Todd Essig’s Misconstrual of the MBTI

By Sigurd Arild and Eva Gregersen

In a quote that is popularly misattributed to Joseph Goebbels, it is said that “if you repeat a lie often enough, it eventually becomes the truth.” Since Adam Grant kicked off his sensationalist critique of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) last year, there has been no shortage of uninformed bloggers willing to sacrifice scientific integrity in order to bring down the Myers-Briggs. The latest of these derogators is Todd Essig, in a piece written for Forbes.

Since we have dealt with the majority of the issues raised by Essig long ago, we will ignore the idle repetitions and only respond to what’s new in his piece. Essig could have saved himself and his employers at Forbes some embarrassing misconstruals if he had read our previous articles first.

Here, in brief, is why Essig’s article fails:

Essig’s headline says that the MBTI is “meaningless.”

But the MBTI is not “meaningless.” Every single scientific, peer-reviewed study ever conducted into the validity of the MBTI has ended up concluding that there is some truth to the assessments yielded by the MBTI, while at the same time it is also true that the instrument has noticeable shortcomings.

Essig writes that: “The MBTI is pretty much nonsense, sciencey snake oil. As is well-established by research, it has no more reliability and validity than a good Tarot card reading.”

But Essig is flat-out wrong here. There is no well-established body of research proving that the MBTI has “about the same reliability as Tarot cards.” To furnish evidence for his point, Essig links to a scientific article. But this article does not conclude that the MBTI has no more reliability than a Tarot reading – on the contrary, the article concludes that “The available evidence suggests that the MBTI does measure constructs related to personality.” So the very article provided by Essig himself concludes the opposite of what Essig says it does.

Like Adam Grant, Essig belongs to a band of MBTI critics who are so willing to bring down the Myers-Briggs that they are willing to misquote from the scientific sources when they can’t find proper studies to back up their assertions.

Essig then addresses one of the well-known empirical problems with the MBTI instrument, namely that it breaks the indices measured into halves. Essig purports to illustrate this weakness by the following analogy: “Consider an imaginary single-letter Myers-Briggs Weight Indicator. The fictional MBWI, just like its namesake, is an either/or designation. You stand on the MBWI scale and it says your weight type is either obese (O) or anorectic (A). Can you imagine taking that seriously? Saying one’s weight is either obese (O) or anorectic (A) is not just lacking validity, it’s actually pretty absurd. And so too is the MBTI itself with its “four pairs of opposing preferences.” Personality traits just don’t fit the either/or structure of the MBTI any more than weight does. And like our absurd fictional example, it is absurd to say they do.”

The basic criticism voiced here is a sound one – the cut-up indices are an empirical problem for the MBTI. But the analogy is misleading because it suggests that the MBTI’s categories are either 0 or 100 when in fact its categories are rather 0-50 and 51-100. In Essig’s own analogy, it would be more accurate to say that the MBTI purported to tell you whether your body weight was over or under 150 pounds, not whether you were anorectic or obese.

However, as we have previously covered on the site, the MBTI is not an end in itself: It is an attempt to quantify C.G. Jung’s cognitive theory empirically, which means that the scores yielded by the MBTI are indicators and should not be taken to be direct depictions of the type preferences involved, just like a column of smoke should not be taken to be fire itself, but indeed can often be taken as a legitimate indicator of fire.

Finally, Essig gives us a rundown of some of the criticisms that his own reporting is based off: Adam Grant, Joseph Stromberg, and Drake Baer, as well as a New York Times article re-hashing the pieces of Adam Grant, Joseph Stromberg, and Drake Baer. In other words, we are dealing with a mindless copy-paste job of fallacious reasoning going back and forth between the usual suspects, all of whom we have previously debunked on the site, and all of whom can be demonstrated to be ignorant of even the most basic tenets concerning the MBTI. There is nothing new going on here – it is merely par for the course that the lie, repeated often enough, eventually becomes the truth.


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MBTI for Skeptics © Eva Gregersen, Sigurd Arild, and CelebrityTypes International 2014.

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ENTJ vs. ENFJ: When Te and Fe Collide

Raja Burrows is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. As with other guest writers on the site (such as Malin Gustavsson, Michael Pierce, and Jesse Gerroir), the views expressed in this article are not necessarily completely overlapping with our own.

