Paul Berens


My maternal extended family has enjoyed a long-term love affair with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI). And, because we’re a large clan, conjecturing how the “types” might explain the behaviors and predilections of family members is a favorite pastime. I, too, found it all fascinating and fun until a few years ago when I found out how pseudoscientific it is: i.e., that Carl Jung basically made up these categories (Perceivers and Judgers and so on) based on his own experience and entirely in the absence of data; and then Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers come up with the test despite having no formal psychology training. Yowzah.

The actual data show that Myers-Briggs traits:

  1. Are unreliable (i.e., subject to change)1
  2. Have virtually no predictive power in terms of professional or marital happiness
  3. Are ill-founded in the first place (i.e., they don’t have a bimodal distribution and so create false dichotomies)2

That isn’t to say we humans can’t have preferences and proclivities (“default settings”); it’s just that the types that Jung and Myers and Briggs came up with a priori ended up being more fortune cookie than scientific instrument. Which is astounding because millions of people rely on it, including ~90% of the Fortune 100 and 200 federal agencies.

However, there are other personality assessment tools that are shown to have greater explanatory power than that of MBTI3:

MMPI4 0.30 - 0.60
Big Five 0.20 - 0.50
Hogan Assessments 0.20 - 0.50
HEXACO 0.20 - 0.50
StrengthsFinder 0.20 - 0.40
Discovery Insights 0.15 - 0.30
Enneagram 0.10 - 0.20
MBTI 0.10 - 0.20

From what I’ve seen the research community seems to be knighting the Big Five as “the gold standard in the science of personality” due to the body of research behind it5, but the world is slow to move away from MBTI.

Don’t Throw Out MBTI With the Bath Water

Certain MBTI traits map pretty well to those of other tests of enhanced predictive capability. For example, I’m an N (Intuition) on MBTI which corresponds to Openness on the Big Five.

Another redeeming insight that Jung and Myers and Briggs were on to was the (E)xtraversion / (I)ntroversion thing. The way we use these colloquially is about how much you like to be around people, and that’s not totally false, but it really has to do with how you “recharge your batteries” (i.e., introverts need some alone time). Claire Hughes Johnson describes it as “think to talk” vs. “talk to think”6. In fact, her whole work style mental model boils down to introversion / extraversion on one axis, and task-oriented vs. people-oriented on the other. (Not sure which assessment the latter is from but interesting and potentially useful.)

So there are overlaps and connections between MBTI and the other assessments, but obviously also notable differences that translate into the former’s flaws.

Pass the Ball to AI

Having taken MBTI, Big Five, Enneagram, and Strengths Finder; I fed the results, including detailed breakdowns, into ChatGPT 4o—and Gemini and Claude—to perform a meta-analysis, identifying points of contact and divergences. I did this a few times, and paying the most attention to Big Five and Strengths Finder it’s interesting to see where they complement each other. For example, I’ve got on one hand an intellectual curiosity and love of learning, but on the other hand a people orientation; and these two sides perhaps need to be balanced and/or each one comes into play in different situations and contexts.

AI will undoubtedly improve these assessments over time (e.g., honing questions to optimize explanatory power), but in the meantime, use these LLMs like ChatGPT to throw all the data from these imperfect tests into the mix and see what conclusions can be derived.

With a Grain of Salt

Is spending time taking and contemplating these assessments worthwhile?

— ᴘ. ᴍ. ʙ.

  1. In one study, 50% of participants received a different classification when they retested after five weeks. (McCarley and Carskadon, 1983). 

  2. “Personality Tests Aren’t All the Same. Some Work Better Than Others”, Scientific American, February 28, 2024. 

  3. Butcher, J. N., Dahlstrom, W. G., Graham, J. R., Tellegen, A., & Kaemmer, B. (1989). MMPI-2: Manual for the administration and scoring.; Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2006). “Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes.” Annual Review of Psychology.; Ashton, M. C., & Lee, K. (2007). “Empirical, theoretical, and practical advantages of the HEXACO model of personality structure.” Personality and Social Psychology Review.; Hogan, Robert, and Brent Holland. “Using Theory to Evaluate Personality and Job-Performance Relations: A Socioanalytic Perspective.” Journal of Applied Psychology 88, no. 1 (2003): 100-112; Asplund, J., Lopez, S. J., Hodges, T., & Harter, J. (2007). “The Clifton StrengthsFinder® 2.0 Technical Report: Development and validation.”; Smith, Paul, Barrett, Barbara, and Niels van der Kolk. “Insights Discovery and the Prediction of Work Performance: An Empirical Study.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 90, no. 2 (2017): 261-276.; Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington Jr, E. L., & Utsey, S. O. (2013). “Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients.” Journal of Counseling Psychology.; McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1989). “Reinterpreting the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from the perspective of the Five-Factor Model of personality.” Journal of Personality. 

  4. i.e., Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Not so relevant—it’s more clinical and used specifically for psychological disorders—but I won’t squander the opportunity to shout out to the homeland

  5. Nick Hobson, “Researchers Compare Most Popular Personality Tests. For This Scientist, Results Are Disappointing,” Inc., accessed May 31, 2024. 

  6. “How to Take Radical Ownership of Your Life and Career — Claire Hughes Johnson”; The Tim Ferriss Show; Feb 27, 2024. 

First published: 2024-06-01 | tweet | cast

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