Hello. My name is Oliver, and I’m a recovering Myers-Briggs addict.
This might sound a bit severe—how could one be addicted to a personality type index? I wish I were exaggerating. I have taken countless personality tests, pondered my type for hours on end over the course of two years, and become obsessed with guessing people’s types from incredibly brief conversations. In addition to test-taking, I’ve spent countless hours researching the theory behind the test and, more recently, examining its scientific validity.
All this is to say that I’m pretty knowledgeable about Myers-Briggs.
After studying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I decided it was a colossal waste of my time; I had been trying to use it to help in the search for my own identity but found it to be largely misleading. As such, I was shocked to see it offered as an “online career assessment tool” for students to take on the website of Columbia’s Center for Career Education. They give strong claims that the MBTI can “help you … understand your personality preferences” as well as amazing things like “help you … select a career or expand career options.” Wow! Finally, a way for me to find out what I want to do with my life! After worrying about whether to pursue medicine, philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, or education, the answer has been under my nose this whole time! What a relief.
What is the MBTI? The personality metric that CCE uses purports that there are 16 fundamental types of people. These types can be determined by their scores on scales (which is turned into a binary for descriptions) for four different categories: extroversion versus. introversion, intuition versus sensing, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving.
Only 16 types? Aren’t personal stories important as well? Apparently not. Evidently, you can be placed into the right job and be given a deeper “understand[ing of] your personality preferences” based on only four measures, with a complete disregard for individuality.
This fad was created during World War II when, equipped with bachelor’s degrees in political science and a misreading of Carl Jung (doubling his types and over-emphasizing the use of dichotomies, while under-emphasizing his theory of cognitive functions), Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs created the MBTI. This alone should be enough to have the whole theory thrown out, but it has many issues beyond its questionable origins.
As far as scientific studies regarding validity, the jury is still out. Some studies have shown it to have low test-retest reliability, even within a five week interval. Ultimately, 50 percent of people retaking the test after a five-week period are liable to be classified into a different type. Other studies, however, have shown it to have fairly good validity as a personality metric. Either way, psychologists and scholars have warned about the use of the MBTI, both in the workplace and outside. Yet, it continues to be widely used.
But is it really that harmful? Why shouldn’t CCE use it? The way I see it, the MBTI can have negative effects when overused by people who don’t understand its limitations—especially students who are seeking to figure out their identities. It creates cognitive dissonance by creating a gap between how we naturally perceive ourselves, as well as our actions, and how we ought to think and behave based on what it tells us about our type. It takes too simple an approach to interpersonal interactions, problem solving, and people in general.
Let’s imagine a world, for example, where everyone was required to take the MBTI prior to entering college. Think of it as a more complex version of the sorting hat from the Harry Potter series. The MBTI tells you your interests, what you should do with your life, and things about your personality—effectively removing the opportunity for self-discovery. Suddenly, individuality is lost, as all of our differences become pared down to 16 sets of different archetypes of people.
While this is certainly a far cry from potential outcomes of the issue at hand, there are some harrowing similarities. Eightypercent of Fortune 100 companies use the test, both in workplace relations and the hiring process. Not only is the test notoriously inaccurate—requiring the test-taker to have strong self-understanding paired with low temperamentality—but it is also not ubiquitously true that any one type will be a better manager than another. In fact, the MBTI website says the same thing: “MBTI type indicates a person’s preference but not his or her ability or character.”
This is not to say that the MBTI is entirely useless or harmful. It can help with self-awareness, better performance from work teams, and diversification of perspectives; but at the end of the day, I would argue that CCE is exaggerating the abilities of the MBTI. Maybe, rather than using a metric that is divorced from both scientific reputability and individuality, as well as underrepresenting the importance of self-discovery, the administration—as well as students—should respect the fact that figuring out the sort of thing one wants to do with their life is not as simple as a 20-minute quiz. If it was, I’d have stopped looking years ago.
Oliver Bauer-Nathan is a sophomore at Columbia College, studying psychology and linguistics. He is an associate editor for the opinion section.
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