OMG! THAT TOTALLY DESCRIBES ME!!
The Myers-Briggs test is one of those topics that tend to drive people into a tizzy about whether it’s ‘real’. If you’ve never taken a Myers-Briggs test this is what happens. You’re asked 93 questions. The questions require a simple yes/no answer. For instance:
Once you complete the test you’re then assessed and told your personality type and given a short description of it. There are 16 possible personality types. According to the Myers-Briggs supporters, every person on earth fits into those 16 personality types.
Just to clarify, that’s 7.3 billion people who collectively have 16 personality types.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
There are a lot of organizations that use Myers-Briggs for hiring, for team building, for annual reviews, and for any number of other reasons. From a semi-recent and very long Washington Post article about the test:
That is a lot of organizations! It’s proven lucrative, too. CPP, the company that owns the rights to the test, derives about $20M a year from it.
JUNK SCIENCE IS THE WORST SCIENCE
Here’s the thing though – the test? yeah, it’s all nonsense. There’s zero science involved in the assessment. There’s zero science supporting its claims as an accurate assessment tool of someone’s personality or their ability to succeed at something either. How could it? Most people don’t fall cleanly into a binary yes/no description (are you always very sensitive? are you never very sensitive?) and the questions are generic.
Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers created the test. Neither was a professional psychiatrist or had a formal background in the subject. In their defense, psychiatry was still young as a science and Briggs had a fascination with the field and Carl Jung, one of its founding lights, during her life. It’s upon some of his observations that the personality types were created. It wasn’t until World War Two that Myers formalized the system as a means for determining whether someone was a good fit for a role or not.
Unfortunately for test-takers, Jung’s theories in this matter have been dismissed. Furthermore, in the years since the test was introduced no significant scientific journal has ever published a research analysis of the test’s system. This despite publishing numerous reports about the many, many other systems that have been developed since the creation of Myers-Briggs.
Why the lack of coverage? It’s because there’s no science underpinning the test. It would be like an astronomical journal publishing articles about the effectiveness of using a pre-Copernican model of the universe with the Earth at the center of the solar system as a basis for research.
NO, SERIOUSLY, WHY IS THIS SO POPULAR?
So why does the Myers-Briggs have over 10k companies using it as well as significant elements of the U.S. government and institutions of higher education? Because it makes people feel good and it’s entertaining.
The test uses something called the Forer effect, which uses bland statements to persuade people the information about them is accurate. (scroll down to the ‘Forer demonstration’ at that last link) Fortune tellers and astrologers use this same technique.
Basically, Myers-Briggs is the equivalent of astrology.
OK SO WHAT’S IT GOOD FOR THEN?
So what’s all this mean? Well, for starters, if your organization is using Myers-Briggs as a basis for decision-making, it might be worth asking why you’re using it and what you hope to gain from it. If it’s being used for personnel decisions regarding team creation or career path discussions then it’s unlikely to be of much value.
A better choice would be technology based on scientific theory, computer science, and data science. That’s a much more accurate and effective approach to team creation and career path management, among other things.
If it’s to generate conversation during an all-hands meeting then it might be useful! People love comparing their Myers-Briggs personality type with one another. Just like they enjoy comparing their astrological signs. Funny, that.