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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

The Myers-Briggs Personality Test (#1)

Myers and Briggs were two early twentieth century psychologists who, drawing on the work of Sigmund Freud’s pupil Carl Gustav Jung, devised a personality test that they purported has scientific status but many have doubted that. Jung had created a classification, still controversial to this day, between people who are “introverted” and “extroverted” and he thought this distinction could be useful to analyse people’s psychological problems or mental health issues. These words have now passed into common language and the work of Myers and Briggs is a principal reason for that because they decided that the distinction between introversion and extroversion was but one of four key personality spectra along which we all lie - or, at least, a quality in respect of which we can be one of the other. (At some times Jung seems to think introversion / extroversion is a spectrum; at other times he seems to think you are one or the other.)

Myers and Briggs created three other similar spectra or personality qualities in respect of which you can be one or the other, and then developed a series of questionnaires that people could answer and it would lead to a conclusion as to their personality type. There are sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types, corresponding to the four qualities that you can either have or not have (or have the opposite type); four time four is sixteen. So the Myers-Briggs model gravitates towards thinking of these as bimodal qualities rather than spectra, or it would not be possible to create a matrix of 16; personalities would be far more complex than that.

Since Myers and Briggs developed their system, which we shall explore, there have been countless uses of their system by management gurus, personality assessments in the context of job interviews, and even dating and romance matches. Since the advent of the internet meant that you could take your own Myers-Briggs questionnaires online, it is open to all of us, without ploughing through piles of technical materials, to be able to assess which Myers-Briggs personality type we are (we all have one, and they are all given positive nicknames, so it is an essentially uplifting experience) and therefore it is easy for others who want to assess us to use these schemes to do so. It is also very easy to lie to these systems, once you know how they work, to produce any result you want as a result of their questionnaires. That is one of their flaws.

But the specific interest right now is in the field of artificial intelligence. Because if the goal of artificial intelligence is to create conduct indistinguishable from that of humans (the so-called Turing Test), then if human behaviour is dependent upon that human’s personality (a critical concept underlying any Myers-Briggs exercise) then the computer doing the imitating of the human needs to have a personality to. Therefore we need to answer Myers-Briggs type questions for computers and then translate the personality types they result in into specific behaviour patterns. This all sounds rather ominous. If humans have personality types, computers need to do so as well.

Let us revert to the Myers-Briggs model. It creates four axes along which to score anyone’s personality, and then depending on whether one’s score is positive or negative along each axis you are placed into a personality type box of which as already pointed out there must be sixteen. The four axes are:

Introverted - Extroverted (I-E). An extroverted person is defined as enjoying being in groups and not being alone; an introverted person is defined as relating to a few significant groups, and preferring one-to-one relationships.

Sensing-Intuition (S-N). A sensing person is focused upon details and evidence. An intuitive person thinks abstractly and is more interested in future hypotheses.

Thinking-Feeling (T-F). A T thinking person is focus on logic and analysis; a feeling person is concerned with what is best for everyone involved.

Judging-Perceiving (J-P). A judging person is structural, planning and formal; a perceiving person plans less and adapts better to change.

So much for our four personality axes. The idea that the same individual might occupy different positions on these hypothesised spectra on different days depending on their moods; or that these definitions are entirely arbitrary (some people both plan well and are adaptable to change; they don’t have a position on the Judging-Perceiving axis because they occupy both ends of it), and so on, seems to have been overlooked by the creators of these complex schemes. And it is important to remember that there is more than one Myers-Briggs scheme; there are hundreds or even more of them out there, all with the same basic idea but with different sets of “personality test” questions that are asked of you and the result will depend on the questions asked and how the individual reacts to them. Given that there are only sixteen personality types and they depend upon the characterisation of a person on four separate and distinct axes, one would imagine that a personality test need only have four questions, each to place the tested person on one side of the other of each of the above four axes; but in fact contemporary internet and other personality tests using the Myers-Briggs model (and regrettably it is used everywhere) ask lots of questions, perhaps as a way of “averaging out” outlying or unusual individual answers.

