Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Common Misconceptions About MBTI Theory, Jung and Verification of Type

Myth #1: Tests Don't Work

Usually, this is said in one of two contexts:

(1) A person took a free, not scientifically validated test and the type didn't fit.
(2) Somebody wants to challenge someone else's type. The person has reported and confirmed their type with a professional and points this out. Unable to one-up with an actual argument as to why the person is not x type, they claim that test results are inaccurate.

Listen, of course you shouldn't blindly accept test results, but it's not an all-or-none proposition. Be smart about the tests you take. Obviously, if it's Similarminds, it isn't going to mean much. The official MBTI is statistically validated although it does suffer from a compromised test/retest reliability (generally around areas of slight preference). For that reason, there will always be a debriefing with the MBTI, explaining and interpreting the preferences. You then verify your type. In general, 75-80% of the time, people verify on 3 of the 4 preferences. According to MBTI theory, Self-verification trumps reported type, but all this means is that test results have to be interpreted. In general, the greater clarity of preferences, the more confident you can be about their results.

Myth #2: Descriptions are "wrong"

See point #1. It's true, the descriptions represent the most common ways these tendencies manifest, and are based on healthy (if not ideal) type development. Still, rejecting the descriptions wholesale is as bad as expecting one type description to be a perfect fit. If someone is well-reflected in the type description, that means that they exhibit typical ways the preferences manifest. It makes no sense to discount that on the basis that the descriptions are less than perfect. In fact, during the verification process, if your verified and reported types don't match up, your practitioner may have you read both descriptions as a tie-breaker.

Myth #3: If you test as an INTP but are close on T/F, you can't be INTP, because Thinking is INTP's lead function.

This is due to a confusion between preference clarity and function order. Jung posited a hierarchy of functions with the dominant (or lead) function being most developed. However, when you take the MBTI, it measures clarity of preference, not intensity of development. In short, preference clarity determines your confidence in your answers. A slight result on a preference indicates you were more conflicted. However, there are a lot of reasons this can occur. The biggest is environmental pressures to use the opposite preference. For example, an INTP college professor trying to make tenure will need to engage their feeling more: accommodating students to get positive evaluations, participating on committees, showing a commitment to department values, and so forth. She may indeed endorse more thinking than feeling items overall but, recalling her recent behavior, also endorse more feeling items than she might in a more type-congruent work environment, resulting in a "slight" result. Introverted Thinking may be her dominant function, but recent attempts to engage her inferior feeling will influence how she answers.

Myth #4: Jung presented a cognitive system of personality.

Some theorists, popularizing the functions, prefer to make them more accessible by calling them "cognitive" functions. It's true that the MBTI conceptualizes S/N as how we take in information and T/F as how we make judgments, so I can see the natural progression towards describing the functions as "cognitive." However, make no mistake, Jung was presenting a theory of the unconscious: in particular, function order indicated how much conscious access we had to each function, with individual and social problems boiling down to people being too one-sided and only developing the conscious personality. To then call the functions "cognitive" is a lot like calling psychoanalysis CBT.

Myth #5: I don't really have Extraverted Feeling but I have Introverted Intuition and Introverted Thinking so I'm an INFJ on an Ni/Ti loop

Your auxiliary, by virtue of being the auxiliary, is the second most conscious function. If your thinking is more developed than your feeling, you aren't an INFJ, you're an INTJ. Now, early Jungians thought that the auxiliary was in the same attitude as the dominant. Even the MBTI manual allows, in the chapter on counseling, for people to develop an auxiliary that is in the same attitude as the dominant. Note on page 226:"Some Extraverts seem to use their auxiliary function as well as their dominant function in the Extraverted attitude. This makes them appear to others as 'extreme Extraverts.'" and, further down the page, "Some Introverted clients introvert both their dominant and auxiliary functions, making them appear as 'extreme introverts.'" If you're an INFJ but your introversion is extreme, then you may see more Introverted Feeling in your personality. If, however, you see neither Introverted nor Extraverted Feeling in your personality, but you do see Introverted Thinking, then you may want to examine whether INFJ is the best fit for you.

Myth #6: all talk of the four letter types = the "MBTI."

MBTI refers to a test. MBTI theory refers to the theory that has evolved by researchers involved in the test and which has been published by people affiliated with the test. (Researchers, trainers and practitioners.) Keirsey is not the MBTI. Nor is Socionics. Nor is what the 30 year old pizza delivery driver living in his mom's basement posted on a message board. Don't get me wrong: there's a lot about MBTI theory that I like to, and have, critiqued. However, when I do so, I'm positing it as an alternative interpretation of Jung's thought. (And, for the love of God, please don't take it as more than tossing out preliminary ideas for further exploration or discussion, and whatever you do, don't type yourself based on my musings.) In short: call it MBTI theory when you're referring to findings or underlying concepts related to the official inventory. Don't if you aren't. If you want a catch-all, "Jung/MBTI/etc" or "Jung/MBTI related theory" works, too. Also, if you're using the Berens approach that incorporates MBTI with temperament and interaction styles, use "temperament theory" "4 lenses on type" or just "Berens'."

Myth #7: People test as the type they want to be.

So, you're convinced that a certain INFJ is really an ESFP. When they point out how they test as INFJ, you tell them, "yeah, but people often test as how they want to see themselves, not as they are." While it's true that societal pressures can make us feel we "should" be certain types more than others, that level of confusion (outside of, say, taking the test in a professional or clinical setting) would point to a clinical degree of identity uncertainty. Now, what does happen is that when the test is taken for reasons other than personal growth (say, at work) a person will test as how they feel they should be in the eyes of their employer. Also possible is role-influence: an ISFJ engineering major may test as an ISTJ because his role requires using T more often and, remembering those instances, answers that way. Usually, a strong preference isn't indicated, though. Finally, people can (and, I suspect, most often do) mistype from lack of knowledge: type as an F because they think they're "emotional" or as I because they think Es like to party constantly, etc.

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