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Answering your questions about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The MBTI® assessment was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Both were highly educated college graduates who employed the scientific method in creating the assessment. Although neither were psychologists, they spent years studying Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types and join the ranks of people like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and Jane Goodall, who made lasting contributions to their fields despite a lack of formal training.
Myers worked with the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey, a major assessment publisher, who helped develop the MBTI assessment and publish it in 1962.
Since then, the MBTI assessment has been updated regularly based on continuing research by trained psychologists.
The history of the MBTI® assessment spans many years, from its inception by Katharine Briggs, based on Carl Jung’s theory, development by Isabel Myers until her death, and to the ongoing development today by teams of psychologists including the research team at The Myers-Briggs Company (formerly CPP, Inc.).
- 1943: The first version of the MBTI assessment is developed
- 1962: Educational Testing Service (ETS) publishes an updated form of the MBTI assessment
- 1977: CPP releases Form G, the original commercial version of the MBTI assessment
- 1997: OPP Ltd (UK distributor of the MBTI assessment) releases the European English Step I™ assessment after extensive national data collection
- 1998: CPP releases Form M of the MBTI Step I™ assessment after extensive national data collection
- 2001: CPP releases Form Q of the MBTI Step II™ assessment
- 2003–2007: OPP and CPP research and release new version of the MBTI Step II™ assessment in European English and 8 other European languages
- 2018: The Myers-Briggs Company (formerly CPP, Inc.) releases an international revision, the Global Step I™ and Global Step II™ assessments
The MBTI global assessments more accurately measure personality type across different countries and cultures and provide a consistent assessment and reporting experience for all respondents, with no reduction in the accuracy of the resulting type preferences.
The MBTI® assessment is most often used by organizational development professionals, coaches, and consultants, as well as by career counselors and educators. A fundamental step in any change process is to develop and improve self-awareness. For the MBTI assessment, this awareness is about one’s own and others’ predilections to behave in specific ways. This information can then be used to improve interpersonal skills, manage conflict, improve relationships, and inform career choices. Researchers in a variety of domains make use of the MBTI assessment and type concepts when examining normal personality and related attributes. The MBTI assessment is not used to a great extent by clinical psychologists because it assesses normal personality, not mental health and disorders. The MBTI assessment is also used by human resource professionals for a variety of purposes. However, the MBTI assessment is not intended for use as part of a hiring process, nor to assign people to specific teams, roles, or functions within an organization.
The MBTI® assessment builds an understanding of strengths and blind spots. It also helps people understand how they might differ from one another. It is valuable for individuals and teams as they tackle such challenges as communication, handling conflict, managing change, making decisions, being a leader, or changing careers.
The MBTI assessment is far more than just a personality questionnaire. Its benefits include:
- A common language for understanding and describing the interpersonal differences that define us as individuals
- An easy-to-understand but sophisticated way of understanding how people are similar and how they are different
- Memorable and inspiring insights that help people understand challenging relationships
- A positive view of all personalities, which avoids defensiveness and invites people to make genuine and lasting changes to their behavior
The MBTI framework is designed specifically for individual growth and development. As such, the assessment and interpretation process provide an opportunity for personal exploration that is difficult to achieve with other assessments.
No. The MBTI® assessment is not intended for use in selection of job candidates, nor for making internal decisions regarding job placement, selection for teams or task forces, or other similar activities. The Myers & Briggs Foundation is clear regarding the ethical use of the MBTI assessment: It is unethical to require job applicants to take the assessment if the results will be used to screen out applicants.
The design of the MBTI assessment is for development, not for selection:
- Items in the MBTI assessment are “clear-purpose,” meaning that no attempt is made to disguise which preference pair an item is designed to measure. Consequently, by simply doing some background research about what the MBTI assessment measures, job candidates could easily fake their responses to generate what they might see as an “ideal” profile for the job to which they are applying.
- Similarly, the MBTI assessment does not incorporate any sort of “lie scale” to serve as an alert that a candidate may not be responding honestly.
