My Authors
Read all threads
Myers-Briggs (MBTI) types come under frequent criticism from skeptical rationalists. In this thread, I consider and respond some of those criticisms from the perspective of Jung’s theory of psychological types and try to contextualize the enduring interest in MBTI types. 1/thread
The MBTI is a test developed based on the ideas of Carl Jung, which derive primarily from his book Psychological Types. By returning to Jung’s work, we can enrich our understanding of the MBTI and think with greater nuance about its criticisms and its potential utility. 2/50
MBTI types are, like many personality tests, criticized for stereotyping people and putting humans into little boxes. Psychometrically, it’s been noted that MBTI traits are distributed continuously, with most scores falling into the middle rather than into discrete types. 3/50
Jung did not describe types of people, however. His theory described four types of psychological *functions*, each of which in actual experience occur with a given attitude (or direction of focus: inner or outer). As such, he was describing types of *consciousness*. 4/50
We apprehend reality through the two irrational (passive, receptive) or perceiving (P) functions. Through sensation (S), we register reality as real, or see *that* a thing is. Through intuition (N), we register implications and possibilities, or see a thing’s *horizons*. 5/50
We interpret reality through the two rational (active, spontaneous) or judging (J) functions. In thinking (T), we name/define we are thinking, or conceptualize *what* a thing is. Through feeling (F), we assign value to what we perceive, or delineate what a thing is *worth*. 6/50
For Jung, an act of consciousness consists in a tripartite relationship or interplay between (a) an object in the world, (b) its subjective representation or inner object, and (c) the primordial image(s) (archetype[s]) constellated by the outer and inner objects. 7/50
(Side note: the MBTI diverges from Jung’s theories in treating perceiving/judging as an axis of personality independent from sensation/intuition and thinking/feeling. This is a mistake, in my view, that waters down the conceptual integrity and harmony of Jung’s system.) 8/50
Any concrete instance of a psychological function directs its energetic focus more or less toward the object in the world or the archetypal image: if primarily the former, the function’s attitude is extraverted, and if the latter, the function’s attitude is introverted. 9/50
So it should be clear that everyone embodies every single function type. Every person senses, intuits, thinks, and feels, and does so in a more or less extraverted or introverted way. As Jung said, “No function can be entirely eliminated—it can only be greatly distorted.” 10/50
A person’s personality type, for Jung, reflects their habitual mode of orienting toward experience. Jung classified people roughly by their superior function, the one most “under (conscious) control of the will” and which “predominates, both in strength and development.” 11/50
James Hillman noted: “in actuality the types are not easily recognized. The functional type is rarely evident. There are no pure types; there are no people in whom only one function operates and nothing else.” Types just are simplifications, full stop. No two ways about it. 12/50
The word ‘development’ is key: Jung’s typology was a developmental theory, and we distort matters when we consider the types apart from the idea of individuation, the process by which individuals become themselves, differentiated from the general, collective psychology. 13/50
In lifetime development, one function tends to predominate, while one remains relatively neglected: the shadow of the superior function is the inferior function, that which Marie Louise von Franz called “the ever bleeding wound of the conscious personality.” 14/50
Our inferior function comes out under stress, anxiety, or intoxication; is associated with shame and failure; and warehouses our repressed, neglected, and disavowed aspects of consciousness. Jung said the inferior function “lags behind in the process of differentiation.” 15/50
We never bring the inferior function into developmental balance with the superior, for the simple reason that our consciousness never grows so vast as to encompass the unconscious. (We also have auxiliary and tertiary functions, but that’s for another thread, perhaps.) 16/50
Jung also described how “under abnormal conditions,” e.g., when parents have extreme attitudes (personality distortions), “similar attitude can be forced on the children too, thus violating their individual disposition, which might have [normally] opted for another type.” 17/50
When a child’s personality is dominated by that of the parent, or of an institution, and the natural expression of their psychological functions are suppressed, Jung called this “falsification of type,” and thought that this process was one possible etiology of neurosis. 18/50
So we’re now in a position to think about some of the criticisms of the MBTI. It does describe stereotypes that people do not fit fully and that are not stable over the course of a lifetime (i.e., test-retest reliability is low). This is true for a couple of reasons. 19/50
First, personality evolves. People might score in the middle of Feeling and Thinking scales because their judging functions are not well-differentiated, either because that development has been hindered or has become confused through neurosis or stress. 20/50
von Franz noted that “People are often in stages where they are sure they are of a certain type, but you need the whole case history to know whether it is only a momentary stage of that person.” Only well-differentiated people will have stable, well-differentiated types. 21/50
Second, the attitude of the test taker matters. In states or periods of stress or anxiety, more unconscious functions will dominate and obscure the conscious, predominant type. When one must falsify the self, one’s authentic ways of relating to the world go into hidden. 22/50
Third, Jung conceived of the personality, just as he treated the psyche, as dynamic: our way of being, both internally and in the world, fluidly responds to intrapsychic and interpersonal pressures, and is adapting in the moment and adjusting over time. 23/50
Unlike most organizational and personality psychologists, Jung was not interested in prediction and control, and so was not interested in conceptualizing personality as that which is fixed and stable. He was interested in the trajectories by which we become human. 24/50
So the fact that empirical data do not show nice, bimodal distributions of introverts and extraverts, or thinkers and feelings, should not surprise us. Jung certainly did not predict as much, and described adequate reasons why people might be/appear undifferentiated. 25/50
