Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

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Type of psychology: Personality

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the more commonly used inventories for normal personality analysis. The inventory identifies preferences from four polar dimensions that result in a four-letter code. The latest version provides a more individualized report by including facets for each letter in the code. The possible combinations of preferences produce sixteen personality types.


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based on the theory of psychological types developed by Swiss-born psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung believed that human behavior was predictable and therefore could be classified. He viewed differences in behavior to be the result of innate preferences that remained fairly consistent throughout life. Behavior that is often viewed as random is actually orderly and consistent as a result of these preferences. The purpose of identifying these preferences was not for people to change them but, through life’s maturing process, to become more adept in areas that were not among their preferences. Jung’s orientation was more on wellness than on the abnormal.

Portrait of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, 1875–1961 (sitting at desk). Library of Congress

The English edition of Jung’s Psychologische Typen (1921; Psychological Types, 1923) received limited attention when it was first published and remained relatively unknown for years. At the time, Freudian psychology was popular in Europe, and behaviorism was widely accepted in the United States. Jung’s orientation was holistic, viewing many physical and emotional illnesses as the result of an imbalance of the mind, body, and spirit. As Jung aged, he increased his emphasis on spiritual and religious aspects.

Following World War II, Katharine Cook Myers and her daughter, Isabel Myers Briggs, became interested in psychological typology and were especially intrigued by Jung’s work. After careful study of Jung’s theory, they designed an inventory based on his identification of psychological types; this inventory has become known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Jungian Typology

Jung referred to extroversion and introversion as attitudes. Energy for the extrovert flows outward to people, things, and events in the external world. Energy for the introvert is directed inward toward subjective, internal awareness.

Jung identified four functions (polarities), two rational and two irrational. The two rational functions, thinking and feeling, are used for judging and evaluating information. The two irrational functions, sensing and intuition, are considered perception functions.

When people use the thinking polarity, they evaluate information according to a logical, impersonal analysis. Making a decision requires sufficient, valid data and reason. When people use the feeling polarity, they show a preference for making a subjective calculation. They will evaluate information by personal values, by the degree of importance given the judgment, and by the degree to which others might be affected by the decision.

In addition to Jung’s attitudes and two functions, Myers and Briggs added a fourth element, an orientation. (Myers consulted with Jung just before his death relative to the addition.) Orientation is the preference for ordering outer life and is labeled as either judging or perceiving. Those who prefer judging manage their outer world with organization, scheduling, and planning. Those with a perceiving orientation use a more open, adaptable, flexible style.

Development of the Indicator

Myers and Briggs designed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to provide a reliable instrument that would make Jung’s theory of psychological types understandable and useful for everyday applications. The primary distinction of the Myers-Briggs inventory is its focus on normal personality, with all sixteen types being equally acceptable. A later version, MBTI Step II (1962), includes specific facets to provide a more individualized approach for each letter in the code.

The basic form of the MBTI produces a four-letter code that simply identifies four categories of preference, each of which is described as slight, moderate, clear, or very clear preference The four dimensions of the code show preferences for stimuli from the outer world (E, for extroversion) or inner self (I, for introversion), for information that comes through the five senses (S, for sensing) or information that comes through intuiting the total picture (N, for intuition), for decision making based on logic and facts (T, for thinking) or on personal values and other people (F, for feeling), and an outside world that is planned and systematic (J, for judging) or open and spontaneous (P, for perceiving).

There has been criticism surrounding the instrument’s reliability and validity. Some studies have called the instrument’s test-retest validity—the ability of the same individual to get the same result after taking the test twice within a short period of time—into question; one 1996 study found that 50 percent of people remained the same type when tested twice within a nine-month period, while 36 percent remained the same type when retested after more than nine months. Several studies have also found that test-takers’ results on each scale tended to follow a normal distribution, with the majority of people falling somewhere toward the middle of the scale and very few people showing a strong inclination toward one end or the other, which, some researchers believe, suggests that most people do not fall as strongly into a type as MBTI supporters have argued. Additionally, some have raised concerns regarding the fact that, unlike similar psychological instruments such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the MBTI has no built-in scale to determine inconsistency or exaggeration in responses, making it more difficult to tell when an individual is answering dishonestly. However, there are other studies that have found support for the construct validity, internal consistency, and test-retest reliability of the instrument, and the MBTI remains in use both inside and outside of the psychological community.

The MBTI has become one of the more commonly used personality inventories for normal personality analysis. Results from interpretative reports are used in corporations, hospitals, and educational institutions for team building, personnel development, and career and student guidance.


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