- The assessment is focused on an individual’s personality preferences, rather than a person’s skill or competence. No preference is seen as “bad” or as something that should be screened out during the hiring process. Instead, a person’s preference indicates their natural way of doing things, but individuals can learn to be flexible and engage in behaviors outside of their preference when a particular situation calls for it. For example, someone with a preference for Introversion might be very good at public speaking or networking, it might just take that person more energy.
- Finally, the ethos of the MBTI assessment is that the questionnaire is used in conjunction with interactive feedback, where the individual works out what type best fits him or her; this approach is not suited to selection as the individual could, essentially, choose whichever type the hiring managers want to see.
Given that it is not appropriate for selection, there have (appropriately) been no meaningful studies evaluating the MBTI’s ability to predict job performance. Established researchers in the field of predicting job performance would not use the MBTI assessment for this purpose. On the other hand, numerous meaningful studies have examined the value of the MBTI assessment in the context of individual development.
The MBTI® assessment was not designed to describe every aspect of personality. It focuses on four preference pairs:
- Extraversion–Introversion (E–I): From where you get your energy
- Sensing–Intuition (S–N): What information you prefer to gather and trust
- Thinking–Feeling (T–F): The process you prefer to use in making decisions
- Judging–Perceiving (J–P): How you deal with the world around you
This isn’t to say that everyone who has a preference for Sensing, for example, is alike in every aspect. Personality is more complex than that! However, sorting people into the 16 types based on certain aspects of personality can illustrate how people are alike and how they are different. Looking at personality in this way is useful for certain purposes.
No personality assessment measures all aspects of personality or completely describes an individual. All personality assessments are using a model (some based on theory, some lacking a theory) to summarize large groups of individuals in a relatively small number of useful descriptors.
The MBTI® assessment looks at our personality preferences. We all have preferences for all sorts of things; most of use prefer to use one hand rather than the other when we write something, for example. Having a preference doesn’t mean that you can’t do things in a different way; if you are left-handed, you can probably write with your right hand if you need to. In the same way, we all have preferences when it comes to our personality. The Jung-Myers approach focuses on four pairs of preferences:
- Extraversion–Introversion (E–I): Do you prefer to get your energy from, and focus your attention on, the outside world of people and things (E) or your inner world of thoughts, feelings, and reflections (I)?
- Sensing–Intuition (S–N): Do you prefer to gather and trust information that is realistic, concrete, practical, and gathered by your five senses (S) or information based on connections, possibilities, ideas, and what could be (N)?
- Thinking–Feeling (T–F): Do you prefer to make decisions on the basis of objective logic (T) or on how the decision will affect people and whether it agrees with your values (F)?
- Judging–Perceiving (J–P): Do you prefer to live your life in an ordered, structured way, seeking closure (J) or in an emergent, spontaneous way, keeping your options open (P)?
According to Jung-Myers theory, you will have a preference for E or for I, for S or for N, for T or for F, and for J or for P.
In his seminal work, Psychological Types, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung discussed in detail three of the four preference pairs measured by the MBTI® assessment. The fourth preference pair was implied but not fully developed in his work. Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs included this fourth preference pair (Judging–Perceiving) in their model of personality, leading to the 16 types measured by the MBTI assessment. When Myers and Briggs developed the MBTI assessment, their mission was to make Jung’s theory of personality types accessible to the general population.
The MBTI assessment is backed up by 75 years of research and continues to be refined and updated. The assessment also has considerable evidence for its reliability and validity, much of which is reported in its manual. You may find free questionnaires that are based on Jung and Myers and Briggs' theory and that talk about the four preference pairs. But free personality assessments typically lack evidence showing they are reliable and valid measures.
Even when individuals are very sure of their four-letter type, it may be useful for them to take the MBTI Step II assessment. This instrument looks at the behavioral facets within a person’s four-letter type, revealing what makes them different to others of the same Step I type. Typically, completing the Step II assessment will add much more to an individual’s understanding of personality than simply completing the Step I assessment again.
I’ve heard the MBTI® assessment is a personality type questionnaire, not a trait questionnaire. What does this mean?
