Some see them as hokey claptrap on a par with astrology, tarot-card readers, and TV psychics. Others believe they give an insight into a person’s true nature and can provide life-changing guidance. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe you could have predicted that by my type.
What I’m referring to is the pop psychology phenomenon, MBTI. The psychometric theory has its roots in the book ‘Psychological Types’ by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, who proposed a typological theory based on four principal functions of how humans experience the world: Sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking.
The theory was expanded by authors Katharine Briggs Myers and her daughter Isabel. It being World War II, the pair hoped to ease women into the workforce by using a psychometric assessment to identify jobs best suited to them. The questionnaire expanded Jung’s work by adding two new functions: extrovert or introvert, and judging or perceiving.
Psychometric testing has been largely shunned by the scientific community, mostly because it can produce wildly inconsistent results. You might take the test one day and discover you’re an INTP: supposedly an Einstein type, slightly scatter-brained but capable of plucking genius ideas out of thin air. Next week you might repeat the test and discover you’re actually a serious-minded, traditional ISTJ: a ‘Duty Fulfiller’. This will understandably make little to no sense.
The tests are invariably linked to mood, and how you view yourself at the time. One day you might be feeling emotional, and type yourself as a ‘feeler’ – the next, you’ve got your cool, rational head on and believe you’re a ‘T’.
The question I want to ask is: can these the tests be beneficial for mental health? In my experience, a little of yes, a little of no. I became slightly obsessed with them in my soul-searching early 20’s (still haven’t found the damn thing), and found I teetered between two contrasting types, which caused me no end of consternation. I’d take the test on a daily basis, hoping I’d come to a definitive conclusion if I thought hard enough.
Turned out, I really was between two types, which was deeply unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, I did learn a few important things about myself which cleared up some confusion. I discovered I’m an introvert, which perhaps I should have guessed from the fact I was spending three hours a day desperately introspecting while my peers were out bar-hopping. I guess sometimes you need to be told by a website.
Where I found confusion was over feeling and thinking. Basically, I learnt I’m somewhere in between: I use both emotions and thoughts in equal measure when deciding things.
These by themselves didn’t particularly help me to understand why I am the way I am, but the type’s description did help to give me some clarity on certain things. I learnt that my type might be more sensitive and feel things more deeply; also that my inner conviction that I’m right can make me neglect other points of view, stopping me from hearing all sides of an issue.
However, in terms of explaining more serious mental illness, MBTI testing will crumple. Though there have been vague theories that introspecting introverts are more prone to feeling down or anxious, very little correlation has been found between your personality type and how happy you are.
In theory, the test could be used to help you narrow down those with whom you have a common bond with more quickly. Perhaps if you spent time analysing people’s types before you properly got to know them, you could weed out people with whom you share little connection.
But sadly, as dating sites like EHarmony have shown us, all the tests in the world are a poor substitute for real, physical chemistry. Also, people’s responses to testing can be more of a reflection of how they see themselves as opposed to how they really are. Who’s going to answer no to ‘Do you easily think up novel solutions to things?’ and ‘Do you easily empathize with people?’
Personality tests can become slightly addictive – it feels nice to be told how unique you are, and certainly, you will find that certain aspects of your type’s description may ring true. They could also deeply confuse you if you took them too seriously. I’m supposed to “report experiences of a psychic nature, such as getting strong feelings about there being a problem with a loved one, and discovering later that they were in a car accident”. Try as I might, I haven’t yet tapped into The Shining.
So ultimately, give them a go. They may help explain certain parts of your personality which confuse you, or you’ve noticed make you stand out from others. It may help you realise that the way you are is in large part out of your control. But don’t take them as gospel, because they’re frequently influenced by mood, and can reflect how you’d like to be rather than who you are.