Myers-Briggs Personalities

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Apr 28, 2021

Filed under: Random 120 comments

I got a question for the Diecast this week, and I really felt like I couldn’t do it justice in the context of a podcast due to the inherent complexity. Also, Paul didn’t have much to say on the issue. So here it is:

Hi Diecasters!

Thanks as always for your hard work.  Random question for you — have either of you ever taken a Meyers-Briggs (aka MBTI) personality type test, such as the kind found here?

It’s possible to put too much stock in them; I think they’re a good starting point for understanding people rather than an ending point.  Nonetheless, it’s nice to have a good starting point, and I’ve found that trying to understand people as (for instance) intuitive vs not, or extroverted vs introverted can really be beneficial.  Talking through personality type differences has been something really fruitful for my wife and I lately, as we approach our tenth anniversary and still find there are things worth discovering about one another :)

So, the follow-up question is (assuming you’ve taken the test) what personality types you are, and whether this kind of categorization ever proves useful in understanding yourselves or other people in your lives.

Keep well!

~David F. Ellrod, Sr.

I find this topic to be really interesting, but every time I bring it up there’s always a bunch of eye-rolling and general hostility from a handful of people. The Meyers-Briggs is not much respected these days. In fact, the Wikipedia entry on it spends more time discussing the criticism of the Meyers-Briggs than actually explaining the Meyers-Briggs itself!


In general, this criticism can be divided into two broad categories:

  1. The test is tautological. You answer a bunch of questions in a way that indicates you’re introverted, and at the end it tells you that you’re an introvert.
  2. The test is meaningless and random. It’s no more useful or relevant than a horoscope.

Of course, these things can’t both be true. I’m a big believer that #1 is true, so #2 never makes any sense to me. 

However, I think this suspicion and hostility is the result of how the test has presented itself in the past. I haven’t taken the Meyers-Briggs in almost 20 years, but back then it had the style and presentation of those frivolous online quizzes like “Which Power Ranger are you?” and “Which house would you belong to in Hogwarts?” It gave a little blurb describing your personality, and it was a little overeager to make bold declarations for traits that were borderline. It also listed famous people with your same personality type. It was definitely tapping into the same general appeal of a horoscope, of having a test describe you in various flattering ways. 

The tests did this for years, and I think it eventually sabotaged the public perception of the Meyers-Briggs system. Ironically, I think the biggest problem with M-B is that people keep trying to turn it into a business. That means taking steps to drive engagement, encouraging people to share the test with strangers, and make promises that the system was never designed to fulfill. I just looked at the link that David provided, and I see right on the front page there’s a section labeled, “Unlock Your Potential – Grow into the person you want to be with your optional Premium Profile.” Ew. The M-B system has uses, but it can’t – and was never designed to – change your personality.

The System

If you’ve never heard of it, the system goes something like this:

The test is called the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI.  In the MBTI, your personality is divided into four sections. 

Introversion / Extroversion:

Also called “extraversion”. I think most people are familiar with this. Introverts generally have a small number of close friends, while extroverts generally have a long list of acquaintances. Introverts prefer being alone or in small groups of familiar people, while extroverts love large gatherings and meeting new people.

This trait exists on a spectrum. The MBTI even measures it as one. But then at the end it collapses that spectrum into a binary where you’re either an Extrovert  (E) or an Introvert (I). This is one of the reasons the system is criticized for being a bunch of nonsense. It’s possible for someone to be in the middle of this spectrum. So if you lean towards introversion ever so slightly, the results page will declare you an introvert and list all of these traits that don’t apply to you. This is also why the test gets criticized for giving different results for the same person on different occasions. 

Imagine if the results were expressed as a number from 0 to 100. If you took the test one day and got 48, and the next day you got 52, then I think most people would agree that this is a fairly reliable measurement, given the inherent difficulty of quantifying something as imprecise as “personality”. But instead, the test says that everything below 50 is Introvert and everything above is Extrovert. Which means that you got introvert on the first test and extrovert on the second. Again, turning a spectrum into a binary makes things nice and simple for the general public by reducing a complex spectrum into a binary answer, but it does so at the expense of making the test unreliable.

Sensing / Intuition:

In general, this is related to how you perceive the world around you. Do you use your senses (S) or intuition (N)? I’ll just let Wikipedia describe this one:

Sensing and intuition are the information-gathering (perceiving) functions. They describe how new information is understood and interpreted. People who prefer sensing are more likely to trust information that is in the present, tangible, and concrete: that is, information that can be understood by the five senses. They tend to distrust hunches, which seem to come “out of nowhere”. They prefer to look for details and facts. For them, the meaning is in the data. On the other hand, those who prefer intuition tend to trust information that is less dependent upon the senses, that can be associated with other information (either remembered or discovered by seeking a wider context or pattern). They may be more interested in future possibilities. For them, the meaning is in the underlying theory and principles which are manifested in the data.

Thinking / Feeling:

This one encompasses a lot of different ideas, but the big one for me is how much tact a person has. Do you like to state plain facts you believe to be true (T) or do you use your feelings (F) to avoid upsetting someone? If your wife asks if this dress makes her look fat, do you tell her the truth, or do you lean towards telling her what she wants to hear? 

This goes both ways. We tend to project our preferences onto other people. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t get emotionally hurt when someone tells you you’re putting on weight, then you’ll probably treat other people the way you want to be treated. (That is, blunt honesty.)

Judging / Perception

Here is another one that bundles things that usually (but not always) go together. 

Do you like getting a decision out of the way (J) or would you prefer to put off the decision while you gather more information(P)? When you have an unpleasant task to do, would you prefer to get it done first (J) or do you procrastinate (P)? In your personal space (like a desk, workbench, garden, etc) do you prefer to have everything organized (J) or do you tend to leave it messy or cluttered (P)? When you decorate, do you have a minimalist style where the room is very open and the clutter is hidden away (J) or do you put knick-knacks on every shelf, pictures all over the walls, and throw pillows everywhere you can (P)?

The 16 Types:

So we have 4 traits, with a binary answer for each. If you know your binary numbers, then you realize this gives us 16 possible types. Here are two examples:


(E) An Extrovert…

(S) with very concrete thinking, often a manager or engineer of some sort…

(T) who tends to communicate in plain facts without worrying about the feelings of others…

(J) and who prefers a clean house and getting their work done before they goof off.


(I) An introverted…

(N) iNtuitive sort with very creative thinking, possibly an artist of some sort… 

(F) who tends to be sensitive and easily hurt while also caring a great deal about the feelings of others…

(P) who keeps a cluttered room and tends to procrastinate.

Hopefully you get the idea.

So What’s the Point of All This?

If you’re curious, a more respected system is The Big Five. That system has five traits instead of four, and they’re expressed as a spectrum instead of a binary. This is the system typically used by clinical psychologists. I gather that M-B is looked down on as a “toy” systemOr worse. in those circles. On the other hand, the MBTI is much more comprehensible and accessible to the general public.

I’ve listed a lot of problems with the M-B. It’s unreliable, overly reductive, tautological, imprecise, not respected by experts, and it’s a bit of a mess. So why am I a fan?

Like David above, I’m not as attached to the descriptions of individuals as I am to the general ideas expressed by the system. Specifically, I think a huge number of common interpersonal problems are the result of people fundamentally not understanding what personalities are or how they work. 

Please Understand Me

When I was young, my mother (a massive extrovert) was always pushing me (a MASSIVE introvert) to go out and DO something. Leave the house! Spend time with your friends! Like most people, she was projecting her preferences onto everyone else. I was alone all the time, and so she assumed I was missing out on the joy of socializing. When I was little she was always shoving me in the direction of people she knew and telling me to introduce myself. I didn’t have a way to explain to her that her suggestions would lead me to terror and misery.

Other kids have neat-freak parents (***J types) that are always pushing their kids to “Clean up your room!”. And the kid (a ***P type) invariably answers “But it IS clean!” The parent looks at the cluttered desk and assumes it’s the result of laziness, not personal preference. They look at the kid’s laptop, which is covered with dozens of stickers, and demand to know why the kid “ruined” it. To the kid, the machine was sterile, impersonal, and it didn’t feel like it was theirs until they personalized it with stickers and hand-drawn doodles.

Or you’ll have a (**T*) boss who is blunt and careless when criticizing the work of their super-sensitive (**F*) employee. The boss just thinks they’re being straightforward, while the employee thinks, “My boss hates me. He’s so mean all the time!” This lowers their morale, makes them think that nothing will be good enough for their “asshole” boss, so they stop trying. If you’re going to be criticized no matter what you do, then it’s better to not work too hard for the daily erosion of your self-esteem. Meanwhile, the boss thinks, “Everyone here is too sensitive. People keep complaining to HR because they can’t handle criticism. I’m just doing my job.”

Maybe a parent needs to explain why the dog needs to be put down. Their sensitive child is inconsolable. Dad (*S**) tries to make all of these factual arguments to comfort the kid: The dog will be dead soon anyway. He’s actually lived a long time for a dog. We can get you a new dog. But these facts are of no comfort to the kid (*I**), and actually make him think that Dad is heartless. If Dad had a better understanding of how the kid thinks, he could make an argument that appeals to emotion, which is what the kid needs. “Look, we all love the dog very much. But he’s suffering all the time. And that suffering is going to get worse in the coming weeks. This is the only way to end his pain. We gave him a good home and a good life, but now this is the only thing we can do for him. We’re not doing this to be mean. We’re doing it because we love him.”

Just knowing that the system exists can make you a better parent, coach, boss, preacher, or caregiver. Some people understand this stuff intuitively, but a lot of people don’t. Understanding the MB system can help those people spot the difference between a difference in personality and an actual problem. It’ll help them communicate with other people. It’ll help maintain morale, avoid frustrating other people, and help them make more persuasive arguments. 

The most popular book regarding the MBTI is even called Please Understand Me.I have not read it. The value of the system isn’t in shoving everyone you know into one of 16 boxes. (And it’s certainly not appropriate to use as a guide for hiring people, which was actually a fad back in the early aughts. Yikes.) The system is more useful for helping you identify when you’ve got a conflict based on a lack of understanding of personality. It’s not helpful knowing that random person X is an EFTJ or whatever, but knowing that introversion vs. extroversion is a thing is immensely useful!

My Type

To answer David with regards to my own personality, I’m an INFx. The last digit is pretty borderline. I’m prone to procrastination and I hate making big decisions, but I also keep my desk very open and I hate clutter. So I’m either an INFP or INFJ. (Or the test is conflating two different ideas with the J/P spectrum. My wife is the opposite of me: She likes to get work out of the way, but she goes crazy if her desk / drawing table is “too clean”. She puts stickers on everything. All of her stuff is personalized and cluttered.)

So that’s why I’m into M-B. My personality type is a bit rare. INFP’s are just 4.4% of the general population, and INFJ’s are the rarest at a measly 1.5%. This means I tend to be more acutely aware of personality differences than people with some of the more “mainstream” personality types. The more popular personalities have a bad habit of assuming everyone has the same preferences, and the people with other behaviors are dumb, thoughtless, or just bad at life. Which means I want the more common types to familiarize themselves with Meyers-Briggs so they can understand that I’m not crazy or dysfunctional, just different.

Sadly, those folks are also the ones most likely to dismiss the whole thing as bunk. 



[1] Or worse.

[2] I have not read it.

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120 thoughts on “Myers-Briggs Personalities

  1. Liam says:

    I’m an introvert and my mother is a massive extrovert, and my childhood is filled with similar situations to those you mention.

    One that always sticks out to me was as a (~5 or 6 year old) child, we went to see a concert by a moderately famous country singer, and my mother insisted that I wear gumboots to the concert. I went alog with it without really understanding why (this was a small country town in the early 80’s)

    Turns out she’d heard that, at a previous concert of this performer, kids wearing gumboots were invited up on stage to dance during one of the songs.

