Monday, January 20, 2014

Enduring Cultural Phenomenon of the MBTI

(image credit)
My name is Adam Grant, and I am an INTJ. That’s what I learned from a wildly popular personality test, which is taken by more than 2.5 million people a year, and used by 89 of theFortune 100 companies. It’s called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and my score means that I’m more introverted than extraverted, intuiting than sensing, thinking than feeling, and judging than perceiving. As I reflected on the results, I experienced flashes of insight. Although I spend much of my time teaching and speaking on stage, I am more of an introvert—I’ve always preferred a good book to a wild party. And I have occasionally kept lists of my to-do lists. 
But when I took the test a few months later, I was an ESFP. Suddenly, I had become the life of the party, the guy who follows his heart and throws caution to the wind. Had my personality changed, or is this test not all it’s cracked up to be? I began to read through the evidence, and I found that the MBTI is about as useful as a polygraph for detecting lies. One researcher even called it an “act of irresponsible armchair philosophy.” When it comes to accuracy, if you put a horoscope on one end and a heart monitor on the other, the MBTI falls about halfway in between. 
Now, if you’re an MBTI fan, you might say it’s typical of an INTJ to turn to science. Touche. But regardless of your type, it’s hard to argue with the idea that if we’re going to divide people into categories, those categories ought to be meaningful. In social science, we use four standards: are the categories reliable, valid, independent, and comprehensive? For the MBTI, the evidence says not very, no, no, and not really.
Reference: Say Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad that Won't Die.

Craig Dowden, PhD posted this article in the Consulting Psychology group on LinkedIn - Thought-provoking critique of the MBTI - and here is my comment:

The MBTI is a cultural phenomenon, and clearly an enduring one at that. Carl Jung must've known something, after all, about what makes us tick and what we gravitate to. The MBTI went viral, long before viral became so vogue!

Definitely a thought-provoking article, Craig. There is a certain complexity to our personality that defies efforts of any one measure to capture, and one often-neglected aspect of it is that we're not entirely logical or rational. While science is also often lauded in Western culture, we're not all inclined to scientific notions either.

I believe it was Donald Campbell who coined the term multitrait, multimethod approach. Basically, it means that because of the complexity of personality, for example, we ought to (a) measure its many aspects as completely as we reasonably can and (b) use different methods of measuring these aspects (e.g., psychometric tests, structured interviews, business simulations, even 360 feedback).

The multitrait, multimethod approach is one of the best I know at ensuring the four points that Adam Grant emphasized in his article: reliable, valid, independent and comprehensive.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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