Defining Personality with 4 Letters: Is MBTI Legit?

If you’ve ever heard someone say they’re an ENTJ, INFP, or some other combination of four seemingly random letters, they’re talking about their MBTI type. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a personality questionnaire based on Carl Jung’s psychological theory. It was developed in the 1960s by Isabel Briggs Myers, and it has since become a popular tool for businesses to understand how different kinds of people work together.


Image via Jake Beech / Wikipedia


The basic concept of MBTI involves how people’s perception and judgment affect behavior. There are four categories and two possibilities for each category, creating a total of sixteen different personality types. To get your four-letter type, the test will tell you your preferences based on these four categories:


Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E)

Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S)

Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)

Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)


Although the original purpose was for psychological theory and businesses, recently the Internet has created a new culture surrounding MBTI. It has become increasingly popular to “type” fictional characters. You may have seen “Who’s your character?” charts online like this one:


Image via Brett Jordan / Flickr


You may have also seen some MBTI memes on Tumblr or Twitter. People will make lists such as “Why your type is in prison,” or, more recently, “MBTI types as forbidden fruit”. They’re often pretty funny, although they may or may not be relatable for you. In the same way that you can get lost in Buzzfeed quizzes, you can easily get lost reading all of these funny MBTI memes.


Before you start taking your letters seriously, however, you might wonder just how real MBTI is. It’s definitely been around for a while, but is it legit? It’s pretty controversial, but most psychologists will say no. Here’s why.


It’s self-reported.

Since it is a questionnaire, the test will give you results for whatever answers you give. If you know yourself extremely well and answer with 100% honesty, it should give you more or less accurate results. But most people aren’t like that. We tend to exaggerate our good qualities and project who we want to be rather than who we are on onto our answers, which can skew the results.


It wasn’t created by psychologists.

Although MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theory, the two people who created it had no psychological training. The categories are widely regarded as too simplistic and too binary. Even Carl Jung himself has said that the binary nature of the categories is a flaw in his theory and oversimplifies complex concepts.


There’s really no evidence to support it.

The MBTI types’ vague and general descriptions are too simplistic to have any real meaning and make it almost impossible to measure accuracy. The National Academy of Arts and Sciences rejects MBTI based on the fact that not enough research went into it and that it has little utility.


It’s too vague.

MBTI has been often compared to astrology because the descriptions of personality traits are so general they can apply to anyone. The traits are also mostly positive and feel-good, making the system more like “an elaborate Chinese fortune cookie”, according to psychometric specialist Robert Hogan.


So is MBTI legit? Most signs point to no. But does it really matter if you’re having fun with it?


Photo via Scott Ableman / Flickr


Who cares? Don’t let the questionable scientific nature of MBTI stop you from having fun! Keep typing your favorite characters, looking at memes, and making all your friends take the test. It’s a great way to procrastinate doing your homework. Just don’t take it all too seriously from now on.