    Cue me, a ~6 year old introvert, being dragged up alone on stage and told to perform, in front of (what felt like) thousands of people. Not a happy memory!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I’ve had a few similar experiences as a child or teenager, although less extreme in outcome. The really dumb part, is that for some activities, if the person had been less forceful and shown me the thing as positive but let me come to it in my own time, or guided me through the early stages instead of assuming I’d figure it out completely without help, I’d have enjoyed it more and started sooner in life.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      The ‘best’ thing about that kind of situation is that it’s often done by someone genuinely trying to help, and doing the opposite.
      “You’ll be happier if you’re more like me, honey, trust me. I know you better than you do!”

      My parents gave me birthday parties I hated for years as I was growing up. I mean, what kind of kid DOESN’T want a birthday party filled with other people their own age that they don’t know or like? Clearly he’s wrong, throw a surprise one for him instead!

      In a way, a personality test like the Myers-Briggs is forward progress in that it actually ALLOWS for people to be different, get the idea that not everyone likes the same things into general consciousness. Sure, it’s restrictive and pigeonholes people…but it’s baby steps in the right direction.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        While I also had plenty of parental personality mismatch woes in my childhood, I’d like to temper your tirade by observing that it’s very often true that your parents will “know you better than you do” present examples not withstanding. It’s kind of a parent’s job, and while they often fail at it, it’s not helpful to fault them for trying and assuming some degree of success.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Hey, it’s not just parents. I’ve had any number of friends, siblings and associates telling me I like stuff I actually hate, too! ;D

          But I digress. You have a good point: parents often do know better, and it is their job in a sense. No, child, don’t stick your fingers in that plug socket or drink that bleach. I’m stopping you doing that for YOUR benefit.

          Still, I’d say there’s a very big difference between “I know better than you do” and “I know you better than you do”. While kid are young, I can see how the latter could be the case…but the older someone gets, the more dangerous that sentiment becomes and the more damage it can do.
          (Consider that you’re simply telling a person – possibly over and over again – that they don’t REALLY think or feel what they think or feel…there is a name for that behavior.)

          your parents will “know you better than you do”…It’s kind of a parent’s job, and while they often fail at it, it’s not helpful to fault them for trying and assuming some degree of success.

          This, I’ll straight up disagree with. Oh, I’m not going to resent my parents for their mistakes, or shout at them or whatever, but acknowledging what they did and the effect it’s had on me is worth doing in and of itself. It’s good for a better understanding of both me AND them.

      2. Liam says:

        My hang-ups about dancing/performing on stage ended up teaching me a lesson though; my son’s daycare was holding a talent show, where children and parents would go up and perform in front of the rest of the families. I deliberately didn’t sign up because that’s the sort of stuff I actively avoid.

        Later that evening my son (3 at the time) was upset. When I asked him why it was because he didn’t get to go up and have a turn at the talent show. That’s when I recognised that I’d done exactly what I had had done to me. I resolved after that to not let my insecurities get in the way of my children.

  2. Dev+Null says:

    I grew up in Silicon Valley in the 80’s, with a mother who was an HR director. She got trained on every variation of every personality test ever – including MB – and practiced by giving them to us kids. Then I went into IT and public education, both of which are rife with the things. I have literally taken All of Them.

    I think they’re useful, in that they teach you the essential truth that not everyone is like you, and sometimes you need to stop yourself, think about where the other person is coming from, and start over with that in mind and a little empathy.

    I think they’re terrible, in that they encourage you to lump a bunch of often-disparate attributes together, put people in little boxes, and treat them all the same.

    My current job ran us through yet another one of these things last week. I forget what it was called, but it was pretty standard: introverts are the opposite of extroverts; task-oriented people are the opposite of people-oriented people. Which is common for these sorts of things: everything has to have an opposite. How else could you plot them on a pretty 2-axis graph? They told me that I couldn’t possibly be an introvert, because I spoke up in class when they asked questions, and only extroverts hate silence. (I love silence. I just feel bad for teachers and stand-up comedians trying to coax some audience participation, so I speak up in that one circumstance.) They told me that, based on my type, I am averse to risk without prior planning (I have three times in my life moved hemispheres without any plan for what to do when I got off the plane on the other side) and dislike being told I’m wrong (which I love, when you can make a case for why. Cue rimshot for whoever makes the joke first.) Almost all of these problems come because they have linked traits together in their system which are not linked together in me, in order to make a nice tidy corner on the graph. When I ignored the system and actually rated myself on the attributes they associated with them, I was like 17-13-12-10 on the poles, and like 4-5 on average for all of the 2-axis quadrant blends. I’m all the extremes but none of the mixes! I’m the opposite of myself! My last job ran me through one that labelled me (in some more PC terminology which Ive now forgotten) a hidebound anarchist. Shamus, you label yourself an introvert, and I have no doubt that in many ways you are, but you’ve also shared some incredibly personal moments of your life with a bunch of us randoms on the internet; that’s not something I’d ever do. Because the axes are arbitrary, nobody is all one thing ever, and not every personality trait has a neat opposite.

    A much better system, to my mind, is D&D stats. Pick the various things you want to measure on a given day, and rate people somewhere between 3 and 18. You can have an 18 Wisdom and an 18 Strength while having a 3 Con; they’re not linked, they’re sliding scales on independent variables. No, it doesn’t make a pretty graph, and a 4-letter code you can use to label every human ever, but its much more informative.

    Yes, I think teaching people to understand and have empathy for other viewpoints and motivations is incredibly useful. But I feel that the systems are tools that too many people seem determined to turn into cults, so they can carry on charging ridiculous fees to give the tests. Which irritates my hidebound anarchist.

    1. Fizban says:

      Trying to figure out how to describe, basically “teach” the alignment and mental stat systems of DnD, is a great way to realize how bullshit arbitrary sliding scales are. The only way the alignment system works, is if you can name two very specifically general opposite poles, which are measured by the omniscient being that is the DM. It’s so simple, and yet, the way you have to basically stop and work through all the steps of evaluating every action, makes it clear how difficult and arbitrary it is to take the the combined circumstance, experience, and reaction of someone, and turn it into an objective rating of Good/Evil or Law/Chaos or neither (the functional splits are harm them for mine/harm self for them, and judge situations individually/follow your rules). It’s piss easy to write a bunch of multiple choice questions and assign values to the answers, literally all those facebook quizzes. It’s way harder (and funnier) when you try to cram an actual situation into an arbitrary binary and new information keeps flopping the answer.

      And the mental stats also sound nice and simple, until you have to clarify over and over again until they’re stripped down into things that are actually simple: no, charisma isn’t good looks, even though all monsters with good looks have high charisma, it’s uh. . no it’s not speaking, it boosts that but there’s a skill too, it’s kinda force of personality or how much you can get people to listen to you, no intelligence isn’t knowing everything that’s what the skills are for, but it doesn’t let you learn faster, except it does because it gives you more skill points, but most of those come from your class. . . what the hell even is wisdom it boosts spot and profession and powers divine magic and will saves, i guess it’s kinda preparedness since that could include being prepared to resist mental bad stuff, even though wizards are supposedly the prepared ones, but they only actually know a few spells, so that means int is actually improvisation?

    2. Joshua says:

      Pfft, the D&D stats get awfully weird with their lack of synergy. Someone can have an 18 Strength but a 3 in Constitution, which means that someone is at near perfect human strength yet gets exhausted jogging a meter. I’d also like to see what someone with a 3 in every stat except for having an 18 in Charisma looks like, as they’d be the most influential Vegetable in existence.

      Plus there is that whole thing with having Wisdom being somewhat of a misnomer as the stat performs more like Awareness. IMO, your XP level functions more like a “Wisdom” (i.e. accumulated knowledge) stat.

      Now, it’s the D&D Alignment system that REALLY drives me bonkers.
      Random tangent.

      1. Shufflecat says:

        Oh, but those kinds of non-synergistic extremes not only exist, they’re actually common. They tend to suck as characters, true (especially in media/genres that use power fantasy as a mother sauce for character construction), but that’s not the same as being unrealistic.

        Like, I’ve known a surprising number of people who are incredibly strong, but can’t run the distance between two driveways without getting winded. It happens to people who’s lifestyle involves lots of long-term anaerobic stresses and zero aerobic ones. Like a guy who’s job is to shift heavy stuff all day, but all within a couple hundred square feet at a relatively leisurely pace. Or a guy who likes to work out a lot, but literally only lifts weights, and only in ways that keep his heart rate within a certain comfort zone. Stack on bad dietary habits, and you’ve got a recipe for 18/3 S/C.

        And we’ve all seen “those” youtubers. Y’know: the guy/gal who has no visible skill, talent, or intelligence apart from apparently being very successfully at making videos that are highly memeable to 12 year olds. I’ve known a couple of people who are that IRL, but without the youtube channel. Everybody loves them at parties, but outside that context they might as well be a talking goldfish.

    3. Tektotherriggen says:

      Funny you mention D&D. I think the much-maligned alignment system has the similar weakness of putting several very different attributes in the same box.

      Lawful Evil could be a tyrant who maintains power with oppressive laws, brutally enforced; or they could be a petty arsehole who loves making people as miserable as possible, but is too much of a coward to actually break the law; or they could be a rich business tycoon who simply thinks that abusing loopholes in the law is more fun than simply breaking them.

      True Neutral could mean someone who actively tries to maintain “The Balance” between Good and Evil, Law and Chaos; or a typical commoner who just keeps their head down and tries not to get involved.

      I’m sure this observation isn’t original, but (like M-B), the problem doesn’t mean that the system is useless.

      Obviously there are other well-documented weaknesses, such as deciding whether [political topic X] is Good or Evil when people can’t even decide in real life.

      1. Fizban says:

        The trick is that many people can’t separate their personal concepts of what is right to do, and what is Good, and the fact that the DnD alignment system is objective and doesn’t care. Some actions are Evil by definition, and that’s it. It is perfectly valid to have a character who does Evil things and detects as Evil, but is doing them for sympathetic reasons. But since in the end the DM has to make the call, people can’t separate what they think is the right decision based on whatever their values are, from what should be ruled the Good decision. The best you can usually hope for is that they realize their values disagree with the alignment system, at which point they declare it to be garbage and stop worrying about it.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          It’s one of the things 5e did well, in my opinion – giving less weight to ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and leaving the morality of the situatuion up to the players / DM to argue.

          Spells no longer have alignment restrictions or desriptions, effects like “protection against X” detect racial types instead of alignment, Paladins and/ or some Clerics swear specific oaths that their actions are judged against instead of just being generically ‘Good’.

          1. Joshua says:

            I think 4th Edition stepped even further away from alignment, only having 5 instead of 9. Lawful Good/Good/Unaligned/Evil/Chaotic Evil, basically saying that the amount of people in Lawful Evil or Chaotic Good is small enough just to lump them in Evil and Good, respectively, and the Neutral/Unaligned didn’t really need different flavors. It was a bit obviously asymmetrical, which I guess is why we returned to the full 9-part system in 5E.

            I think 4th Ed also got rid of any alignment-flavored spells and abilities. 5th Edition seems to have brought a few back, but they’re so watered down to be more like Detection/Protection vs. Supernatural it’s about the same thing, which is fine. I remember 3rd Edition Paladins constantly going around sniffing for evil creatures which got a bit annoying, and I still think 3rd Edition was an improvement over 1st and 2nd by saying that most Neutral creatures were mostly people who just didn’t get concerned with Good/Evil too much (although they usually preferred good neighbors to evil ones) as opposed to people trying to “strike a balance”, which was stupid.

      2. Joshua says:

        Well, one problem in my opinion is the whole Lawful/Chaotic axis to begin with. First, it would have been better to call it Order/Chaos instead as it places too much reliance on whether one follows the law or not, and oddly enough Evil gets more of a pass on this as you can have Lawful Evil people who don’t mind breaking the law (Mafia types), but every Good character who is willing to break the law on a semi-regular basis gets shunted down to AT LEAST Neutral Good*. Second, there’s already a fuzzy line between Lawful and Good anyway, IMO. There’s not a 1 to 1 correlation and it’s still possible to have Lawful Evil types, but people who are Good (because they like to help others through risk or constant inconvenience to themselves, so opening a door for someone/giving $5 to charity/being a keyboard warrior doesn’t count) tend on average to be more collectivist than individualist anyway. That’s why to me CG is closer to being the “insane” alignment instead of CN**.

