Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

  • Adrian FurnhamEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_50-1


Personality Disorder Personality Test Eysenck Personality Questionnaire Psychological Type Trait Theorist 
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Myers-Briggs Type Indicator-Form G (MBTI: Myers and Myers (1990)). The Myers-Briggs indicator is a Jungian-based inventory that uses a paper-and-pencil self-report format. It is composed of 94 forced-choice items that yield scores on each of the eight factors as well as the famous four dimensions: Introversion–Extraversion, Sensation–Intuition, Thinking–Feeling, and Judging–Perceiving. Respondents are classified into one of 16 personality types based on the largest score obtained for each bipolar scale (e.g., a person scoring higher on Introversion than Extraversion, Intuition than Sensation, Feeling than Thinking, and Judging than Perceiving would be classified as an Introverted Intuitive Feeling Judging). The test provides linear scores on each dimension which are usually discussed in terms of types based on cut-off scores. Thus the Extraversion-Introversion dimension has a normal distribution with high scores being considered Extraverted and low Introverted.


Without doubt the most widely known and used personality test in the world is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It is estimated that many million people take it every year in the world, possibly up to five million. It has been translated into over two dozen languages.

Devito (1985), over 30 years ago, described the MBTI as “probably the most widely used instrument for non-psychiatric populations in the area of clinical, counselling, and personality testing” (p. 1030). Popularity has however been more a function of marketing than psychometric excellence, so while it is used extensively in training courses and workshops of all kinds, it is much less used by those differential psychologists working in personality research.

The MBTI is based, very loosely, on Jungian theory and is a four-dimensional model which allows people to be described by four letters (e.g., ENTJ, ISFP) representing their particular type.

The TI in MBTI stands for Type Indicator. Types (e.g., gender) are regarded as categories of membership that are distinct and discontinuous. In trait theories, people differ in amounts on a single continuum. Trait theorists see the difference between individuals quantitatively rather than qualitatively. Typological theory suggests a discontinuity between similar behaviors, while trait theory does not. Trait theorists believe that on all variables there is a continuum and that cut-off into types are therefore arbitrary or at least follow a set convention.

Type concepts are now “out of date” as we see in the debate between psychologists and psychiatrists concerning the personality disorders. Although we talk in type terms, it is recommended that we understand the strength of a particular preference.

History and Theory

Myers and McCaulley (1985) developed the original MBTI. They proposed that four personal preferences affect how people behave in all situations. They generated four scales: Extroversion–Introversion, Sensing–Intuition, Thinking–Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving. Each individual belongs to one opposite on each scale. According to the manual, Extraverts relate more easily to the outer world of people and things, while Introverts’ main interests are in the inner world of concepts and ideas. Sensing and Intuition are ways of Perceiving: Sensing through the five senses and “known facts,” while Intuition is more “unconscious” looking for possibilities and relationships. The two ways of Judging are summed up by the opposites of Thinking which stresses logic and impersonal processes and Feeling based more on personal values and judgments. The final dimension is a combination of perception and judgment with Judging types showing preferences for a planned, decided, orderly way of life, while the Perceiving type prefers a flexible, spontaneous way of life.

According to McCrae and Costa (1988), the MBTI is unusual among personality assessment devices for three reasons: it is based on a classic theory; it purports to measure types rather than traits of continuous variables; and it is widely used to explain individuals’ personality characteristics not only to professionals but also to the individuals themselves and their coworkers, friends, and families.

The MBTI has in effect its own journal: Journal of Psychological Type. Established in 1977, it has been going for 40 years. Nearly all papers use the MBTI in studies though not all are empirical. They cover most areas of psychology including clinical, educational, and organizational psychology. It is seen to be a compliment to “hard-hitting, mainstream” journals which help practitioners and users (Martin 2015). Indeed, in the 25th anniversary issue of the Journal of Psychological Type, the abstracts of 400 papers using the MBTI were published.

Relationship to Other Personality Tests

Various studies over many years have looked at the location of the MBTI in personality factor space. Saggino and Kline (1996) looked at correlations between the MBTI and Cattell’s 16PF and Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Their factor analysis of the MBTI yielded five not four factors. They argued the EI dimension is clear, but the T-F dimension is “not sufficiently pure” because it loads on to different factors.

McCrae and Costa (1988) found the four MBTI indices that measure aspects of four of the Big Five dimensions of personality. They found that EI was correlated with Extraversion, SN with Openness, TF with Agreeableness, and JP with Conscientiousness. Furnham (1996) also provided evidence supporting these results but further found neuroticism to be correlated to both EI and TF. Furnham looked at the correlations between the MBTI scales and the 30 subfactors of the five-factor model. The highest correlations were between EI and Gregariousness, Warmth, and Positive emotions (Extraversion), between SN and Ideas and Fantasy and Aesthetics (Openness), between TF and Tender-mindedness and Trust and Altruism (Agreeableness), and between JP and Order and Deliberation and Self-discipline.

