A sentence to surprise no Bert Betterman reader…I think personality tests are cool. More predictable information…I’ve taken many a personality test, thoroughly enjoying the experience and learning something valuable about myself in the process. Some other words that, once read, will make you think to yourself, “Yeah, that sounds about right”…at some point in the rest of this rubbish of rambling, I will probably (definitely) try to convince you that it’s a good idea to take a personality test, quiz, or questionnaire at some point in your lifetime (might as well be today).
As we exist here in the first inning of a fresh, new year – Cubs world champions, Donald Trump president-elect, dogs and cats living together – it just feels right to address (again) the topic of personal growth. If nothing else, 2016 reminded us that, if given enough time, even the most unlikely things will eventually happen. In some bizarre way I actually find that motivating. Knowing what outlandishness is possible, and adding a dash of awareness and intention, there’s no reason we can’t gently direct 2017 down a great path for ourselves. What better time to sow the organic, non-GMO seeds of self-improvement?
Step one on the path to personal growth and eternal enlightenment? Know where you are…or rather WHO you are. Perhaps it’s just me, always a man with a plan, but it seems logical that even the best map of the universe won’t do you a lick of good if you can’t locate the “You Are Here!” star made famous by shopping mall directories across the country.
Getting Back to the Personality Test Thing…
An interesting fact to note is that of all the tests I had taken and used already, I had never taken what’s probably the grandfather of them all, good ol’ Myers-Briggs. At least, that is, until about two months ago. And while chronic regret is an ill-advised path to nowhere good, I’ll admit that my first thought after taking the assessment was “Why the hell hadn’t I done this sooner?!”
Almost any test I’d taken in the past would give me a gem or two, a little light to help shine the way forward in life…track lighting on an airplane to help me groggily exit the red-eye at 5:00 AM. The Myers-Briggs test, for me, was even more illuminating, though, like Clarke Griswold’s eventual triumph of Christmas light excess.
More pragmatically, it was a lot like finding the “Quick Start” guide to an ultrasonic humidifier I bought on Amazon. It didn’t tell me all the nitty-gritty details, but suddenly I had a fairly accurate, if not a bit crude, blueprint to help understand and better use my mental processes to navigate about the universe.
Complementing the Myers-Briggs assessment itself was the specific website upon which I tested, 16personalities.com (and no, they don’t pay me to say that…trust me, I tried). Not only do they have a comprehensive and accurate test (my opinion anyway), but the amount of feedback that you get – for free, mind you – from their empirical research on thousands of previous test-takers, is absolutely second to none. They even add their own spin to the test: a character name with a cheeky little avatar, and an extra, proprietary categorization term to more fully flesh out personality (more on that later).
What Is Myers-Briggs?
To answer that question we must first go back to the Jung before the Myers or the Briggs and briefly address his personality theory. If you remember in my recent post, Extroverts Are From Mars, Introverts Are From Venus, Carl Jung was an early influencer in the field of psychology and is credited with first popularizing the terms extroversion and introversion. Additionally, though, he had identified four psychological (cognitive) functions through which we can experience the world, sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking, each of which can be done in either an introverted or extroverted manner.
From this framework Jung developed personality types based on the combinations of the cognitive functions. It was Myers-Briggs who later developed the “test” to help determine a person’s type, which came to be known as the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,” or “MBTI” for short. While Jung preferred to do more one-on-one, open-ended evaluations for typing, Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a scalable questionnaire format that would initially be used to help first-time-career-aspiring women find lines of work that best suited them while their husbands were attempting to win World War II. Consequently, Myers-Briggs is still widely used as a means of career placement and planning.
How Does It Work?
In the typically frustrating and confusing manner of most anything psychology, each place you look has slightly different descriptions of the testing categories, terms, and results feedback, not to mention different test questions. Given that psychology and personality, though, are inherently subjective rather than quantitative, I suppose I ought to relax my need for a one-size-fits-all description and just say that there are a bunch of them out there, they all basically get you to a similar conceptual understanding, and I’m about to just make up my own to add to the spaghetti mess in the Internet cloud. I have an ego too, after all.
