Friday, 11 March 2022

Some limitations of MBTI

Many, many individuals and organisations love the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test, using it extensively for gaining self-knowledge (individuals), or for making hiring, promotion, or team decisions (organisations). 

I have always been very reluctant to rely on one test. We can use one test to start a conversation, but the conversation we begin should lead us onto the use of other instruments, as we find more elements to explore and develop. MBTI, or a freeware equivalent, can be a useful conversation starter when working with career clients.

However, it is the use of MBTI as an organisational sorting hat (Rowling, 1997) that is worrying. One key reason that MBTI use is for organisational decisions is  worrying is because of a lack of test-retest validity. Apparently, "across a 5-week retest period, 50% of the participants received a different classification on one or more of the (MBTI) scales", with even the internal MBTI testing showing low test-retest validity, with "35% of individuals had a different four-letter type score after a 4-week interval" (Pittenger, 2005, p. 214). Making decisions on data which may change the next time a person takes the test seems less than ideal.

Further, the way the test is structured when we take it is not ideal. The use of scales is considered much more reliable than binary choices. MBTI only provides binary forced choices (Barbuto, 1997; Burnett, 2013; Pittinger, 2005). We must chose whether we are an introvert or an extrovert. A senser or a feeler. However, we are human and shades of grey, not black and white. Interestingly, the MBTI test data, when analysed, "shows a normal distribution rather than bimodal, refuting the either/or claims of the MBTI" (Burnett, 2013). Even though MBTI says the forced choices are necessary, the data appears to show shades of grey.

Further, some of the type scales in the MBTI are not considered to be mutually exclusive. For example, Thinking (logical and reasonable) and Feeling (empathic and compassionate) "are both ubiquitously operating and [are] not opposites at all (see Haidt, 2001, or Epstein, Pacini, Denes‐Raj, & Heier, 1996, for investigations)" (Stein & Swan, 2019, p. 6). This may mean that we are forced to exclude some key personality elements through how the choices are presented to us. 

What is also concerning is that the MBTI is not considered to be scientifically valid, and is - largely - ignored by psychology (Burnett, 2013; Stein & Swan, 2019). It is worrying that the field that the test is intended to test doesn't acknowledge that the test even exists.

MBTI themselves also say that the test should not be used to make employment selection or promotion decisions. It should be used to provide individual self-insight. We must clearly communicate this to our clients, along with the test short comings. 



  • Barbuto, J. E. (1997). A Critique of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and its Operationalization of Carl Jung’s Psychological Types. Psychological Reports, 80(2), 611–625. 
  • Burnett, D. (19 March 2013). Nothing personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test. The Guardian.
  • Pittenger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary comments regarding the Myers-Briggs type indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57(3), 210-221.
  • Rowling, J. K. (1997). Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Stein, R., & Swan, A. B. (2019). Evaluating the validity of Myers‐Briggs Type Indicator theory: A teaching tool and window into intuitive psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 13(2), e12434.

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