The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Early understanding of human behaviour

What is MBTI?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) provides a somewhat complicated psychological instrument for understanding human behaviour based on early studies in psychology.

The instrument provides a measurable indication of people's personal preferences (or behavioural tendencies) when applying themselves to find a solution to problems. By measuring these preferences, psychologists believe they can classify a person in terms of one of sixteen seemingly distinct and different personality types.

What are psychologists really trying to achieve with MBTI?

The purpose of MBTI is to help everyone understand each other's behavioural differences and how we approach the solution to problems in different ways. It helps to bring out our weaknesses and strengths in problem solving. By being aware of our own personal preferences, we all have a chance to improve ourselves if we so choose and so become more "balanced", or we can be at least more accepting of others for their differences and so realise how they may help us to achieve certain goal(s).

It is a tool for understanding a little more about each other without needing to say a word or asking questions. Just by observing, one can deduce the likely approaches people will naturally take to solve problems based on what makes them feel comfortable.

Who created MBTI?

The theory behind MBTI was first developed by world-renowned psychologist Dr Carl Jung in his famous book titled Psychological Types.

Later, an American mother by the name of Katharine Cook Briggs noticed opposite behaviours in her daughter's husband by the name of Clarence Myers. Being so interested in personality types, Briggs was able to find and read a copy of Jung's famous book. She then introduced her daughter Isabel Myers (1879-1979) to the book. And from then on, both mother and daughter became avid "type watchers" until they had enough information to create the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and reveal the results of their first survey in 1942.

Today, the rights to the instrument are held by Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.

How common is MBTI?

MBTI is one of the most widely used psychological instruments in history. There is only one other psychological instrument more widely used than MBTI, and that is Webster's Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test.

What is contained in MBTI?

MBTI consists of (i) a questionnaire for people to complete; and (ii) a chart containing the 16 different personality types.

About the questionnaire

The questionnaire is a comprehensive list of questions asking you to rate yourself as to how likely you would use certain behaviours in various common situations you are most likely to encounter.

The questionnaire should be comprehensive as this avoids the possibility of the psychologist choosing the wrong personality type. The questionnaire should also have an even number of questions covering all measured aspects of human behaviour to ensure a person is not forced into a particular personality type as well as to help the psychologist to measure how "balanced" people are at different stages in human development.

About the personality type chart

The chart is grouped into four basic scales with opposite poles. The four scales are:

(1) extraversion/introversion;

(2) sensing/intuitive;

(3) thinking/feeling; and

(4) judging/perceiving.

When all combinations are made from this, a complex table of 16 personality types is created. A typical Myers-Briggs Type Indicator chart is shown below:

Introverted Sensing with auxiliary extraverted Thinking
Introverted Sensing with auxiliary extraverted Feeling
Introverted iNtuition with auxiliary extraverted Feeling
Introverted iNtuition with auxiliary extraverted Thinking
Introverted Thinking with auxiliary extraverted Sensing
Introverted Feeling with auxiliary extraverted Sensing
Introverted Feeling with auxiliary extraverted iNtuition
Introverted Thinking with auxiliary extraverted iNtuition
Extraverted Sensing with auxiliary introverted Thinking
Extraverted Sensing with auxiliary introverted Feeling
Extraverted iNtuition with auxiliary introverted Feeling
Extraverted iNtuition with auxiliary introverted Thinking
Extraverted Thinking with auxiliary introverted Sensing
Extraverted Feeling with auxiliary introverted Sensing
Extraverted Feeling with auxiliary introverted iNtuition
Extraverted Thinking with auxiliary introverted iNtuition

What common behavioural differences are measured by MBTI?

To explain human behaviour, psychologists have noted the way people value certain learned behaviours (or skills) developed since childhood which helps them to deal with life in a certain way.

For example, there are people who like affecting the outer world of people and places (i.e. extraverted - E) through action and expressing feelings to other people, while others would prefer to affect their inner world first before affecting the outer world (i.e. intraverted - I).

