A man works on his computer at a desk.

If you’ve seen HBO’s documentary, Persona, or spent any time on Reddit, you’ll know there are plenty of people who dislike the Myers and Briggs personality test. They think it’s meaningless, inaccurate—and some go so far as to call it dangerous.

In fairness to the makers of Persona, the people who star in their documentary certainly have been treated unfairly due to their personality results. *Spoilers ahead.* 

A man named Kyle, for example, speaks of how he didn’t get a customer service job because his personality test indicated he might ignore customers, even though his prior work experience indicated otherwise. Other people in the documentary report similar career-limiting treatment when trying to land a job, thanks to the use of the Myers and Briggs test.

Then, of course, there’s the controversy surrounding the Myers Briggs duo themselves: two 1940s-era women with no formal science degrees. Did they have the right knowledge and background to create a psychological test? 

As you’ll find out, all is not what it seems. While in our view personality tests should never be used for hiring practices, they undoubtedly are an invaluable tool for self-discovery and personal and career growth—and the creators of the 16-type system are vastly more experienced than the media has made them out to be. 

A great tool in the wrong hands 

More than 2 million take the Myers and Briggs test every year, including around 70% of American workers. So it's not really surprising that some people don't get the outcomes they want and create a backlash around the test.

A large part of the criticism stems from its use in talent acquisition. But as licensed psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of Central Missouri Dr. Aqualus Gordon notes, this criticism has less to do with the test’s validity and more to do with the context in which it's used. 

“Research suggests that any type can do any job—and well. However, research also suggests that certain types may find certain careers come more easily to them than other types,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t recommend a company use typology as part of their hiring practices. Education and experience are much better indicators of performance and success. But knowing one’s type and exploring what careers align with their natural gifts can be helpful.”

This reasoning echoes Truity's own view that the Myers and Briggs system should be used for self-reflection and career planning, rather than recruitment. Plenty of studies show that the test is not predictive of job performance in any meaningful way. Kyle's frustration highlighted in Persona is rightly placed, but not due to the test itself. Instead, he should be angry at the company who made hiring decisions with a tool that's known to be ineffective as an employee selection device.

Like any test or tool, the Myers and Briggs test must be used ethically. Using it to determine hiring decisions inevitably introduces bias and discrimination into the process, regardless of the validity of the test—which leads us on to the next major criticism. 

Is the Myers and Briggs test actually meaningless? 

“After studying and researching personality for nearly a decade, I am still uncertain how or why the test’s reputation became tarnished,” shares Gordon. “The test has reliability and validity estimates similar to those of the Big Five, a personality assessment generally lauded by research psychologists.”

So why then has the Myers and Briggs test's reputation been so sullied? Actually, it's not the test itself that most comes under fire, but its two creators. Neither Isabel Briggs Myers nor Katharine Cook Briggs held advanced degrees or any formal training in psychology.

But to say they were uneducated—or that the test is baseless as a result—would be wholly unfair. 

They didn't pluck their research out of thin air. Fundamentally, the 16 types system is based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. Jung was, and still is, one one of the most prolific figures in the world of psychiatry and psychology. 

Recognizing the value of Jung’s personality theory, Myers and Briggs made it their mission to craft a tool that made his work more understandable and accessible for people without scientific backgrounds. They brought Jung's complex theory to the people, making it easier for everyone to grasp and use in everyday life. 

Moreover, while the duo didn’t have psychology degrees themselves, context is also key. 

“Remember, this was the 1940s,” Aqualus says. This was a decade where it was rare for women to have the opportunity to pursue further education, especially in male-dominated scientific fields. 

Plus with a little digging, one finds that Briggs and Myers conducted in-depth research on the 16 types at prominent universities like CalTech, with support from Ivy league psychologists and psychiatrists like Donald W. MacKinnon, W. Harold Grant and more. So, hardly a couple of laypersons with no expertise in the field. 

The beauty of the Myers and Briggs theory

Today, after years of putting the theory through its paces, research shows that the test rings true. Studies indicate high levels of reliability and consistency—and it has an army of devoted fans who have found the test enlightening. 

And that, perhaps, is why the 16-types test has had such staying power. When someone takes the test, they’re persuaded for themselves that the results are accurate. It’s a lightbulb moment, and the insights it gives are simply too on the money, too valuable and too poignant for the test to ever be cast off as pseudoscience. 

We only make a mistake if we expect too much from it.

Hannah Pisani
Hannah Pisani is a freelance writer based in London, England. A type 9 INFP, she is passionate about harnessing the power of personality theory to better understand herself and the people around her - and wants to help others do the same. When she's not writing articles, you'll find her composing songs at the piano, advocating for people with learning difficulties, or at the pub with friends and a bottle (or two) of rose.