Pseudoscientific Junk

A friend points out that this Myers-Briggs Type Indicator business is “pseudoscientific junk”, and “completely bogus”. And that that goes for similar personality tests like the one our coach, Rachel, had us do back then in LA.

I’m thankful he did, so I can get a chance to respond and explain how I’m using it.

Whether or not it’s generally a correct tool yielding true results is not terribly relevant to me. What is relevant is that Rachel’s test made me realize something that I knew to be true. And similarly, finding out my own MBTI helped me see some strengths in me that I’d tucked away and that when pointed out, I knew to be true that I had.

The point is, only things that we believe to be true will cause a reaction. If the test had said I was a woman or had pink hair, I would just have shrugged and ignored it, because I know I’m not and I don’t.

Now, it might be that you react because you have a belief, but the belief is false. Many people, for example, get upset when someone tells them or indicates to them they’re not okay. That’s because they themselves believe they might not be okay. If instead they had a belief that they were completely okay, then they’d just shrug and ignore it. A belief that you’re not okay is obviously false, but the belief still causes the reaction.

So it might be that these two tests expose false beliefs rather than true ones. But that is useful, too. If they’re there, and they’re false, getting them exposed so you can look at them and realize they’re not true is a good thing. If they’re untrue, you should find out what’s true instead, so you can replace the false belief with what you know to be true.

There’s another, equally important value of MBTI, which is to expose the differences in people. I frequently use the four MBTI letters as a way to quickly take stock of another person. Is he introvert or extrovert? Intuitive or sensing? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving?

It’s not about boxing people in, but in exposing real differences. If you’re an N (intuitive) and an S (sensing) discussing something, you can get really sidetracked unless you recognize what’s going on. Similarly with the others – thinking vs. feeling. Or J (judging) vs P (perceiving). My wife’s more on the judging side, she wants to make a decision quickly, and she wants me to, too. I’m strongly on the perceiving side, I want to avoid making a decision till the last minute.

These are not set in stone. You can change your behavior, or you may act differently in different situations. And I know people that are almost impossible to classify along these dimensions.

I also know there are some specific beliefs underlying both my wife’s J and my P, and those may change over time. But it’s still a useful tool for simply naming what’s going on, so you can step out of the argument and resolve it at a different level. And there’s many other ways to do that, and you don’t need a specific tool to do it, but the MBTI is just so darn convenient and easy to remember.

So I would agree that one shouldn’t put much faith in the MBTI, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw it out completely. It’s still valuable as a tool when used with common sense.