There are also others who have developed the skills of observing things directly (i.e. sensing - S) and therefore become practical types with great detail in what they see (and may only trust in what they see), while others would prefer to use the mind to pick up hidden patterns not easily observed by others (i.e. intuition - I).

And then there are others who are described as the thinking types (i.e. thinking - T) looking for stable things out of the changeable patterns that last a long time, as opposed to those who would prefer to follow their own "gut feelings" (i.e. feelings - F) while searching for constant reassurance for what they feel.

Then we have the perceiver (i.e. P) who doesn't plan for anything but instead can change his/her mind at the last minute should something happen, whereas the judging types (J) have to make careful plans taking into account all possibilities and stick to the plans no matter what happens.

Then the psychologists have grouped the combinations of these skills in an attempt to understand the complexity of human behaviour. For example, if a psychologist should classify you as INTJ, this means you have a tendency for being an introverted (I) person with intuition (N), thinking (T) and judging (J) skills. Or you could be ESFP, where you are described as a person that likes to observe and relate to others, with strong trust in feelings as well as observation, and have a good sense of peception.

But being an INTJ personality does not mean you are inferior to someone else who might be the opposite personality type of ESFP and vice versa. It just means you have a set of skills which an ESFP person happens to be weakest at. Likewise, the strengths of an ESFP person will probably be the weakest skills for an INTJ person.

For example, a person who is introverted is likely to become a great scientist such as Dr Carl Jung or Dr Albert Einstein to name a few. Whereas politicians, on the other hand, tend to be extraverted people (although whether they become great politicians is highly dependent on how good their thinking, feeling, intuition, perception and sensing skills are i.e. the balanced person). It is just both will have their own strengths and weaknesses in an opposite sense.

Other similar trends found with MBTI

People who are perceptive (P) like to work on committees. The judging (J) types of people like to finish whatever they are doing before moving on. Those people of the sensing (S) type and are intraverted (I) like to work with factual information such as finance.

People who have feeling (F) or intuition (N) tend to be good marketers. And if this is supplemented by an extraverted personality, these talkative people can make particularly good sales people.

These are just a few examples.

No ultimate extreme behaviour in normal people

Also, there is no such thing as a one hundred per cent introverted person, or a one hundred per cent extraverted person in the normal sense of the word. Likewise there is no such thing as a "perfect" sensing type or a "perfect" intuitive type and so on. Otherwise you would be considered seriously imbalanced and thus what psychologists call "mentally ill".

Every normal person is on a continuous somewhat "balanced" scale of human behavioural tendencies which can change over time for each person and for each and every situation the person encounters. As Dr Carl Jung wrote in his book on page 304:

"...there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum. They are only terms to designate a certain penchant, a certain tendency....the tendency to be more influenced by environmental factors, or more influenced by the subjective factor, that's all. There are people who are fairly well balanced and are just as much influenced from within as from without, or just as little." (1)

It is this continuous change in our behavioural tendencies over time and place which produces the 16 personality types of MBTI and ultimately the infinite range of unique personalities for each human being.

Hence, we are never stuck in one category of personality type. Our brain and the experiences and knowledhe we gather gives us the power to change into many different personality types if we so choose depending on which skills are needed most.

The people who can change their personality type the quickest and most effectively are those described as "balanced" individuals. These are the ones who have the power to switch personalioty types quickly to help suit a situation or solve specific problems.

How does MBTI work?

Once a psychologist, or someone authorised to conduct a psychological test of this nature, has asked you a variety of carefully-crafted questions to determine your tendency to approach different situations in life, you are placed into one of the 16 personality types. That is all there is to it! No great secret really.

However, you should remember, that the personality type you are assigned by your psychologist is never stagnant. It will never remain the same for the rest of your life. It is only a guide to help others and yourself to understand how you might approach life at least at that particular moment you were asked the questions.

