Over a 40-year career using personality type, I’ve trained thousands of people around the world, and been asked hundreds of questions. Here are the ten most frequently asked questions and answers.
1. Are you born with a specific personality type, and can that ever change? How about trauma…can that change a person’s type?
Most people who study and use the Jung/Myers Model of Personality Type (popularized by the Myers and Briggs personality system) extensively, believe that everyone is born with one of 16 different “types” which remains with them for their entire lives. That’s not to say our behavior doesn’t change as we grow, learn and experience new things. Sure, we act differently at a basketball game than at a funeral, but that doesn’t mean our type has changed…we’ve just learned to engage in behaviors that are appropriate to the circumstance.
But what if someone experiences a serious trauma…can that change their type? I don’t know of any research that has examined this question, but I believe the only type of trauma that may affect one’s type, is trauma involving the brain. Of course trauma can certainly affect behavior! For example, it's not unusual for people who have a heart attack to stop smoking, lose weight, or adopt a healthier lifestyle. But again, these are behavioral changes. Your personality type remains the same.
2. I’ve taken different type assessments and don’t always come out as the same type…why is that?
This can happen for many reasons. The first is that one or all of the assessments you took were not valid – meaning they did not produce accurate results. No assessment of something as complex as personality can be 100% accurate, but some instruments are much better than others. Especially in the age of the Internet, there are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of different quizzes, surveys, assessments, etc. that claim to accurately identify someone’s personality type. But, few have been proven to do so.
While one may certainly glean useful insights from unvalidated assessments, the most accurate results come from assessments which are both reliable (they consistently measure what they claim to) and valid (the results are accurate).
3. How do I know if a personality type assessment I take online is accurate?
This is a great question. In this age of instant information gratification, many of us care less about the quality of the information than the speed at which we receive it. But if websites that offer a type assessment have taken the time (and money) to validate their assessment, they’re likely to make that information available – and in fact tout it on their website. After all, it’s a selling point to consumers that their product is valuable and worth consuming.
For those of you (and you know who you are!) who really want to get into the weeds and examine an assessment’s psychometric properties, you should scrutinize things like sample size: the number of subjects in the study; the source of the subjects: Psychology 101 class students or a more representative sample; and the “gold standard”: whether the study was published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.
4. I’ve heard people say that type can “pigeon-hole” people. Is this a legitimate concern?
This is a common criticism – especially among some types more than others. For several “type-related” reasons, I most often hear this complaint from Intuitive-Thinkers (NT’s). A useful metaphor is to think of Type as a tool: Just like a hammer can be used to sculpt a masterpiece like Michelangelo’s Pieta, it can also be used to smash someone’s skull. How it is used depends on the intention and skill of the person wielding the hammer.
Because Type is used by millions of people around the world daily, it is certain to be abused by some – such as to pigeon-hole or reduce a person’s value based on their type. “She’s a Sensor. You can’t expect her to be creative,” or “Of course he’s always late – he’s a Perceiver!” But these are neither accurate nor helpful ways of using personality type to understand others – which is its primary purpose and value.
The best advice for people who want to use Type ethically and effectively is to remember that every person is a unique individual. And while Type explains a lot about a person – it certainly doesn’t explain everything.
5. Are some types smarter than others?...healthier…more talented?
Let’s take these one at a time. There’s no scientific evidence that some types are more intelligent than others. However, thanks to the work of Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligence (MI), most people believe there are actually nine different types of intelligence: Naturalistic, Musical, Logical–mathematical, Existential, Interpersonal, Linguistic, Bodily–kinesthetic, Intra–personal and Spatial intelligence. Although there is scant research linking personality type with MI, my strong belief is that there are many strong correlations. For example, Sensing Perceivers are more likely to score higher in bodily-kinesthetic, and Intuitive Feelers more likely to possess greater Intra-personal intelligence.
With regards to health, I’ve conducted extensive research into the relationship between several health risk factors (including anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, overuse of alcohol, sleep issues and stress) – as well as medication adherence – and found very strong, statistically significant correlations. My research does not indicate that people of certain types are destined to have these risk factors, rather, that they are predisposed to them.
When it comes to talent, I believe that Type can also be influential. Some examples are: the sciences are dominated by are Intuitive Thinkers, athletics by Sensing Perceivers, and counseling by Intuitive Feelers.
6. I’ve heard that millions of people use Personality Type around the world, each year. Why is it so popular?
The short answer is: Because Type is universal and provides invaluable insights to people all over the world. Research has shown that there are approximately the same percentages of Extraverts, Introverts, Sensors, Intuitives, Thinkers, Feelers, Perceivers and Judgers in all countries where validated type assessments are used.