There are studies which have related to MBTI to other tests like the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior, as well as intelligence tests. Some recent work has investigated the relationship between dark-side (personality disorder) traits and the MBTI (Furnham and Crump 2014).


Assessments and critiques of the MBTI have been published for over 40 years. Carlyn (1977) concluded that the MBTI is “adequately reliable” and that the scales seem to be “relatively independent” of each other. She noted the test seems to be measuring dimensions of personality “quite similar” to those postulated by Jung. She concluded after examining the modern studies up to that point in time that the content, predictive, and construct validity of the scale suggests it is “a reasonably valid instrument which is potentially useful for a variety of purpose” (p. 471). Murray (1990) was equally positive concluding that the test “has been extensively investigated and has met successfully most challenges to its rationale, test procedures and test results” (p. 1201).

One debate in a business magazine has been instructive. Case and Phillipson (2004) argued that it is (loosely) based on Jung’s theory which is informed rather bizarrely by premodern cosmology and symbolism, namely, astrology and alchemy. Dawes (2004), however, argues that this is not really important as many great ideas and breakthroughs have come through intuition, inspiration, and other nonrational sources.

Indeed the attacks on the categorical classification of the MBTI strike at the very heart of a type measure. Arnau et al. (2003) investigated three Jungian personality measures, including the MBTI. They noted that an individual with just slight preference is classified in the same category as one with strong preferences. They did their bootstrapping taxometric study to determine whether the Jungian preferences actually exist as dichotomies or whether they are really continua and so valuable information is lost when artificially dichotomized. Their analysis was clear: the analysis does not support the categorical (strictly Jungian) position. It is more appropriate and informative to give people a score on a dimension.

McCrae and Costa (1988) made a number of damning critiques of the MBTI, where their data suggest “that Jung’s theory is either incorrect or inadequately operationalised by the MBTI and cannot provide a sound basis for interpreting it” (p. 17). Their criticisms are:
  • That if you read Jung, you find many of his descriptions concern the unconscious life of an individual, not directly accessible to self-report. Indeed “real” Jungians often question the whole enterprise.

  • That his descriptions of the types include traits that we know empirically do not covary.

  • The MBTI includes a scale (the JP scale) is not part of Jung’s theory.

  • The measurement identifies people in terms of dominant function and hence dichotomises preference scores. People are assumed to fit into mutually exclusive groups yet the scores, when plotted out, are not bimodally distributed.

  • Empirical evidence that there are interactions, as well as main effects for the types which follows the descriptions of the types, is lacking.

  • Essentially the questionnaire fails to measure neuroticism.

They argue from their results that people who use the MBTI should “seriously consider abandoning Jungian theory and some of the associated language” (p. 32). The classification system often misclassifies people at or near the cutting point and more importantly fails to note the large differences within each type.

There have, over the years, been academic and practitioner assessments and critiques of the MBTI and the Jungian theory upon which it is based. Some of these critiques have been more disinterested and objective than others. Typical objection by practitioners is that the test was not designed for selection at work. Some argue that both internal and external reliability falls below minimum standards. The ipsative nature of the test means in essence people are measured against themselves, and the bipolar conception assumes that traits are opposites.


Asked to name any personality test they have either done or heard of people from all over the world will nominate the MBTI. Many provide testimonies of its accuracy and usefulness. One of its more attractive features is the message that what you are, that is OK. This is no doubt due to the fact that it does not measure one of the key factors of personality, namely, neuroticism (low adjustment, negative affectivity). The MBTI seems a very dated instrument. However Querk (2000) provided a simple summary of its strengths and weaknesses.



The theory provides context and language for understanding individual complexity

A reasonable understanding of the theory is needed to administer and interpret the test

People recognize the types in themselves and others: the typology as a useful way of describing themselves and others

Many people ascribe trait qualities to type preferences, leading to incorrect interpretations of type

The preferences and types identify and affirm client individual differences as normal and adaptive

Positive-type descriptions too easily gloss over real psychological problems which seem underplayed

Questions about surface behaviors competently identify the complex constructs that interact under the surface

The questions suggest the idea that the typology itself is simple and static rather than complex and dynamic

The test yields four scales that are relatively unambiguous in what they measure

The scales look like familiar trait measures and can easily be interpreted as four independent traits which they are not

The test requires only four measured constructs to yield rich personality descriptions with broad applicability

The 16 types are not measures directly; knowledge of theoretical assumptions is needed to identify types


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Department of Clinical, Educational, and Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Brendan Clark
    • 1
  1. 1.Wichita State UniversityWichitaUSA