By Raja Burrows

Extraverted Thinking (Te) and Extraverted Feeling (Fe) have much in common. They are both extraverted judging functions and, as such, naturally goal-oriented and closure-seeking. ENTJs and ENFJs have these functions in the dominant position, and are often seen as “powerhouses” with “big, dynamic personalities.” For the most part, both types also tend to eagerly assume leadership positions, and rarely opt to blend into the background.

The natural tenacity of Te and Fe is often magnified by the auxiliary Introverted Intuition (Ni) and the tertiary Extraverted Sensation (Se) of the ENJ types. As a rule, the convergent, austere nature of Ni paired with the broad, carnal nature of Se gives well-developed ENJ types the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of their visions. Of course, this is not always the case, and it’s especially important to be aware of the bias against sensation in ENJ types. Even though they don’t repress their Se like INJ types do, it is still far more comfortable for an ENJ type to remain detached from immediate reality and true to their subjective plans and ideals than to wholeheartedly immerse themselves in reality as it appears in the here and now.

buldozerheartredoBut for all their similarities, ENTJs and ENFJs engage the world in fundamentally different ways. The ENTJ’s dominant Te means that she will gravitate more naturally towards an impersonal solution which she arrived at through the use of objective data. It might rightly be said of imbalanced Te that “all the world’s a spreadsheet, and all the men and women merely cells.” But even in the case of healthier Te types who are somewhat more attuned to their Introverted Feeling (Fi), the idea of each person being his or her own, individual “cell” still very much applies. All Fi users (TJ and FP types) experience their feelings as being distinct from those around them, something that is particularly evident in the Fi-dominant IFP types. As a result, ENTJs may see feelings as an unnecessary distraction from the ultimate goal they’re pursuing. And since they experience feelings in such a subjective, individualized way, it is unlikely that they will take into account the overall “mood” of the room, or the emotional ambience that sometimes greets their plans as a mild form of resistance. (There is one exception to this obliviousness, however, and that is if the ENTJ notices that the discord is negatively impacting productivity; in such a case she will be inclined to do whatever it takes to get everyone back on track. But this newfound amiability doesn’t mean that the ENTJ is using Fe directly; rather, the ENTJ is softening her ordinarily no-nonsense style as a concession towards her ultimate goal.)

Compare the ENFJ

For the ENFJ, it’s just the opposite: A harmonious emotional ambience is not just a means but an end in itself. Whether she’s giving a lecture on astrophysics or championing civil rights for a disenfranchised minority group, the ENFJ’s experience of closure is bound to be strongest when feelings of goodwill fill the air. True to Fe, she is willing to sacrifice some sincerity in the name of group harmony and social appropriateness in a way that doesn’t quite sit right with dominant Te and which is utterly foreign to inferior Fi.

True to Fe, the ENFJ sees feelings as being malleable and belonging to the group as a whole. However, her instinct to soothe and smooth over potential conflict may come at the expense of unresolved inner tensions in her logic, which is the result of her repressing her Introverted Thinking (Ti).

When Ti is repressed in ENFJs, it often results in a smooth surface with fragile foundations underneath. When Fi is repressed in ENTJs, the result is a brawny battering ram with no heart behind it.  If an ENTJ and an ENFJ are on the same page, their union is truly a force to be reckoned with. In conflict, however, things can get ugly and fast. ENTJs naturally relish conflict and see it as the natural way for the best ideas to rise to the top. Their tendency in an argument is to multiply facts, piling facts upon facts and browbeating their opponent with them until they submit. ENFJs, however, will naturally look for ways to find common ground with their adversary and win arguments by persuading the opposition with succinct, “unimpeachable” appeals, rather than brute force. Unfortunately, such appeals are the exact opposite of what an ETJ wants. Te is all about establishing hierarchy, and there’s almost nothing an ENTJ loves more than winning by a landslide (preferably of the objectively measurable kind). But if they must lose, they want to lose to a worthy opponent who was proven to be objectively superior – not by being wrapped up in velvety appeals to mutuality where the conflict was avoided and the logic was unclear.

