Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality questionnaire designed to identify certain psychological differences according to the typological theories of Carl Gustav Jung as published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923).[1] The original developers of the indicator were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. They began developing the indicator during World War II.

Some academic psychologists have criticized the indicator in research literature, claiming that it "lacks convincing validity data" [2][3][4] and that it is an example of the Forer effect.[5] However, proponents of the test cite its reliable predictions of individual behavior, the descriptions of each type going beyond simple traits to profile-like detail of likely interests and hobbies, as well as explaining behavior the testee may not previously have even been aware of the reasons for, such as the INTP's "flashes of insight".[6]

The registered trademark rights in the phrase and its abbreviation have been assigned from the publisher of the test, CPP, Inc., to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust.[7]

The definitive published source of reference on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is The Manual produced by CPP,[8] from which much of the information in this article is drawn, along with training materials from CPP and their European training partners, Oxford Psychologists Press.



Fundamental to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the concept of Psychological Type.

In a similar way to left- or right- handedness, the principle is that individuals also find certain ways of thinking and acting easier than others. The MBTI endeavours to sort some of these psychological opposites into four opposite pairs, or dichotomies, with a resulting sixteen possible combinations. None of these combinations is 'better' or 'worse', however Briggs and Myers recognised that everyone has an overall combination which is most comfortable for them: in the same way as writing with the left hand is hard work for a right-hander, so people tend to find using their opposite psychological preference more difficult, even if they can become more proficient (and therefore behaviourally flexible) with practice and development.

The preferences are normally notated with the initial letters of each of their four preferences, for instance:

  • ISTJ - Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging
  • ENFP - Extraverted, iNtuition, Feeling, Perceiving

And so on for all sixteen possible combinations.

The 4 Dichotomies

Extraversion Introversion
Sensing iNtuition
Thinking Feeling
Judging Perceiving

The four pairs of preferences or dichotomies are shown in the table to the right.

Note that the terms used for each dichotomy have specific technical meanings relating to MBTI, which differ from their everyday usage. For example, people with a preference for Judging over Perceiving are not necessarily more 'judgemental', or less 'perceptive'.

MBTI does not measure aptitude, either: it simply sorts for one preference over another. So someone reporting a high score for E over I on the MBTI cannot be correctly described as 'more' or 'strongly' Extraverted: they simply have a clear preference.

Functions (S-N and T-F)

The Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling dichotomies are often referred to as the MBTI Functions. They relate to how we prefer to take in information (perceiving); and how we prefer to make decisions (judging). Individuals will tend to trust one preference over the other, although they may have some ability to do both. Indeed, the flexibility to sense check information and decisions using one's less preferred preference can be of value in many situations, for example in groups that have preferences in common amongst a number of members (and therefore a potential blind spot i.e. a tendency to avoid the opposite and to go for groupthink).

Individuals with a preference for Sensing prefer to trust information that is in the present, tangible and concrete: information can be comprehended by the five senses. They may prefer to look for detail and facts. For them, the meaning is in the data. Those with a preference for Intuition will trust information that is more abstract or theoretical, that can be associated with other information (remembered or they may look for a wider context or pattern). They may be more interested in future possibilities. The meaning is in how the data relates to the pattern or theory.

Jung described Sensing and Intuition as irrational functions (as a technical term, not as a pejorative), as a person does not necessarily have control over receiving data, only how to process it once they have it. This is not to say that they ignore the opposite function, but a matter of what they prefer to concentrate on.

Thinking and Feeling are the decision making (judging) calculus functions. They both strive to make rational choices, based on the data received from their perceiving functions (S or N). As people use their preferred function more, they tend to be much more practiced and comfortable with its use. This can be compared to an athlete: a person cannot have an innate ability to play a particular sport. A person who enjoys that sport, and practices constantly to improve in that sport, will most likely become good at that sport. Similarly, a person who has a clear preference for thinking or feeling will tend to become better at that particular function, simple because they practice it more.

Those with a preference for Feeling will prefer to come to decisions by associating or empathising with the situation, looking at it 'from the inside' and weighing the situation up so to achieve, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit with their personal set of values. Those with a preference for Thinking will prefer to decide things from a more detached standpoint, measuring the decision by what is reasonable, logical, causal, consistent and matching a given set of rules. In coming to a decision, individuals will tend to come to their preferred function first and trust it better.

