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By Sigurd Arild and Ryan Smith
“…it is often very difficult to find out whether a person belongs to one type or the other…” – Jung: Psychological Types §3
A popular means of assertion to back up one’s own type assessments in an argument is to state that someone is “obviously” a certain type instead of producing a proper argument. For example, people may say that Donald Trump is “obviously” an ENTJ and then lean back, content that they have now (in their mind) augmented their case. But in fact, if all they have said is that someone is “obviously” a certain type, then all they have said is that they have no real arguments to back up their claim.
Let us consider the matter as seen through the eyes of two capable epistemologists. First, consider the words of the German mathematician and philosopher Leonard Nelson:
“People who call some piece of knowledge ‘evident’ do not usually have any one clear characteristic in mind. Expressions of this sort are often used simply to describe the certainty that we do in fact have in respect of our judgment; our firm conviction of its truth. The description of a judgment as evident can, however, also bear another and more precise sense: that the state of affairs re-capitulated in our judgment is immediately clear to us, so that the truth of the judgment needs no further illumination, i.e. we do not need to think about it in order to realize that it is true. This means that we are not only certain, i.e. convinced, of the truth of the judgment, but that we are certain in a particular way, namely, that that truth is clear by itself, independently of reflection.” – Nelson: Progress and Regress in Philosophy vol. I (Blackwell 1970 ed.) p. 88
Something may more easily be said to be “obvious” or “self-evidently true” if that thing is a simple and distinct characteristic. For example, the proposition that Donald Trump “obviously” had red hair may more easily be said to be “obvious” or self-evidently true than more complex propositions such as “Trump’s smile communicates smugness.” When we are trying to determine someone’s type, we are not dealing with a simple and distinct characteristic, but with a complex pattern of deductive inferences. Therefore the question of someone’s psychological type is wholly unsuited to this type of prima facie appeal.
One could avert the criticism by adopting a “common sense” philosophy in the vein of Thomas Reid. But the obvious problem then arises that psychological types do not exist as a matter of common sense. If they did, we would hardly have had to wait until 1921 for the first credible theory of truly psychological types to appear. Psychological types could more properly be said to exist as heuristics or Platonic forms; the people who say that types exist as a priori empirical occurrences are at odds with the science.
As Nelson points out, to assert that a claim is “obviously” true can have two meanings: (1) One meaning is to simply declare that one has great personal conviction in one’s own claim. (2) The other meaning is declaring that one has great personal conviction in one’s own claim and that the question at hand is of a kind that needs no reflection in order to be decided.
It is our contention that the matter of determining someone’s type is not a question that can be decided without analysis or reflection. (We have argued the point here, here, here, and here.) So if the premise is granted that (2) can never be true when dealing with the question of someone’s psychological type, then it follows that all people are really saying when they are saying that someone is “obviously” a certain type is that they feel certain about their own judgment. To gauge the value of such statements, let us turn to Karl Popper:
“… I would insist … that these experiences, important as they may be … can never serve to establish the truth of any idea or theory, however strongly somebody may feel, intuitively, that it must be true, or that it is ‘self-evident’. Such intuitions cannot even serve as an argument. … For somebody else may have just as strong an intuition that the same theory is false. … Intuition undoubtedly plays a great part in the life of a scientist, just as it does in the life of a poet. It leads him to his discoveries. But it may also lead him to his failures. And it always remains his private affair, as it were. Science does not ask how he got his ideas, it is only interested in arguments that can be tested by everybody.” – Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies (Routledge 2002) p. 232
Certitude in one’s own intuitions can never be a real argument. It is a person’s private affair and belongs more fittingly in a personal diary than in an exchange on someone’s type.
Note that we are not trying to discourage anyone from having intuitions about other people’s types. We are merely saying that stating that someone is “obviously” a certain type as a means to back up your claim is not an argument, but at best an attempt to shame or browbeat the other person into submission.
Even if you are someone whose judgment is generally acknowledged to be correct, your personal certitude is still ineligible as an argument because you may still be wrong on this occasion. For example, Jung’s self-assessment as a Ti type presumably led him to commit a series of errors with regards to identifying other Ti types correctly (see note 3 here).