It is just as wrong to say that ENFJs are “illogical” as it is to say that ENTJs are “unemotional.” Just because Thinking and Feeling are their inferior functions, respectively, it doesn’t mean they are not there. And there are many ways for an ENFJ and an ENTJ to reach compromise, especially since they both have similar access to Ni and Se. But when Thinking and Feeling are contested between them, it is in the best interest of both to recognize the unique challenges that arise from having inferior Fi and Ti, respectively. They should cultivate that awareness as much as possible, and try to use that knowledge to rationalize the compromises they will inevitably have to make.


Image in the article commissioned for this publication from artist Francesca Elettra.

An Interview with Steven Pinker

Interview by Ryan Smith

Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. Dr. Pinker has been named as one of the world’s most influential intellectuals and his work has won numerous awards. He is the author of 10 books, including his latest volume, The Sense of Style, which is subtitled ‘The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.’

Dr. Pinker, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions regarding your new book, The Sense of Style, and perhaps also a question or two concerning your other books.

I’ve enjoyed your site, and am happy to chat with you.

IIevX5rRWhen I tell people that your new book is about writing in style, they typically remark that it was an obvious subject for you to tackle (since your own style is widely appreciated). But ideas that are blindingly obvious in hindsight are not always so obvious at the moment of their conception. How did you come upon the idea of writing a book about writing?

Like most of my book projects, it had been ricocheting in the back of my mind for many years, waiting for an occasion that would make me decide to do it as the next project. My previous book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, was on genocide, war, torture, rape, sadism, and domestic violence. So I decided I should next write a book on really controversial topics, like split infinitives and fused participles. Seriously, I like to alternate books on human nature with books on language. The immediate impetus to do the style manual that had long been on my mind was the clumsy copy-editing done on the manuscript for Better Angels – the copy-editor was clearly following a number of rules robotically, like switching every passive sentence into the active voice. It’s true that academics, politicians, and corporate hacks overuse the passive, but it’s not true that you can improve prose by eliminating the passive—in many contexts, the passive is the better choice. I decided that the world needed a style manual that explained the rationale behind rules of style, rather than just listing them, and that those rationales ultimately came from my fields of expertise, psycholinguistics and cognitive science.

Your writing style is generally acknowledged to be elegant, entertaining, and clear. I assume that you, like most other good writers, weren’t born with this ability. How has your own process been in learning to write well? Can you share a little of your ‘coming of age’ story when it comes to acquiring the sense of style? Also, is there anyone in particular – a book, teacher, or role model – whom you look back upon as having had a foundational impact on your writing style?

Starting in grad school, I began to consume style manuals, both to improve my writing and as a source of phenomena that were relevant to my interest in psycholinguistics. But as I say in the new book, most writers acquire their craft not by consulting style manuals but by reading a lot, and savoring and reverse-engineering examples of good writing. I was particularly influenced by two gifted prose stylists who were also brilliant pioneers in the psychology of language: George A. Miller, famous (among other things) for his “Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two” paper, and my advisor Roger Brown, who wrote Words and Things in 1957 and founded the modern study of child language acquisition.

Books on how to write well generally have a reputation for being tedious. The market is saturated with titles still in print, and a common criticism is that they are all cut from the same cloth. As a prospective reader, how can I expect The Sense of Style to be different from other style manuals?

pinker2The “thinking person’s guide” in the subtitle alludes to the fact that I explain the rationale behind my advice, rather than issuing edicts, so that readers have a way of judging why and when they should apply a particular guideline. Together with cognitive science and psycholinguistics, this requires a look at the study of usage, and here my experience as Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary is relevant. Most people assume that dictionaries are like the rules committee of Major League Baseball – the stipulators and arbitrators of correctness. In fact, dictionaries cultivate an ear for actual usage, particularly among careful writers, and craft their definitions and usage notes accordingly. My advice on traditional questions of correct usage – whether to end a sentence with a preposition, whether aggravate can be used to mean “annoy” as well as “intensify” – are based on data and historical evidence on how these forms are used by careful writers, not on my peeves and prejudices.

One thing I hear that a lot of college professors inculcate into their students these days is that “good writing is re-writing.” As a consequence, a lot of college graduates seem to be under the impression that the more they re-write, the better. But on the other hand, a common criticism of first-time academic authors is that their books are “overwritten” and that they seek to impress with posture rather than substance. What advice would you give to fledgling authors who have yet to find their own sense of style?