        A person who is truly Chaotic Good playing Civilization would view it as morally wrong to have their initial Settler found a city and would probably send them exploring around instead. They would, uh, likely not win the game.

        *Robin Hood often gets slapped with the CG label, but IMO in most incarnations he’s actually a LG individual (he runs the Merry Men in an organized and principled fashion) who just happens to be on the wrong side of the law that he views as corrupt. In his mind, as soon as King Richard returns and restores society to greatness, he’ll be a lawful man again.

        ** It helps if the setting makes being Lawful kind of pointless and/or intrinsically evil, no matter who’s in charge. This is why I think Mad Max is a good example of a Chaotic Good character. For a setting that isn’t post-apocalyptic, these people will be very off-putting to many other people, hence why I think they tend to come off as eccentric or insane. An example might be Malcolm Reynolds, who does tend to frustrate his allies as much as his enemies with his random principles and chaotic tendencies despite doing good.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Eh, if you want to disassociate Lawful/Good and Chaotic/Evil, you can just set an adventure in Thay, Luskan, or Zhentil Keep.

        2. Retsam says:

          Robin Hood often gets slapped with the CG label, but IMO in most incarnations he’s actually a LG individual (he runs the Merry Men in an organized and principled fashion) who just happens to be on the wrong side of the law that he views as corrupt. In his mind, as soon as King Richard returns and restores society to greatness, he’ll be a lawful man again.

          I think it’s possible to tell a Robin Hood story as LG – with Hood as someone who believes strongly in law and order and hierarchy but believes the current law is so beyond the pale that it justifies rebellion. Characters can behave outside their “alignment”, but rebelling against the King and robbing people in the forest is very much outside the lawful alignment, and so I don’t think “he runs the Merry Men in an organized fashion” is enough to move the needle to lawful.

          I think a “lawful” solution would be to change the law and help the poor from within the system, not by robbing guys in a forest.

          Your description sounds NG to me: if he does Lawful when he thinks the Law is Good, and does Chaos when he thinks the Law is not Good, that sounds like Neutral Good – someone who values Good but isn’t ideologically dedicated to either order or chaos.

          I think someone who’s actually Chaotic Good would be someone who is actively against systems and hierarchies and believes they’re inherently oppressive (e.g. a principled anarchist), or at least someone who consistently acts from outside the system.

          1. Joshua says:

            Once again, there is this strange fascination with restricting Lawful Good to “law-abiding” more than they would Neutral or Evil, as no one is arguing that “Lawful Evil Hobgoblins don’t pillage human farms because that would be breaking the law”. The social alignments used in the books are meant to represent collectivist vs. individualist philosophies on life as opposed to whether or not the individual wants to follow/break the law, and as I stated elsewhere, I think it was a mistake to call it Lawful in the first place. The books themselves will state that Lawful characters do tend to be the type to prefer law, but also like a shared culture, tradition, norms, and organization. Once again, these descriptors (although a flawed system) are supposed to be used by the players or DM to help understand how such a character views life and relates to others as opposed to whether the character follows laws (which is kind of worthless in the wilderness/dungeon/elemental plane/etc. anyway).

            I think you’re misunderstanding the Neutral Good slightly, or at least have a different interpretation. A Lawful Good individual’s ideal is to live in a lawful and just society, whereas a Chaotic Good character doesn’t care whether the law is just or not as they feel it encroaches upon their rights either way (see Malcolm Reynolds as I mentioned). A Neutral Good would thus partially like a lawful and just society, but would still feel a little bit smothered regardless of it being Good.

            In the Robin Hood example I mentioned, most stories start with him being content as a law-abiding citizen until an Inciting Event occurs which makes him an outlaw and he creates an alternative society of his Merry Men who still live by a code. Many adaptations show that he is therefore attempting to restore King Richard’s rule as it is bringing back his ideal society of justice, and if this happens in the story, he is once again a law-abiding individual.

        3. Tuck says:

          In my mind, Lawful doesn’t necessarily mean obeying “the law”, it means following a system by which your actions are judged which is imposed upon you by an outside force. This could be by a government, a deity, or a criminal organisation, among others, but don’t necessarily apply to everyone. Thus a Lawful Good character can break government laws if those laws are inherently evil, because that isn’t the law/code/system they are following. My shinobi was Lawful as a member of a shinobi clan, but he did many things (including contract kills — he was Neutral, not Good!) that would be considered breaking the government’s law, but he wouldn’t deviate from the shinobi code.

          Chaotic is then the opposite: a Chaotic person does not acknowledge that anyone imposes laws or rules on them, they decide those for themselves.

          And Neutral is whatever you want it to be outside those extremes. :)

          The Good/Evil spectrum is much greyer in my mind, and is really up to the DM. In my case: killing sentient innocents? Evil. Killing a villain? Neutral at worst, possibly drifting into Good. Another DM might say all murder is inherently Evil, so a character who kills (outside self defense) cannot be Good.

      3. Joshua says:

        There is also a problem with the system where people who believe one way but act another (hypocrisy, or an exception when it comes to yourself) aren’t really accounted for very well.

        But beyond endless fan wank (geeks like to argue about What alignment is X character?), what is the point of the system? In my opinion, the original (one-axis) system was supposed to give you a general feel for how certain groups behave, but is also largely to avoid moral arguments in a game largely about combat by saying that “X are Evil (or originally Chaotic) by nature and therefore we don’t have to stop and worry too hard about the fact that we just genocided their village because they would inevitably be a danger to the rest of the peoples in the world anyway.

        But can’t you still accomplish this if you removed the alignment system and played things mostly the same anyway? Many systems don’t use alignment.

    4. Yes, some of these things can definitely take on a cultish feel if taken too far!

    5. Daimbert says:

      They told me that I couldn’t possibly be an introvert, because I spoke up in class when they asked questions, and only extroverts hate silence. (I love silence. I just feel bad for teachers and stand-up comedians trying to coax some audience participation, so I speak up in that one circumstance.) They told me that, based on my type, I am averse to risk without prior planning (I have three times in my life moved hemispheres without any plan for what to do when I got off the plane on the other side) and dislike being told I’m wrong (which I love, when you can make a case for why. Cue rimshot for whoever makes the joke first.)

      The issue is that it’s really difficult to translate personality traits to individual behaviours, because life is pretty messy and the different traits might come into play in every single case. To take your specific example, you might not want to speak up but if you were more of a Feeling type of person you might answer anyway because, as you said, you felt bad for them and wanted them to not have so much of a struggle here. Or someone who is Thinking might know that things are going to go slower if no one answers and so answers to avoid that, despite being Introverted. Since the specific assessments don’t take the different traits and motivations into account, they say that it is inconsistent because they assume a motivation that you aren’t actually using.

      This is a big problem for psychology in general. I once participated in a study where they were trying to get people to watch a movie that either promoted good or bad/neutral feelings with a theory that when people felt better and more inspired (I think) they’d more want to associate with others and so at the end they asked them to choose whether to go to a room on their own or to the waiting room. I figured it out at the choice, but would have decided to go to the waiting room because I didn’t want to inconvenience them, not because I wanted to be around people (so I ended up going with what my actual feelings would have been). It’s difficult when you presume motivations and there are confounds when people could be doing it for other reasons.

      As another example, I took the test listed here and came up as INTJ-T. I looked at the description of how I work and … that’s not me. At all. But most of that was about chafing about doing menial tasks and my sense of duty and pragmatism trumps that. When I’m working for pay, I’m just working and so that overwhelms almost everything else about my personality. And that applies to a lot of the other things as well. Personality traits, then, just don’t map neatly to individual behaviours.

      1. DrCapsaicin says:

        I agree about trying to translate personality traits into individual behaviors. I am an extreme introvert, but I’m also a college professor who loves lecturing. People think these can’t possibly cohabitate, but it also depends on your perception of introversion to extroversion (in this case, other situations also have their different ways of looking at them as well).

        One of the best descriptions of intro/extroversion I have ever seen was more about where you gain and spend your social energy. Introverts gain energy (recharge) during alone time and it costs them (stress, anxiety, etc.) to be thrown into large or unexpected social situations. Extroverts gain energy from social interaction, but spend it in times when they are alone (they feel their energy draining away). Even though I love this description, I’m well aware that it isn’t true for everyone. I love it because it fits ME and my behavior and feelings, but others may completely disagree with it.

        And going back to lecturing – I love teaching at a University, but when I go home on Friday I don’t speak to another living soul until Monday morning. It’s the only way I can psyche myself back up to go into the office the next week.

        1. Dev+Null says:

          So you’re a Spendthrift Introvert; it costs you energy to do, but you’re more than willing to spend it.

        2. Melfina the Blue says:

          Introvert/extrovert made so much more sense to me once I learned that we use the same two words for two different (if often related) concepts. Now I can just confuse people by calling myself a very extroverted introvert! (I am really sociable and outgoing and enjoy being around others, but it drains me and I must have alone time.)
          Honestly that was my major problem with the entire test, I always come up extrovert when I know I am not. Yes, I am odd, but not that uncommon…

    6. Scerro says:

      It’s problematic for other people to say how you are, just because compensation and personal growth overshadows your basic personality. There’s a lot of things built on top of what your personality is.

      Man am I an introvert. But have I learned over the years that no one’s going to call me out if I have an actual question or clarification to present? Have I learned the lesson that it’s actually frustrating when no one takes the lead? It is worse to not iron out plans? Yeah! So I’ve adopted otherwise extrovert qualities to compensate for groups of people that are too introverted.

  3. John says:

    The big problem with Meyers-Briggs is that it seems scientific–it was designed to seem scientific for marketing reasons–but that it really, really isn’t. People therefore take it more seriously than they should. A lesser problem, but one that I encounter slightly more frequently, is the tendency of certain people to talk about their Meyers-Brigg type as if it were their astrological sign. “I’m a WXYZ-type, so these are the kinds of things I like.” No, those are the kinds of things you like, so the personality quiz assigned you to type WXYZ. You have the direction of causation backwards.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I’ve absolutely met some people who changed their behavior based on what their test scores were.

    2. Those sorts of people are looking for a personality-as-Lunchable…

    3. John says:

      You also (not often, but sometimes) get the same sort of essentialist rhetoric thrown around about astrology. “I’d never date a Scorpio” “You did that? That’s so INTJ if you”. “You do things not because of psychological/philosophical/social/cultural reasons, but because you are a member of a demographic that has nothing to do with behavior”.
      The erudite thinkers of TikTok have rightly derided astrology as “space racism”.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        As a PhD student in astrophysics, if I had a nickel for every time some well-meaning person has asked me how my degree in astrology is going…well, I probably wouldn’t be a starving PhD student anymore!

        1. Chris says:

          When I was young I thought astronomy was fortunetelling, and astrology was studying the stars. Since one has -logy/logic which sounds scientific and one has -nomy which I couldn’t relate to any word I knew.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            The -nomy root comes from the Greek word for “law” (nomos), as in “agronomy” or “taxonomy”; it’s essentially “determining the laws the stars follow.” It’s certainly unfortunate that the baseless pseudoscience got the much-more-likely-to-be-familiar-to-the-layperson -logy ending in the split 400-ish years ago, though.

  4. John says:

    Hiring processes, especially from bigger companies, still use MBTI-style questionnaires. I see them every single time I’m looking for work, and I didn’t even start working until 2015.
    I don’t know if it means anything, but I have noticed that the less a role was defined in a listing (concrete duties in plain language vs corpspeak and buzzwords), the more likely I would see such a questionnaire.

    1. Joshua says:

      I *hate* personality tests when applying for jobs.

      1. Javier says:

        The main purpose is like hazing, to see if you’re willing to subject yourself to humiliation in order to be part of the group. Criticizing the test is a sign you won’t be a docile employee.

        You could point out the test isn’t useful if you just fake it to make it but in the end that makes no difference to the employer, because the result is the same as a true believer anyway.

    2. WarlockOfOz says:

      Can confirm (UK). Normally accompanied with ‘there is no wrong or right answer, just choose the one that feels best’.