As noted already, people with a Thinking preference do not necessarily, in the everyday sense, 'think better' than their Feeling counterparts; the opposite preference is considered an equally rational way of coming to decisions and in any case the MBTI is a measure of preference, not ability. Similarly, those with a Feeling preference are not necessarily 'more feeling' or emotional than their Thinking peers.

Attitudes (E-I)

The preferences for Introversion and Extroversion are sometimes referred to as attitudes. Briggs and Myers recognized that each of the functions can show in the external world of behavior, action, people and things (extroverted attitude) or the internal world of ideas and reflection (introverted attitude). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sorts for an overall preference for one or the other of these.

People with a preference for Extroversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their level of energy and motivation tends to decline. Conversely, those whose preference is Introversion become less energized as they act: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. People with Introversion preference need time out to reflect to rebuild energy.

The terms Extrovert and Introvert are used in a special sense when discussing Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Someone with a clear E preference is not necessarily a party animal or a show-off, any more than someone clearly preferring I is necessarily shy, retiring and unsociable. An INTP meeting another INTP is an excellent example of this; the conversation will frequently begin with a recognition of a shared interest, such as science fiction, and continue with a rapid exchange of data and theories incomprehensible to an outsider to the conversation, the two only breaking off when interrupted by a third party or thirst.

Lifestyle (J-P)

In addition to the two Function pairs and Attitudes, Myers and Briggs identified that individuals had an overall preference to favour either their Judging function (T or F) or their Perceiving function (S or N), which is revealed in how they like to go about getting things done in the outside (extraverted) world.

People with a preference for Judging prefer matters to be decided; to start tasks in good time, well ahead of a deadline; to have clear plans that they prefer not to be distracted from; and they can sometimes seem inflexible in this regard. Those whose preference is Perceiving are happier to leave matters open, for further input; they may want to leave finishing a task until close to the deadline, and be energised by a late rush of information and ideas; and they are readier to change plans if new information comes along. They may sometimes seem too flexible for their Judging peers.

Whole Type

The expression of MBTI type is more than the sum of the four individual preferences, because of the way in which the preferences interact through type dynamics and type development (see below).

Descriptions of each type can be found on the typelogic website.

In-depth descriptions of each type, including statistics, can be found in The MBTI Manual (op cit)

Historical development

C. G. Jung first spoke about typology at the Munich Psychological Congress in 1913. Katharine Cook Briggs began her research into personality in 1917, developing a four-type framework: Social, Thoughtful, Executive, and Spontaneous. In 1923 Jung's Psychological Types was published in English translation (having first been published in German in 1921). Katharine Briggs's first publications are two articles describing Jung's theory, in the journal New Republic in 1926 (Meet Yourself Using the Personality Paint Box) and 1928 (Up From Barbarism). Katharine Briggs' daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, wrote a prize-winning mystery novel Murder Yet to Come in 1929, using typological ideas. She added to her mother's typological research, which she would progressively take over entirely. In 1942, the "Briggs-Myers Type Indicator" was created, and the Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook was published in 1944. The indicator changed its name to the modern form (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) in 1956.[9][10]

Format and Administration of the MBTI

The current North American English version of MBTI Step I includes 93 forced-choice questions (there are 88 in the European English version). Forced-choice means that the individual has to choose only one of two possible answers to each question. The choices are a mixture of word pairs and short statements. Choices are not literal opposites but chosen to reflect opposite preferences on the same dichotomy. Participants may skip questions if they feel they are unable to choose.

Using psychometric techniques, such as item response theory, the MBTI will then be scored and will attempt to identify the preference, and clarity of preference, in each dichotomy. After taking the MBTI, participants are usually asked to complete a Best Fit exercise (see above) and then given a readout of their Reported Type, which will usually include a bar graph and number to show how many clear they were about each preference when they completed the questionnaire.

During construction of the MBTI, thousands of items were used, and most were thrown out because they did not have high midpoint discrimination, meaning the results of that one item did not, on average, move an individual score away from the midpoint. Using only items with high midpoint discrimination allows the MBTI to have fewer items on it but still provide as much statistical information as other instruments with many more items with lower midpoint discrimination. The MBTI requires five points one way or another to indicate a clear preference.

