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A study of the myers-briggs types indicator (mbti)

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This paper presents a study on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a Psychology test. It provides background information on the test, Historical foundation giving a brief discussion on origin and design of Jung’s theory, personality classification of the test into different types of Extroversion/introversion (EI), Sensing/Intuition (SI), Thinking/Feeling and Judging and Perceiving.

This is followed by description of the format and administration of MBTI, more so on format and type of questions. The validity and reliability of the test is also discussed on the basis of research and argument of different scholars. It further looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the test as discussed by other scholars and concludes by discussing applications of the Myer-Briggs Test Indicator in the contemporary society.

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Psychology, being the study of the mind and mental processes in relation to behavior, is characterized by the prediction of an individual’s behavior based on generalizations made from the study of other peoples’ behavior. This is on the basis that behavior can be predicted and evaluated on the foundation of research of other studies.

This has given rise to branch of psychology known as psychological testing. Cooper, S.E. & Miller, J.A. (1991) defines  psychological testing as, a branch of psychology which uses a series of questions, problems, or physical responses that are designed to measure knowledge, intelligence, ability quality, truth, validity of a psychological phenomenon.

Most psychological tests are based on [1]psychometrics which mainly uses educational and psychological measurements in determining knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality.

They involve deliberate and systemized collection of samples of behavior based on observations over time. A score is assigned to an individual’s performance on a given task based on pre-designed psychological test.


This study will seek to study the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

MBTI can be defines it as: a personality test designed to identity an individual’s personality and preferences based on certain psychometrics, It a test for identifying a person’s personality type based on Carl Jung's theory of personality preferences.

MBTI therefore is a personality test designed to offer assistance to an individual by identifying some significant personal preferences. It therefore offers important insights into different personalities leading to enhanced self knowledge, Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988).

The test uses assorted psychometric questionnaires which are carefully formulated to measure psychological differences in individuals. Different personalities have varying preferences based on their genome and experiences from their interaction with the environment.

The test was developed by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1940s. Their aim was to make use of Jung’s theory of human personality in evaluating the personality of man. Jung’s theory, as its name suggests, was pioneered by a Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. It classified individual’s personality types into eight types on the basis of three dichotomous variables: Extroversion Vs Introversion (E/I), Sensing Vs Intuiting (S/N), and Thinking Vs Feeling (T/F), Williamson, J. (2003).

It is designed to offer a description of observable traits such as the big five personality traits Extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and [2]neuroticism. The psychological differences among individuals account for the difference in personality. The test proposes that an individual’s personality is either programmed by nature at birth. or is developed in the process of his/her interaction with the environment, Tieger, P.D. & Barron-Tieger, B.  (2001).The test is designed to measure the preferences of an individual rather than aptitude and is constructed from the four opposing traits.

Every personality trait has an opposite pair. The aspect of [3]extraversion has a direct opposite in introversion, thinking in feeling, and judging in perceiving and sensing a in intuition. These opposing pair of traits forms the foundation of the test. It is therefore based on four bipolar discontinuous scales: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Judging/Perceiving.

Introversion Vs extroversion gives an analysis of how persons direct their energy. It is a principle based on the fact that there are two worlds within an individual’s personality; the internal and the external world. The expression of either of the two worlds depends on the individual’s preference.

People who are extraverted are energized and motivated by their actions hence they prefer to focus their energy on the outside world. Conversely the introverts prefer to direct their energy towards their inner being making them more conceptual and idealistic. Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988)

Sensing Vs intuition originated from the broad category of perceiving functions. The two are however not mutually exclusive as their usage is dependent on time and circumstances. These are also the foundation of human knowledge from the empiricist and rationalist’s point of view as they are the primary avenues through which information reaches the individual. Individuals acquire information either by sensing it directly from the environment by one or more of the five senses or through intuition, by the use of the mind.

The preferences of individuals who rely on sensing are a presentation of facts while those who rely on intuition are likely to operate on theoretical and abstract models hence are likely to be more logical.

Thinking Vs Feeling is a function based on the basic judgment of an individual. Those who prefer thinking make judgment and decisions on the basis of critical analysis of situations. Conversely, those who prefer to make judgment based on feelings base their judgment on the emotional aspects of a situation and on the basis of personal norms and values.

True to the prediction of the test, persons with different personalities tend to behave and live differently, choose different careers, perform differently in activities for example in academic and professional fields. MBTI categorizes psychological differences into 16 types from four opposing pairs namely: ISTJ, ESTJ, ENTP, INTP, ENTJ, INTJ, ENFP, ESPF, ESTJ, ISTP, ISFJ, ISFP, INFP, INFJ, ESTP,  and INTP. These rises from treating of each index as an independent preference capable of being combined with other indices.

Format and Administration

The two most widely used versions of MBTI are the European and the North American English versions. In all the two versions, MBTI is administered by the use of MBTI forms. The instrument measures personality preferences on four scales namely: Extraversion(E)/Introversion(I), Sensing(S)/Intuition(N), Feeling(F)/Judging(J) Perceiving. Questions are all in the form of multiple choice questions.

Each question is structured in a way that presents only two options in the form of short statements and word pairs from which [4]one can only choose one of the questions. MBTI therefore uses an Item Based Forced Questionnaire Form. Its structure revolves around the identification of preferences of an individual from a presented choice of two options in every question.

