Myers-Briggs and the Fiery Pits of Hell

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Circulating on Facebook these days is a link to something explaining "The Definition Of Hell For Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type." I rolled my eyes and then reposted the link too, adding, "I didn't even look at this, because hell to me would be to have to take the goddamn test and put any faith in its results. It's so freaking crude! No. Just no."

And someone who claimed "not to take things so seriously" showed up to tell me basically, how if I would, like her, take the test and care about the results and know what they mean, it would make that I didn't take the test so seriously, and that would be A Good Thing, whereas my dismissing it was Bad and meant that I took it way too seriously.


No doubt you've heard of the Myers-Briggs test. You might have taken it. You might even know and care about your type.

Good for you.

But here's the thing: it's been debunked as pseudoscience, criticized as meaningless. A lot.

And even if it hadn't, it sucks.

Let's start with the questions, which are crude and irritating. (These examples are taken from a MB ripoff, since the real test is a closely guarded expensive secret you have to pay a lot to see. More on that later.) The questions are "forced choice," meaning you are expected to answer yes/no or true/false to queries like this:

You are always looking for opportunities

Opportunities for what? Getting out of work? Hooking up? Scamming millions of dollars from widows and orphans? Saving some cash at a really great shoe sale? Going home early from work? Spending more time in your garden? What does the question even mean? How can a question so vague and meaningless elicit a meaningful answer?

Or this:

You are usually the first to react to a sudden event, such as the telephone ringing or unexpected question

Well, that depends. It depends on if I'm in the garden or the bathtub and it would be a pain to answer the phone. What if it's not my phone? (They really need to adapt that question to fit the advent of the cell phone. If there's no communally shared phone, the question makes no sense.) It depends on who else is around me. Sometimes I might be the first to respond because no one else steps up, but I might resent everyone else for not stepping up. Also: What about sudden events like someone choking at the dinner table? Or a rat darting across the floor?

I honestly don't see how a sentient being can be anything but bored silly by such stupid, meaningless questions.

Furthermore, the underlying assumptions are seriously flawed. Sure, human beings' interior lives occur along spectrums--they typically move from happy to sad to excited to calm. They can concentrate more or less as a situation requires. But the idea that human beings' interior lives occur at FIXED points on the spectrum--for instance, that thinking and feeling are, as Rene Descartes erroneously suggested, opposite poles, and that an individual does one more than the other as a general rule--is nonsense. People move along the scale regularly. In fact, modern brain research shows that for most people, thinking and feeling are not opposite ends of a spectrum but are instead so intertwined that they are the same thing.

The outmoded belief in people's affinity for opposing poles at either end of a spectrum is on a par with believing that, say, men are inherently superior to women because men are more rational and women are more emotional.

It's on a par with that idea because it's a product of that idea: the test relies on the theories of Carl Jung. a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist who saw men and women as fundamentally opposed: hence his notion of the anima and animus and his division and assignation of traits into them. He had to find a way to make any trait in himself that smacked of girliness somehow subordinate to his superior manliness.

In other words, it's about as scientific as astrology. On top of which, it's ugly, whereas astrology is at least elegant and organic. Yeah, it's debunked half-religion/half-science, but it's the product of a consistent world view, and there's balance and beauty in the way the planets are linked to the earth and the four elements are represented.

Understand: I'm not saying that makes astrology valid, just that it makes it aesthetically satisfying.

Whereas the Myers-Briggs test and its results are so ugly. NSFW and other four-letter initials work for describing dirty videos or corporate jobs, not human beings. There's nothing organic about it, either: it's a synthetic, artificial application of the ideas of one person to compartmentalized aspects of a couple of branches of social science.

And people put so much unquestioning faith in the Myers-Brigg test and its results that it has overtones of some sort of religion or cult, especially in business. I think that's due in part to the fact that the test has spawned an entire industry worth millions and millions of dollars.

People are extremely slow to relinquish faith in things they have invested time and money in, and the money to be made via the entire industry that has grown up around the Myers-Briggs means that people will continue to use and defend it, even though it's an utterly bogus creation based on misogynist nonsense.

Understand: I'm not objecting to the existence of this ridiculous contrived test any more than I object to the existence of BuzzFeed quizzes, which are essentially the same thing. Nor am I objecting, as one of my interlocutors on the subject assumed, to the fact that the test categorizes people into types--astrology does the same thing, and I find it aesthetically satisfying, after all. Most definitely, I'm not objecting in the slightest to the fact that people are interested in ways to better understand themselves, and I'm not even objecting to the fact that it's not scientific or that people make money from it.

I myself used to make a bit of money giving tarot readings. But I would tell people, "I'm going to construct a story about your life based on ten pieces of cardboard, so think very carefully about how much weight you want to give this in terms of making decisions." (Which is one reason I never made much money at it.)

If the people who took and administered the MBTI approached it with the same level of skepticism and provided the same sorts of cautions, well, who's to object?

But to require people to take it as part of a job application or promotion process? And to treat the results like they're actually authoritative?

No. That's bullshit. Boring, ugly, expensive, pseudoscientific bullshit.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on May 20, 2015 9:39 AM.

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