Debunking the Myers-Briggs personality test

 
Students take a test in a classroom.

The popular Myers-Briggs personality test is a joke, writes Vox's Joseph Stromberg. While it might be a fun way to pass the time, he says, it has about as much insight and validity as a Buzzfeed quiz.

The test, taken by an estimated 2 million people each year, has been around since the 1940s and is based on the observations of psychologist Carl Jung. Through a battery of 93 questions, it classifies test-takers into one of 16 personality types based on four sets of binary characteristics: introvert/extrovert, intuitive/sensory, feeling/thinking and judging/perceiving.

Start Quote

Let's stop using this outdated measure - which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign”

End Quote Joseph Stromberg Vox

"Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people's success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time," Stromberg writes.

Stromberg says one of the key flaws to the test is that it relies on "limited binaries". Most humans, he says, fall along a spectrum and are not easily classified into opposite choices. People aren't exclusively extroverts or introverts - and where they fall on the spectrum can fluctuate widely based on how they are feeling at the moment.

Most psychologists have long since abandoned Myers-Briggs, if they ever gave it any credence at all, Stromberg continues.

Instead, he says, Myers-Briggs lives on as a revenue generator for CPP, the company that owns the rights to the test. It makes an estimated $20m (£11.6m) a year by charging people $15 to $40 to take the survey and certifying test administrators for $1,700.

Stromberg explains why people are willing to pay such a steep fee to get the official Myers-Briggs imprimatur:

"Once you have that title, you can sell your services as a career coach to both people looking for work and the thousands of major companies - such as McKinsey & Co., General Motors, and a reported 89 of the Fortune 100 - that use the test to separate employees and potential hires into 'types' and assign them appropriate training programs and responsibilities."

Start Quote

If it didn't do what it's supposed to do, or if it lacked a solid research-based foundation, it wouldn't be used by the world's top organization”

End Quote Rich Thompson Director of Research, CPP

Even the US government, including the state department and the Central Intelligence Agency, uses Myers-Briggs - a waste of taxpayer money, Stromberg says.

He concludes:

"It's 2014. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let's stop using this outdated measure - which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign - and move on to something else."

In a statement provided to the BBC, CPP president Jeffrey Hayes defends the test's validity.

"It's the world's most popular personality assessment largely because people find it useful and empowering, and much criticism of it stems from misunderstanding regarding its purpose and design," he says. "It is not, and was never intended to be predictive, and should never be used for hiring, screening or to dictate life decisions."

He says that organisations rely on the test "for its practical benefits in career development, conflict-handling, team building and leadership development".

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 81.

    70. et al, suggest take a look: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp Do the test and see if it is useful as your type indicator?

    Many companies use this as a screener so suggest simply don't 'push rope!'

    Stromberg does a disservice here as has no concept of what he in talking about.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 80.

    What a great scam
    Create a test that allows incompetent middle managers to have less responsibility for their corporate hires.

    There is literally millions of incompetent middle managers that this can be sold to, talk about free lunch
    These people are geniuses

    How do I get certified again ?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 79.

    78. So now you fill in the blanks?

    Of course MB does not assess qualifications for specific job skill requirements, its a type indicator! If you are looking for a leader you look for a group of candidates that fit the profile and MB is a potent first selection screen. Looking for work? You best get a handle on how 'you MB test' as it is a widely used tool to eliminate many from competition.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 78.

    77 Chris A

    Only including the bit we use instead of M-B which is the topic.

    M-B does not assess qualifications either.

    Obviously we obtain CV's and check qualifications that is the first step.

    But the 3 questions we ask covers everything and more about personality that M-B claims to cover.

    None of our folk are low-bar Chris Z. They are non-sexist smartly dressed risk-managers.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 77.

    76. Not exactly an in depth assessment of a hire's qualifications for employment - guess the job itself attracts low-bar individuals?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 76.

    We don't use Myers-Briggs nonsense.

    We ask the following key questions to filter out the drivers from the skivers:

    1. How close to the edge of a cliff could you drive one of our coaches.

    2. What would you say if asked by a colleague to comment on our secretary's embonpoint ?

    3. Do you tie your tie Windsor knot or not ?

    4. Depending on answers to 1-3 ... when can you start?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 75.

    72. Billable Hours a killer instinct and 'fit' the criteria at the Law firm you applied for - doubt that you lost it on the Myers Briggs - it was the round table discussion where you lost it, as in most interviews where one on a group is practiced. Surely the experience improved your odds for the next job interview? Coached out of work attorneys for interviews in the early 90's and we used the MB.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 74.

    Sounds like the Author, and the Critic wants the impossible from the "test"; to be dead on and accurate in something that can never be. I have taken the tests a couple of times, and if you take it with your Eyes and Ears open, then like anything else, it's a tool. If you use a tool wrongly don't expect to get the greatest results.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 73.

    Unscrambling the noise of the global debate, from social media to scholarly journals, Kansas City to Kathmandu.

    But Mr Zurcher only writes about amrica. Must be an advertising thing.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 72.

    I ultimately lost an attorney job after being forced to take an Myers-Briggs and discuss the results in a management roundtable thing. I came out right in the middle of the various (simplistic) personality axis things. The senior partner interpreted that as I was an artsy loner type-- not go-getter enough for her law firm. Those things are dangerous, in the hands of a simplistic mind.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 71.

    What's the difference between a 'Myers Briggs' and a 'Briggs Stratton'? Well at least one is useful and WILL get the job done! The other is just a pile of clap-trap!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 70.

    Am in my late seventies.
    Have never heard of Myers or of Briggs.
    Do not know if I was lucky or have missed something very important.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 69.

    The Rumsfeld-Cheney test remains unsurpassed in terms of identifying a complete absence of morality and integrity.

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    Comment number 68.

    The Myers-Briggs test IS a joke, I had to take it on a number of occasions for different reasons - change of job etc., to the point where I could almost remember the questions and answer them however I wanted to be perceived. Further, the 'base' of the questions repeats itself every 7 questions or so, so you just have to remember what you said for the first 7 really.

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    Comment number 67.

    Having been in corporate for over 30 years I have been subjected to various managements attempts to predict the "success" of employees. Took the MB test once along with over 50 employees in my group. The results were nonsense compared to their actual personalities, habits and how they worked. I found that the Voight-Koampff test is a more accurate and predictive assessment.

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    Comment number 66.

    Years ago heard about a company that had everyone take this test or one like it for team building. The hidden agenda was to see what the problem was in a bloated IT dept where requests were not finished on timely basis. Result of test and interviews - they fired the entire IT staff as the VP had hired people like himself - then restaffed a smaller department that go the job done.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 65.

    Is the test able to tell the difference between someone who is giving truthful answers and someone who has a good idea which answers will give the impression they wish to make?

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    Comment number 64.

    A case in point is Comcast's hiring practices: http://www.glassdoor.com/Interview/Comcast-Customer-Service-Representative-Interview-Questions-EI_IE1280.0,7_KO8,39.htm And the customer fallout when a Comcast 'retention' representative is thrown under the bus: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-28335713

  • Comment number 63.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 62.

    I have taken the MB test at 2 different companies. The "tests' are a joke. Virtually everyone who I worked with just assumed MB had some good sales people, and that's why we ended up with this "important performance management tool"

 

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