Additional Formats

Isabel Myers had noted that people of any given type shared differences as well as similarities, and at the time of her death was developing a more in depth method to offer clues about how each person expresses and experiences their type pattern, which is called MBTI Step II.

In addition to this, the Type Differentiation Indicator (TDI) (Saunders, 1989) is a scoring system for the longer MBTI, Form J [1], that includes the 20 subscales above, plus an additional factor of Comfort-Discomfort (which purportedly corresponds to the missing factor of Neuroticism), with seven additional scales indicating a sense of overall comfort and confidence versus discomfort and anxiety (guarded-optimistic, defiant-compliant, carefree-worried, decisive-ambivalent, intrepid-inhibited, leader-follower, proactive-distractible), plus a composite of these called "strain". Each of these comfort-discomfort subscales also loads on one of the four type dimensions, e.g., proactive-distractible is also a judging-perceiving subscale. There are also scales for type-scale consistency and comfort-scale consistency. Reliability of 23 of the 27 TDI subscales is greater than .50; "an acceptable result given the brevity of the subscales" (Saunders, 1989).

A "Step III" is also being developed in a joint project involving CPP, publisher of the whole family of MBTI works; CAPT (Center for Applications of Psychological Type), which holds all of Myers' and McCaulley's original work; and the MBTI Trust, headed by Katharine and Peter Myers. Step III will further address the use of perception and judgment by respondents.[2]

Precepts and ethics

The following precepts are generally used in the ethical administration of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:-

Type not trait

The MBTI sorts for type, it does not indicate the strength of ability. The questionnaire allows the clarity of a preference to be ascertained (Bill clearly prefers introversion), but not the strength of preference (Jane strongly prefers extraversion) or degree of aptitude (Harry is good at thinking). In this sense, it differs from trait-based tools such as 16PF. Type preferences are polar opposites: a precept of MBTI is that you fundamentally prefer one thing over the other, not a bit of both.

Own best judge

Individuals are considered the best judge of their own type. Whilst the MBTI questionnaire provides a Reported Type, this is considered only an indication of their probable overall Type. A Best Fit Process is usually used to allow the individual to develop their understanding of the four dichotomies, form their own hypothesis as to their overall Type and compare this against the Reported Type. In more than 20% of cases, the hypothesis and the reported type differ in one or more dichotomies: the clarity of each preference, any potential for bias in the report and, often, a comparison of two or more whole Types may then be used to help the subject determine his or her own Best Fit.

No right or wrong

No preference or total type is considered 'better' or 'worse' than another - they are all, as in the title of the book on this subject by Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing.


It is considered unethical to compel anyone to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It should always be taken voluntarily.


The result of the MBTI Reported and Best Fit type are confidential between the individual and administrator and, ethically, not for disclosure without permission.

Not for selection

Because MBTI is a measure of preference, not aptitude, and because there are no right or wrong types, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is not considered a proper instrument for purposes of employment selection. Many professions contain highly competent individuals of different types, with complementary preferences.

Importance of proper feedback

Individuals should always be given detailed feedback from a trained administrator and an opportunity to undertake a Best Fit exercise to check against their Reported Type. Feedback can be given in person or, where this is not practical, by telephone or electronically.

Applications of MBTI

The Indicator is frequently used in the areas of career counseling, pedagogy, group dynamics, employee training, leadership training, life coaching, executive coaching, marriage counseling, and personal development.

Type dynamics and development

The Sixteen Types
The table organizing the sixteen types was created by Isabel Myers, who preferred INFP (To find the opposite type of the one you are looking at, jump over one type diagonally.)
U.S.A. Population Breakdown
By using inferential statistics an estimate of the preferences found in the US population has been gathered.

The interaction of two, three, or four preferences are known as type dynamics. For each of the sixteen four-preference MBTI Types, one function will be the most dominant and is likely to be evident earliest in life. A secondary or auxiliary function typically becomes more evident (differentiates) during teenage years and provides balance to the dominant. In normal development, individuals tend to become more fluent with a third, tertiary function during mid life, whilst the fourth inferior function remains least consciously developed and is often considered to be more associated with the unconscious, being most evident in situations such as high stress (sometimes referred to as being in the grip of the inferior function).

The sequence of differentiation of dominant, auxiliary and tertiary functions through life is termed type development. This is an idealised sequence, which may be distrupted by major life events (for example, the death or serious illness of a parent during one's childhood is considered commonly to halt full development of the auxiliary function).

