Thursday, October 17, 2013

How the MBTI Really Works, Part I: Often Encountered Misconceptions

Lately I’ve encountered a lot of misconceptions about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Now, I can’t claim to have this entire system thoroughly figured out and to be always right. Because I’m not—there’s always more to learn. But what I do understand I would like to explain so that maybe others can more accurately type themselves and others.

First of all, the question of tests. There are a number of tests out there, which do give fairly accurate results, but not always. Certain questions may be oddly worded, or certain words may bias the test-taker (for instance, many people consider themselves imaginative and therefore are typed as iNtuitives whether they really are or not—when actually most people are Sensors). I have found it more helpful, when I explain the MBTI to people, to show them the information, show them comparisons of the dichotomies and descriptions of the types and functions, and discuss with them what is the best fit. While taking a test is a good starting place for figuring out your type, be sure to also read up on all the types and be open to all possibilities.

Second, I encounter a good deal of people who claim to be two types—“I’m a borderline extrovert” or “sometimes I’m a Judger and sometimes I’m a Perceiver.” The four sets of alternatives in the MBTI are called the Four Dichotomies. A dichotomy, as we learned in my Logic class, is an either-or ultimatum, “a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities,” as the dictionary says. So Extroversion v Introversion, Sensing v. iNtuition, etc. are not sliding scales. This is not the “Big Five” personality measurement system. Either you are a Judger or you’re not. It’s that simple.

I think the misconception may occur because some people have had to learn behaviors that are not their natural inclination in order to cope. In our society, Introverts have to learn more Extroverted ways, and Perceivers may have to learn to be more orderly and scheduled at work. But the MBTI is not concerned with what one has learned to become, but with one’s natural inclinations. Sure, you may be able to network and give speeches all day with perfect ease, but when you come home, do you feel drained and need time alone to recharge? Etc.

No one of course always uses only Sensing or only Thinking. The concept of cognitive functions accounts for the many different qualities people have. But the MBTI is a question of what you prefer using, what comes most easily and naturally to you.

Third, the concept of cognitive functions is sometimes scorned, but it really does make sense when you examine it (as we will later). When one understands what each of the functions do and how the hierarchy of functions works, one can easily piece together one’s own type and those of others. (For instance, if you know that someone uses Extroverted Sensing dominantly and Introverted Feeling next, you know he or she is ESFP. Likewise, if you understand someone is ESFP, you can peg his or her cognitive functions as Extroverted Sensing, Introverted Feeling, Extroverted Thinking, and Introverted iNtuition.) And, as always, rely more on the concepts of the functions and your understanding of yourself than on potentially faulty tests.

In the next post, I will discuss the Four Dichotomies (E/I, S/N, T/F, and J/P) and what they actually mean, as well as the cognitive functions (Se, Si, Ne, Ni, Te, Ti, Fe, Fi), what they mean, and what their positions (dominant, auxiliary, etc.) entail.

For further information on the MBTI in general, here are some links that I have found informative.

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