The advice is good. The “overwritten” quality of academese does not come from too many revisions. Quite the contrary – it’s surprisingly easy to write in turgid mush. It takes a lot of work and skill to write clearly and elegantly.

You have previously been active in the field of Evolutionary Psychology and that theoretical framework has either underpinned, or been the overt topic of, several of your books. Since you first wrote about the subject, there has been a deluge of writings on Evolutionary Psychology and it can be very hard for the non-specialist to separate the wheat from the chaff. How do you see the field of Evolutionary Psychology today versus, say, 12 years ago when you wrote The Blank Slate?

It’s matured tremendously, and has become an indispensable part of psychology today. This is not to say that every hypothesis is correct, just that psychologists are increasingly realizing that no psychological explanation is complete unless it says something on the phylogenetic and adaptive basis of a trait.

Lastly, I’m sure our readers would find it amusing if you could point out an error of style that I have committed in this interview.

I didn’t spot any errors, but then I don’t think that playing “Gotcha!” is the best way to encourage good writing – clarity and coherence are far more important than avoiding the occasional error of usage or diction.

Well, I guess in your own way you ‘got me’ there – Dr. Pinker, thank you for doing this interview and best of luck with your new book, The Sense of Style.

Many thanks for having me on the site.


Dr. Pinker’s new book, The Sense of Style, is available via Amazon.

Shankara’s Criticism of Yogacara

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Presidential Personality

Presidential Personality

The Context of Pauli’s Typings

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Tips for the Fledgling Psychologist

Malin Gustavsson is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. In this article, Gustavsson draws on her personal experience as a therapist to share some tips on how to be an effective counselor. As with other guest writers on the site (such as Michael Pierce and Jesse Gerroir) we do not necessarily agree with Gustavsson on every point. In fact, we positively disagree with Gustavsson on the importance of diagnosis. Still, we consider her admonition to be a valuable counterpart to our usual perspective.

By Malin Gustavsson

In this article I am going to provide a handful of tips for the psychologist who wants to better his or her therapeutic skills. Though people have come to think of “psychologists” as being merely the members of one specific profession, my view is rather that we are really all psychologists.

cupidoLikewise, because the history of psychotherapy has focused heavily on abnormal people and clinical settings, the cartoonish image of the therapist as an all-knowing expert has been allowed to form in people’s minds. This image tends to obscure the fact that we are all therapists in different areas of our lives and that our loved ones may benefit from our therapeutic assistance when dealing with a whole range of everyday situations. Commonplace problems, such as deciding whether or not to accept a given promotion, may just as easily benefit from being met with therapeutic assistance as clinical ones. So here are some tips for the fledgling psychologist.

Tip #1: Help the Other Person Become Himself

A fundamental mistake that people make when approaching the practice of psychotherapy is that they think of it as advice-giving: The better the advice that is given to the patient, the more of a psychologist you are (or so the thinking goes). Viewed through these spectacles, psychotherapy almost becomes a sort of guide to the stock-exchange: “Buy!”, “Sell!”, “Up!”, “Down!” Follow the therapist’s advice and all of your problems will be naught.

When practicing psychotherapy, a useful rule of thumb is that even if the person is genuinely in doubt about what to do, the psychologist should think of the therapeutic situation as if the other person already knows what to do. She carries the answer inside herself; she just hasn’t been able to clarify that answer to her conscious mind yet. The task of the psychologist in therapy is really to help the other person figure out what she is going to do of her own accord – not to give advice or to be the infallible expert that the patient will look up to.

Again, because the misleading image of the dejected patient and the all-knowing therapist has been allowed to form in people’s minds, people all too often assume that the patient is a weak and indecisive individual with no resourcefulness of her own. But the truth is that most of us are able to come to our own conclusions if we’re encouraged to, allowed to, and listened attentively to.

Think of it like this: When the patient presents a problem, the lazy psychologist will search his pre-existing and personal knowledge to come up with an answer and deliver the best possible piece of advice to the patient. “Your boyfriend doesn’t clean up after himself and expects you to do all the housework? – Of course you should move out!”

This is a mistake – a form of laziness that even many professional psychologists fall prey to. The diligent psychologist will instead remind herself that there is a wealth of emotional nuance and factual information that she is not privy to and which she has not experienced first-hand.