Another criticism of the MBTI is that it is not well-validated compared to other empirical measures of personality, such as the five-factor model (of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). 26/50
There is some validity to this criticism. I personally feel that the MBTI does not do justice to Jung’s theory of personality (see the side note above, for one thing), which aims at a different order of analysis than the MBTI and other personality tests seek to measure. 27/50
On this point, from the perspective of Jungian analysts, a person’s psychological type cannot be determined from a one-time pencil and paper test. Once more from von Franz: “you have carefully to take the whole biography of that person to make a relatively safe diagnosis.” 28/50
Most personality tests aim to cluster together like behaviors into clusters of ways of being in the world, whereas Jung was not collating behaviors, but describing ways of taking in and making sense of the world: Jung’s was a theory of psyche, not behavior. 29/50
One last criticism of the MBTI that I will consider is that psychologists claim that it is not a good predictor of external criterion measures, such as occupational placement, happiness in marriage, scholastic success, and so forth. 30/50
This relates to what I’ve already said about Jung’s goals, and how they differ from that of natural scientific psychology. Jung thought that his psychological types could be observed in relatively equal frequencies irrespective of gender, societal rank, and so forth. 31/50
I have often reflected on why the MBTI and Jung’s theories come under such intense attack, while other personality tests and theories pass under the radar of vociferous rationalism and the fury of obsessive psychometric assault. 32/50
We might ask the obverse: why is it that despite its apparent “worthlessness,” the MBTI (and with it, Jung’s underlying ideas) maintain such cultural cachet and capture the interest of laypeople, often much more so than more empirically validated, scientific measures. 33/50
What if our psychological methods and measures were not aimed at prediction and control? What if we did not seek to place workers into jobs, or categorize students into academic tracks, or divide those destined for success from those with disabilities or troubles? 34/50
What if our psychology did not seek to “help” those who are suffering adapt to a culture that views them as units of economic productivity? What if we did not treat human beings as objects animated by happenstance, but ensouled subjects attuned to an enspirited world? 35/50
For all of Jung’s faults (and he and his theories have many), his ideas carry the irreplaceable and indestructible sediments of archetypal validity, and their enduring interest attests to the quality of living symbolism that he touched upon. 36/50
Jung’s psychological types perhaps are “invalid” for the purposes of a behavioristic, neoliberal, colonized psychology. What if this was not a mark against them, but rather a suggestion of their utility for a psychology of liberation and transformation? 37/50
Jung readily admitted that it “would be pretty pointless” to classify human beings into categories, and viewed his theory as a means by which psychological researchers could refine their sense of limitations, biases, and strengths, so as to be able to see more clearly. 38/50
Jung also didn’t conceive of himself as finding The Truth of personality psychology. He said, “The four functions are somewhat like the four points of the compass; they are just as arbitrary and just as indispensable…” 39/50
“…Nothing prevents our shifting the cardinal points as many degrees as we like in one direction or the other, or giving them different names. It is merely a question of convention and intelligibility.” Jung respected how different perspectives have different use & meaning. 40/50
Though the five factor model possesses greater psychometric validity, its structure is extrinsic to everyday interest and motives, and its utility reflects this. How many times have you heard people excitedly look into their openness, conscientiousness, or agreeableness? 41/50
The five factor model, like all of natural scientific psychology, seeks to causally explain human beings, not to understand them. Human beings, however, seek to understand themselves and one another. Tools that empower human understanding threaten colonial agendas. 42/50
Now, it would be to argue that Jung’s theories are in any way intrinsically decolonial. I don’t believe his ideas are inherently liberatory. I do think, though, that their popular appeal speaks to their archetypal potency, which merits continued reflection and study. 43/50
I have a hunch that the MBTI and Jung’s types are criticized so heavily precisely because they provide some real compass for people to actually begin to undertake self-exploration. I believe that astrology, Tarot, and so forth come under criticism for similar reasons. 44/50
The proper use of the MBTI & Jung’s theories may be to inspire, to encourage self-exploration, to throw someone more deeply into their undifferentiated state so that they can swim through the channels of those Neptunian waters toward their individuation and soul’s purpose. 45/50
As far as the MBTI vs. Jung’s theories, I view the former as a simplification of the latter, in much the same way that sun sign horoscopes are a simplification of a complex ancient tradition. Still, simplifications are often shimmering doorways into archetypal complexities. 46/50
Since I’m primarily a clinician whose orientation is strongly existential, I believe that the utility of theories matters as much as or more than their validity. If it changes someone’s life, I don’t care that its confirmatory factor analytic metrics are insufficient. 47/50
Vehement critics of the MBTI and Jung will not be convinced by any of this. Such “dogmatism of the intellectual formula” that cannot countenance other perspectives is characteristic of the thinking function rigidly in the extraverted mode, with all else unconscious. 48/50
Such extraverted-thinking, when it dominates, is “sterile and sterilizing…indescribably cheap, impoverished, and lacking in creative energy. It is a thinking taken in tow by other functions.” Let the critic criticize: “fanaticism is nothing but over-compensated doubt.” 49/50
Personally, I have found Jung’s theory of psychological types to be a powerful tool for developing greater self-compassion and empathy for those who differ greatly from me. Don’t let a little criticism stop you from using the MBTI to reflect on your lived experience. 50/thread
Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh.

Keep Current with Rain Mason, PhD, BLM, ACAB 🦊

Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!