In the real world, you will be moving from one personality type to another depending on what the situation is like, who you are with, and whether you develop and employ a variety of different skills to the situation. As St. Mary's College Ipswich in Australia sees it:

"[Personality] Types are not pigeonholes, but describe preferred ways of functioning in the world." (2)

Remember, as much as people may not like being tested by a psychologist, you should see it as a guide and nothing more.

A simplified approach to understanding human behaviour

Sixteen personality types may seem excessive for the average person to understand.

Some psychologists have noted this fact and already there is a major undertaking to simplify our understanding of human behaviour. Apparently, as we speak, the aim is to combine all these sixteen different categories of human behaviour (or personality types) into two basic types:

  1. Left (L)-brain behaviour; and
  2. Right (R)-brain behaviour.

By simplifying human behaviour to L-brain or R-brain, we can relate human behaviour more closely to the actual biological structures and functions of the L- and R-cerebral hemispheres of the human brain based on information gathered by neuroscientists while at the same time give the average person on the street a better understanding of their own and other people's behaviours and why they exist.

Hence the more introverted nature of people's personalities when they apply more thinking, using one's gut feeling, as well as perception and intuition are either categorised more under R-brain behaviours, or a combination of R-brain and L-brain skills. Whereas other types may be more described as L-brain behaviours which often leads to an extraverted personality. For example, intuition is likely to require good L-brain skills to pick out very specific and important patterns from observations and store them in memory where the R-brain can later draw upon the memory to interconnect and weaver a larger pattern from the experience or knowledge. And from this large pattern, the R-brain can make imaginative but realistic extrapolations of what is likely to happen in the future should the same key patterns from memory get recognised again in the present.

Likewise, a person with strong sensing abilities but having limited thinking skills and hence is likely to be spontaneous and prone to making judgements about people and situations by talking with others about what they see and can recall from memory will develop a more extraverted and socially adept personality.

In fact, it is difficult to totally exclude L-brain from R-brain and vice versa for each MBTI personality type. However, like the preferences people make to solve problems are classified under the 16 different personality types of MBTI, the same preferences can be seen to be made in terms of a more L-brain or R-brain behaviour or skill. But never do people actually shut down the R-brain or L-brain.

There is no such thing as a true L-brain or R-brain person in the ultimate extreme sense.

In conclusion, perception, sensing, intuition, thinking and judging are the results of applying either more L-brain or R-brain skills or a combination of the two during problem-solving. The application of feelings to problem-solving come from the mid-brain section and is there to improve the retention and recollection of important memories from observation or new patterns we generate from the imagination. Whereas introversion and extroversion are mere psychological terms to describe the two opposite behavioural manifestations we outwardly display to the world and can be observed by psychologists which reveals whether we rely more on R-brain or L-brain skills during problem-solving.

More about MBTI- when should the testing be done?

The best time to test the personality type and/or "balanced" nature of a person through the MBTI is when he/she has never been evaluated by this instrument before and is unaware of the theory behind it.

This usually abodes well with the younger variety of people who are more likely not to be fully aware of many psychological instruments and therefore can usually benefit from knowing their own personality types so they can learn additional skills needed to make themselves more "balanced".

For older people who have not been tested, the instrument will merely highlight how balanced their personality might be at a particular moment in time (i.e. when completing the questionnaire) or at least show their highly preferred strengths and so become useful in team situations having other slightly "imbalanced" older individuals.

What benefit will MBTI have for an individual?

According to psychologists, the aim is to have a balance in all our behavioural skills. But because not everyone can be "perfect" and because our society would prefer people to have a certain biased set of skills (usually the rational thinking and sensing variety of skills over the imaginative, feeling and intuitive types) in order to physically achieve something (namely to provide solutions and make money), we can expect people to be "imbalanced" in their personalities.