As wonderful a gift as the practice of psychotherapy is, there is still a whole range of things that therapy cannot do. For example, if a person is not emotionally ready to leave her relationship, there is nothing you can say from your own perspective that will impart that readiness to her. It has to come of her own volition, and it will come of her own volition, once the therapist helps her clarify her own thoughts and emotions by reflecting the elements of her own considerations back to her.

The exception to this rule is when the other person is trapped in a relationship with overtly violent elements. In such situations, it is permissible, even advisable, to use whatever authority or closeness you have with the other person to get her to leave the relationship. The reason it can be okay to advise someone to get out of a violent relationship is because a person’s base biological instincts take over when one is habitually subjected to violence. The person who lives in fear cannot rationally decide whether she wants to remain in a relationship or not – her limbic system has kicked in and is deciding for her.

Tip #2: Be Cautious About Diagnosis

While CelebrityTypes obviously places great value on diagnosis here on the site, the psychologist should nevertheless be wary of making diagnosis too central a component of the therapeutic situation. Way too often, diagnosis becomes an attempt to transplant a hard-science mindset onto the practice of psychotherapy – a setting in which such certitude is neither desirable nor possible.

Of course, the practice of proper diagnosis is critical when dealing with patients beset by conditions that have a firm biological foundation (e.g. schizophrenia, epilepsy, brain disease, etc.). But in everyday psychotherapy, diagnosis becomes less crucial. It can even be counterproductive.

The dangers of applying diagnosis should be obvious to most students of psychology: A diagnosis is an idealized prototype, but the actual patient is a concrete and specific phenotype that is shaped by her unique blend of experiences and dispositions. Once we apply a diagnosis (such as a Jungian type or DSM style) everything about the patient that conforms to the type or style immediately springs to mind. This sudden blaze of illumination can be helpful, of course, but it often comes at the cost of our neglect of those aspects of the other person’s psyche that do not fit the diagnosis.

A diagnosis may also become a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in a clinical setting where the therapist is imbued with medical authority. From the very earliest days of psychology, the field has been rife with patients who unwittingly became more “borderline” or “narcissistic” because the therapist kept referring to them as such. It was hardly a coincidence that the sexually deprived Freud and the erotically licentious Jung kept discovering “hysterical” women who needed help sorting out their sex lives.

Even when applying a diagnosis, the psychologist should always keep the relatively poor reliability of the Jungian types and the DSM styles in mind. Even the mighty Big Five system of personality, so often hailed as the gold standard in psychometric testing, cannot relieve the therapist of his obligation to engage with the whole human being.

Tip #3: Help the Patient Develop Empathy

When people are struggling with problems that are within the normal range of psychological functioning, the gist of their problems can often be traced back to an inability to develop and deploy proper empathy in their relationships.

For the majority of relations in life, empathy is the key to developing meaningful relationships with others. Think about the most empathetic person you know: Even if you don’t like that person when thinking of him critically and from afar, chances are that you nevertheless tend to be charmed by him in the hours that follow an extended interaction between the two of you. This ambiguity illustrates the raw power of empathy to act as the plaster that binds people together and which leads them to perceive relations with one another as meaningful.

Obviously, not every patient is able to develop empathy to the level that could ideally be desired. Like a person’s capacity for mathematics, much of a person’s empathic ability is inborn and cannot be altered by the therapeutic process. Yet no matter what capacity for empathy the other person brings to counseling, the therapist must approach the conversation with an optimistic mindset. The fact that an ideal outcome is not always achievable does not discount whatever actual gains the patient is able to make.

Like I mentioned in tip #1, the psychologist should not set out to equip the patient with a textbook understanding of empathy. The patient is fully capable of acquiring such knowledge of her own accord or to pursue such knowledge in other settings. Instead, the therapist should use the here-and-now of the therapeutic situation to be empathetic towards the patient, so that she will experience empathy first-hand. If the psychologist is successful in getting the patient to feel that the two of them are sharing an empathic connection, the patient will quite naturally wish to extend that feeling to other important people in her life. And she will do so all by herself.


Image of Hermes in the article commissioned from artist Francesca Elettra.

This article provides educational information on psychotherapy. The information is provided “as-is” and should not be construed to constitute professional services or warranties of any kind.

Function Biases in Buddhism and Vedanta

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Is It Possible to Change Types?

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How Jung Saw E/I, Part 2

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