      Protip: Examiners are rarely receptive to explanations that since the answers will influence whether people are offered a job that a) there answers with and without rewards, b) that these rewards will influence the answers received or c) that competence in employment is not necessarily strongly correlated with knowledge of the rewarded answers.

      1. You could fill a whole blog with tales of how many horrific HR practices are in place because they are intended to make HR people’s lives easier, not to make things easier for applicants or even (necessarily) to match people to jobs for which they are best suited.

  5. Fizban says:

    So, the test says you’re an introvert, who goes with gut feelings, has tact, and is split on the last one, but is slightly more rare than it should be? Hell, with 16 types (for an expected 6.25% each) being split on arbitrary binaries, I don’t care how rare one supposedly is, the margin for error caused by the phrasing of the test could account for the entire variance. Trying to write simple sliding scales is inherently tainted by the words used to describe them and your own place on that scale, even moreso if you’re drawing a line in the middle.

    Introvert/Extrovert is obvious to the point it doesn’t even require measuring once someone knows the words, and even then blurs for plenty of people. Both directions require some amount of “energy” and recharge some amount, with countless variables affecting the ratios. Thinking about how you interact with people and being aware that they might do so differently is, as you say, the most important part, but hardly needs a test.

    Senses vs Intution- considering the amount of analysis you do here, and being a programmer, presenting logical arguments backed up with facts and slews of evidence, it seems pretty laughable to me that you’re pegged as relying on “intuition.” One could say that you’ve simply learned to turn your hunches into something other people will listen to, but again, that just sounds to me like there’s not actually a scale here. They’re pinning known information, searching for patterns, understanding theory, as different from current sensory information- how are those different? That’s four different things arbitrarily assigned to a two-direction scale, and they all fall under the umbrella of seeking logical understanding. And what is a hunch, but a reaction to logic performed by the subconscious?

    And Thinking/Feeling, or logical vs emotional, tactful vs tactless, again pretty obvious. You make an excellent point about tact being a major problem here: the trick is getting tactless people to realize there’s a problem, or for people blinded by rote emotional responses to actually pay attention, and while the concept of intro/extro-version seems to be easy to relate, this one is harder to communicate.. But generally speaking, all people have both of these: things they are tactful about, things they respond to irrationally, things they think should be handled bluntly, things they think the logic is blindingly obvious for. The only question is what lines up with what, and what their life puts in front of them for them to react to.

    The thing that bugs me about personality categorizations, is that people immediately use them as excuses for bullshit. A set of parameters, many of which are fuzzy, being read off as an absolute, I think has a worse effect than just trying to blunt hammer the fact that people are different in dozens of ways into their heads. I took one of these tests when I was a kid and all it did was make me confused and feel like I was doing something wrong- I couldn’t tell you what the results were, but I’d bet the attached “goals” or whatever all sounded like some nicely phrased “oh, it’s okay if you’re not a winner, that’s fine too” bullshit, and that it absolutely was drawing binary conclusions that directly contradicted what I actually was. What’s my rating if I can tell I’m being set-up and insulted by your test that doesn’t actually describe me?*

    Even today the friend at work I occasionally argue politics with, will occasionally trot out the idea that “Alpha” and “Beta” personalities are a proven thing, and there is no way you can ever phrase that that doesn’t come off as an attack to me, setting some people up as just better than others, more deserving because they’re willing to take. Sure, I’ll recognize that there are underlying pieces of the social construct and hormonal instincts that can create a social hierarchy, that aggression has its uses, and that such a thing was probably beneficial to the species, but that’s no reason to glorify it, to use it as an excuse for some people being shit, to ignore people who don’t do that. The point of understanding what makes people tic should be to make everyone happier, not to indoctrinate people into thinking they have a Personality Type that cements their role in society. And that includes keeping a leash on so-called “alphas” that behave worse than animals.

    *And I’m pretty sure it was brought up again multiple times over the years, as if it was supposed to have some magic answer when I didn’t know what to do the No Child Left Behind job project on, or what I was supposed to do at college. Spoiler: it doesn’t matter what your personality test supposedly says when your life is dictated by other circumstances.

    The Meyers Briggs test may not be intended to be used as a bad thing, but by attempting to put hard labels on the most mutable part of people, it cannot avoid doing so. While attempting to understand the mechanism of the test might lead to greater understanding of people, the fact that it spits out a hard label means that the easier route is to read the label summary and no further. Having simple labels to put on people does not encourage the kind of thinking needed to solve problems, instead leading to an expectation that you can use a formula based on label to fix those too. And it is inevitable that some labels will sound better than others, making those others inherently demeaning to those who receive them, even if they’re never mentioned again.

    And since you linked the Big Five: yeah, I’m still seeing plenty of splits on there. I would presume then that that indicates middle scale, but if you’ve got a bunch of different factors that people can have, why put them on an opposed scale? Or is that just written off as learned or intermittent behavior? Obviously the 4 years of school required for a degree would address such questions.

    Bottom line: Maybe I’d get some use out of talking to a licensed therapist who has actually spent years studying the field, who knows how to start from imprecise instruments and actually get good results. But you can keep your damn labels from your damn bullshit tests away from me. I know plenty about me, have spent probably as much or more time thinking about it than went into some of these “tests.” A person can understand nuance, and use that to pursue goals. A label produced by a test does neither. I make it a specific point to keep in mind when I’m deliberately discarding reason to see someone as a label to make things easier, and to try to remember to push them out of my mind when I can- and I know that plenty of other people don’t or can’t do that.

    1. Wolf says:

      To be fair to the test their definition of the Sensing/Intuition test means that a person relying on Intuition is very model driven and abstract thinking.
      To be critical of Myers Briggs that defintion of Intuition is one of the most unintuitive word-choices I have ever seen.

    2. Wolf says:

      I think the reason to put traits on opposing scales is actually to not make people feel they suck after taking the test.
      Imagine a Test that only has DND like low to high marks for a number of traits and then you end up with a result that is below average on all of them…
      The fact that many systems have winner loser kind of splits seems more like a mirror of societal thinking on this. Dominating people has long been seen as the winner trait when compared to making allies of them, so taking any tests that tries to define your propensity for these traits will feel like a judgement, and often will be written judgementally as well.
      I see some value of oversimplifying this stuff for introspective purposes. Defining a model and then thinking about your struggle with it can be valuable in and of itself.

    3. Dev+Null says:

      “Trying to write simple sliding scales is inherently tainted by the words used to describe them and your own place on that scale”

      Oh yeah. I don’t remember what the system was called, for the one of these that I did last week, but I can 99.99% tell you that the person who designed it and wrote the language describing it considered themselves to be a People-oriented Extrovert. For Task-oriented Extroverts, their description might as well have been just the word “sociopath.”

  6. Ninety-Three says:

    Of course, these things can’t both be true. I’m a big believer that #1 is true, so #2 never makes any sense to me.

    Sure they can, if the test tells you more than one thing. Imagine if you answer a bunch of questions that ask “are you an introvert?” then at the end it tells you you’re an introvert who likes long walks on the beach and your favorite colour is green. Some of those results can be tautological and the rest random.

    1. Vernal.ancient says:

      I think in the case of Myers-Briggs specifically, it manages to be both for a reason Shamus mentions later in the article: reducing spectrums down to binaries. Most people don’t answer every question the exact same way every time, so if you’re towards the middle of a scale it’s effectively random which side you’ll fall on at any given time, even though you’re answering in basically the same way each time. For example, when I take the MBTI test, I fall really heavily on the Introvert side of the I-E scale, but I’m in the middle on all three of the others, so I could conceivably fall into any of the introverted types (eight different possibilities!) pretty much at random

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        That’s the most obvious mechanism, but there’s also the possibility that some of the questions aren’t asking “Are you an introvert?” so much as “Are you feeling introverted today?” If the test is measuring mood rather than core tendencies, we should expect results to be about as consistent as people’s moods.

        1. Vernal_ancient says:

          Yeah, that’s definitely true as well. The test I’ve taken most often specifically says to base your answers off long term patterns rather than moods, but what mood I’m in can affect what long-term patterns I perceive in my life and I’d assume the same holds true for others

        2. Dev+Null says:

          Or the fact that the Introvert-Extrovert scale is more correctly divided up into (to make some examples up at random) Behaviour with Friends, Behaviour with Strangers, and Behaviour with Dogs. And maybe a lot of people’s scores in all 3 will correlate, but somewhere out there are people who are shy about embarrassing themselves in front of friends that they care about, but cut loose because they couldn’t care less what strangers think, and really like dogs but have a residual fear of chihuahuas from a childhood incident. They’re not wishy-washy about extroversion, they’re very strongly polar, in different directions, about a collection of things that the system has lumped together as one thing. You’d react to each individual question the same way every time, but a random selection of I-E questions will give a different answer every time.

      2. Daimbert says:

        I see it more like this:

        If you think you are introverted and can figure out what questions are aimed at that scale, you can read it and know what to answer to get the introverted score. So in that case you answer in ways that reflect your own personal view of who you are, and lo and behold it tells you what you already knew. On the other hand, if you don’t have an idea ahead of time and don’t recognize which questions are aimed at which results, then the questions are so vague that people could have multiple reasons for answering as they do, and then the test suddenly “reveals” things about them that they didn’t think of and that don’t even fit because it doesn’t take those different rationales into account and assumes that they are using a specific rationale that they aren’t.

        So it reflects the person’s self-identity if they can guess what the statements are about and is mostly random if they can’t.

        That being said, the best ones use a lot more questions than the quick ones which limits at least the latter issues by being able to correlate a number of cases where the other rationales would not be as prominent.

        1. Shufflecat says:

          What’s interesting to me here is that the above point can be very handily described as a S/I or J/P split.

          The implication is that the accuracy of the test is made or broken by the very thing the test is supposed to be measuring. Only people with the right S/I or J/P arrangement will test “accurately” for the entire test. And you won’t know who that is because anyone outside that group will produce random but internally consistent and reproducible false positives.

          I find this hilarious. It’s like a Klien bottle of unfalsifiablility.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            Actually this theory is falsifiable: the main critique of the MBTI as random is that the same person can take the test twice a few weeks apart and get different results (I don’t remember the exact rate at which this happens but it’s something like 50%, the test is not consistent and reproducible).

            1. Shufflecat says:

              Fair point about overall lack of repeatability, but that does nothing for falsifiability. If anything the randomness further prevents any chance of internal falsification by denying clear data. The specific problem I talked about, of the tested traits themselves undermining the test in a way that is undetectable to the test, would remain.

              You might (maybe) actually be able to “solve” the broader random result issue by retaking the test a thousand times and statistically aggregating the results. No one’s going to do that, of course, but it’s a thing you could do. Note that might only get you a measure of consistency: it would not validate that the test is actually properly testing what it’s supposed to.

              1. Philadelphus says:

                Do any measurement multiple times and you’ll get a normal distribution, assuming any kind of chain of cause and effect in the system whatsoever. Perhaps the problem with the MB test is that it has error bars of zero length, implying infinite accuracy, which it both impossible and easily falsifiable by a single person getting a different result upon retaking the test. Perhaps what’s needed is instead a determination of the error bars inherent to the test…which would work if it returned results on a continuum, but is practically impossible when it collapses everything to a binary state. “I’m an I, plus or minus an E” is effectively worthless as a statement, but as it stands there’s no way to say something like “I’m an introvert (-25 on a scale of -50 to 50), plus or minus 30 points,” which might better capture the range individual people have.

  7. Zaxares says:

    I tend to alternate between being an ISTJ or a ISFJ, so I’m guessing I’m middle of the road when it comes to Thinking/Feeling. While I can handle large groups easily enough, they also tire me out and I much prefer being alone or in the company of a few people whom I know and trust. I also vastly prefer facts and data, although I don’t discount the value of intuition at times (in my experience, intuition often has its own set of rules and data, but they’re not easily expressed. It’s like how sometimes you can just get a “bad vibe” from someone, and it later turns out that they have anger issues, are controlling etc. For all I know, such intuition might simply be your body reacting to much subtler clues like body language or pheromones on a sub-conscious level.)

