Almost every criticism that exists about Myers-Briggs psychology is based on the reliability of test scores. And I’m going to have to agree with the critics here: the test retest reliability of the instrument is not impressive. Many people get vastly different results every time they take the test: I myself have tested as an ENFP, ENFJ, INFJ, ISFJ and INFP over the years (the only thing I seem to consistently weigh in as is a feeler). And yet, I believe in Myers-Briggs psychology whole-heartedly. I believe that it is valid, accurate and representative of very real psychological processes that go on in our minds.
What I do not believe in are the online quizzes that simplify the MBTI down to a four-letter type. These quizzes (most of which are not the official MBTI but free knock-offs) seem to give inaccurate results almost all of the time. They are wildly unreliable and hopelessly invalid. Before you affirmatively declare yourself an INFJ or ENTJ based on the online quiz you just took, I’d like to beg you to consider the following issues and consider learning about cognitive functions or seeing an MBTI practitioner instead.
1. The quizzes test based on letter dichotomies, not cognitive functions.
Online quizzes will tell you if you are an “E” or an “I,” an “S” or an “N,” an “F” or a “T,” and a “J” or a “P.” These dichotomies mean almost nothing and are merely placeholders for the cognitive functions that explain our underlying psychological processes. You cannot properly determine or understand your four-letter type without first understanding the cognitive functions you employ. Most online quizzes don’t touch on cognitive functions, though.
It’s the equivalent of going to a doctor who diagnoses you solely on your outward appearance, without doing a single X-ray or test. You might look like you’re perfectly healthy when in actuality you have cancer. In the same way, you might seem like an INTJ but actually be an INFP. You have to test for what’s not immediately apparent – which the online quizzes don’t do.
2. It gives polarized results.
Here is the problem with dichotomies of any sort: They insist that you are one way or another. In reality, we are all sensors, intuitives, thinkers, feelers, judgers, perceivers, introverts and extroverts in different situations, at different times in our lives. Cognitive function theory explains that we all posses each trait that exits on the dichotomy. We simply use them in a specific order, and that order determines our type.
Thinkers have feelings. Feelers have thoughts. Judgers are occasionally indecisive and personally, I’m a perceiver who sticks to the same daily schedule religiously. Fitting ourselves neatly into one group or the other is arbitrary and unrealistic – we all use each mental process in different ways.
The polarized dichotomies that are doled out by online tests lead to a great deal of confusion about type. The deep-thinking sensor might assume themselves to be an intuitive, or the pragmatic feeler might market themselves as a thinker. In reality, we cannot simplify our entire personalities into neat little boxes labeled “N,” “S,” “T,” or “F.” None of us are all one way or another but the letter dichotomy tests (incorrectly) imply that we are solely emotional or entirely logical that’s the end of the story.
3. Self-report bias is real and it skews results monstrously.
If there’s one thing they drill into your brain when you take an undergraduate degree in psychology, it’s that we almost entirely lack the ability to objectively assess ourselves. Because we know ourselves so intricately, we can find back-up facts to support just about anything we’d like to believe about ourselves. When a test asks us if we’re logical, we think, “Last week I didn’t buy lunch out because I wanted to save money,” and we click, “Yes. Very logical.” We ignore the seventeen other times this month when we DID splurge.
This bias is unbelievably present when it comes to Myers-Briggs questionnaires. Most of them use direct self-reports: Meaning there’s no deception involved in the analysis of the test – they just straight-up ask you if you’re loud or quiet, abstract or grounded, logical or emotional and structured or spontaneous and trust you to give accurate answers. We all like to think that we know ourselves well enough to answer the questions honestly – but the sad truth is that most of the time, we simply answer based on how we wish we were, rather than how we actually are.
4. The language that online tests use is convoluted and often misleading.
Because online tests assess type based on dichotomies, they often don’t pick up on the subtle inconsistencies in Myers-Briggs theory. For example, asking someone if they’re spontaneous or routine oriented only really determines their “J” or “P” preference if they’re a sensor. For intuitives, being a judger versus a perceiver has more to do with how you analyze new information and plan the future. However, the quizzes tend to assess everyone’s J or P preference based on spontaneity, which means we end up with a large amount of intuitive perceivers thinking they’re judgers. This isn’t a self-report bias problem – it’s an issue with the test itself.
Additionally, the language used in online Myers-Briggs tests is often overly theoretical and ambiguous. Quiz-takers aren’t always completely sure of what they’re being asked, or they interpret a question one way when it’s meant to be taken another. The questions are largely based on theoretical constructs that are clear to the test creators but not to the test takers – this gives way to a breakdown in communication that can yield wildly inaccurate results.
5. Your actual type is based on mental processes you employ, not on opinions you hold about yourself.
At the end of the day, without a thorough understanding of the cognitive functions and how they manifest (and in some cases, even WITH that knowledge), it’s impossible to judge your own type. Your behavior is not indicative of the type that you are – your brain is.
An ENTP may insist that they are a J, despite everything about their tangent-oriented speech pattern indicating extroverted intuition. An INFP may passionately argue that they feel like an INFJ, in the way that only someone with introverted feeling truly could. Licensed MBTI practitioners (if they are any good) can pick up on these patterns in speech and thought and identify them as the cognitive functions that they truly represent. Online quizzes simply give you the four-letter type that corresponds to the person you want to be. If you’re happy with the misrepresentation, take a free online assessment. If you want to know your true type, however, you’re going to have to see a professional or start doing some serious research.