Other Challenges to the MBTI®

Racist themes in a novel written by Isabel Briggs Myers, an initially narrow subject sample and some unsanctioned misuse of the test have raised concerns about the accuracy and relevance of the MBTI® today.

Along with challenges to its validity, other criticisms of the assessment and its creators have come to light recently.

Is the MBTI® racist?

Recently, troubling history has come to light in regards to issues of race and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator®. In short, archival research has revealed that in Isabel Briggs Myers' earlier career as a novelist, one of her works focused on racist themes. This discovery has led to more scrutiny of the instrument itself.

A valid criticism of the MBTI® is that it was developed using a very culturally limited sample; the initial sample groups were suburban high schoolers in Briggs Myers' hometown. Basing an assessment on a single, homogenous subset of the population is never considered good practice, and this is a valid cause for concern. However, in the many decades since the assessment's inception, the publisher has translated the assessment into multiple languages and done numerous cross-cultural studies. Although the MBTI® may have been developed in a bubble, it has grown considerably since then.

Another argument in favor of the MBTI®'s cross-cultural validity is its significant conceptual overlap with the Big Five model. Were Briggs Myers' idea unduly influenced by racial bias, it is unlikely that her theory would share so much in common with this model, which is the dominant framework for academic personality research.

There is currently no evidence to indicate that the MBTI® assessment itself contributes to racial discrimination; however, research has shown that within a sample of US residents, members of different racial groups do show different scoring patterns. For instance, in the sample used to provide norms for the MBTI® Form M, 15% of Black respondents scored as ISTJ, in contrast with 11.6% of all respondents (83% of whom were white). Among Latino respondents, none scored as INFJ and less than half a percent as INTJ; the figures for the full sample were 1.5% and 2.1%, respectively. This indicates that race may have some impact on how an individual scores on the MBTI@, although it should be noted that the representation of non-white respondents in this sample group was limited, which equally limits the conclusions that can be drawn. For more information on this data, see the MBTI Manual.

Today, the personality type universe has grown far beyond its cloistered beginnings in the Northeastern United States. Many researchers and theorists have developed their own assessments based on the theory, and many more authors, thinkers, and content creators have made the system the subject of their work. If Briggs Myers originally developed the theory within a biased outlook on the world, the world seems to have now reclaimed the theory on its own terms. 

Is the MBTI® used by companies to discriminate in hiring?

The publishers of the MBTI® instrument have never permitted the assessment to be used to make hiring or selection decisions, and this was a practice Isabel Briggs Myers was vehemently opposed to. While she felt that an individual could use her assessment to better understand what type of work they might enjoy, she took a firm stance against organizations using it to pigeonhole or limit the opportunities of a candidate. Her opinion was that any type could be good at any job; they just might approach it differently.

The MBTI® and assessments based on Briggs Myers' theory, such as the TypeFinder, are not valid tools to make hiring decisions. They are not designed to detect attempts to manipulate the results, and thus can be easily "gamed" by an applicant who has a sense of what sort of person might be desirable to the hiring manager. The Myers Briggs Company clearly states that they consider this sort of use of the MBTI® to be unethical, and Truity likewise considers this an unethical use of the TypeFinder.

Companies may legitimately use personality type assessments with existing employees, for team-building activities, to improve communication, and help build employee development plants. In companies with a strong culture around assessment, giving a type inventory to a new employee may help them to understand the common language of type and facilitate them introducing themselves to the team. However, type assessments should never be used to "screen" candidates; they are ineffective and inappropriate for this purpose.

Molly Owens
Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly. Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.