Todd Essig’s Misconstrual of the MBTI

By Sigurd Arild and Eva Gregersen

In a quote that is popularly misattributed to Joseph Goebbels, it is said that “if you repeat a lie often enough, it eventually becomes the truth.” Since Adam Grant kicked off his sensationalist critique of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) last year, there has been no shortage of uninformed bloggers willing to sacrifice scientific integrity in order to bring down the Myers-Briggs. The latest of these derogators is Todd Essig, in a piece written for Forbes.

Since we have dealt with the majority of the issues raised by Essig long ago, we will ignore the idle repetitions and only respond to what’s new in his piece. Essig could have saved himself and his employers at Forbes some embarrassing misconstruals if he had read our previous articles first.

Here, in brief, is why Essig’s article fails:

1
Essig’s headline says that the MBTI is “meaningless.”

But the MBTI is not “meaningless.” Every single scientific, peer-reviewed study ever conducted into the validity of the MBTI has ended up concluding that there is some truth to the assessments yielded by the MBTI, while at the same time it is also true that the instrument has noticeable shortcomings.

2
Essig writes that: “The MBTI is pretty much nonsense, sciencey snake oil. As is well-established by research, it has no more reliability and validity than a good Tarot card reading.”

But Essig is flat-out wrong here. There is no well-established body of research proving that the MBTI has “about the same reliability as Tarot cards.” To furnish evidence for his point, Essig links to a scientific article. But this article does not conclude that the MBTI has no more reliability than a Tarot reading – on the contrary, the article concludes that “The available evidence suggests that the MBTI does measure constructs related to personality.” So the very article provided by Essig himself concludes the opposite of what Essig says it does.

Like Adam Grant, Essig belongs to a band of MBTI critics who are so willing to bring down the Myers-Briggs that they are willing to misquote from the scientific sources when they can’t find proper studies to back up their assertions.

3
Essig then addresses one of the well-known empirical problems with the MBTI instrument, namely that it breaks the indices measured into halves. Essig purports to illustrate this weakness by the following analogy: “Consider an imaginary single-letter Myers-Briggs Weight Indicator. The fictional MBWI, just like its namesake, is an either/or designation. You stand on the MBWI scale and it says your weight type is either obese (O) or anorectic (A). Can you imagine taking that seriously? Saying one’s weight is either obese (O) or anorectic (A) is not just lacking validity, it’s actually pretty absurd. And so too is the MBTI itself with its “four pairs of opposing preferences.” Personality traits just don’t fit the either/or structure of the MBTI any more than weight does. And like our absurd fictional example, it is absurd to say they do.”

The basic criticism voiced here is a sound one – the cut-up indices are an empirical problem for the MBTI. But the analogy is misleading because it suggests that the MBTI’s categories are either 0 or 100 when in fact its categories are rather 0-50 and 51-100. In Essig’s own analogy, it would be more accurate to say that the MBTI purported to tell you whether your body weight was over or under 150 pounds, not whether you were anorectic or obese.

However, as we have previously covered on the site, the MBTI is not an end in itself: It is an attempt to quantify C.G. Jung’s cognitive theory empirically, which means that the scores yielded by the MBTI are indicators and should not be taken to be direct depictions of the type preferences involved, just like a column of smoke should not be taken to be fire itself, but indeed can often be taken as a legitimate indicator of fire.

4
Finally, Essig gives us a rundown of some of the criticisms that his own reporting is based off: Adam Grant, Joseph Stromberg, and Drake Baer, as well as a New York Times article re-hashing the pieces of Adam Grant, Joseph Stromberg, and Drake Baer. In other words, we are dealing with a mindless copy-paste job of fallacious reasoning going back and forth between the usual suspects, all of whom we have previously debunked on the site, and all of whom can be demonstrated to be ignorant of even the most basic tenets concerning the MBTI. There is nothing new going on here – it is merely par for the course that the lie, repeated often enough, eventually becomes the truth.

 

Article Series: CelebrityTypes Debunks Bad MBTI Criticisms:

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MBTI for Skeptics © Eva Gregersen, Sigurd Arild, and CelebrityTypes International 2014.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and MBTI are trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc.

CelebrityTypes.com is an independent research venture, which has no affiliation with the MBTI Trust, Inc.

3 Comments

  1. Am I the only one that sees the pattern of propaganda here? Granted, this article didn’t lavishly praise Big 5 like the others did, but I’m still suspicious.

    It could be that all these authors are independently deciding to use poor arguments and fallacies to make their point. I’m not buying it though. Too many articles like this have popped up for me to believe it’s coincidental.

    I can’t prove it, but I’d bet money on it.

  2. We don’t think there’s any conspiracy or concerted effort. There’s just a lot of people looking for something to write about for a quick bang and not enough experts who form individual opinions.

  3. I considered that, originally, but later leaned toward the propaganda theory because It’s something I’ve had more experience with. I don’t normally follow news hubs, is it a common thing to rehash articles in this manner? If so, I’ll change my opinions.

    I’m not usually a conspiracy person. I just have a hard time understanding why any journalist worth their pay would result to ad-hominems and smoke and mirror effects to issue their point. I expect to see this misleading style of writing in politics, but why here?

    Unless it’s like you say, they just don’t care and are only looking to spit something out to make a quick buck.

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