So…based on the original theories from Jung, and expanding on his cognitive functions (the four of which make up the middle two dichotomies below) there are four aspects to one’s personality:
- A concept of Internal vs. External: The Myers & Briggs Foundation (MBF) calls this the “Favorite World” concept. Does one prefer to live within their own mind (I – Introvert) or the outer world (E – Extrovert)?
- A Method of Viewing & Understanding the World: The MBF calls this the “Information” concept. Does one tend to objectively note inputs (S – Sensing) or immediately start interpreting and seeing a grander meaning (I – Intuition)?
- An Approach Towards Making Decisions & Understanding Emotions: The MBF also simply calls this “Decisions,” and one tends to either think them through more logically (T – Thinking) or take into consideration people, circumstances, and personal values (F – Feeling).
- A Desire, or Lack Thereof, for Structure & Closure: The MBF calls this “Structure,” where an individual either prefers said structure and predictability (J – Judging) or enjoys varying possibilities and keeping their options open (P – Perceiving).
Sidebar on Judging vs. Perceiving: I’ll be honest, the words used for the fourth category, “judging” and “perceiving,” didn’t seem to be very intuitive to me, but if you see enough examples, it eventually starts to make sense. Essentially the “judgers,” I suppose, like to be able to make a judgement call on something, label it, put it in a box, check it off the list, make sense of it, and move forward. The “perceivers,” however, enjoy the process of just perceiving the “thing,” getting to know it, seeing the varying angles, and don’t feel pressed to make a definitive statement about it or necessarily do anything with it. Perceivers just watch it do it’s thing, without commitment, and then most likely move on to watching something else without feeling guilty that they never made closure with the first thing. It’s also been theorized that attention disorders like ADD may be cases of extreme perceivers on the far end of the spectrum that enjoy perceiving so much that they constantly move on to any new thing they can perceive. Now that’s not to say that if someone scores 100% perceiving on Myers-Briggs that they inherently should be diagnosed with ADD, but it seems there may be a connection.
When taking the assessment, your answers reveal a preference towards one of the two dichotomies for each of the four categories and result in a four-character personality “type.” Since there are four categories, each with two different possibilities, there are 4 X 4 = 16 different permutations of resulting types (hence the clever name of 16personalities.com). For example, an extroverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver would wind up with the type of “ENFP.”
The particular test that I used on 16personalities.com (as hinted at earlier) goes a step further by adding a fifth category called “Identity” where one can fall into the Assertive (A) or Turbulent (T) subtype. Extending the previous example, if that ENFP individual also wound up testing as assertive, then they would have the subtype of ENFP-A. At a high level, assertive types are generally self-assured and more resilient to stress while turbulent types are more self-conscious and sensitive.
So I’m ENFP-A or Whatever…What Does That Mean To Me?
Over the years many a human, most of them psychologists (although neither Myers nor Briggs were, formally), has studied the various types and tried to make sense of them, discover patterns, predict behaviors, outline ideal careers, etc., based upon the identified test results. Here’s where the test becomes a tool in attempting to provide insight or guidance for someone based on their type and tendencies. This is also where I think 16personalities.com was pretty outstanding by providing amazing insights based upon their own extensive research for each type.
How useful it actually winds up being is somewhat up to the user. If one is rather skeptical and views personality tests as glorified astrology, horoscopy BS, or worse, one of those “Which Friends Character Are You?” tests on Facebook, they probably won’t get much out of it, nor will they care. If, however, one looks at it as another tool, another lens through which to see themselves and learn something insightful, the research-based feedback on one’s specific type may end up being quite helpful.
Deeper Into Cognitive Functions (Mental Processes)
While the initial test and discovery of the basic type is interesting and potentially helpful for getting to know oneself, I’ve found that in order to truly use Myers-Briggs as a growth tool, one needs to understand what are termed the “cognitive functions” as well. Here’s where all those earlier mentioned dichotomies come together in a neat little way to more accurately describe how a person navigates the world.
