Many Eagles remember the first time they took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) exam. They remember laboring through all 93 questions, seeing that four-letter combination pop up on their screen and reading the following description as if it was a window into their own lives. And they are not alone.
With approximately 2 million participants per year, the Myers-Briggs exam is probably the most widely used personality test in the world, rivaled only by the most popular of Buzzfeed quizzes. And oddly enough this comparison is fitting because, as it turns out, the MBTI is just about as likely to accurately predict your personality type as a Buzzfeed quiz is likely to accurately predict which U.S. president you are most like.
The test, which is used at corporations, non-profit organizations and governments around the world, claims that based on an individual’s answers to its 93 questions, it can accurately group that individual into one of sixteen different “types.” The only problem is that these personality types are based on the writings by Carl Jung done nearly 100 years ago, far before psychology was an empirical science.
In fact, most of the modern psychological community has disregarded the MBTI and several studies have shown that
the test is ineffective at predicting the success of individuals in various occupations. It has also been noted that of the people who take the test more than once, about half get different results each time.
And this is not to be unexpected. Jung himself noted in his writings that the categories were approximations and that “every individual is an exception to the rule.” He further noted, “There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum. They are only terms to designate a certain penchant, a certain tendency... the tendency to be more influenced by environmental factors, or more influenced by the subjective factor, that’s all.“
So why is the test still as popular as it is? The answer lies in two parts.
The first and less interesting part of the answer lies in one simple word: money. CPP, the test’s publisher, makes approximately $20 million annually and the MBTI is held as the publisher’s flagship product. People who wish to take the exam are charged rates between $15 to $40 and those who wish to become test administrators are charged $1700. This is not to mention that a reported 89 of the Fortune 100 and about 200 federal agencies utilize the test to sort employees and future hires into these 16 categories.
The more interesting notion as to why the Myers-Briggs exam is so popular is actually a well-established psychological phenomenon called the “Von Restorff effect.” The Von Restorff effect states, “that an item that sticks out is more likely to be remembered than other items.”
Therefore, when participants of the Myers-Briggs exam read the description for their personality type, they are more likely to recall the character points that they feel are most accurate because it sticks out to them more while those that don’t apply to them are likely to be skimmed over and forgotten. This presents the individuals who take the exam with a misconceived memory of the exam as having been accurate when in all likelihood the memory they hold is, in fact, biased.
And so, it may be best that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator follow in the steps of the horoscope, another popular personality indicator: taken for its entertainment value and not so much for its analytical value.