Is Jungian Typology Scientific?

When Jung first put forth his theory of the types, Jungian typology became the state of the art of its day. Since then, other schools of personality studies have emerged, and now modern science seems to be converging on the idea of the trait theory and the Big Five personality traits. As such, with regards to scientific recognition, typology seems to be taking a back seat to trait theory. However, four of the five of the ‘Big Five’ traits correspond to some degree to the four traits covered by Jung and Myers’s theory of the types. Thus, the machinations of Jungian typology do have some scientific validation, although at the same time there may be minor differences with regards to the definitions of individual concepts.

This means that the terms used on this website are broadly in agreement with current scientific thinking on the matter. But where Jungian typology diverges from scientific thinking is where typology forces binarities (e.g. you are either an introvert or an extrovert), whereas the scientific framework allows extroversion to fall along a continuous scale.

Thus, a purely scientific approach to personality does not yield 16 types, but millions of possible combinations of traits. And so while this may do more justice to the individual person being studied, it also makes comparisons of large groups of people harder. In fact, when the Big Five traits are used on a large scale, researchers sometimes resort to a “Jung-inspired” interpretation of their data, or use a “Jungian shorthand” to make sense of things, indicating, perhaps, that while the Big Five may indeed be more scientific, Jungian typology is still the best tool for the job of sizing up and comparing people.

References

[1]  Capraro RM & Capraro MM (2002). Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Score Reliability Across: Studies a Meta-Analytic Reliability Generalization  Study. Educational and Psychological Measurement.

[2]  Furnham A (1996). The big five versus the big four: the relationship between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and NEO-PI five factor model of personality. Personality and Individual Differences.

[3] McCrae R & Costa P (1989). Reinterpreting the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator From the Perspective of the Five-Factor Model of Personality. Journal of Personality.

Update, April 2013: A Certain Irony Concerning the Conception of Jungian Typology as Scientific

One of the most oft-repeated criticisms leveled at Jungian Typology from people who profess to represent a scientific mindset is the charge that Jungian typology concerns itself with binarities, while actual personalities tend to fall along a continuum. E.g. “people are not black and white, but various shades of grey.” This criticism is a fair one, although it often fails to address the Fallacy of Grey.

But at any rate, what concerns us here is not the cogency of the charge, but a certain irony. That irony is as follows:

  • Scientific studies tend to find that while Jungian typology is not the “state of the art” with regards to the scientific study of personality, it is still scientifically substantiated to some degree.
  • Thus, the scientific status of Jungian typology is neither black nor white, but some sort of grey.

Critics of Jungian typology then offer the following critiques of the system:

  • Jungian typology deals in binarities, which is wrong.
  • Since Jungian typology isn’t the state of the art in science, it must be completely unscientific. In the eyes of these critics, because the model only has some support, then it must, in effect, have no support. What they’re saying is that since it isn’t black, it must necessarily be white.

Thus, the irony:

  • The people who point out how it is wrong to employ binarities, employ binarities.
  • The people who forcefully reject Jungian typology because they claim to follow science, don’t actually follow science.

By pointing out the irony above, we do not mean to suggest that this in any way raises the scientific status of Jungian typology. We merely wish to suggest that some of the critics of Jungian typology, including those who say it is “no better than astrology,” are putting their own estimations of Jungian typology above the scientific findings that exist on the topic, which seems to us to be a very un-scientific thing to do.

7 Comments

  1. If Jungian scores are a continuum, how reliable are the functions (such as Fe or Ti)? For someone in the middle of P/J or T/F or N/S, the functions would be nearly meaningless.

  2. @Roberto: Not necessarily. The issue isn’t which function you ‘are,’ it’s which you prefer. The MBTI 16 types might not work, but you could have (for example) I-TP’s who prefer TiFe but are perceptually balanced between S and N; that is, introverting and extraverting S and N equally.
    I don’t know if that makes practical sense, but theorizing is fun!

  3. Good Job on explaining the scientific comparsion of Mbti and Big Five.

    However, i have some small issues:

    “…now modern science seems to be converging on the idea of the trait theory…”.
    Modern personality science has already converged on the Big Five and trait theory. They are the Status Qou for more than 20 years now.

    Typology doesn’t take a back seat, because it never reached the front seat. Jungs typology was never really acknowlegded in academia, it was from the beginning on only seen as half-science and has always been heavily criticized, as was the Mbti. Don’t confuse layman popularity with academic recognition.

    I like it, that you have such a down-to-earth, factual view on typology and the Big Five, but i also find it sad, that you still propagate function theory. Contrary to Jungian type, which has some scientific support, it has none, and never had even a shred of it. Sadly, one could consider it as complete Mumbo-Jumbo with no base in reality at all. Function theory is also one of the main reasons, why so many are comparing Mbti to astrology – because in this regard it basically is. Function theory is completely anecdotal and doesn’t stand up to any scientific examination.

    For some studies about the debunking of function theory, look into James Reynierse’s work: James H. Reynierse, “The Case Against Type Dynamics”, Journal of Psychological Type, Issue 1 2009

    Regards
    Lars

  4. “Typology doesn’t take a back seat, because it never reached the front seat.”

    We didn’t claim that it reached the front seat, we only said that there was a time where it wasn’t in the back seat. Which there was. MBTI was used as one of the touchstones for the inception of the Big Five. It was respected along with other matrices such as Eysenck’s PEN model, etc.

    It is true that function theory doesn’t have empirical support, but as a bona fide psychodynamic theory, how could it? In this sense, functions are no different from the rest of the psychodynamic theories. The psychometric approach to type has some empirical support, but psychometrics isn’t all there is to psychology (though it is all that there is to empirical science). We never claimed that functions had empirical support, but we are personally sympathetic to the psychodynamic tradition, even though it failed to pass the falsification criteria.

    We are well aware of Reynierse’s work, however, we find it unconvincing. He’s just too proud of kicking in an open door. He’s busting low-level mistakes about people thinking that the functions have empirical validity, and not engaging with the broader, more sophisticated questions, such as the scientific status of psychodynamics, limitations in our current ability to measure such ridiculously complex entities as the functions, how functions can be used heuristically, and so on.

    We discuss the different approaches to psychology here:

    https://www.idrlabs.com/articles/2014/02/mbti-for-skeptics/

    It is also discussed by researchers here where they note the same split between psychodynamic and neo-behaviorist approaches to psychology that we do:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1973.tb00111.x/abstract

    And you may find discussion in the comments here relevant:

    https://www.idrlabs.com/articles/2014/02/an-update-on-face-reading-2014/

  5. My dad has a favorite saying by the statistician George Box that seems it would be applicable here: “All models are wrong. Some models are useful.”

  6. I don’t understand how come we compare an apple with an orange????? Basis and purpose of Type and Traits are altogether different. Type is based on innate preferences while traits shows appreciated and developed qualities. i think its is unfair to compare them. both MBTI and Big 5 are one front seat but in different cars.

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