Monday, June 29, 2015

Who am I & What's Really Wrong with MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)?

Lately, the WIRED article titled, "The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is Bunk But I Don't Care" has been making its rounds in my social networking spheres. I thought I'd take a few moments to weigh in with my reflections on this particular phenomenon.

In the past, I have typically tended to follow the author's view that "The biggest problem with Myers-Briggs is what happens when any useful descriptor gets turned into dogma." In a practical sense this is true, because the most effective uses that I've experienced have been more in a team building setting where co-workers use the self-evaluation questions to provide helpful descriptors to try to better understand each other. When I worked at a local scientific company, this helped because the ratio of engineers, scientists, and chemists to marketing, advertising and creative types was significantly imbalanced. Helping each other understand that there were different work styles to be valued and appropriated actually improved the overall effectiveness of our product division. In that sense, I've held a positive view of the use of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Likewise, my negative experiences with MBTI were mostly concerned with the dogmatic application of categories. Teachers and school counselors would use the results of the test to pigeon hole young students into particular fields of study and to rule out "non-compatible" fields. Human resource directors would use the results of the test to qualify or rank employment candidates based whether their type indicator was a good projected fit for the role. Given the fact that any given test taker's results can change from hour to hour, both of these have always seemed like tenuous and possibly tragic applications of the test theory. 

Some will argue that the key to the test is answering the test authentically from some immutable sense of the truth of our inner being. In my case, I had taken the test so many times, I could manipulate the outcome of the test by answering the questions to fit basically any personality type desired.

A few years ago, our church hosted TruthExchange author and speaker Peter Jones, and since then I've come to learn more about the influences of neo-paganism, 
eastern religions, and the "new spirituality" on our rapidly changing culture. Although I do remember reading that the MBTI originated with Carl Jung, I had never considered how the "new spirituality" paradigm of its originator could matter much in terms of something that seemed so logical. scientific, and matter of fact to the professional community. 

In the WIRED article, the author asserts that another key problem with the test was that it creates dichotomies between the various types and that the issue is that many people fall in between in the gray areas. However, I disagree that creating such dichotomies is really an issue. On the purely practical level, most of the later programs that utilize MBTI, such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, provide a methodology of interpretation for these gray areas.

So, What's Really Wrong with the MBTI?

The real issue, as I see it, emanates from the fact that MBTI results in justifying our preferences and feelings -- even our sinful tendencies -- by convincing ourselves and others that preferences and tendencies actually define who we are. The test accepts as normal and codifies things that should not be. 

Let's look at a few of the questions on one of the MBTI tests to see whether or not they are morally neutral:
You are almost never late for your appointments. Yes or No  
Observance of the established rules is likely to prevent a good outcome. Yes or No  
You tend to sympathize with other people.  Yes or No  
You prefer to isolate yourself. Yes or No  
You avoid being bound by obligations. Yes or No  
You have good control over your desires and temptations. Yes or No  
You try to stand firmly by your principles. Yes or No  
When considering a situation you pay more attention to the current situation and less to consequences.Yes or No  
Your decisions are based more on the feeling of a moment than on the thorough understanding.  Yes or No  
Your decisions are easily affected by strong emotions.  Yes or No  
You often think about humankind and its destiny. Yes or No  
The fact that the MBTI allows the test taker to answer yes or no is not the real problem, as the author of the original article supposes.The issue is that the MBTI codifies and normalizes both answers by providing us with labels that are socially respected and psychologically accepted. Peter Jones tells us that the synthesis of opposites is a key modus operandi of the new age movement. "New spirituality" oneness removes distinctions of good and evil, blurring the lines between Creator and creature. 

Folks, our identity is not found in our preferences. Our identity is found in our Creator and Redeemer alone. If our tendencies or preferences don't match His pattern for what is good and right, then we should not baptize those tendencies by adopting psychologically acceptable labels that remove the need for a Savior and to change/repent. 

At the beginning of the article, the author quips that astrology is mere superstition and rubbish. And while I am not in anyway trying to get all "conspiracy theory" here, let us not be fooled. New age spirituality and neo-paganism are nothing new under the sun. They go all the way back to the serpent in the garden.

 people will harmlessly use the MBTI as a fun and interesting way of describing themselves. Some teachers, counselors, and employers will dogmatically apply the results in ways that are counterproductive. However, we as Christians need to realize not only the limitations, but the possible self-delusional nature of relying on the test results to inform our identities and who we believe ourselves to be. If we recognize the inherent weaknesses found in each of the profile types and understand them as ways to grow and improve -- rather than writing them off as excuses -- the MBTI could prove to be a beneficial tool for improving relationships. 

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