Finally, note that Popper says that we should be interested in arguments that can be tested by anyone. Within the Jungian type community, as well as the field of self-development as a whole, there is a regrettable tendency to “seek a master” who is then presumed to have all the answers. These “masters” are frequently talented and entertaining, but a proper argument is rarely possible with them or with their followers. Even if you refute their stated arguments, show their research to be factually inaccurate, and expose their understanding of Jungian typology as lackluster, you are still bound to get nowhere, because such groupings really depend on group instinct and identity rather than critical argument. They have pawned their critical judgment with the master and are beholden to the convenient delusion that answers to complex questions can be handed to them on a silver platter if they simply stick to their guru.
It must be mentioned that though the flinging of unsupported type assessments as “obviously” true is exactly the kind of thing that might be expected from hobbyists on the internet, they are not alone in this regard: Keirsey Jr. has also made use of this technique on several occasions, and even Jung resorted to this sort of non-argument from time to time. Von Franz and van der Hoop were more neutral with regards to the manner in which they advanced their type assessments, while Myers deserves special credit in this regard for stating her type assessments in the non-combative, deferential, and open-ended manner that is conducive to true discussion.
By Sigurd Arild, Ryan Smith, and Eva Gregersen
Regular readers know the drill by now: We have no affiliation with the MBTI; we just don’t like seeing lazy and uninformed critiques misguiding the public. The latest example of such a critique is the journalist Joseph Stromberg’s article: Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless, as featured in Vox.com. The article is basically non-news, lazily re-hashing older articles that we have previously debunked on the site. But what’s worse, the article is also factually incorrect in several places. Let’s go over Stromberg’s points:
“The test is completely meaningless. … ‘There’s just no evidence behind it,’ says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania … ‘The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.’”
If the test is “completely meaningless,” why does it have “some” predictive power? It can’t be both.
Adam Grant should not be treated as a credible source. As we have previously documented, Grant quotes unfaithfully from the scientific source material that he bases his argument on. He says that the test is “completely meaningless,” but the scientific study that Grant himself has referenced concludes that: “… the four MBTI indices did measure aspects of four of the five major dimensions of normal personality…” and that “even critical reviewers … see promise in the instrument.”
It is true that the MBTI has little predictive power with regards to happiness in marriage or job performance, but the MBTI doesn’t claim to measure those things, so why should that be a problem?
“Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.”
It is true that some people think that, but there is no basis for claiming that “most” of the people who are sympathetic to the MBTI think that it can meaningfully determine which careers you will thrive in. Some people also think that microwave ovens can be used to dry their pets, but that doesn’t really reflect badly on microwave ovens.
“But the test was developed in the 1940s based off the untested theories of an outdated analytical psychologist named Carl Jung, and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community.”
Jung’s theories weren’t out-dated in the 1940s; on the contrary, the Allies used him as an intelligence agent, crafting psychological reports on Hitler, which were read by Eisenhower, among others. Also the matter of Jung’s relation to mainstream psychology is not as black and white as the writer lets on. More about that later.
“Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.”
It is true that the test is ineffective at predicting job performance, but again, the MBTI itself says that it should not be used to determine job performance, so the MBTI is like a microwave with a big yellow warning sticker that says: “WARNING – SHOULD NOT BE USED TO DRY PETS,” but which nevertheless attracts scores of detractors who voice their offense at the fact that the microwave isn’t a suitable way of drying your pet.
“In 1921, Jung published the book Psychological Types. In it, he put forth a few different interesting, unsupported theories on how the human brain operates.”
Not brain – psyche. Anachronisms are unseemly. It was important to Jung that his theories were not materialistic or Aristotelian, which is why he avoided giving them a physiological basis.
“Among other things, he explained [in Psychological Types] that humans roughly fall into two main types: perceivers and judgers.”
This is not correct. Judging and Perceiving are Myers’ and Briggs’ inventions, based only loosely on Jung’s original concepts of rational and irrational. If you are going to report on the contents of a book, do yourself the trouble of reading it.
“[The theory of types] didn’t come out of controlled experiments or data. ‘This was before psychology was an empirical science,’ says Grant, the Penn psychologist. ‘Jung literally made these up based on his own experiences.’ … None of this came out of controlled experiments or data – it was all theoretical.”
Neither Darwin’s theory of evolution nor Einstein’s theory of relativity came out of “controlled experiments or data.” Like Jung’s theory of types, they were initially made up and later confirmed to some degree by experiments. In the same way, Jung’s theory of the elements that constitute the personality have also been confirmed to some degree by later experiments. It seems disingenuous not to inform the reader that the basic gist of Jung’s postulates have been confirmed in experiments to some degree.