The dynamic sequence of functions and their attitudes can be determined in the following way:

  • The overall lifestyle preference (J-P) determines whether the judging (T-F) or perceiving (S-N) preference is most evident in the outside world, i.e. which function has an extraverted attitude
  • For those with an overall preference for Extraversion, the function with the extraverted attitude will be the dominant function - for example, for someone with an ESTJ type, the dominant function is the judging function, Thinking, and this is experienced with an extraverted attitude (this is notated as a dominant Te); the same would be true of an ENTJ; whilst for an ESTP, the dominant function will be the perceiving function, Sensing, notated as a dominant Se.
  • For those with an overall preference for Intraversion, the function with the extraverted attitude is the auxiliary; the dominant is the other function in the main 4-letter preference. So the dominant function for ISTJ is intraverted Sensing (Si) with the auxiliary (supporting) function being extraverted Thinking (Te).
  • The Auxiliary function for Extravert types is the less preferred of the Judging or Perceiving functions and it is experienced with an introverted attitude: for example, the auxiliary function for ESTJ is intraverted sensing (Si) and the auxiliary for ENFP would be intraverted feeling (Fi)
  • The Tertiary function is the opposite preference from the Auxiliary, for example if the Auxiliary is Thinking then the Tertiary would be Feeling. The attitude of the Tertiary is the subject of some debate and therefore is not normally indicated, i.e. if the Auxiliary was Te then the Tertiary would be F (not Fe or Fi)
  • The Inferior function is the opposite preference and attitude from the dominant, so for an ESTJ with dominant Te, the Inferior would be Fi.

Note that for those with an overall Extraversion preference, the dominant function is the one most evident in the external world: whilst it is the auxiliary function that is most evident externally for Introverts, as their dominant function relates to the interior world. It can be less easy to directly observe the dominant function with Introverts: it's all going on behind the scenes!

A couple of examples of whole types will help to clarify this further.

Taking the ESTJ example above:

  • Extraverted function is a Judging function (T-F) because of the overall J prefererence
  • Extraverted function is dominant because of overall E preference
  • Dominant function is therefore extraverted Thinking (Te)
  • Auxiliary function will be the less dominant Perceiving function - intraverted Sensing (Si)
  • Tertiary function is the opposite preference to the Auxiliary - Intuition (N)
  • Inferior function is the opposite preference and attitude to the Dominant - intraverted Feeling (Fi)

The dynamics of the ESTJ, then, are founded in the primary tension between the extraverted Thinking dominant and introverted Feeling inferior: The dominant tendency to order the ESTJ's environment, to set clear boundaries, to clarify roles and timetables, and to direct the activities around them, is underscored by an attraction to the sentimental, the heartwarming, and the precious. ESTJs, for instance, may enjoy making memory scrapbooks or other such personal crafts. Though the ESTJ can seem insensitive to the feelings of others in their normal activities, under tremendous stress, they can suddenly express feelings of being unappreciated or wounded by insensitivity.

Looking at the diametrically opposite four-letter Type, INFP:

  • Extraverted function is a Perceiving function because of the overall P preference
  • Introverted function is dominant because of the overall I preference
  • Dominant function is therefore introverted Feeling (Fi)
  • Auxiliary function is extraverted Intuition (Ne)
  • Tertiary function is the opposite of the Auxiliary, Sensing (S)
  • Inferior function is the opposite of the Dominant, extraverted Thinking (Te)

The dynamics of the INFP rest on exactly the same fundamental tension of introverted Feeling and extraverted Thinking, though in reverse. The dominant tendency of the INFP is toward building a rich internal framework of values and toward championing the needs of individuals, often devoting themselves to the causes of the environment or civil rights, and often leads them, through the use of their inferior extraverted Thinking, to the executive director position of the organizations that serve those causes. Normally, the INFP dislikes being "in charge" of things. When not under stress, the INFP exudes a personal warmth that is unspoken and sympathetic, but under extreme stress, they can suddenly become rigid and directive, exerting their extraverted Thinking erratically.

Every type--and its opposite--is the expression of these interactions, which give each type its unique "signature" that can be recognized. It is through this dynamic pattern and signature that devotees to the MBTI can recognize others' type soon after meeting them.

