Let me start this with a lighthearted Tweet by Clark Quinn:
@JaneBozarth @guywwallace there are two types of people in this world: those who believe you can type people, and those who don’t
Email exchange August-6-2011 between Guy Wallace and Richard E. Clark, Ed.D. and APA Fellow…
May I post this on my Blog: from an email exchange between some of ISPIers, a couple of months back…
The negative evidence about the MBTI has been around for over 20 years (yes, 20). ALL reviews that were undertaken by researchers who were not financially tied in some way to the MBTI organization have turned out negative (very negative). Since we still have a “Flat Earth Society” in the US and more than a majority of people believe in magic, these research reviews (and others that will come in the future) will not convince everyone (see one of my contributions to the MBTI evidence discussion from a decade ago pasted below – with citations)…
Why many researchers are thinking twice about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
By Richard E. Clark
The very popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is often used for career counseling, to adjust working relationships, and to “type” organizations. It is called “the most widely-used personality inventory in the world” (Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.), with approximately 2,000,000 people a year taking the MBTI.
Why then, are so many researchers upset about this test? Here are four of the reasons researchers and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences question the test’s validity.
1. Positive research on the MBTI tends to be poorly designed and conducted by the same group that sells the test. More objective reviews are negative.
Reviews of MBTI-sponsored studies (for example, Thayer 1988, in Druckman and Bjork, 1991) have identified a pattern of inconsistent and incomplete data and incorrect statistical analyses, such as a lack of baselines, subjects who are aware of the hypotheses being tested, and no overall tests of significance before detailed comparisons are made. Attempts by mainstream psychologists to replicate a number of positive research findings reported by advocates have too often failed (Druckman and Bjork 1991; Pittinger, 1993). Most of the positive studies have been published by Journals of the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, which offers qualifying, certification, and advanced education training for the MBTI. Few studies appear in mainstream psychological journals where peer review is required.
2. While the overall reliability of the test seems adequate, the specific types on the MBTI are not reliable.
The MBTI is a types test, not a traits test. Types tests are required to establish that individuals belong in one single type and that people do not change type quickly or easily. The National Research Council reported that between 60 and 88 percent of the people in about a dozen large groups who took the MBTI in controlled studies changed their type classification within five weeks of taking the test (ibid., 97). Since reliability is a is a necessary condition for all types of validity, this consistent finding is very distressing. It is questionable how anyone can apply knowledge from an instrument that identifies types that change over a short period of time.
3. The MBTI is popular for vocational and career advancement counseling, but there is no evidence that it either discriminates between occupations or predicts performance in occupations.
Studies reported in mainstream psychological and educational journals report that for many occupations, the MBTI does not accurately discriminate between either occupations or people’s performance. For example, the National Research Council reports that while about 12 percent of elementary teachers in the United States are ESFJs (Extraversion, Sensation, Feeling, Judging), “the same percentage of a random sample of U.S. women are also ESFJs,” and that there is “no evidence…presented on relationships [between MBTI types and work] performance in…occupations” (ibid., 98). They also described validity reviews in twenty studies where the Introversion-Extraversion scale seemed to be solid but the Sensation-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling scales were very weak. While the Introversion-Extraversion scale was solid, other measures of this trait were even better. There is no evidence that the test measures sixteen distinct types (Pittinger, 1993). The National Research Council concluded that most of the types described in the test should be tapped by more solid tests.
4. The value of the MBTI may be in increased sensitivity to individual and group differences or for career counseling, but no solid research has been conducted on these issues.
The MBTI might help raise the consciousness of individuals in work environments who implicitly believe that everyone is more or less like them. Being aware that other people have different values and behavior patterns – and that there is value in accommodating those differences in the workplace and in work processes – may produce very positive results for organizations. Yet, as the National Academy notes, “neither the gains in sensitivity nor the impact of those gains on performance have been documented by research. Nor has the instrument been validated in a long-term study of successful and unsuccessful careers. Lacking such evidence, it is a curiosity why the instrument is used so widely, particularly in organizations” (ibid., 99).
The National Research Council concludes that “the lack of a supportive research foundation for the MBTI leads the committee to recommend that the instrument not be used…until its validity is supported by research” (ibid.,100). Without such research, the 2,000,000 people each year who rely on the test as a valid measurement may be wasting their money and time.
Druckman, Daniel, and Robert Bjork, eds. 1991. In the mind’s eye: Enhancing human performance. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Pittinger, D. J. (1993) The Utility of the Myers-Briggs type indicator, Review of Educational Research, 63(4) 467-488.
Thayer, P. W. 1988. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and enhancing human performance. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University.http://www.nap.edu/catalog/1580.html
The more people who know about the MBTI the greater the chance that people will look for the individual difference tests that work. For example, the American Psychological Association’s “Big Five” – they have been validated and found to be excellent predictors of performance at work.
Another Look at This Issue
Snake Oil, Science, And Performance Products – by Jeanne Farrington and Richard E. Clark
But Wait! There’s More!
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