The MBTI® assessment is based on type theory, which states that personality has qualitatively different attributes. Qualitatively different means that one category differs from the other in a manner that is more than the amount of an attribute. For example, we either have a preference for Thinking or for Feeling, which are two qualitatively different ways of making decisions. In MBTI theory we can and do use both preferences, but one is more natural.
A different model of understanding personality is “trait” theory. Trait theory states that there are underlying characteristics that everyone has, and people have different “amounts” of these characteristics. For example, everyone has some degree of self-acceptance, but some people have a lot of self-acceptance, others have little self-acceptance, and still others fall anywhere in between “a lot” and “a little.”
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, and both can be useful in different contexts. Alternatively, the two different types of assessments can be used together to gain a more in-depth picture of someone’s personality.
People are complex. It often takes time to really get to know someone and understand how that person does things and why. However, there are patterns in how people behave and their motivations. With time, as we get to know our friends and colleagues, we often build up an idea of how we are similar and how we differ.
The MBTI assessment is simply another way of building up that picture and understanding others better. Every person is a unique individual, but we share certain characteristics. Your MBTI preferences show you that you have certain things in common with others of the same MBTI type. They also highlight how you might be different from others with a different type than yours.
What the MBTI assessment does not do is describe your whole personality or identity. It certainly does not define you! Instead, it focuses on four core aspects of personality. It is also worth remembering that personality is not the only thing that influences how we behave. For example, we all have different motivations, experiences, values, hobbies, skills, and cultures that shape us.
Some people do say they feel “put into a box” and this can be the case with any personality questionnaire, not just the MBTI assessment. People with an unsatisfactory MBTI experience are often those who did not participate in a skilled interpretation session with an MBTI certified practitioner, and they may not have had the chance to discover their best-fit type. Therefore, a feedback session with an MBTI certified practitioner or completing MBTIonline, which includes an interactive feedback session, is recommended.
It is well established that the Myers-Briggs® assessment meets all requirements for educational and psychological tests, and you can access information on its validity and reliability. Scientists have been scrutinizing it for more than 50 years, and it has been cited and reviewed thousands of times (a Google Scholar search for “MBTI” found over 31,000 records). The Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) also publishes helpful information on the reliability and validity of the Myers-Briggs assessment.
For more information, take a look at this webinar and whitepaper that deconstruct common criticisms of the MBTI assessment.
It is common to find quotes indicating that 50 percent of participants received a different classification on one or more of the MBTI scales when they take the MBTI assessment again This is because it is not simply a matter of having one preference pair result matching. All four preference pairs need to match.
Validity looks at whether an assessment measures what it is supposed to measure. The MBTI® assessment is supposed to measure personality type and then to be used as a tool for individual development and self-awareness. Much evidence has accumulated supporting the validity of the MBTI assessment, and this evidence has been published in four manuals (1962, 1985, 1998, 2018) and a variety of technical supplements. The latest and exhaustive summary of validity evidence for the MBTI Step I™ and Step II™ assessments can be found in chapters 9 and 10 of the MBTI® Manual for the Global Step I™ and Step II™ Assessments (Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 2018).
The MBTI assessment has been found to be valid in a number of ways, with studies that evaluate the following:
- Relationships with behavior
- Relationships with other questionnaires
- Internal measurement structure
- Predictive validity
- Perceived value
- Practical validity
A wealth of research-based evidence on MBTI validity can be found in the manuals, technical briefs, and supplements, and more is also available in this document.
Also check out The Myers & Briggs Foundation website and the library page at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, which maintains an extensive database of MBTI research.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Myers-Briggs, MBTI, Step I, Step II, Introduction to Type, the MBTI logo, and The Myers-Briggs Company logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of The Myers & Briggs Foundation, Inc. in the United States and other countries. California Psychological Inventory, CPI, CPI 260, and Strong Interest Inventory are trademarks or registered trademarks of The Myers-Briggs Company in the United States and other countries.
Benchmarks, Center for Creative Leadership, and CCL are registered trademarks owned by the Center for Creative Leadership.
Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children and MMTIC are trademarks or registered trademarks of the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, Inc., in the United States and other countries.
The NEO Personality Inventory, NEO, NEO-PI, and NEO™ Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) are trademarks of Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.
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