What is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?

and why is it important?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. These preferences were extrapolated from the typological theories proposed by Carl Gustav Jung and first published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923. Jung theorized that there are four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking.[3] One of these four functions is dominant most of the time.

The original developers of the personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers; these two, having studied extensively the work of Jung, turned their interest of human behavior into a devotion of turning the theory of psychological types to practical use.They began creating the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be “most comfortable and effective”.The initial questionnaire grew into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was first published in 1962. The MBTI focuses on normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences. Robert Kaplan and Dennis Saccuzzo believe “the underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivation.”

As the MBTI Manual states, the indicator “is designed to implement a theory; therefore the theory must be understood to understand the MBTI”.

Four dichotomies

Dichotomies
Extraversion (E) – (I) Introversion
Sensing (S) – (N) Intuition
Thinking (T) – (F) Feeling
Judging (J) – (P) Perception

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 the MBTI which differ from their everyday usage. For example, people who prefer judgment over perception are not necessarily more judgmental or less perceptive. Nor does the MBTI instrument measure aptitude; it simply indicates for one preference over another.Someone reporting a high score for extraversion over introversion cannot be correctly described as more extraverted: they simply have a clear preference.

Point scores on each of the dichotomies can vary considerably from person to person, even among those with the same type. However, Isabel Myers considered the direction of the preference (for example, E vs. I) to be more important than the degree of the preference (for example, very clear vs. slight). The expression of a person’s psychological type is more than the sum of the four individual preferences. The preferences interact through type dynamics and type development.

Attitudes: extraversion/introversion (E/I)

Myers-Briggs literature uses the terms extraversion and introversion as Jung first used them. Extraversion means “outward-turning” and introversion means “inward-turning”.[10] These specific definitions vary somewhat from the popular usage of the words. Note that extraversion is the spelling used in MBTI publications.

The preferences for extraversion and introversion are often called attitudes. Briggs and Myers recognized that each of the cognitive functions can operate in the external world of behavior, action, people, and things (extraverted attitude) or the internal world of ideas and reflection (introverted attitude). The MBTI assessment sorts for an overall preference for one or the other.

People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion expend energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.

The extravert’s flow is directed outward toward people and objects, and the introvert’s is directed inward toward concepts and ideas. Contrasting characteristics between extraverts and introverts include the following:

  • Extraverts are action oriented, while introverts are thought oriented.
  • Extraverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, while introverts seek depth of knowledge and influence.
  • Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction.
  • Extraverts recharge and get their energy from spending time with people, while introverts recharge and get their energy from spending time alone.

Fundamental to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the theory of psychological type as originally developed by Carl Jung.  Jung proposed the existence of two dichotomous pairs of cognitive functions:

  • The “rational” (judging) functions: thinking and feeling
  • The “irrational” (perceiving) functions: sensing and intuition

Jung believed that for every person each of the functions are expressed primarily in either an introverted or extraverted form.[1]:17 From Jung’s original concepts, Briggs and Myers developed their own theory of psychological type, described below, on which the MBTI is based.

Type

Jung’s typological model regards psychological type as similar to left or right handedness: individuals are either born with, or develop, certain preferred ways of thinking and acting. The MBTI sorts some of these psychological differences into four opposite pairs, or dichotomies, with a resulting 16 possible psychological types. None of these types are better or worse; however, Briggs and Myers theorized that individuals naturally prefer one overall combination of type differences. In the same way that writing with the left hand is hard work for a right-hander, so people tend to find using their opposite psychological preferences more difficult, even if they can become more proficient (and therefore behaviorally flexible) with practice and development.

The 16 types are typically referred to by an abbreviation of four letters—the initial letters of each of their four type preferences (except in the case of intuition, which uses the abbreviation N to distinguish it from Introversion). For instance:

  • ESTJ: extraversion (E), sensing (S), thinking (T), judgment (J)
  • INFP: introversion (I), intuition (N), feeling (F), perception (P)

And so on for all 16 possible type combinations.

A related personality type model is the Personality Assessment System developed by John Gittinger. Like the MBTI, PAS identifies people’s inherited tendencies, and it goes on to describe how people either accept and foster them, or compensate and modify them as functioning adults. With compensation and modification, Gittinger’s PAS gives 512 types.

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