This is where the MBTI comes in handy. It will give you an insight into your own personality and, if necessary, give you an opportunity to develop additional skills to help make yourself more "balanced". Otherwise, as the psychologists would say, it will be important for you from time to time to work in a team situation where other slightly "imbalanced" individuals can benefit from each other in having "opposite" skills for maximum effectiveness and the greatest goals achieved.

NOTE: Truly independent people tend to have relatively "balanced" behaviours to help them move into different personality types needed to complete different and somewhat diverse tasks on their own. People of the more social types tend to have "imbalanced" behaviours and must be complemented by other people having opposite personality types to complete the tasks.

What benefit will MBTI have for an organisation?

The MBTI is primarily used by management to hire so-called "appropriate" people by selecting individuals to bring a range of skills not available or is poorly applied in a team. The aim for management is therefore to bring together opposite types so that people can have their skills complemented by others who have strong "opposite" skills and so hopefully improve productivity in the workplace.

It should be noted that there are three downsides to employing this psychological instrument in an organisation. Firstly, it will bias those individuals who have a certain personality type even if another person having a different personality type or is more "balanced" already possess the necessary qualifications and experience to do the job. Secondly, the personality types obtained at time of applying the psychological test may not be valid as time passes.

And thirdly, it takes a bit of effort by everyone to learn how to communicate with different personality types, which is why most people would generally prefer to choose people of the same personality type because it is easiest for them unless required by the organisation to have opposite types for effective team work. But if the team can be successfully developed and able to appreciate and support the differences in personality types, it will be among the most powerful teams in the world when it comes to solving any problem set before them.

The same is true of people getting married. Opposite types (e.g. an extravert and an introvert) will tend to experience conflicts more so than people of the same personality types. But if the opposite types work through the conflicts and understand the strengths of each personality type, many problems can be solved permanently and effectively which wouldn't ordinarily be solved or, if so, not the best solution possible with people of the same personality types. And if the opposite types are prepared to learn from each other the strengths of each type, it is possible to balance all behaviours over time. Then marriage can be the most rewarding experience for couples.

It depends on what you want to get out of your relationships. Do you wish to learn from one another? Or do you want someone to reassure what you already know and feel comfortable with?

For example, do you want someone who will agree with you all the time? Do you want to have the least conflict? Do you want someone to think the same way as you do? In which case, find someone of roughly the same personality type as yourself.

But if you want someone who sees things differently than yourself, are prepared for conflict and can work through the issues completely, and are willing to learn new things and solve problems in original and powerful ways, you would be wise to try someone with an opposite personality. Just so long as the opposite personality you find is willing to learn and work through the same issues as you do, then you should do well.

It is totally up to you to decide what you want from life and what it is you want to achieve with the help of other people or whether you just want someone to be your companion throughout life.

Or perhaps you are happy being independent for all your life because you are reasonably balanced in your thinking and can quickly solve problems and then move on?

Being with others or on your own really doesn't matter. It is the goals you wish to achieve in life and whether they are good and full of love that matters the most. In other words, will whatever you wish to achieve help people and all living things?

The basic procedure to developing an effective "balanced" team

The process to developing an effective organisational team is as follows:

    This involves looking at your own behaviour and how this relates to other people's behaviour using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

    We then group the personality types of every individual under general names like "Curator", "Innovator" and so on. This helps to bring out the individuals' strongest skills.

    Finally, we show what effective teams should have for the organisation in order to solve problems and work at its best. In other words, we bring together the strengths of all the individuals to form an effective and cohesive group, so long as all individuals in the group understand each others differences, can communicate their needs effectively with each other, and can apply all the strengths of each individual in a positive manner.

Does MBTI really work?

There are some opponents to MBTI. As Tom McHugh, head of the Australian College of Clinical Psychologists, said:

"It is not much further above people having a horoscope done." (3)

But for other people, it has helped them to give a better insight into how people problem-solve and why people get involved in conflict, and why others become successful in their lives.