Correlations to other instruments

Keirsey Temperaments

David W. Keirsey mapped four 'Temperaments' to the existing Myers-Briggs system groupings SP, SJ, NF and NT; often resulting in confusion of the two theories. However, the [[Keirsey Temperament Sorter]] is not directly associated with the official Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Inspector Protector Counselor Mastermind
Crafter Composer Healer Architect
Promoter Performer Champion Inventor
Supervisor Provider Teacher Field Marshal

Big Five

McCrae & Costa [3] present correlations between the MBTI scales and the [[Big Five personality traits|Big Five personality construct]], which is a conglomeration of characteristics found in nearly all personality and psychological tests. The five personality characteristics are extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability (or neuroticism). The following study is based on the results from 267 men followed as part of a longitudinal study of ageing. (Similar results were obtained with 201 women.)

  Extraversion Openness Agreeableness Conscientiousness Neuroticism
E-I -.74 .03 -.03 .08 .16
S-N .10 .72 .04 -.15 -.06
T-F .19 .02 .44 -.15 .06
J-P .15 .30 -.06 -.49 .11
The closer the number is to 1.0 or -1.0, the higher the degree of correlation.

These data suggest that four of the MBTI scales are related to the Big Five personality traits. These correlations show that E-I and S-N are strongly related to extraversion and openness respectively. T-F and J-P are more weakly related to agreeableness and conscientiousness respectively. The emotional stability dimension of the Big Five is largely absent from the MBTI.

These findings led McCrae and Costa to conclude "There was no support for the view that the MBTI measures truly dichotomous preferences or qualitatively distinct types... Jung's theory is either incorrect or inadequately operationalized by the MBTI and cannot provide a sound basis for interpreting it."

Study of scoring consistency

Split-half reliability of the MBTI scales is good, although test-retest reliability is sensitive to the time between tests. However, because the MBTI dichotomies scores in the middle of the distribution, type allocations are less reliable. Within each scale, as measured on Form G, about 83% of categorisations remain the same when retested within nine months, and around 75% when retested after nine months. About 50% of people tested within nine months remain the same overall type and 36% remain the same after nine months. [11]



The scientific basis of the MBTI has been questioned. Neither Katharine Cook Briggs nor Isabel Briggs Myers had any scientific qualifications in the field of psychometric testing. Furthermore, Carl Jung's theory of psychological type, which the MBTI attempts to operationalise, is not based on any scientific studies. Jung's methods primarily included introspection and anecdote, methods largely rejected by the modern field of cognitive psychology. [12]

The statistical validity of the MBTI as a [[psychometrics|psychometric]] instrument has also been subject to criticism, in particular, the dichotomous scoring of dimensions. For example, it was expected that scores would show a bimodal distribution with peaks near the ends of the scales. However, scores on the individual subscales are actually distributed in a centrally peaked manner similar to a normal distribution. A cut-off exists at the centre of the subscale such that a score on one side is classified as one type, and a score on the other side as the opposite type. This fails to support the concept of type--the norm is for people to lie near the middle of the subscale. [13][5][14][3][4]

It has been estimated that between a third and a half of the published material on the MBTI has been produced for conferences of the Center for the Application of Psychological Type (which provides training in the MBTI) or as papers in the Journal of Psychological Type (which is edited by Myers-Briggs advocates) [15] and it has been argued that this reflects a lack of critical scrutiny. [5][15]


The reliability of the test has been interpreted as being low, with test takers who retake the test often being assigned a different type. According to surveys performed by the proponents of Myers-Briggs, the highest percentage of people who fell into the same category on the second test is only 47%. Furthermore, a wide range of 39% - 76% of those tested fall into different types upon retesting weeks or years later, and many people's types were also found to vary according to the time of the day.[5][14] Skeptics claim that the MBTI lacks falsifiability, which can cause confirmation bias in the interpretation of results with the terminology of the MBTI so vague that it allows any kind of behavior to fit any personality type, resulting in the Forer effect, where an individual gives a high rating to a positive description that supposedly applies specifically to them [5][12] so that when people are asked to compare their preferred type to that assigned by the MBTI only half of people pick the same profile. [16]


Although the proportion of different personality types varies between different careers [6] the relevance of the MBTI for career planning has been questioned, with reservations about the relevance of type to job performance or satisfaction, and concerns about the potential misuse of the instrument in labelling individuals. [5][17]

Faith (for Content):