    I am very much the type to swing into action though. I hate leaving stuff unfinished, and likewise, I hate having to go back to correct or repeat something I thought was finished. I wouldn’t call myself a neat freak; just looking at my desk would rule that out, but everything has its proper place and I always put things back where I found them. I’m the sort of person who returns shopping trolleys! ;P

    1. John says:

      >shopping trolley

      Now there’s a great observation that probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but is fun to think about.

      You will not be rewarded for returning your shopping cart, nor will it benefit you. You will not be punished for not returning it, nor will it hinder you. It will only benefit other shoppers and the store employees that corral carts together.

      Do you do it?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        All the grocery stores in Canada have coin deposits in the carts nowadays, to incentive people returning their carts.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Depends on where you are. Where I am very, very few stores have that (there was one near where I used to live that had it, so I never took a cart and, ultimately, ended up refusing to shop there).

      2. Philadelphus says:

        As a former grocery store employee, one of whose jobs was to go out in the parking lot and round up stray shopping carts, I’ve taken the time ever since to return them (to at least the closest designated corral). I also occasionally face* product, too!

        *Arranging things nicely on the shelves so it looks better, and not like a horde of people have already pawed through it.

  8. DanMan says:

    My dad was an executive in the 90’s and 00’s, so I was very familiar with these personality tests growing up. One thing I struggle with is kind of the opposite of what is described here. Not that I’m an Introvert, so I expect everyone else to be an Introvert. More that I’m an Introvert and know that Extroversion is a thing and I get analysis paralysis when trying to determine “are you reacting that way because you’re like me or the opposite as me”.

    Your example of your Extrovert mother shoving your Introvert self out the door is especially pertinent. I have a painfully shy 2 year old toddler. Is he shy because he’s 2? Is he shy because just as he was learning social skills, suddenly we locked everyone in the house for 6 months, and now everyone he sees is wearing a mask? Is he shy because he’s actually naturally super introverted?

    I don’t want my natural introversion to deprive him the chance of being extroverted, but I don’t know how to teach someone to express themselves extrovertedly. In this particular example, my wife is also extremely introverted, so trying to figure out the best way to let our kid be himself.

    1. Syal says:

      I think that’s what playdates are for; take them to kids’ birthday parties, give them the chance to socialize, watch how they react to the super outgoing kids who try to drag them into stuff.

  9. Lino says:

    I’ve done this test a total of 3 times, and every time it identifies me as an “Advocate” (too lazy to look up the abbreviation).

    As a whole, I think it describes me very well. But of course that’s what I’d say, given how flattering it sounds (and it also means I’ve got the same personality as a bunch of famous people, which obviously means I’ll become just as famous as them!) Although I don’t remember the description very well, there were very few points I didn’t agree with. And most of those were very minor.

    But more importantly, the test gives a very fun perspective to how different I am from my extremely extroverted mother. Even though she’s generally never pushed me to do things I didn’t like, for a long time she was puzzled why I’m so different than her. When I was about 6 or 7, she jokingly asked me “How can you be so shy with a mom as glamorous as me?!”, and I answered “Because I need to balance you out!” As time went on, this has turned out to be much truer than we thought :D

    Although, it bears saying that I’m a weird kind of introvert – I like talking in front of big groups of people, but I really don’t like smaller gatherings where I have to sit and talk with lots of people. But I guess the former comes naturally having a mom who’s lived most of her life on stage…

  10. Boston says:

    Last I checked (over a decade ago I think), I ended up as INTJ. Wasn’t anything I didn’t already know, but it was nice to have a way to begin describe how I think. Like all personality tests I see it as more of a starting point to better understanding; no one ever fits perfectly in any box or category. And yes, I remember taking personality tests when I was applying for jobs. Greatly frustrating since I knew I was being profiled and probably wasn’t their ideal outgoing driven person.

    I haven’t bothered with any personality test in years. For me the biggest thing MBTI gave was being able to understand that I am an introvert and there is nothing wrong with preferring to be quiet and alone.

  11. Daimbert says:

    A while ago I did a test as part of another training course for work that was better than these. It classified based on colour, and had red for aggressive, blue for feeling and green for thinking. It asked you to assess yourself when things are going well and when things are going poorly, and most importantly because it was a colour system it allowed for blends of colours and so for more granularity in the middle ranges, so it wasn’t a simple binary or trinary.

    I went from blue-green when things were going well to solid green when things were going poorly. My green score went up by 1 between the two tests. The reason for the change was that when things were going poorly my blue score tanked and my red score went up quite a bit, leaving both of them really low compared to my green score. This actually told me more about who I am and how I act than the MB test did, even though I don’t think it invalid.

    1. Javier says:

      My work did the color thing too. The funny part was beforehand everyone was told to guess what color they would be, then about 50% of us we wrong. The only ones that were correct were the women who all received the ’emotional and empathetic’ color (blue?). The test giver told us that this was normal (?) so if we disagreed with our color we could just assign ourselves any color we felt like! (???) So it had no predictive power or descriptive ability.

      The test giver spent most of the session gushing about how the test allowed her to understand her sibling who she couldn’t ‘get’ beforehand. She had the ’emotion and empathy’ color, but she couldn’t actually empathize with her sister, to the point she needed to learn an entire psychological framework in order to understand her? The real damning nature of these tests to me is the solipsism represented by their adherents, which, incidentally, is *never* represented in the tests themselves. Myers-briggs lovers are always driven by a need to be viewed as a kind of ‘mind-reading guru’ who can ‘get everyone,’ yet when the frame in their head does not match the picture in reality, they take a hammer to reality instead of the frame.

      I kind of understand trying to use a personality test to evaluate incoming hew hires but using them on an existing workforce will always be a source of division. You will only succeed in driving a wedge between the employees who love personality tests and those who don’t. So it’s a losing proposition either way.

      1. Daimbert says:

        In my case it was only a small part of a larger course, and so we were encouraged to treat it more objectively and not just as something that we could declare true ourselves, and if the test came up with all the women on the blue side it might not have been a very good test, as it might have been relying on stereotypical behaviours rather than on something that actually really assesses that trait (in my case, it was surprising to me that I was blue-green at all and not surprising to anyone that I was green in the adversity cases, even though the total score didn’t change at all). It also built the spectrum into it so you were, in general, not really one “colour”, and in fact there was one specific category for those who fell into the middle (my manager at the time did it before I did and noted that when things were going well he was in that category, but when things were stressful he went straight to being completely red). So I think the test I did worked fairly well by taking into account different situations and also allowing for more of a spectrum, while still trying to be objective.

        1. Javier says:

          I have had numerous people ask me to take the Meyers-Briggs test. When I ask them why they want me to take it they explain they know I am an XB9Q or whatever and they need me to take the test to show they are right. I ask, what if I get a different result? They explain that that can never happen, if I do get something different they will make me retake the rest until they are “right.” So what is even the point? If they think I am a type just go with that then if it makes them happy. But they need the test to feel validated.

          Clearly the purpose of the test is to validate their belief in their mind-reading guru abilities. It’s not really about me, it’s about themselves. This is why narcissism/solipsism is curiously missing from all these tests.

          I had a friend who believed in astrology. She studied it intensely and had a whole bookshelf on the topic. When she met people should would always go “you’re a leo right?” or whatever. She was always, without exception, wrong.

          Every. Single. Time.

          This never dissuaded her. She would often argue with people and insist they were lying or their birthday was wrong and they actually were a different sign. She would try to say their parents lied about their real birthday. It was always so awkward.

          These tests and beliefs are NOT about the person taking them or providing accurate real-world results. They are about validating the worldview of the test giver and giving them status.

          1. Syal says:

            So that’s when you take the test in order to get exactly the opposite result they’re expecting.

          2. Echo Tango says:

            These tests are also useful tools, to discover which of your assistances believe total nonsense. ^^;

  12. RamblePak64 says:

    I’m not much a fan of personality tests, but not necessarily because of the tests themselves. Like someone mentioned above, with folks using it like a Horoscope, I think it more fits in this weird trend (or maybe it’s always been this way) for people to box themselves into rigidly defined identities. When I was young, I assumed every gamer and metal-head was just like I was. When I moved and went to a new high school, all the cliques were so much more friendlier and all the kids had far more varied tastes that it completely broke my world view. I learned that “gamer” could mean a lot of things, and that the sort of people that liked heavy metal ran the spectrum from anti-social introverts to beer swilling party animals (who knew metal heads would be rule breakers, eh?)

    So it just feels absurd to be an adult with enough life experience to know people don’t just fit into a neat little box, yet see everyone posting these comics about “what it means to understand an introvert”. Now, I know I am an introvert because I’ve known extroverts. I can’t help but wonder if extroverts are less common in this world. I think my mom is an extrovert, actually. They’re people that can’t seem to be left alone for two long or else they’ll go crazy. Meanwhile, I can’t seem to get enough alone time on most occasions… until I do. And I think that’s what caused me to wonder for a while if I was really an introvert. If I finish a really good video game or watch a really good film or anime, I want to talk about it. It’s one of the reasons I have a podcast, a blog, a YouTube, even a Twitch now. I like to talk about things. However, on the whole, I am technically more introverted in that I am less likely to put myself out there in a new social situation, I struggle to fully become comfortable or trust most people, and at some point I’ll need to just pull away. I actually had this sort of moment at the last convention I went to, MAGFest 2020. I’d been in town since Wednesday Night, and by Saturday Evening I left the concert early because I was just too exhausted to be in a crowd filled with loud people and noise. My energy was spent. So I headed back to the hotel hoping for some peace and quiet… which didn’t last long, but my friends and some new friends I made coming over for late night Smash Bros. wasn’t a bad way to close things out. Video games recharge me, too, after all, and a group of people whose company I enjoy is still more refreshing than a gigantic crowd all yelling and jumping and raving around with super heavy bass bursting through the speakers.

    I guess to put it another way, I prefer to do the dishes immediately after I’m done cooking and eating. I like an empty sink. However, I don’t mind the dishes staying in the drying rack, as I’ll often just be able to grab them the next time I need them. The only items I immediately dry and put away are large ones like pots and pans. This drives my old man nuts. He perceives the drying rack as a temporary storage location that you keep the dishes in until you’re done washing, and then you immediately put them all away. At the same time, he leaves dishes in the sink all the time, and prefers to just put them all in the dishwasher when they’ve piled up (which is another point of contention but has more to do with perceived utility/worth of such a thing than anything else).

    Depending on your outlook, one of us is more of a neat freak than the other, yet one of us also procrastinates more than the other. When it comes to certain errands and tasks, I want to get them out of the way as soon as possible. If I have to give someone a ride, I want to do it in the morning rather than have to wait until 2 in the afternoon. If I have to wait until later, I just can’t relax and get anything done. If I clock into work, I want to get everything out of the inbox as soon as possible. Yet when it comes to my own personal projects, I have a heck of a time getting off my butt and putting something together.

    I’m sure you can find ways to explain this stuff away with personality tests, but honestly, I’d rather not. I feel like everyone is going to be a contradiction to themselves in some manner, but because everyone is so focused on fitting into these neat little labels, I feel like they either choose to behave in a manner that aligns with that behavior, or starts to assume others with these labels should be just like them. I know it’s not how these systems were ever intended, but I’d just rather be honest with myself about why I make the choices I do than try and explain it away with a label.

    That’s my perspective on it, at least.

  13. Mark Ayen says:

    I’ve taken a lot of “preference” tests, both for personal (because I find them interesting and helpful) and professional (leadership development) reasons. For MBTI, I’m in House ISTJ – T is my strongest trait and S is my weakest; I occasionally test as N. Where I find value is first in understanding my own inclinations – and how those translate into strengths and weaknesses in my personal and professional lives – and understanding how to work with others’ preferences.

  14. Dreadjaws says:

    INFJ’s are the rarest at a measly 1.5%

    Well, I guess this makes me feel a bit special, but also explains why I never meet people like me (leaving aside the obvious “I don’t like meeting people” bit).

