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a red ban slash circle over a 4x4 grid of MBTI personality typesThe business world loves measurements, obviously. It’s all about the bottom line. This isn’t such a bad thing, but it turns dubious when the measurements are false and paint a skewed or patently untrue picture with their results.

One of the common glaring falsehoods is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That pyramid is the pinnacle of overblown crap. Maslow was merely theorizing and backed up the theory with zero research. Nevertheless, CEOs everywhere plastered the triangular pic on every training manual within their reach. The whole thing is more than a little annoying to anyone who has studied the field of Psychology.

Next on the annoying list is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment loved by business folks the world over. Whereas Maslow was actually a trained researcher, the people behind the MBTI were hobbyists who hit it big. They mashed up a bunch of stuff from crazy-guy Carl Jung’s unsupported theories, wrote up questions and called it valid. Now it makes millions. It’s a scam of epic proportions.

Dan Ariely, a human behavior researcher and author of a few good books on Behavioral Economics, summed it up nicely in his advice column recently. His answer to writer “Cory” was short, sweet, and cutting:

Dear Dan,

A few years ago, I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and decided to take the test, which seemed pretty detailed. When I was shown my resulting “personality type,” I was blown away: It seemed to explain things about my personality that I had felt but had never put into words. But ever since, I’ve been insecure about whether my MBTI type is my “true type” or just confirmation bias. Help, please?


Next time, just look at the horoscope. It is just as valid and takes less time. -Dan


I love this man.


Check out the PurpleCar Park interview of Dan Ariely from a few years ago. Check out Dan Ariely’s books and his website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • robusdin 5 September 2014, 9:52 am

    I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call MBTI typing about as accurate as a horoscope.At least it ASKS questions in an attempt to pigeonhole you into a type instead of just using your birthdate and the positions of the stars in the universe. I’ve taken it a number of times and while I always end up with the same result, I find that it’s close but not completely true in its description. However, it can certainly assist people in getting to know themselves better – highlighting strengths and weaknesses and tendencies IS a good thing for exploring oneself.

    I wouldn’t use it as the only gauge of personality strengths and weaknesses – especially in business – but it’s a decent jumping off point.

    • PurpleCar 5 September 2014, 10:07 am

      I understand that it seems accurate enough. But that’s a common validation bias (subjective validation) that works the same way with horoscopes. Lots of research indicates that the MBTI is garbage for personality assessment. It makes sense that it is, it’s based on Jung’s research-less kookiness. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. More on subjective validation – the process behind horoscopes seeming “so real!” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_validation

      • robusdin 5 September 2014, 10:13 am

        I appreciate your turning this on its head for me. That’s not sarcastic, I really do like that you’ve pointed this out. As someone who isn’t a psychologist and thus hasn’t researched Jung, this is not something I need to look into more. When I have time.

        My only question is this – does the validation bias apply the first time you take the questionnaire? It seems like if you know nothing of any of the types and take it – it may be accurate. Once your incorporate the type into the way you view yourself – I totally see validation bias being part of the equation – as you’re more likely to answer to direct your type back to what you got the first time to reinforce your own view of yourself.

        • robusdin 5 September 2014, 1:07 pm

          I meant this IS something I need to look into more! Darnit.

        • PurpleCar 5 September 2014, 3:24 pm

          Validation bias works like this: A supposed authority tells you random traits. They tell you these traits are associated with you. You adopt this as fact, and focus on those traits in you as dominant and identifying, even if the traits seemed less prominent in your personality prior to this interaction. So yes, it applies as soon as you get your MBTI results. It also applies when you are getting your palm read or you’re reading your fortune cookie insert, or looking up your horoscope or “what your name says about you” sites.

          The real fact is that anyone can display any trait at any time. You have habits, of course, but even those are constantly changing and influenced by our environments and pliable world views. If the MBTI says you’re a procrastinator, that doesn’t mean you are. No-one *IS* a procrastinator. People procrastinate, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a changeable behavior.

          Tests like the MBTI are dangerous in that they limit people. They are dangerous in the same way an evil fortune-teller is. What if a fortune-teller told you your family was going to die? What if you believed it? Your behavior would most certainly change. The same goes with MBTI and validation bias. If you think, “Oh, I’m a Feeling person and I can’t possibly be coldhearted, so taking this candy from this baby is really OK,” then we’re in dangerous waters.

          If you’d like to go deeper into self-examination, I suggest daily journaling. Like all things, good things only come with work. A few hours’ spent on a test is a false promise of a quick-fix for a deeper issue.

  • Mike Fox 5 September 2014, 2:56 pm

    This is very interesting Christine. A company I used to work for used to do MBTI testing for managers as a way to help them interact with their teams. It is pretty funny that it didn’t really mean anything! I was never tested but at the time I kind of wanted to be. Good post.