Should you trust the Myers-Briggs indicator?

3 minute read

I’ve always felt the Myers-Briggs indicator to be a bit off, mainly because Jung in his writings never mentions types as static entities, but as traits that gets modelled in childhood and over time. His own teachings are meant to make people transform and embrace the traits. Jung functions are four:

  • Thinking
  • Feeling
  • Intuition
  • Sensation

Plus two attitudes:

  • Introverted — “intent on withdrawing libido from the object” (ref)
  • Extroverted — “constantly related to and oriented by the object” (ref)

There are relationships between them: intuition and sensation are both irrational, while thinking and feeling are both rational.

In a later interview, he mentions clearly:

Well, you see, the type is nothing static. It changes in the course of life, but I most certainly was characterized by thinking. I always thought, from early childhood on, and I had a great deal of intuition too.
— Carl Jung (1959) BBC Face to Face with Jung

Which means that nowhere in Jung’s model we can find anything like the “four letters model” that appears in Myers-Briggs indicator.

Recently, an article by the journalist Merve Emre titled “Uncovering The Secret History Of Myers-Briggs” gets published… and some interesting details get uncovered.

There we discover the background of the two authors:

Katharine Cook Briggs […] a stay-at-home mother and wife who had once studied horticulture at Michigan Agricultural College.

Isabel Briggs Myers […] graduated from Swarthmore in June of 1918 — Phi Beta Kappa, an aspiring fiction writer.

If you want a double check, that’s also what the CAPT official biography says:

Isabel Briggs Myers, with a bachelor’s degree in political science and no academic affiliation […]

Also, the only involvement of Jung in the test was a conversation with Katharine, which ended with:

Jung rebuked her for overstepping her bounds as a dispassionate observer. “You overdid it” he wrote. “You wanted to help, which is an encroachment upon the will of others. Your attitude ought to be that of one who offers an opportunity that can be taken or rejected. Otherwise you are most likely to get in trouble. It is so because man is not fundamentally good, almost half of him is a devil.”

Here few other interesting bits:

Myers and the details of her life’s work are curiously absent from the public record. Not a single independent biography is in print today.

A test routinely deployed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies.

Myers’s papers require permission from CAPT to access; permission that has not been granted to anyone in the decade since the papers were donated to the university.

I learn that the racial typologies that shadow Give Me Death [her second novel] also haunted Isabel’s assessments of people’s types. Only now her racialized judgements were dressed up in the language of psychoanalytic authority. When a female office worker advocated for human equality across all races and ethnicities, Isabel declared her to be immature and typologically under-developed.

I learn that, in the beginning, men’s and women’s questionnaire results were evaluated on notably different scoring scales, particularly when it came to the thinking (T) and feeling (F) functions.

“You have to buy into the idea that type never changes”

With this latest quote, directly against Jung’s theory, there’s little to add if not reading the full article about it …and draw your own conclusions.

If you want a more in-depth explanation of the fallacies of the Myers-Brigg test and indicator, you can read this excellent Vox article: “Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless”.

There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.
— Carl Jung


Thanks to Michael Davis-Burchat and Christophe Hauke.