    And man, how I relate to the mother/sun stuff you mention. My mother to this very day finds it hard to understand that my behavior is simply a difference in personality and not me just being mean. My childhood was a bit annoying in this respect, where she tried to push me to do things with others because she thought I’d start liking it only if I tried, but her constant failing never clued her in to the fact that no, I was never going to enjoy it. She’s gotten better in the last few years, but once in a while she still gets upset because she thinks my sister and I don’t enjoy her company (my sister is much more extroverted than I am, but still not a fan of large reunions and meeting new people), and we have to explain to her again that we just feel uncomfortable in the sort of large reunions of people that she likes.

    Granted, the pandemic has actually made this sort of things easier. We haven’t had large reunions of people in over a year.

    Also, my previous boss critiziced everthing I did too, and I certainly didn’t feel an incentive to try harder. In my new workplace people are generally nice, which actually makes me want to put more effort.

    I have to say, this is quite an interesting topic. I think I’ll hunt a copy of that book you mentioned.

  15. droid says:

    Drescher and the Toaster

    A disciple of another sect once came to Drescher as he was eating his morning meal.

    “I would like to give you this personality test”, said the outsider, “because I want you to be happy.”

    Drescher took the paper that was offered him and put it into the toaster, saying: “I wish the toaster to be happy, too.”

    1. BlueHorus says:

      This is great. I love it.

  16. Thanks for taking this one on, Shamus! I didn’t know all of the background information about acknowledged weaknesses in the MBTI system, or about it being used in hiring decisions (**shiver**), but all of that explains why one should keep the salt shaker handy when thinking about these things.

    Your point about spectrums vs binaries (which is itself a binary!) is an important one. Similar to past Twenty Sided discussions about different roleplaying games, the issue is that the more realistic and detailed a simulation or theory becomes, the more complex and unwieldy it is to use. It’s abstraction vs realism; perhaps we should characterize MBTI and the Big Five as Munchkin vs GURPS?

    Ultimately, we need both detail and usability, so we work with imperfect tools. As Fizban and others point out above, treating fuzzy approximations as concrete and immovable truths just leads to pigeonholing people, which is the opposite of empathy and mutual understanding. But (as Shamus suggests) we should hold in our minds the idea that there really is a variety in the ways people think, feel, and function — and if a memorable system (like a pithy mnemonic) helps people remember that, I think we’ll see a net improvement in mutual understanding.

    Shamus, I also appreciated your point about how the “outlier” personality types may benefit most from this boosted understanding, because they have less fellow travelers in the world to make their case. I’m a relatively-common INTJ (who paradoxically sometimes enjoys being the center of attention, and really minces words when trying to be diplomatic). But my wife tests as one of those unicorn INFJs, so delving into MBTI has really helped her articulate some of the ways she has disconnects with the world or society — again, as one starting point for self-understanding and empathy, not as an excuse or as a pre-packaged identity.

    However you approach the issue…here’s to people, in all of their complexity :)

  17. Thomas says:

    I prefer the Magic the Gathering colour system over Myer-Briggs. That sounds like snark but it’s actually genuine praise of MtG.

    I find 16 categories is too much for people to remember, so most people can’t really use MB as a tool for understanding different people.

    Magic the Gathering has 5 colours which represent motivations / attitudes and they can be combined.
    White = structured community based goals
    Blue = pursuit of knowledge, analytical reasoning
    Black = individualistic or pragmatic beliefs
    Red = intuitive, emotional thinking
    Green = conservative beliefs, respecting the ‘natural order

    Colours next to each other tend to harmonise, whereas colours not next to each other represent fundamental conflicts. I.e. White vs Black is a society vs individual liberty conflict.

    So I’m very White-Blue. I tend to believe in ‘doing your bit’ and evidence based approaches. I find it useful to remember that other people may be black or red motivated, and arguments that make sense to me won’t be meaningful for them.

    The good thing about it is you can remember the 5 colours and build everything up from there. Batman is a superhero with white motivations and black methods. Iron Man starts out as Blue-Black but gains White before becoming pure Blue-White by Civil War.

    Because it’s 5 building blocks it’s easier to intuit different personality types from what you know of the initial 5.

    And you can just drop the parts that aren’t relevant to you, in the same way Shamus drops the x.

    In some ways it’s really just a marketing difference between that and Myers-Briggs, but I find the slight difference of presentation huge. I’d understand MB better if people described themselves as Inuitive-Introverted instead of INFJ or whatever.

    1. Syal says:

      So I’m very White-Blue.

      Ah, the Counterspell personality.

  18. Windrift says:

    Another INFJ here. I’ll admit Meyers-Briggs isn’t a terrible way of getting a general idea of a person, but I believe the fact it’s a binary system rather than a spectrum is what hurts it the most. I’m biased against these personality tests and the somewhat related “learning styles” though. Where others have noted it helped them, I think I’ve only been hurt by these things.

    I now find I waver between these proposed categories personally, and I think when I was a child this style of test registered itself in my brain as a sort of label. You can only be one of each pair, and if you’re not fitting that something must be wrong. I haven’t actually taken one of these tests in a while, but this is the result I got maybe three years ago when I was forced to take one.

    I think I have a larger problem with the “learning styles”, myself. I was put through Neil Fleming’s VARK model, and it also is a single result system and not a spectrum. I think being told that I was a kinesthetic learner and only that kind of shut down my brain in the other categories, making it harder to learn in other means for a long time. I’d like to hear what others have to say about them though.

    Then again, I’ve got various mental afflictions, so it’s hard to know if this is all a result of them continuing to screw with me, or just making this inapplicable to me. I don’t know myself, I couldn’t tell you.

  19. The version of this that I took most recently gave a summary of where you were on each scale. It was particularly useful to be able to say not just that I am “Reserved” (introverted), but that I scored in the 98th percentile on that scale – but only because the people I work with were able to respect it on an individual level. In another environment I may well have been shunted out the door for it.

  20. Attercap says:

    My primary issue with any personality test that’s not “just for fun” is they tend to pigeonhole a person and ignore a number of things, like:
    1. Outcomes are related to mood the time the test was taken
    2. Outcomes may be different based on interpretation of the questions
    3. Personality isn’t static, people do change based on our environment & situation

    That these tests are often used in screening for employment and that “assignment” goes on a personnel file and can even be used to determine employment growth. So, a personality test for trivial fun? Sure, no problem. A personality test for any soft of professional evaluation that’s not taken with a hefty grain of salt or re-assessed regularly? That can be very detrimental. And that’s where my issues with M-B and other non-fun tests of this nature sit.

  21. ColeusRattus says:

    hmmmm, I am INFP too. Who would’ve thought.
    interestingly, oon the extro-/introverted axis and the thinking/feeling axis, I’m in the middle, with the fomer being 53 and the latter being 57.

    Kinda amusing.

  22. Adam says:

    I’ve seen variants of this where *other people* rated you (and you them, etc).

    Again, this was most useful to hammer home the “people are different” point – but it was fun to see both how differently people scored the same individual, and how differently some individuals scored others. One memorable individual was scored high on the “introvert” scale by everyone else, and in reverse they scored many more people as “extrovert”.

    I’ve also seen these types of measures being used to see how people behave in different social contexts. For example, some people are Intuitive at work (being all about process and methods) but being very Sensing at home (if I didn’t see the dog/kit/spouse do it, then it didn’t happen).

  23. Confanity says:

    I don’t actually see a contradiction between the #1 and #2 criticisms. It goes like this:

    1. If you know about the test while you’re taking it, it’s not hard to look at a question and decide (consciously or not!) “How introverted do I want to come off as?” and then answer accordingly. So yes, it stands to reason that a person who chooses type X will tautologically get type X as their result.

    2. The fact that results aren’t consistent is… a fact. Even if you always score as introverted, the degree of that score may vary – and some other trait may completely flip. I’ve seen this in action, so it’s weird to think that somebody might “disbelieve” this criticism.

    I can see why, at first glance, this may seem oxymoronic. “If you can deliberately choose your result, how can that result be random?”

    The synthesis resolving any seeming contradiction comes from the fact that human moods change over time. I mean, if you look at a menu at the ice cream shop and deliberately choose your desired ice cream flavor, this doesn’t mean you’re locked into desiring the same flavor every time you visit the shop! (Well, not for most people at most shops, at least.) Maybe one time you feel like something fruity, so you choose cherry ice cream with a cherry on top. And next time you want to feel extra cool, so you choose mint. This is perfectly normal; all it really means is that your ice cream choice on any given visit doesn’t say a huge amount about who you are fundamentally as a person.

    Similarly, if you take a Meyers-Briggs test right after holidays have ended and you’re exhausted (from the travel / baking / etc. even if not from the socialization), even a normally-extroverted people might score as more introverted simply because they’ve had enough for a while; conversely, even an introvert may score as more extroverted if they’ve been isolated for a year for some reason and have started to look back on face-to-face interactions with a bit of rose-colored nostalgia.

    Even with an awareness of the test that allows you to essentially choose your result, which result you feel like choosing will vary over time depending on your circumstances and mood; all it really means is that your type choice on any given test doesn’t say a huge amount about who you are fundamentally as a person.

    The problem is that, unlike with ice cream selection, this is a test that claims to offer insights into who you are fundamentally as a person. It claims to be a personality test, but in the end it’s more of a mood-at-the-moment test.

    This isn’t to say that the test has zero value or that taking it many times over many months might not offer an aggregate picture of some sort; just that both of these criticisms of its limitations seem perfectly valid to me.

  24. Warladle says:

    Having just finished a University staffing course, my issue with taking the Myers-Briggs even somewhat seriously is the fact that it’s not even a slightly valid instrument in hiring, where the best correlation between instrument and job performance is like 0.60 and the lower bound for usefulness is a correlation of about 0.15.

    The Myers-Briggs doesn’t even qualify under those incredibly lax conditions, which makes it nearly useless in my eyes.

    And to address the idea of people putting themselves in boxes, I’ve come to strongly dislike the Introvert/Extrovert idea in general. At this point, hearing about it so often, to excuse behaviour, to accuse people of behaviours, it really feels like just another Label for the Others, depending on which ‘side’ you fall on.

  25. Syal says:

    ISTX or ISTP, last time I took it, which was probably a decade ago. Hardline on the first three, while the last one is mostly dependent on how many questions ask whether I think something should be done a certain way, or whether I would do it that way; the questions assume they’re the same thing when they’re really not.

    Pretty good as an icebreaker into how people think, fairly safe “let’s play a game” kind of introduction to more useful conversations.

    Totally worthless for hiring purposes; not only do they not allow proper thought process explanations*, they also completely ignore really important stuff like “my brain turns off at random intervals”.**

    *(“I go above and beyond my job description” means the same thing as “I routinely overrule my manager”, you morons)

    **(one time on watch I forgot the words to a song I had been singing literally nonstop for an hour. Which personality type is that, O great Meyer Brigg?)

  26. Retsam says:

    I’m someone who largely waffles between #1 and #2 with regard to Meyers-Briggs. As the saying goes “All models are wrong, some models are useful” and Meyers-Briggs is a model and can be a useful one. It’s a useful simplification of an enormously complicated system of personality.

    But the issues I’ve seen is that in practice people’s use of M-B often transitions from a mere simplified tool for describing personality into something more: it’s often used prescriptively, with a whole massive ecosystem around what kind of jobs are suitable for what personality types, and what sort of personality types are compatible and which aren’t (which is where the horoscope comparisons usually come in).

    Or instead of being a tool for understanding your own personality and your weaknesses, it often becomes a tool for justifying behavior, the vein of “oh, I’m sorry you were offended, but I’m a T, that’s how I am”. Instead of merely explaining behavior and feelings (and providing understanding of how to work with them), it’s often used in a way that calcifies those feelings and behavior into an “identity” which people instead view as immutable.

    In this way the Meyers-Briggs types can become self-fulfilling prophesies – someone who believes they’re an Perceiver is more likely to to behave like one, even in a case where behaving as a J (as in “Just clean your damn room”) would be more appropriate.

