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Description: If you have spent more than one or two days in a workplace setting you have probably heard of and even completed the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). The MBTI is a personality inventory that, based on your responses, places you somewhere on each of 4 dimensions including Intuitive/Sensing, Introversion/Extroversion, Feeling/Thinking, Perceiving/Judging. If you took the test in a workplace setting think back to what you were told was the purpose of the assessment and about what it was suggested would be the potential uses to which you could put your results. If you think, or were told, that the MBTI is a scientifically based and proven personality inventory then you are misinformed. Industrial Organizational Psychologists who, among other things, work on developing and applying measures and systems for employee section, employee development, and person-organization fit will tell you (in great detail) how the MBTI lack reliability and validity and as such, regardless of its broad use and its broad claims of usefulness is, in fact, not at all scientifically grounded. A measure is reliable if it produces stable, consistent results. This usually assessed by having the same people complete a measure twice in a short period of time so that they have not likely changed much between assessments. To be reliable the measures time 1 scores must correlate with the time scores at about the .9 level of above (1.0 means essentially means the scores are exactly the same). Think about it, if the things being measured should be the same at both assessment times then a much less than perfect correlation likely means that the measure itself is unstable, much like a rubber ruler would be as a length measurement tool. Validity refers to how well the measure predicts what it is supposed to predict (according the relevant theories). Basically, if a measure is not reliable then its validity cannot be assessed. So why use the MBTI? Well listen to the podcast linked below to hear a bit about when, why, and how the MBTI was developed and that may address the question of use (maybe).

Source: Myers-Briggs tests in the workplace help employer, not the employee, says author, The Current, CBC Radio.

Date: September 27, 2018

Photo Credit: Christian Nakarado/Penguin Random House

Article Links:

The Podcast is here:

There are several important points made about the MBTI in the podcast beyond the issues of its lack of reliability and validity. The first is that the dimensions of the MBTI were originally drawn from the work of Jung and tie into his creative thinking about personality and archetypes. Through that work and his related work on things like a collective unconscious, Jung thought deeply and read broadly about the nature and variability of human nature. What Jung did and what the MBTI can do is to get us thinking about who we are and what our basic or preferred social tendencies and needs are as we move about in the world. The results can be broad, dynamic and flexible if not reliable or valid for HR purposes. The historical context of the development of the MBTI is also important. I/O psychology got a huge boost though its contribution to the massive task of assessing and appropriately training and deploying millions of people during the second world war. Just as the massive manufacturing infrastructure built to provision the armed forces in WW2 was repurposed to provision the households and life styles of the retuning veterans and their families so was the I/O Psychological assessment enterprise repurposed to support effective hiring, training, placement and retention practices in organizations. Whether or not this led to an effort, using the MBTI, to convince employees that being personally fulfilled by or at work to the benefit of employers and organizations is debatable. Job and cross-career mobility and contract work have increased massively since the start of the post-war period and a focus of personal well-being and developing a more personal sense of purpose in life, including one’s work-life, is a natural extension of that as well. The bottom line is that if your MBTI results gets you thinking and reflecting then that is likely a good thing but it is also important to note that there are a great many better tools out there not just is the toolboxes of I/O Psychologists and organizations but also available to individuals, like you, who want to take on some of your own talent development initiatives. Go for it!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the MBTI based upon?
  2. Why is the MBTI’s lack of reliability an issue?
  3. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for employees and potential hires of the broad use of I/O Psychology developed measures in the processes of selecting, hiring, training, developing and retaining employees by organizations?

References (Read Further):

Emre, Merve (2018) The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, Doubleday.

Block, Melissa (2018) How the Myers-Briggs Personality Test Began in as Mother’s Living Room Lab, All things Considered, September 22, 1018, .

McCrae, R. R., & Costa Jr, P. T. (1989). Reinterpreting the Myers‐Briggs type indicator from the perspective of the five‐factor model of personality. Journal of personality, 57(1), 17-40.

Pittenger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary comments regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57(3), 210.

Case, P., & Phillipson, G. (2004). Astrology, alchemy and retro-organization theory: An astro-genealogical critique of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. Organization, 11(4), 473-495.