The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. These preferences were extrapolated from the typological theories originated by Carl Gustav Jung, as published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923). The original developers of the personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. They began creating the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be “most comfortable and effective”. The initial questionnaire grew into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was first published in 1962. The MBTI focuses on normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences.
Fundamental to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the theory of psychological type as originally developed by C. G. Jung. Jung proposed the existence of two dichotomous pairs of cognitive functions:
- The “rational” (judging) functions: thinking and feeling
- The “irrational” (perceiving) functions: sensing and intuition
Jung went on to suggest that these functions are expressed in either an introverted or extroverted form. From Jung’s original concepts, Briggs and Myers developed their own theory of psychological type, described below, on which the MBTI is based.
The Myers-Briggs typology model regards personality type as similar to left or right handedness: individuals are either born with, or develop, certain preferred ways of thinking and acting. The MBTI sorts some of these psychological differences into four opposite pairs, or “dichotomies,” with a resulting 16 possible psychological types. None of these types is “better” or “worse”; however, Briggs and Myers theorized that individuals naturally prefer one overall combination of type differences. In the same way that writing with the left hand is hard work for a right-hander, so people tend to find using their opposite psychological preferences more difficult, even if they can become more proficient (and therefore behaviorally flexible) with practice and development.
Attitudes: Extraversion (E) / Introversion (I)
The preferences for extraversion (thus spelled in Myers-Briggs jargon) and introversion are sometimes referred to as attitudes. Briggs and Myers recognized that each of the cognitive functions can operate in the external world of behavior, action, people and things (extraverted attitude) or the internal world of ideas and reflection (introverted attitude). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sorts for an overall preference for one or the other of these.
The terms extravert and introvert are used in a special sense when discussing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their level of energy and motivation tends to decline. Conversely, those whose prefer introversion become less energized as they act: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. People who prefer introversion need time out to reflect in order to rebuild energy.
The extravert’s flow is directed outward toward people and objects, and the introvert’s is directed inward toward concepts and ideas. There are several contrasting characteristics between extraverts and introverts: extraverts are action-oriented and desire breadth, while introverts are thought-oriented and seek depth. Extraverts often prefer more frequent interaction, while introverts prefer more substantial interaction.
Functions: Sensing (S) / iNtuition (N) and Thinking (T) / Feeling (F)
Jung identified two pairs of psychological functions:
- The two perceiving functions, sensing and intuition
- The two judging functions, thinking and feeling According to the Myers-Briggs typology model, each person uses one of these four functions more dominantly and proficiently than the other three; however, all four functions are used at different times depending on the circumstances.
Sensing and Intuition are the information-gathering (perceiving) functions. They describe how new information is understood and interpreted. Individuals who prefer sensing are more likely to trust information that is in the present, tangible and concrete: that is, information that can be understood by the five senses. They tend to distrust hunches that seem to come out of nowhere. They prefer to look for details and facts. For them, the meaning is in the data. On the other hand, those who prefer intuition tend to trust information that is more abstract or theoretical, that can be associated with other information (either remembered or discovered by seeking a wider context or pattern). They may be more interested in future possibilities. They tend to trust those flashes of insight that seem to bubble up from the unconscious mind. The meaning is in how the data relates to the pattern or theory.
Thinking and feeling are the decision-making (judging) functions. The thinking and feeling functions are both used to make rational decisions, based on the data received from their information-gathering functions (sensing or intuition). Those who prefer thinking tend to decide things from a more detached standpoint, measuring the decision by what seems reasonable, logical, causal, consistent and matching a given set of rules. Those who prefer feeling tend to come to decisions by associating or empathizing with the situation, looking at it ‘from the inside’ and weighing the situation to achieve, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit, considering the needs of the people involved.
As noted already, people who prefer thinking do not necessarily, in the everyday sense, ‘think better’ than their feeling counterparts; the opposite preference is considered an equally rational way of coming to decisions (and, in any case, the MBTI assessment is a measure of preference, not ability). Similarly, those who prefer feeling do not necessarily have ‘better’ emotional reactions than their thinking counterparts.
Although people use all four cognitive functions, one function is generally used in a more conscious and confident way. This dominant function is supported by the secondary (auxiliary) function, and to a lesser degree the tertiary function. The fourth and least conscious function is always the opposite of the dominant function. Myers called this inferior function the shadow.
The four functions operate in conjunction with the attitudes (extraversion and introversion). Each function is used in either an extraverted or introverted way. A person whose dominant function is extraverted intuition, for example, uses intuition very differently from someone whose dominant function is introverted intuition.
Lifestyle: Judgment (J) / Perception (P)
Myers and Briggs added another dimension to Jung’s typological model by identifying that people also have a preference for using either the judging function (thinking or feeling) or their perceiving function (sensing or intuition) when relating to the outside world (extraversion).
Myers and Briggs held that types with a preference for judging show the world their preferred judging function (thinking or feeling). So TJ types tend to appear to the world as logical, and FJ types as empathetic. According to Myers, judging types prefer to “have matters settled.” Those types ending in P show the world their preferred perceiving function (sensing or intuition). So SP types tend to appear to the world as concrete and NP types as abstract. According to Myers, perceiving types prefer to “keep decisions open.”
For extraverts, the J or P indicates their dominant function; for introverts, the J or P indicates their auxiliary function. Introverts tend to show their dominant function outwardly only in matters “important to their inner worlds”.
Because ENTJ types are extraverts, the J indicates that their dominant function is their preferred judging function (extraverted thinking). ENTJ types introvert their auxiliary perceiving function (introverted intuition). The tertiary function is sensing and the inferior function is introverted feeling.
Because INTJ types are introverts, the J indicates that their auxiliary function is their preferred judging function (extraverted thinking). INTJ types introvert their dominant perceiving function (introverted intuition). The tertiary function is feeling, and the inferior function is extraverted sensing.
The expression of a person’s psychological type is more than the sum of the four individual preferences, because of the way in which the preferences interact through type dynamics and type development. Descriptions of each type can be found on the Myers & Briggs Foundation website.
There is an online personality test based on Myers-Briggs typology at HumanMetrics.
My type is ENTJ, what is yours?