How Reliable Is The Myers-Briggs Personality Test? A Psychologist Weighs In
There seems to be two types of people in the world: The ones who find themselves taking their seventh online MBTI-type quiz during a 30-minute study break, internally convincing themselves that they should’ve gotten Elsa in the “Which Disney Princess Are You, Based On Your MBTI” quiz, and the others who covertly sneer at people who put their MBTI personality type on their Instagram bio.
Over the years, personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) immensely grew in popularity, now with countless iterations online deriving from various pop culture references. While it’s fun to take every MBTI-related quiz on the internet, how accurate are they really and how much should we rely on them to capture our personalities?
What is MBTI?
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality inventory created by mother-and-daughter Katharine Myers and Isabel Briggs in the 1940s based on psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s theories involving psychological types. According to Jung, the different psychological types stem from two basic attitudes—introversion and extroversion—and four different functions—thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting. The MBTI, however, includes two more functions—judging and perceiving—to create 16 personality types.
Briggs found certain similarities between her ideas about the personality and that of Jung’s. Together with Myers, they worked on the MBTI to help people understand each other’s personalities better and minimize social conflict. Through it, they also hoped for Jung’s concepts to reach a “wider audience.”
In the MBTI, our personality preferences can be derived from four dimensions: Where we are more focused on, the inner world or the outer world (Introversion vs. Extroversion), how we process information (Sensing vs. Intuiting), how we make decisions (Thinking vs. Feeling), and how we deal with the world (Judging vs. Perceiving).
Many online sources provide explanations for each of the 16 personality types, and like us, it’s highly likely that you’ll mostly resonate with the description for your particular type. But how invested should we really be about what our MBTI type says about us?
What the professionals have to say
We consulted with Angelique Villasanta, MA, RPsy, a faculty member of the Department of Psychology at Ateneo de Manila University and an assessment psychologist in Ateneo Bulatao Center working with children, teens, and adults, about personality tests, and the MBTI in particular.
Firstly, Ms. Villasanta shares that we cannot truly measure or “sort” our personalities as precisely as we’d hope. “Like other personality tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has flaws that is present in the field of psychological assessment,” she says. “By its very nature of attempting the difficult task of measuring intangible psychological concepts, assessment recognizes that error in tests is always present. Personality traits or mental ability simply can’t be measured with the same precision and accuracy as when one would hold up a ruler to measure the length of a table.”
Still, psychologists have other ways to “reduce error” in tests and help us make sense of our personalities. Ms. Villasanta shares, “Psychologists are trained in assessment work to reduce error while recognizing that it can never be fully eliminated. In an assessment center, psychologists do so by using reliable and valid measures, and by gathering data from other sources—such as interviews and observations.”
As for MBTI, Ms. Villasanta points out that such tests cannot entirely be used as basis for our abilities and behavior, especially when used on its own. “While online MBTI-type tests may be useful for understanding one’s preferences in particular situations, it is not meant to hold predictive power over one’s future behaviors (like what career path to take, or who to have relationships with) or the extent of one’s abilities, especially when used as a singular source of data.”
Ultimately, the MBTI is but one of the many psychological tools that can be used to assess our personalities. It isn't entirely pointless to use it as a reference for describing our complex characters, but we must use it in conjunction with other reliable sources to help us understand ourselves better. “At its best, online MBTI-type tests can be a beginning point in understanding one’s self," Ms. Villasanta advises. "For more in-depth assessment, it is recommended to consult with licensed psychologists who are trained to provide this service.”
Feist, J., Feist, G. J., & Roberts, T.-A. (2013). Theories of Personality. New York: McGraw-Hill.