The bottom line is that people of the same type – whether from Russia or the US – are similar in many important ways. Surely, culture influences behavior. For example in the US, Southerners are frequently described as “hospitable,” while New England Yankees…not so much! So values can and are influenced by many factors, including geography. But, the way our brains are hard-wired – which is a good way to think of Personality Type - doesn’t change.
7. Isn’t Type like astrology?...the descriptions are so general that people just see whatever they want to see in them?
Because I am not an expert in astrology, I feel unqualified to judge something that has been around since the Babylonians developed the first horoscopes 2,400 years ago. That said, general descriptions of behavior and predictions of future events – as astrology is most commonly consumed as a form of popular entertainment – is very different from Personality Type in important ways.
There is an almost infinite number of different type descriptions available, written by people with varying levels of expertise. But the overwhelming majority are based on type theory. So, the behaviors they describe – how people get energized, how they take in information, how they make decisions, and how they organize their lives – are all central characteristics of human beings. Hence, a well-thought out, well-written type description contains pretty concrete, differentiated behaviors. Take extraversion and introversion, for example: “Am I more outgoing or reserved?” Most people can fairly easily identify which one of these statements is truer for them. In my experience administering type assessments to tens of thousands of people, about 85-90% feel that the full description of their type is fairly, or extremely accurate.
8. They say “opposites attract.” Is this true for people with very different personality types, and if so, is it a good thing?
In writing our book Just Your Type, my co-author Barbara Barron and I conducted the most comprehensive research to date, which examined Type and romantic relationships. We were most interested in discovering the most common sources of satisfaction as well as the most frequent causes of conflicts for couples of each type combination.
There were four components to the research: interviews with therapists who specialized in working with couples; an extensive multiple-choice questionnaire completed by 2,500 individuals; an open-ended thirteen-item questionnaire designed to collect anecdotal data completed by 750 people; in-depth telephone interviews with hundreds of couples.
We found that opposites are, in fact, often attracted to one another. The reason seems to be that we see a quality in another person that we don’t possess ourselves and – unconsciously – believe that if we were with this person, we would have more of that quality. For example, an Extravert may be attracted to an Introvert because she seems serene, calm, independent and focused. While the Introvert may be attracted to an Extravert because he seems so easy-going, comfortable with people, and fun to be with. This is not to say that attraction to someone very different always works out.
Our research revealed that the more similar people were to their partners, the more satisfied they were with their relationships. Fifty-two percent of those who were satisfied described themselves as “similar” to their partners, compared with only 22% who said they were satisfied, but described themselves as “different” from their partners.
9. I hear people talk about Type, but also about “Temperament”…are they the same thing, and if not, what’s the difference?
When we talk about the Jung/Myers model of Personality type (most often associated with the Myers and Briggs personality system), we’re referring to 16 distinctly different personality types (ESTJs, INFPs, etc.). When people refer to “Temperament,” they are referring to four different groups, which I think of as four different “human natures.” Temperament – largely the work of psychologist David Keirsey – is very helpful because it informs each person’s core values, key motivators and preferred communication style.
Because there are only four temperaments (as opposed to 16 personality types), it is often used as a shorthand way to understand ourselves and others. I have always found Type and Temperament to be equally important and completely complementary theories. In our books, we label the four temperaments: “Traditionalists,” “Experiencers,” “Conceptualizers” and “Idealists.”
There are four types associated with each temperament. So, while knowing one’s temperament can provide great insights, knowing one’s type can provide even deeper, more valuable information.
10. I know that type is used to help people understand and communicate better, but what are some of the more unusual applications?
It is reported that Type is used by 89% of the Fortune 100 companies. The most common business applications are to improve communication between managers and their direct reports, improve team productivity, and reduce interpersonal conflicts.
I’ve spent my career applying Type in these, as well as less conventional ways such as helping people make more satisfying career choices (Do What You Are), and better understand their children (Nurture by Nature), their spouses (Just Your Type), and each other (The Art of SpeedReading People).
I’ve also spent years studying how Type affects people’s health. In five studies with over 50,000 subjects, my research showed a strong correlation between Type and several health risk factors including: smoking, alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, poor nutrition, sleep issues, lack of exercise and stress. My research – all published in peer-reviewed journals – also showed how some types are much more medication adherent than others.
My application of Type which many people find most intriguing is my work as a jury consultant assisting trial attorneys select, understand, and communicate with juries in high-profile civil and criminal cases. This work, which also involved significant research, revealed how jurors’ personality types can predispose them to favor one side or the other – before ever hearing any evidence.