    (This dynamic of “the simplified model shapes the thing it’s supposed to measure”, reminds me a lot of the book Seeing Like a State, which is how this dynamic applies to state power)

    This is true of any number of these sort of systems: the four temperaments, the five love languages, the Magic color system (thanks Thomas), the D&D alignments, the 9 “Enneagram” types, etc, etc.

    All of these systems can have useful and interesting insights into someone’s personality, but have the danger of being “over-applied”. (I think many D&D articles have been written on the over-application of alignment to D&D characters)

    But M-B gets this the worst of all of them, I think, because people inherently take it more seriously. It’s not based on a dorky fantasy thing like MtG or D&D, and it’s new, and more complicated, and importantly, has a cool, sciency-sounding name. As a result, it sounds very scientific and precise and people tend to treat it like scientific fact, rather than a very loose simplified model (as measured, usually, by an even looser and more flawed test).

  27. Adam says:

    Yes, I agree with you on basically everything you said! Both that it has extremely strong and useful implications when used right (learning about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy was a game-changer in college, as an extreme introvert that was raised by two extreme extrovert parents!), and that it’s difficult if you’re borderline on a category, if it just squishes everything to a binary! I identify pretty strongly as “I” and as “T”, for instance, but only quite weakly “N” and “J”, so I never quite knew what to do with that. (Even if the INTJ “archetype” does actually describe me quite well, as an archetype. Unsurprising that there seem to be a lot of those here, given the archetype is apparently literally named “engineer”. :D)

  28. Chris Robertson says:

    Funny timing on this. On Monday, I was made aware of this Tweet which announces a new personality test: I have no affiliation, and give no endorsement, but this test at least acknowledges the traits are not binary and shows a percentage score.

  29. Zekiel says:

    IxTJ here (allegedly an N; my wife jokes that I’m equally bad at both sensing and intuition!)

    I’m generally a fan of M-B; it probably appeals to my personality type :-)
    In any case it helped me recognise that my introversion wasn’t some weird flaw, and to understand that my wife isn’t “wrong” when she wants to delay decisions and keep her options open as long as possible (even if it does drive me up the wall!)

    A family friend used to be an accredited M-B practitioner, and he did the test with me. He said something I found very interesting, which is that the way the test is intended to be delivered is in two stages: you do the written test and then you discuss it with an expert, who can help you identify if the written test has delivered proper results. The written test on its own is only half of Myers-Briggs, and its naturally going to tend to give more accurate results to people who like analysing and writing and introversion; talking the results through helps provide a corrective and should be more helpful to people who are naturally inclined to discuss things.

    Now, as this was said by an accredited M-B practitioner you might want to take this with a pinch of salt (it’s in his interests to claim that you need to engage his services in order to get the correct results) but nevertheless it rang true to me.

  30. Adrian Lopez says:

    This was a great article Shamus. My girlfriend and I fluctuate the same way you do, although she says I’m more J than P.

    My sense is, MB is a way to open up the discussion around personality types, not to create a perfect metric to define personality types.

    I used to believe we could change our personality to whatever we want if we just “make it happen” and while that’s true to varying degrees (ironically, depending on the person-ality), you run the risk of living a life with a conflicting conscience. You could be introverted naturally, but decide to live extrovertly to “prove” that you could. But would you be happy? I don’t think I would. If humans could just act in whichever way we wanted, there’d be no such thing as guilt, or morals, or value hierarchies. You’d just go through life and make “yourself” up as you go.

    I’ve noticed it’s commonly the “rational, scientific” thinkers that rebel so much against any kind of speculative conversation on personality which feels awfully reductive and shows a severe lack of curiosity and healthy uncertainty, which is very unscientific. They seem to forget that hashing things out with more wibbly-wobbly definitions isn’t a waste of time. It gets people talking. Personality doesn’t have to be defined in perfect metrics, this is why there are schools of psychology that take differing approaches to defining personality. What’s interesting is they all seem to have a sense of truth to them.

    To use a strange comparison, any singular style of martial arts is inherently limited on it’s own but once you study mixed martial arts, you begin to fill in the gaps where one style doesn’t work. So maybe if we study multiple forms of psychology and philosophy we could come up with a better signpost that points the “Truth” about personality. Or we can learn to listen and be empathetic towards differing ways of being.
    Wait, isn’t this a videogame blog?! Uh, quick, say videogame things! Ludo-narrative dissonance! Primary gameplay loop! This game made me feel like Spiderman! Mass Effect 3 sucked! Damn those loot boxes! Etc.

    1. Perhaps Shamus should plot all the Mass Effect characters on the MBTI scale. “The Real Reason Why Shepard & Kai Leng Can’t Get Along.”

      Too late to add this as an appendix to the book? :)

  31. Lord Nyax says:

    My wife introduced me to the Enneagram personality typing system, and it got me in a way that Myers Briggs just failed to. And I think the main reason it got me is that it’s focused on fear.

    When I took a Myers Briggs test in school, I felt the result was as pointless as a buzzfeed quiz. Great, I’m an introvert. What am I supposed to do with that? Tell me something I don’t know! It didn’t really change anything for me, or give me any insight into myself I didn’t have already.

    When I was dating my wife, she kept bugging me to read her Enneagram book. And I was like, great, this looks like horoscope woo woo nonsense. But hey, she was my girlfriend, so I read the chapter on Type 5s. And then I kept reading. I was shook. This book was telling me things about myself I had never known before, but on reflection were obviously true.

    The main difference? Myers Briggs told me I was an introvert, and that meant I didn’t like crowds, and that told me nothing of value. The Enneagram told me that I have trouble engaging with people because I am fundamentally afraid of the universe. It told me that I was afraid, at my core, that I was not capable of handling the challenges the world throws at me. That the reason I liked to live in my head was because my head was the only place I felt safe. In my head, everything makes sense to me and I have no risk of failure, while in the “real world” I failed all the time and lots of things made no sense to me. The Enneagram told me that the reason I loved systematizing, and studying, and observing was that I felt so incapable that I needed to learn all the rules of something before I felt safe actually engaging with it: and yet, paradoxically, that I would generally choose not to use the knowledge I gained in any practical way because that would require leaving my head, where I feel capable, and actually trying something in the real world, where I feel incapable. It told me that if I continued down the path of least resistance I would get stuck more and more inside my head, and that was bad because while my head is the only place that feels genuinely safe, it’s not any safer then the world outside my head. It then laid out a path to self improvement, one specific to my fears and insecurities.

    Is the Enneagram accurate? I don’t know. I just know it had me to a tee. And unlike the Myers Briggs, it felt useful. If anything, for a type 5 in particular, it was self-proving: it told me that I prefer to understand systems then actually engage in them, and then it gave me a system to understand, and the next thing I did was learn all I could about this new system so I could understand it. Naturally I read the whole book, and a few others. Because, though I didn’t realize it before, I really was afraid of the world. I still am, but at least now I know that I am and I can plan accordingly. After reading that book I felt like I actually understood myself better.

    Eh, I’m not her to shill for big Enneagram. I’m sure it’s full of problems. But it actually helped me, and all Myer’s Briggs did was describe me.

    1. Erik says:

      As someone who has looked into both, I think which is a better fit depends on the person. I found the breakup of the 9 enneagram types into three sets of reactions to three basic emotions to be interesting, and informs at a different level than the MTBI does. And as a 9, I was amused at a line in the book I read: “9’s often mistake themselves for 5s. 5s never make that mistake.”

      1. Lord Nyax says:

        I’d definitely say it informs at a different level. I find myself a bit concerned about how informational it actually is: I find the Enneagram to be very helpful, but I’m not sure how much to trust all of it, you know? Like it all makes sense and fits together nicely, but I don’t know how I would confirm whether it’s all true.

        I can confirm that as a 5 I thought the being a 9 sounded nice and chill, but never thought for a moment that I was one.

      2. Retsam says:

        As someone who has looked into both, I think which is a better fit depends on the person

        Ahh, so we need a meta-personality type, that types which of the many personality types systems is best for you.

        1. Lord Nyax says:

          The Enneagram does teach that some Enneagram types love the Enneagram, and some hate it. On the one hand I think it’s obviously true that some people will be into different personality typing systems based on their personality, but on the other hand I wonder sometimes whether the types that the Enneagram predicts will like the Enneagram are just the types that the Enneagram gets right, and those it predicts won’t are those it is totally wrong about.

          I do think someone might be able to cobble together a meta-personality type test be seeing what kind of Myers Briggs types are most active on Myers Briggs reddit or something, and what types are most active with the Enneagram, and then just assign every other personality type to Big 5 because why not.

    2. Kyle+Johansen says:

      I did the Eenegram and for me if did just get me. I’m a. I’ve, and it made me realise that I was often mistaken for a five. I think that’s a true insight. Of course, a week after being amazed by the enneagram my YouTube recommendations were about how the Ennegram is demonic.

      Of course, the system has to be judged on how well the system works. Having a few true facts – some analytical people are frit if the world, some daydreaming men can be mistaken as analytical (honestly, though I’ve just reread the type 9 and it is freakish how accurate it is) – doesn’t make a system. And the way that the system was designed means that it is either wrong, incredibly luck, or – perhaps – demons.

  32. Kyle Haight says:

    I tested as an INTJ, and I do have a significant number of the personality traits associated with the type. I never viewed the MBTI system as binary, though — from the start I always thought of the classifications as existing on a spectrum. So a person could be a “strong I”, “weak I”, “weak E”, “strong E”, etc. I would describe my mother, for example, as an IXXJ — clearly introverted, clearly judging, but very closely balanced on the S/N and T/F axes.

    The most valuable thing about MBTI for me is that it provided a framework and vocabulary for thinking about the ways that people differ from one another and what that means. The only direct experience each of us has of human consciousness is of our own, so there is a natural tendency to assume that other people are just like us. Only they aren’t. MBTI is not the only way to learn that lesson, nor is it the only framework one can use for thinking about personality issues. It may not even be a particularly good one. But in my personal history it happened to be the system that helped me learn some useful things about interacting fruitfully with other people, and I’ll always appreciate it for that even as I don’t take it seriously as a well-grounded psychological theory.

  33. Erik says:

    I was introduced to MTBI 30 years ago by my ex, and found it a useful way to quickly recognize patterns I saw in the people around me. It absolutely should only be taken as a snapshot of where someone is at a moment in time; most of the complaints I see about it is about people who try to take it as normative or predictive and force the world to conform to the system (e.g., only hiring people of type X for role Y) rather than using the system as one way to describe the world.

    I’m another rare type, an INxP (taken three times, and the TF axis came out once each as T, F, and an exact tie). INTP and INFP are both very rare types, and someone on the cusp of that axis in particular is even rarer. Which matches my observation that I’m an unusual type of weirdo, but also matches both my career as an alpha tech and my passion for art & music.

    I actually own Please Understand Me and have read it more than once, so I can say: it’s a good presentation of the system. The authors use the system to collect groups of four MB types each into four larger types (phenotypes? I forget the term used). The four larger groups were formed from the *S*J, *S*P, *NT*, and *NF* types. Summarily, SJ are focused on people’s roles within society, e.g. teachers, administrators, home keepers, managers, etc., and tend to tradition. SP are action focused, learning skills primarily to be able to do new things. NT are mental focused, doing things primarily to learn new skills or knowledge. And NF focus on self-improvement, learning the self to improve the self. None of this is meant to be limiting, only to describe tendencies.

    I would call it yet another take on common traits in people, and as such it was very useful to a young, spectrum-y geek who really didn’t understand other people very well. Someone who is already people-focused may well find it trivial, oversimplified, and reductionist, but that doesn’t make it wrong for the rest of us. Every field needs some simplified on-ramp to the concepts, and this is one such.

  34. aradinfinity says:

    I think the big issue with Meyers-Briggs is that a lot of people don’t view it as a place to start, but a place to end. It presents itself as reliable and accurate, and seems scientific, and a lot of people take it at its word. I did too, before I took it multiple times and got very different results. (IN**- one of the tests literally refused to give me an assignment because the last letter was within I want to say 5% of the dividing line.) It seems to me that a lot of people who first learn about Meyers-Briggs find it not as a tool to use sometimes, but as a framework to view the world through all the time, which doesn’t work.