If you remember the middle two sections, we had sensing vs. intuition and feeling vs. thinking. The first two are perceiving functions (ways to take in information), and the last two are judging functions (ways to make decisions with that information. Also remember perceiving vs. judging were the last set of dichotomies. And tying it all together, each one of those functions can be done with an external focus (extroverted) or an internal focus (introverted). Each person has a variation of the four functions in their main function “stack” (sensing, intuition, feeling, and thinking), two of which are introverted, and two of which are extroverted. This gets confusing, so how about a graphic:
Also important to note is that the order of functions is important. The first (primary) function is basically unconscious, like being right or left-handed, and needs really no codling. It’s the “go-to” function that we rock without really thinking about it. The second (auxiliary) is strong but, especially early on in life, has room for improvement with practice. The third (tertiary) function is weaker yet and typically of less interest to the person thus also making it the first obvious area for growth. The fourth (inferior) function is the least effective, an area of potential growth for sure, but also a potential source of great distress in life before one learns to harness it.
Here’s a digram of the cognitive functions for our ENFP type as an example. Note that every type has all four cognitive functions in their stack (Intuition, Feeling, Thinking, and Sensing), and two of them are approached with an Introverted perspective while the other two are approached from an Extroverted perspective:
There is so much to learn when digging into cognitive functions, so many subtle variations of models, and so many rabbit holes of possibility. For this very reason, I plan to continue that later in this Personality series. For now, however, we’ll leave it here with a basic layout and understanding.
How Do I Know If It Got Mine Right?
Ah yes, a fair question for any introspective soul seeker to ask. And that answer, of course, is…it didn’t. Honestly, with somewhere between six and seven billion people on this earth, all our varying degrees of personalities mixed and matched through gene sharing and epigenetic expression through interactions with the environment, not to mention the fact that perhaps some mysteries of the universe are just random and beyond (current day) explanation…how can we actually expect a test to accurately place all of us into one of sixteen nice, neat “buckets” of personality? We can’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful.
One way or another, any personality test ought to shine a light on some part of our being we had failed to completely comprehend yet, even the “bad” ones (bad tests, not beings!). Whether they get it “right” or “wrong,” the process of analyzing and coming to one conclusion or the other shows us something about ourselves and helps us gain more awareness of the inner workings of our mind.
That said, I think for a lot of folks, and I can especially speak for myself, Myers-Briggs can be extremely insightful, especially the feedback profiles on 16personalities.com. If the test pegs you mostly right, if you can start to see yourself in the descriptions, if it starts explaining or predicting your past actions and behaviors to a degree, it’s either completely pulling the wool over your eyes, or it’s truly resonating with you. I like to call it the “creep factor:” if you’re reading along and perpetually in a state of “How in the ‘bleep’ could they have known that?!” then there’s probably some value to be taken from it.
As mentioned before, it’s a tool, of course. The ones who get the most out of it are the ones able to conscientiously filter out what accurately describes them and what doesn’t, what’s helpful and what isn’t, and spare the baby as the bath water swirls and gurgles down the drain. It’s all just a framework, and if you think it’s a fairly accurate framework for your personality, then you now have something to add to your personal growth guidebook that is custom tailored to you.
As popular as Myers-Briggs is, however, there are also plenty of critics. It’s true to an extent, there are some dangers:
- We start to let the personality type define us and act out a “role” in accordance with the type
- We start to use it as an excuse: “I know I’m rather condescending, but I’m an INTP. I don’t have time for inferior people.”
- We start to assume everyone in our type category should act the same as we do
- We get frustrated and disappointed when we think in a way that our personality type says we wouldn’t or shouldn’t
- We get stuck strictly trying to explain everything that ever happens via our type profile
Most of the criticism, however, lies within what we just talked about, the fact that all people are different and that it’s unhealthy to box yourself into neatly drawn categories. Naysayers would use the list above as reasons not to take or use personality testing at all. I tend to think that belief is too conservative and risk-averse. Anything with the power to help can also do harm if used incorrectly, and that’s why I believe strongly in research, understanding, and awareness. Whether the Myers-Briggs test itself is “good” or “bad” is somewhat irrelevant; it’s what you learn in the process that’s invaluable.
So whether you’re looking to understand yourself better, denounce Myers-Briggs as a bunch of narcissistic psychobabble, or just entertain yourself for a few minutes, why not take a free test on 16personalities.com and let me know what you think? Did it get you mostly right? Was it helpful? Was it a little creepy? Did it make you laugh? Go ahead and drop a comment below with your type result and anything interesting you learned from it.
As we continue later with the series, I plan to use the next Personality post to show some example results and explain how they can be interpreted and used for personal growth…using my own personal profile. Stay tuned!