Dark Brightness

Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

The mythical Myers-Briggs scale.

Over at TC, derailment is the norm. The most recent thread moved onto the Myers-Briggs test. Now this is a test with good face validity. The questions seem to make sense, and the published descriptions also fit.

Now, wikipedia notes that the test is trademarked and copyrighted,,, but it is out there, and geeks take it. But is is reliable?

Now, since I can access a library… I fired up Ovid, and used the string “Myers-Briggs” AND (reliability OR validity OR psychometrics using EMBASE, PsychInfo and Pubmed along with the Cochrane DARE… and got 79 hits. When I added systematic review I got two hits, both off topic.

The best paper I can find is old. Really Old. It is by Carlson: the citation is Journal of Personality Assessment Aug1985, Vol. 49 Issue 4, p356.

Carlson notes that the orignial reliabiliy studies, reported in the manual, found split-half reliability coefficient (Peason r) of aroun 0.80, which is acceptable, but alternate data (prior to 1975) gave a range of 0.66 — 0.92. The more recent and shorter forms of the test had test retest reliabilite sof 0.48 — 0.84 for continuaous scores. The more recent studies find that all scales change except for extroversion / introversion.  The more recent data (ie. early 1980s) data was poor. To quote Carlson:

… the percentage of subjects who retained their specific dichotamous type preferences across all four scales was only 47%. In other words, a subject who had, say an ESTJ preference on first testing had only a 50:50 chance of maintaining the identical preference on every one of the four subscales upon retesting.

So. although each scale may be reliable but this is challenged by test/retest data. However, the tests are not reliable enough to remain stable… Well the paper continues, still using r and notes that the correlation with the eysenck extraversion factor is 0.74

At this point I am going to snark. The trouble with correlation factors is that there is not accounting for random agreement. I prefer to see Cohen’s Kappa here — and those numbers are lower. The current papers overstate the agreement.

The data on validity may not be there –this is an old paper and there is no more recent review I can find easliy nor a relevant systematic review.  But we may be chasing a chimera.

And here I am turning to a literature that I know. Personality disorders. The test-retest reliability, and the inter rater reliability here is bad. In part because people change. Our personalities — beyond some tempremental hard wiring which is probably about internal or external control, risk tolerence, and novelty seeking (which is a paraphrase of Cloninger). A large part of what we do in therapy is buy time to allow people to grow out of their temperaments.  There may be no such thing as a fixed personality. And, if that is the case, the Jungian typology is merely a myth, pleasant but of no earthly use.



4 thoughts on "The mythical Myers-Briggs scale."

  • Elspeth says:

    LOL, Chris! One quibble: Since the post is an open thread, it wasn’t actually a derailment. :) .

    To the substance of your post: I agree that we change and that our personalities can change over time. As Christians I’d say that we MUST change a bit. I tend to be much softer now than I was 20 years ago and I credit God’s word with that, coupled with sustained attempts and prayers for an ability to be more patient with others.

    But it is still struggle. It still doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work at it. My old man is still there, and I can be short and snippy and uncaring when I’m not really concentrating on not being that way.

    It’s complicated, which I think was the entire point of your post, LOL.

  • [*back in America. It’s Golden Week in Japan, so I have a vacation]

    Myers-Briggs is like a horoscope for intellectuals.

    In Japan, the Myers Briggs equivalent is blood type. In the 40’s a book
    was published that linked blood types to personalities. Despite being
    disproven by scientists immediately after its publication, the theory
    caught on in Japanese pop culture and has been perpetuated ever since.

    Personally, I’m a fan of iris pattern analysis [when it comes to
    pseudo-scientific personality quiz-things]. It’s a copyrighted method;
    the “Rayid” iridology chart.

                 “A large part of what we do in therapy is buy time to allow people to
    grow out of their temperaments”

    Chris, I think you’ve simplified your profession.

    Following my RA diagnosis, I felt overwhelmed and confused. Therapy helped me develop an appropriate emotional response to my circumstances [Apparently compulsive shopping is not an appropriate response. According to my doctor, shopping made me feel in control, and I was using that rush to compensate for the lack of control in other areas of my life…]

    I “grew out” of my problem, but only after my doctor taught me how to manage it.

  • Will S. says:

    I knew I was going to rate as ESTJ, when I got tested, and I did.

    Make of that what you will.

    But yeah, I used to be an introvert, as a kid and teen; I would likely have rated as an ISTJ, then (I don’t think the other three metrics would have been any different).  People change, over time, certainly.  But I think the Myers-Brigg test can possibly be a useful test for what one’s personality is at the time one takes the test; it’s just that you can’t infer that it’s the final word, that their personalities are fixed, and may not further evolve, over time…

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