    Someone brought up MtG color identity, and I find that more useful because it’s partially a self-described thing, and also it’s obviously not professional or scientific. I’m white/blue/red, with the variation of red being based on my mood and how I’m doing, but that’s based on my understanding of the colors and introspection instead of some personality test telling me how I think or what I value. Introspection in general is pretty helpful for these things, I think.

  35. Paul Spooner says:

    It’s fascinating how well the M-B spectrums map on to the OCEAN (big 5) traits. The only one missing is Neuroticism, which I suspect is rolled in to the other aspects somehow.

    Incidentally, the J/P spectrum seems to map well to Concientiousness, which you can break down into the Orderliness and Industriousness sub-traits. Sounds like you and your wife are both average in that trait, with opposite sub-trait tendencies.

    I lean toward INTJ, which on the Big 5 would be high O, medium high C, low E, low A, and then the missing N is also fairly low in my case.

  36. Steve C says:

    Saw this today and thought it was relevant:

  37. bobbert says:

    I am I the only the only one suspicious that personality tests may not have your best interests at heart?

    Like, “Sorry Bob, you failed this year’s personality test. We are going to have to let you go.”

  38. Ira says:

    Serious – well, semi-serious – question.

    Where the heck does “Meyers-Briggs” come from?

    I can understand people who have heard the name, haven’t seen it written down for a while, and guess “Meyers”. “Meyer” and “Myer” are homophones, fair enough. But Shamus references reading the Wikipedia article on MBTI in the second paragraph of this post. Shamus must know that “Meyers-Briggs” is incorrect. He must! How the heck do you look it up for an article and not notice its name?

    I’m not trying to be a smartass here. Well, maybe a bit, I’m sorry, I’m only human. But is it that other people process words differently to me? I visualise the shapes of the words before I say them. What a word looks like is really important to the way I think. Maybe some people don’t that? So when I see “Meyers” and my brain immediately freaks out because that is wrong, maybe other people see the word and don’t really notice the way it looks, but instead hear it in their head, and because it sounds the same, it doesn’t feel so viscerally wrong?

    Or to put it another way, I am a J when it comes to spelling, and maybe some people are Ps? Spelling errors, to me, are like cluttered desks. I can’t work until I’ve cleaned it up and put it back into order.

    At any rate…

    I think I’m with the people who say that the Enneagram is better than MBTI. They’re both silly astrology for nerds, of course, but my experience was that the Enneagram helped me to clarify some of my own mental behaviours.

    1. Shamus says:

      I didn’t notice the discrepancy at all. Even when you started ranting about it, I got confused because it looked like you were saying, “Stop calling him Bob. His name is actually Bob!” Like, they both looked identical.

      For a lot of people, reading a word comes down to:

      1) The first and last letter
      2) Approximate length
      2) Context

      The most famous demonstration of this goes like:

      If Yuo’re Albe To Raed Tihs, You Mihgt Hvae Typoglycemia …

      You can see more examples on the page for Typoglycemia.

      As for:

      “How the heck do you look it up for an article and not notice its name?”

      If you type in “Meyers-Briggs wiki”, it will take you to the page for “Myers–Briggs Type Indicator” no problem. And then you scroll down to the part you’re interested in.

      “Or to put it another way, I am a J when it comes to spelling”

      And a bit of a T, to be honest. Anyway. I do care about getting spelling right, but it’s hard to see your mistakes when you’re dealing with proper nouns. And looking up EVERY proper noun would be horrendously impractical. (And I might not notice a discrepancy anyway.) Most “professional” sites have at least two pairs of eyes go over everything (the Escapist is a small-ish site and even there every article was read by 3 people before publication) but I’m the only editor I’ve got. If I got it wrong the first time, then I’ll probably get it wrong the second time when I’m proofing.

  39. My problem with a lot of these personality quizzes is that I generally find the questions impossible to answer, because when you present me with a statement like “I generally prefer being alone” or similar, all I can say is “when?” My “preferences” change so wildly based on dosing, timing, how recently I’ve eaten (and what), whether I’m in pain today or not, etc. that I’ve scored every possible outcome on most personality tests.

    The best one I saw was that I’m an “outgoing introvert”, which sounds bizarre but from what I’ve seen is a real thing–you like being alone, you NEED alone time to recharge just like an introvert, but when you’re in social mode you go for it whole-hog and LOOK like an extrovert. You actually have skill in using apparent openness and frankness as a sort of armor to protect your introvert squishy bits. It can be pretty hilarious because people see you socializing and are like “OMG you’re so lively and fun! You need to get out more often!” and you’re like “nah, thanks, those 15 minutes were enough for the next six months”.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I know, right? Take the classic sort of test question: “I often feel/think/do X.” How often is often? Every day? Every week? Every two months? Thrice an hour? If the test writer has “every day” in mind, but to me “often” is every week and I answer accordingly, how is this test anything other than meaningless talking past each other? One thing that was drilled into me in my debating years was to define. Your. Terms, yet these tests are full of vague, ambiguous terms that require you to read the test writer’s mind to interpret because you might answer differently depending on what the intention is. And if I normally feel some way approximately once a week, but I just felt that way earlier the day of the test, I might answer differently than if it’s been a week and I’ve forgotten about it. There are certainly some broad aspects of my personality that aren’t going to change (I’m never going to score as an extrovert for instance), but on other aspects it feels like I’m being given a value of +1, plus or minus 2, which is so broad as to be meaningless.

      Also I hadn’t heard of that “outgoing introvert” thing before, but that certainly sounds like me. I don’t mind giving public talks in an animated engaging style or being noisy and lively among a group of friends, but I’m absolutely an introvert behind that.

  40. Kyle+Johansen says:

    Although, the lesson that people are different is a good one. I don’t think the actual dichotomies are – apart from introversion – since I don’t see any reason to think the Myers and Brigg managed to cut reality at the edges. I’m not convinced – for example – that neatness and customisation are inversely related. It is sort of if I made a test and decided one of my personality traits would Weeabuism, and I decided that anime fans and RPG fans were both 75 Weeabuit. There would be some truth there, but it isn’t the truth. It isn’t cutting reality at the edges.

    I’m not surprised that you have a different personality type from most deep-diving nerds. There’s a reason why you’re the professional writer after all.

  41. Nate Winchester says:

    Heh. If I remember correctly (may be due for a retake) I’m an INTP/J (like you, pretty down the middle)

  42. I was amused that the definitive book on Myers Briggs personality types says about mine “this personality type is most likely to be appreciated posthumously.”


    I once attended an interesting Myers Briggs demonstration with a trainer and about 50 attendees, in which we all tested ourselves to determine our profiles, and then the trainer had us split us up into groups with an assignment, such as “describe this apple” — all the NT people went in one group, all the EJ in another, and so on, in various combinations. It was amazing how consistently each group produced a product aligned with the personality factors in common. In the case of the apple, my group (NT, most commonly associated with engineers) produced a list of specifications, another group came up with descriptions more aligned with emotions, another focused on aesthetics… all in line with what the personality profile predicted. Then we split up different ways with a different assignment, a total of four rounds of this. Each time the groups produced a result that was spot-on for their type. It was quite an impressive demonstration.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Well, I appreciate you prehumously. :)

      I found that a very interesting anecdote that might shift my feelings towards the “there’s actually something here” side, but I’m curious, was the group as a whole producing these descriptions, or the individuals in the groups? Because if the former I could see the effect of a number of people washing out the individual differences to produce these “stereotypical” descriptions. Whereas if every member independently came up with their own description, separate from the other members, it’d be interesting to see how much they align (or don’t) with one another.

      1. Anachronist says:

        Each group worked as a team, and everyone participated and contributed. I didn’t see anyone being railroaded or succumbing to groupthink — in fact, the trainer said that if you’re uncomfortable with the direction the group is going with the assignment, to move immediately to one of the other groups that shares one of your personality traits. This happened a few times, probably with folks who scored borderline on some traits. For example, I’m INTP but that N was borderline S for me, although I didn’t feel the need to switch during each exercise.

        I think it’s a bit simplistic myself, and easily misused, but I must admit I came away from that workshop really impressed with the demonstration we all participated in.

  43. Decius says:

    Myers-Briggs has only 16 possible outputs, and there are way more than 16 different personalities that get squashed into those categories.

    1. Anachronist says:

      That’s because there is range for each trait, allowing for way more variations than 16. I find the questionnaire extremely frustrating, with my answers depending on my current life state (health, emotion, etc.) so each time I take the test my profile values fluctuate a bit. When I express my frustration to the trainer (as I have done 3 different times over the years), I am glibly told that my objection must be consistent with my personality type, which pisses me off to no end; I’m trying to offer a valid critique and I’m getting it thrown back in my face.

  44. Jamey says:

    M-B is a fun exercise that definitely has flaws, and I’m with you Shamus on the #1 tautology criticism.

    That said, I am a big fan of it for 2 reasons:

    1) I like “quick and dirty” solutions to complex problems that still give you useful data in a majority of cases.
    2) I hate alignment systems in pen-and-paper RPGs, so instead I will often just have my players each take a short M-B test _as their character_ and write that result in the alignment blank on the sheet. It’s a fun activity that helps get them into the mindset of their character, and gives me a basic idea how they’re likely to act.

    1. Anachronist says:

      I like that idea.

      I remember playing a D&D game in which we all played a character having a different gender than our own. It was easier than expected, and fun.

  45. Mersadeon says:

    I think part of the hostility around discussing Myers-Briggs is the anxiety that lies at the foundation of modern, capitalist society. Proponents of Myers-Briggs sometimes become rabid defenders because they have invested part of their self-worth into their MB type, and while it’s a genuine source of some sort of mental safety (categorizing yourself is, in some way, deeply satisfying and affirming, I find), some people then cannot take criticism of MB without seeing it as criticism of the fact that they have identified themselves through it. Opponents of Myers-Briggs sometimes become extremely cynical, cutting attackers of it, because they see in it some claim of universal applicability and a narrowing in how people can be understood. Both of these extremes are kinda missing that Myers-Briggs, wether it fulfills that purpose particularly well or not, is of course a narrow view on humans, but that narrow definitions and narrow perspectives can be very productive by definition.

    Overall, I find it’s the kind of thing that political compasses and the like do: use it in private to maybe get some vague idea of how to categorize things and identify yourself, but don’t broadcast it (people with their MB-Types in a dating profile… uff), because at the end of the day these *are* very narrow perspectives on people and openly broadcasting that you are publicly narrowing yourself to that does seem like a bad move.

  46. Chenko says:

    I think the issue with the MBTI system is that it’s often used as a horoscope. And I am equally guilty of this. Oftentimes, when solving these tests, I tend to come up as INTJ. And these test-makers are trying to sell a product, they label INTJ’s as “Masterminds” and say that they “approach life as a chess game”. I can’t overstate how nice that sounds.

    But the thing is, the MBTI is a simplified version of Carl Jung’s cognitive model. Everyone has N, S, T, F, P, J to some degree. The difference is, which of these functions is dominant, whereas which is inferior. Someone being T does not mean that they won’t try to understand a person’s feelings. Someone being F does not mean that they won’t try to understand facts.

    I would recommend reading this page ( It goes into a lot of detail about Carl Jung’s cognitive model and how the MBTI system over-simplified it.

  47. Collin Pearce says:

    The Myers-Briggs was always an American business. Myers read some Carl Young undergrad psychology in the 1910s and wrote the categories in 1956. She joined her daughter selling the application the 1960s and to businesses trying to help their employees work together better.

    It has some basis in the OCEAN model but zoomed in for easier marketing. It lost its credibility the same way sleight of hand repeated often enough loses its audience.

  48. Niven says:

    I stopped trusting personality tests once I noticed I get different results depending on what time of day I take them. I’m not sure whether to chock it up to meds taking effect & wearing off, exhaustion, recency bias, or a combination of the three, but it’s happened multiple times. It doesn’t help that my anxiety about advertisers profiling me sometimes keeps me from answering certain types of questions accurately, but that’s neither here nor there.

  49. Kenny says:

    I’m so glad I’ve been following you for however long I have been!

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