Reliability and Validity of MBTI

Reliability refer to how consistently can a test measure what it is designed to measure. Total consistency in the psychological tests are unlikely owing to the nature of personality, however there are accepted standards for variations of psychological instruments such as MBTI.

According to Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988), one of the pioneer researchers into the reliability of MBTI, the reliability of MBTI meets and exceeds all the preset standards of psychological instrument. He asserts that the reliability of MBTI are either as good as or better than other instruments when the scores are treated as continuous scale.

Furthermore the reliability in terms of preferences range between 75-90% on a test retest scale. He further asserts that, the reliability of the test across age, ethnic groups and race also vary between 60-85%. Williamson, J. (2003) gives the analysis of personality traits of the engineering students from various colleges conducted by varied researchers. It shows consistency as the score of ISTJ personality among engineering students was the highest in all studies.

In the University of Tennessee Knoxville the personality scores of engineering faculty members were: ISTJ (22.6%), INTJ (17.8%), INTP (17.8 %), and ENTJ (14.3%) while that of engineering freshmen in the same university in a study conducted between 1990-1994 were: ISTJ (13.4), ESTJ (11.7), ENTP (8.8), INTP (8.8). Further research by Mc Caulley showed on the personality of Engineering students in Eight different colleges were as follows : ISTJ (16.46), ESTJ (12.75), ENTJ (9.43), INTJ (9.43), INTP (8.46),ENTP (7.43) to mention just but a few. The dominance of the ISTJ among engineering students is evident from the above studies supporting the reliability of the test.

How valid is MBTI?  Validity refers to the degree to which a given instrument measures what it is intended to measure. Several psychological analysts have questioned the validity of the test. Tieger, P.D.& Barron-Tieger, B.  (2001), sees the validity of the test as arising from the applicability of the four preference pairs of dichotomies and the subsequent combinations of the preferences.

The choice of the questions and therefore the different scales are also valid. The often cited argument is that the founders, Myers and Briggs had no scientific training on psychometric testing and therefore were at no position to prescribe a psychological test.

Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988), however argue that face validity of the test is generally accepted by most researchers though the omission on neuroticism is a weakness of the test. On the construct validity, arguments have been advanced for and against the test. Statistically, the validity of the test is also put to question. With four pairs of parameters, a binomial distribution is a general expectation. However, this has never been seen in any of the dimensions. Statistical analysis of scores reveals a normal distribution just like the IQ tests. Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988),

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Test

To summarize the strengths of the test, psychologists see it as covering a wide range of personality traits. This is a strong point since it examines an individual as a whole. Its reliability is also its strength. The correlation between the scores of persons with similar personalities is generally high.

Strength is its face validity which is accepted by most researchers test is its internal consistency and construct validity. Its test-retest reliability also far much exceeds those of other tests in the category. Some psychologists have however criticized the test for lacking not only in validity but also in reliability from the above discussion. The use of forced format is another weakness as seen by most researchers. One can have two of the options presented in the test questions yet he/she is only allowed to select one.

Its construct validity is also one of its [5]weaknesses.

Practical Applications of MBTI

MBTI is one of the most important tests used in the process of career selection, Tieger, P.D. & Barron-Tieger, B.  (2001).. The 16 Myer-Briggs types have been found to effectively aid an individual’s career choice. A study conducted by Williamson, J. (2003) and citing other researchers on the personality type of engineering students showed that the majority of students were of the ISTJ type. These were people, who were introverted, had impeccable intuition, were good thinkers and Judgmental. Summary of your MBTI results It is therefore acknowledged that the MBTI score may affect your career choices, career exploration, career development, Rankings in occupational categories.

MBTI is increasingly being used by companies and other employers in the recruitment of new employees. This is due to the fact that the competitiveness of an organization relies, to a large extent on the personality of its employees. MBTI is without doubt one of the most important psychological tests in use today. Its results may therefore enable man understand his strengths and weaknesses, enhance his productivity, acquire better problem solving skills, thereby improving a better informed life.


1. Cooper, S. E. & Miller, J.A. (1991).MBTI learning style-teaching style discongruencies. Educational and Psychological Measurement 51: 699-706.

2. Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988), "Jungian Q-sorts: demonstrating construct validity for psychological type and the MBTI", Journal of Psychological Type, Vol. 15 pp.33-45.

3. Tieger, P.D. & Barron-Tieger, B.  (2001). Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secret of Personality Type. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.

4. Walsh, W.B. & Holland, J.L. (1992) A theory of personality types and work environments. In Person-Environment Psychology: Models and Perspectives (ed. by W.B. Walsh et al.), pp. 35-69. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

5. Williamson, J. (2003) Instruction to the Myers-Briggs Personality Types and Holland Vocational Personality Types of Engineering Students, Journal of Engineering Education:195-203., Vol. 12 pp. 14-16.

[1] Rosenak, C.M., Shontz, F.C. (1988), defines psychometrics as a branch of psychology that deals with design, administration and interpretation of quantitative psychological tests.
[2] According to Coffield, F. Ecclestone, K. Hall, E. & Moseley, D (2004), this last trait is not included in the MBTI test.
[3] Walsh, W.B. & Holland, J.L. (1992) state that it was thus spelt by Myers rather than the conventional extroversion.
[4]Cooper, S.E. & Miller, J.A. (1991) explains that it is from this aspect that it acquired its referred to as the forced format.
[5] Cooper, S. E. & Miller, J.A. (1991).From the above discussion on construct validity, it is evident that it is a weakness of the test.

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