainty is through open-ended questions, analysis, consultation and repeating the process over time. Results and outcomes must be retained and compared to previous records to come up with a profile and also note changes. Done this way, it reveals how unconscious dispositions, hidden emotions and internal conflicts influence behaviour.
When assessing character traits, all commonly accepted aspects must get taken into consideration. If any are omitted, the results will be flawed and unfair on the individual being assessed.
When a Myers Briggs test is being used for hiring or promotion, you risk making a bad decision either way; you could back the wrong person and have unrealistic expectations about them, or you could lose out on the best candidate.
A brief history of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator Test
Back in 1917, Katherine Cook Briggs became aware of the differences in personality between family members. She started doing research and came up with a concept of four temperaments that dominate: meditative, spontaneous, executive and social. In 1923 she came across Carl Jung’s book “Psychological Types”.
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Katherine Cook Briggs noted that there were similarities between her four temperament concepts and Jung’s theory. She became fascinated by his methods and started to study his work together with her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. In 1926 Katherine Cook Briggs published an article, Meet Yourself Using the Personality Paint Box, and another, Up from Barbarism, in 1928 – both in the New Republic Journal. From thereon, mother and daughter started expanding their theories and interest in human behavior into practical tools for people to use.
Neither had any formal training in psychology, and they were self-taught in psychometric testing. Isabel Briggs Myers became the apprentice of a personnel manager for a large bank in Philadelphia where she learned about test construction, scoring, validation and methods of statistics.
In 1944 the Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook was published to help women entering the industrial workforce identify personality preferences. The belief was that knowing their personality preferences would help them identify the type of job that would be most comfortable and effective for them.
Their work started attracting attention, and in 1962 the first MBTI Manual was published under the auspices of the Educational Testing Service. In 1975 the publication of the MBTI was transferred to Consulting Psychologists Press, and the research laboratory, the Center for Applications of Psychological Type was founded.
Myers Briggs tests gradually became a firm favorite in HR departments and career counselling centers, and are still as popular as ever today.
Myers Briggs Type Indicator test and the Jung connection
Even though there are vast differences between the Myers Briggs Type indicator Test and Carl Jung personality test, Myers-Briggs Company, Inc. still claims a link to the work of Jung. At this stage it’s essential to point that the fundamental theories adopted by Katherine Myers Briggs were based on a conceptual theory of Carl Jung; one that he acknowledged was inconclusive and couldn’t be applied to people across the board. In other words, he never adopted it as a theory, had it tested in controlled scientific studies or published in any journal. Rather, it was something he discussed in his writing.
Jung was also an advocate of a projective approach to personality assessment. He supported open-ended responses that need to get interpreted within the context of the whole person and situation. Carl Jung was not a supporter of preconceived theories and test constructors. Part of his (and other’s) criticism of structured questioning was that defense mechanisms could distort closed items on structured tests. He also took issue with biases from constructors and the result that their preferences will have on interpretation.
Although the MBTI is based on some of Jung’s original concepts, Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed their own psychological types as the basis. The MBTI has 16 personality types which are similar to Jung’s theoretical concepts. Jung, however, had 32 personality types, including both conscious and unconscious. Obviously, unconscious traits are difficult to assess through questionnaires, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist and impact our attitudes and motivations. By ignoring Jung’s unconscious traits, the MBTI omits 50% of his scales of measure.
It’s difficult to understand how the Myers-Briggs Company, Inc. still claims that their system is supported by Jungian theories (and that corporations continue to buy into that claim).
The evolution of static vs. changeable personality traits
Traditional psychology and psychiatry refer to configurations of behavioral traits. The traditional model postulates that five basic personality dimensions define us as individuals. Referred to as the Big Five, they are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Each has a cluster of related traits that shape our personalities.
Early childhood experiences and how we were raised influences our characters, and there’s also believed to be a genetic link. It has been accepted for decades that our personalities are mostly static and don’t change, and that the personality traits we have in childhood expand to become who we are as an adult.
Recently, scientists have started questioning whether our personalities are, in fact, static. There’s ample evidence that people can change personality traits if they’re committed or through trauma and life-changing events. If we consider the undeniable evidence that many people’s personalities are changed through suffering trauma or experiencing a life-changing event, or through dedicated personal work or coaching, then personalities must be more fluid than we used to believe.
This has led to several studies in recent years to establish to what extent we can change our personalities, if at all. The University of Illinois conducted one such study.
- They did two experiments, each involving around 135 participants, throughout a 16-week period.
- Both studies included comprehensive change plans and weekly booster sessions.
- Personality change did happen, although modestly.
- The researchers pointed out that 16-weeks was not enough time for wide-ranging personality modifications to manifest.
What they did find, however, is that changing patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving can impact our personality.
- Adopting new patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior can eventually lead to permanent changes in our personality traits.
- One possible explanation is that it impacts our social identity, including how we see ourselves.
There’s still a lot of research and controlled studies needed, but science does support the idea that people are capable of altering personality traits if they’re motivated enough. Interventions, learning, support and coaching are, however, essential to the change process.
Unfortunately, Myers Briggs' sixteen personality types fails to capture this in any way. There is inherent danger in labeling someone with a static 'type' that will box them in for the rest of their lives, as it does not promote personal growth and development, nor does it consider an individual's desire to change.
What it does promote is the idea that a self-defeating trait is merely part of your prescribed 'type,' which can make many individuals feel that there is no point in trying to overcome a bad habit because it is simply 'who they are'.
Talk about disempowering!
People management is an evolving, real-time process
Despite advancements across every aspect of business, Myers Briggs tests are still much the same as they were 65-years ago. Although they can now get taken online, the concept still clings to the basic principles that saw Myers Briggs discredited time and again over the decades.
Just as we’ve moved from the draconian management styles and mechanically-driven work environment of the previous century, we now know that people can’t get boxed and labeled into static categories. Not only do people change spontaneously as they move through each stage of life, but employers can also encourage employee development.
People analytics platforms like F4S allow you to identify personal motivations and attitudes in real-time. Results are available as soon as the assessment questions are completed, and they reveal a detailed explanation of 48 separate motivations at work (essentially traits, but they are not static).
Users know right away where their strengths and blind spots lie. Based on science and over 20 years of research, we know that nothing about human nature is cast in stone. Any attitude, motivation or behavior can be changed with personal will and the right coaching and support. That’s why F4S doesn’t refer to weaknesses, but rather blind spots. As soon as we become aware of a trait that’s lacking, we can work to change it.
There are no rigid categories and personality labels, but rather an analysis of motivations that drive patterns of behavior. This way, leaders can build teams by combining the right motivations to get specific results. People analytics also allows for the nurturing of natural characteristics of a leader into well-developed, good managers through ongoing coaching and working towards a better understanding.
It's time to start using Myers Briggs alternatives
If you’re still relying on Myers Briggs tests for talent acquisition or succession planning, you’re trying to run a modern business on decades-old theories and concepts. You’re also exposing your employer brand to claims of bias.
Particularly now, in such uncertain times, businesses need a people analytics system that gives real-time, scientific information that enables self development and helps build strong teams.
With F4S there are no license fees, and no waiting for results to be analyzed. We have qualified coaches available to help you get personalized insight for yourself and your team when you need it.
Identify natural talents, understand individual work motivations, build resilient teams and improve collaboration. Take the F4S assessment for free today.