“Jung’s principles were later adapted into a test by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of Americans who had no formal training in psychology.”
Myers and Briggs were not psychologists, but they nevertheless succeeded in doing what academically certified people in their own time failed to do. If someone runs a marathon and finishes ahead of the pros, should he then be stripped of his victory because he isn’t a professional runner?
“Myers and Briggs gave titles to each of these types, like the Executive, the Caregiver, the Scientist, and the Idealist.”
This is factually incorrect. The writer is confusing the official MBTI material with fan-generated material that he has found online. If a Richard Dawkins fan believes in astrology, does that constitute a sound basis for claiming that Richard Dawkins believes in astrology? The logic seems to be limping here.
“But the fact is that [the indices measured by the MBTI] come from the now-disregarded theories of a early 20th century thinker who believed in things like ESP and the collective unconscious.”
Actually, the two areas of Jung’s theories that are widely regarded as being non-mystical and compatible with empirical science are his studies in word association and his theory of types. It seems disingenuous not to inform the reader of this.
“Actual data tells psychologists that these traits do not have a bimodal distribution. Tracking a group of people’s interactions with others, for instance, shows that as Jung noted, there aren’t really pure extroverts and introverts, but mostly people who fall somewhere in between.”
This point will be dealt with in conjunction with point #15 below.
“All four of the categories in the Myers-Briggs suffer from these kinds of problems, and psychologists say they aren’t an effective way of distinguishing between different personality types. ‘Contemporary social scientists are rarely studying things like whether you make decisions based on feelings or rational calculus — because all of use both of these,’ Grant says. “
It doesn’t seem like the writer has any sources for his claim that “psychologists” are of this opinion, and Adam Grant’s assertion is incorrect. Grant hasn’t done even the most basic research on the MBTI and mistakenly thinks that the MBTI’s “Feeling” category is about actual feelings. But the very first hit on Google for “MBTI thinking feeling” takes you to the official Myers & Briggs Foundation and tells you that it is not.
Again, we must urge journalists not to use Grant as a serious source. The fact that Grant misconstrues scientific source material to make his point should be a huge disqualifier in and of itself. Grant is basically someone with a fancy academic title who keeps insisting that microwaves should be able to dry pets.
“This is why some psychologists have shifted from talking about personality traits to personality states — and why it’s extremely hard to find a real psychologist anywhere who uses the Myers-Briggs with patients.”
This point seems like a non sequitur. The MBTI doesn’t purport to measure any kind of psychopathology, so why should clinical psychologists use it? On the other hand, it is easy to find organizational psychologists who use it.
Also, one might get the idea from the article that the very practice of testing static personality “traits” is on the retreat. The state of the art in personality testing is still the Big Five test and so the practice of measuring personality in static terms rather than fluid ones is not at all on the retreat.
“There’s also another related problem with these limited choices: look at the chart above, and you’ll notice that words like ‘selfish,’ ‘lazy,’ or ‘mean’ don’t appear anywhere. No matter what type you’re assigned, you get a flattering description of yourself as a ‘thinker,’ ‘performer,’ or ‘nurturer.’”
Again, the writer is confusing the official MBTI material with the fan-generated material found online. But disregarding that, it is generally true that the MBTI has a positive bias. We have dealt with that criticism here. Yes, the MBTI is generally too positive, but one reason for the positivity was that it was developed to be used in organizations where the practitioners had to get people to accept their results. The Big Five was developed to be used by researchers and did not need to win the acceptance of the test takers.
Now that psychologists are seeking to use the Big Five in organizations, they have found it necessary to adopt a positive bias which is akin to the one used in the MBTI, and even to postulate personality types, which is one of the things that the adherents of the Big Five started out criticizing the MBTI for. The process can be compared to a child who criticizes his parents for the slights in their parenting. The child vows to himself that when he grows up and becomes a parent, his parenting will be much better. But then, when he actually is a parent, and stands there with the crying children, he finds himself repeating many of the “mistakes” that his own parents made.
Additionally, if people want negative type descriptions, they need to look no further than Jung’s Psychological Types. Since the writer has ostensibly read that book (see point #6 above), it seems like an oversight that he doesn’t mention these non-positive type descriptions to his readers.