Hence one well-known internet personality test asks the candidate 100 questions, 25 in each category to place them on each of the four axes, and then calculates the final personality type on an averaging basis. So for example, to measure a person’s position on the introversion-extroversion axis, the test asks the candidate to agree or disagree (strongly or weakly, etcetera) with 25 questions of the following kind:

  1. I can make new friends easily.

  2. It’s okay for me to work in a group.

  3. I don’t usually feel awkward in social situations.

  4. I like to be the centre of attention.

  5. I prefer phone calls over texting or emails.

  6. I. Have rather a large group of friends.

  7. Being along gets really tiring for me, even it it’s for a short time.

  8. I can comfortable approach people I don’t know.

  9. I live a fast-paced lifestyle.

  10. I don’t like keeping things to myself.

…. and so on up to 25. Then there will be 25 more questions assessing a person’s position on the sensing-intuition axis, and so on and so forth. Soon you have 100 questions and a personality type is spat out together with a name and a blurb telling you the sort of person you are. In the interests of full disclosure, this author has taken this test a number of times and generally is categorised by these tests as ISTJ (the “inspector’), INTP (the “thinker”), or INTJ (“the architect”) (there are lots of other silly labels), although most of his friends would probably say that he was an extroverted person. So the test seems to get one the one quality about which Jung, Myers’s and Briggs’s predecessor, was most certain about, consistently wrong.

Of course once you’ve had the scheme explained to you, you can game it because it becomes easy to work out which personality axis a question is aimed at eliciting your position upon and therefore you can get any personality type you want just by answering the questions correctly. Nevertheless these sorts of personality test are extremely common and the way you answer them may affect your job prospects as you are hired and move through a company as some sorts of imagined personality types are preferred to others. Although Myers-Briggs is expressed in positive and uplifting ways, imagine the following questions which might be equally valid:

  1. I don’t like being round other people.

  2. I think other people are stupid and ignorant.

  3. I hate listening to rubbish in social situations.

Here are some more qualities that you might associate with the spectrum or axis between introversion and extroversion:

  1. Shy

  2. Hot-headed

  3. Cruel

  4. Over-emotional

Employers might not like people with these sorts of qualities or might imagine that they are not team players. Bang went your next promotion, and all because you gave “introverted” answers to Myers-Briggs personality test questions. You probably didn’t even realise you were doing it.

This is all obviously pseudo-science, once it is deconstructed; there is no basis in psychology or psychiatry for the personality distinctions being drawn, still less for placing them all on a binary scale and making sixteen personality types out of them that are supposed to mean something in terms of how people interact with one-another in professional situations or otherwise; in team building exercises; in group interactions; in structuring who ought to work together; in analysing workplace frictions. It’s all nonsense, and academic psychologists and virtually united in condemning Myers-Briggs analyses of people as pernicious pseudo-science. Nevertheless they persist if for no other reason than that they are fascinating and seem to provide answers to unanswerable questions.

This sort of pseudo-science, which attempts to create a science out of different descriptive words to describe people’s moods and categorise their personalities in a box, has become all the more dangerous with the advent of the internet because now it is so easy to end up doing one of these personality tests as part of a job interview or assessment and not even realise it. And now computers can start assessing personalities rather than other individuals assessing your personality, which is what makes these tests particularly dangerous. Computers now scan CV’s and cover letters in initial assessments of suitability, and they are using models like this. So we are being forced to comply with the strictures of pseudo-science, because so-called artificial intelligence techniques used in contemporary recruitment practice are forcing us to be so. Moreover as computer programmers determine that their imagined intelligent computers need to have personalities. So a wholly deficient model of personality types will be borrowed from the annals of early psychoanalysis and be used to pervert modern ways of thinking about personality in the working environment, dating, relationships and other areas of social human activity.


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