Returning to the criticism cited in point #11 above: “Actual data tells psychologists that these traits do not have a bimodal distribution. Tracking a group of people’s interactions with others, for instance, shows that as Jung noted, there aren’t really pure extroverts and introverts, but mostly people who fall somewhere in between.”
The criticism ties into another observation furnished by the writer, namely that: “Research has found that as much as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it’s just five weeks later.”
This criticism is true, as we have examined here. It is the single biggest problem with the MBTI.
<Stromberg’s article then continues for some time, recycling the points he has already made. We avoid insulting the reader’s intelligence by repeating the rebuttals.>
Stromberg then writes:“Apart from the introversion/extroversion aspect of the Myers-Briggs, the newer, empirically driven tests focus on entirely different categories. The Five Factor model measures people’s openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — factors that do differ widely among people, data has told us.”
- The writer seems to be saying that the scales measured by the MBTI are normally distributed, while the scales measured by the Big Five are bi-modally distributed. In reality, both the scales measured by the MBTI and the scales measured by the Big Five are normally, rather than bi-modally, distributed.
- The writer says that apart from the E/I dimension, the other dimensions of the Big Five are entirely different from the MBTI. But in fact, Sensation-Intuition on the MBTI is related to the Big Five’s concept of Openness, Thinking-Feeling on the MBTI is related to the Big Five’s concept of Agreeableness, and Judging-Perceiving on the MBTI is related to the Big Five conception of Conscientiousness. While there are differences in overall methodology (the MBTI is Platonic, while the Big Five is Aristotelian), the basic gist of the four dimensions mentioned above is the same.
Ironically, the people who fault Jung for just making up the scales tend to be oblivious to the fact that modern science has largely ended up confirming the scales he came up with. The criticism is like faulting Darwin for only having had a vague idea of evolution without being able to work out the genealogy of every species in detail. According to that manner of measuring results, Darwin should actually be criticized for postulating a theory that was largely right, because he didn’t have all the details back in 1859. Later scientists, who then confirmed his theory in the lab using data, should then snub their noses at Darwin and claim exclusive credit for the theory of evolution.
Stromberg then writes: “The Myers-Briggs is useful for one thing: entertainment. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking the test as a fun, interesting activity, like a BuzzFeed quiz.”
So apparently a test which has been demonstrated to measure actual elements of the personality to an acceptable degree is no better than a test which has no validity to back it up. It seems a bit hasty on Stromberg’s part to say that because something is somewhere in the middle of the road in its field, then it’s no better than something at the very bottom. This is somewhat like saying that because silver isn’t gold, then silver is really worthless. It seems that Stromberg is overstating his case at the end. The MBTI has known issues and has had so for years. But the MBTI has never been found to be devoid of validity, as the writer insinuates, or to be “totally meaningless” as the writer’s headline says.
Stromberg then critiques the pricing policies and certification process of the MBTI (a criticism that we agree with), but then continues to state that: “Because once you [are certified] you can sell your services as a career coach to both people looking for work and the thousands of major companies … Once certified, test administrators become cheerleaders of the Myers-Briggs, ensuring that use of the outdated instrument is continued.”
As mentioned, we agree with the point that there are problems regarding the pricing and certification process that surrounds the official use of the MBTI instrument. But how does Stromberg know that certified MBTI practitioners are “cheerleaders” for the MBTI? One of the authors of this article was first typed by a certified psychologist and MBTI practitioner who introduced the instrument by saying that she didn’t see the value of it. It seems that Stromberg is presuming to know the motives of thousands of people without having anything solid to base his claims on. Didn’t he just say that it was important to base your claims on data?
It is really tiresome that writers who set out to criticize the MBTI can’t be bothered to acquaint themselves with the most basic facts concerning the instrument. As we covered on the site long ago, almost every scientific study ever conducted has concluded that there is some validity to the MBTI, while there is no validity to astrology. Hence there is really no basis at all for claiming that their validity is “about the same” and it is an incontrovertible mistake on the writer’s part to suggest otherwise.
Article Series: CelebrityTypes Debunks Bad MBTI Criticisms:
- Drake Baer’s Lazy Critique of the MBTI [Business Insider]
- Why Adam Grant’s Critique of the MBTI is Useless [Business Insider]
- MBTI for Skeptics [General criticisms of the MBTI answered]
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