Personality typing is a system of categorizing people according to their tendencies to think and act in particular ways. Personality typing attempts to find the broadest, most important ways in which people are different, and make sense of these differences by sorting people into meaningful groups.
The most popular and well-known system of personality typing was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, in the 1960's. Myers and Briggs built on the personality theories of Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung as outlined in his book, Psychological Types, and developed one of the world's most popular personality tests, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator®.
The History of the MBTI® Assessment
From early in her life, Katharine Cook Briggs was captivated by Jung’s theory of psychological types. However, she recognized that the theory as Jung explained it was too diffuse and complex for use by regular people. She therefore set out to convey Jung’s ideas in a simple way so that anyone would be able to recognize personality types in action in everyday life. She felt passionately that through understanding personality types, people would be better able to use their own strengths and appreciate the diverse gifts of others.
Katharine's work was picked up by her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who became interested in the theory as a way to help with the war effort during WWII. Isabel clarified the theory her mother had developed and used it as the basis of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator®, a psychological assessment designed to sort people into one of sixteen personality types. She created detailed descriptions of each of the 16 types, and explored applications of her theory in academics, business, and personal development.
The Basics of Myers & Briggs' Personality Theory
The Myers-Briggs system describes a person’s personality through four opposing personality functions, variously known as dichotomies, preferences or scales. The first three preferences are based on the writings of Jung; Katherine Cook Briggs added the final preference, Judging versus Perceiving, based on her own observations.
- Extraversion vs. Introversion: How do you gain energy? Extraverts like to be with others and gain energy from people and the environment. Introverts gain energy from alone-time and need periods of quiet reflection throughout the day.
- Sensing vs. Intuition: How do you collect information? Sensors gather facts from their immediate environment and rely on the things they can see, feel and hear. Intuitives look more at the overall context and think about patterns, meaning, and connections.
- Thinking vs. Feeling: How do you make decisions? Thinkers look for the logically correct solution, whereas Feelers make decisions based on their emotions, values, and the needs of others.
- Judging vs. Perceiving: How do you organize your environment? Judgers prefer structure and like things to be clearly regulated, whereas Perceivers like things to be open and flexible and are reluctant to commit themselves.
The choice of preference is either/or—in Myers and Briggs' system, you’re either an Introvert or an Extravert, a Judger or a Perceiver.
Once you have decided which style you prefer on each of the four dichotomies, you use these four preferences to create a four letter code which sums up your personality type. For example, someone with a preference for Introversion, Intuition, Feeling and Judging would have the code “INFJ" (an Intuition preference is signified with an N to avoid confusion with Introversion). There are 16 possible combination, or personality types.
Myers and Briggs' 16 Personality Types
Myers and Briggs outlined sixteen personality types based on the four personality preferences. Each personality type is designated with a four-letter code, with each letter signifying one of the personality preferences.
Isabel Briggs Myers stressed that each personality type was more than the sum of its parts, and her descriptions of each type were intended to explain how all four of the personality preferences came together to interact, synergize, and form a cohesive type. This gives Myers and Briggs' personality type descriptions the advantage of showing us how to conceptualize various combinations of personality traits—for instance, the difference between someone who is extraverted, kind and compassionate, and a similarly extraverted person who is more logical and emotionally detached. Other personality systems, such as the Big Five, typically talk about personality traits in isolation, which is often less helpful when trying to conceptualize a person as a whole.
Briggs Myers' personality types are described in detail in her book Gifts Differing. Further research illuminated differences among the types in career selection, work style, and approaches to relationships. Below is a quick snapshot of each of Briggs Myers' sixteen personality types. You can click on each type code to explore a type in more depth.
Strategic leaders, motivated to organize change
Analytical problem-solvers, eager to improve systems and processes
Inspired innovators, seeking new solutions to challenging problems
Philosophical innovators, fascinated by logical analysis
Idealist organizers, driven to do what is best for humanity
Creative nurturers, driven by a strong sense of personal integrity
People-centered creators, motivated by possibilities and potential
Imaginative idealists, guided by their own values and beliefs
Hardworking traditionalists, taking charge to get things done
Responsible organizers, driven to create order out of chaos
Conscientious helpers, dedicated to their duties to others
Industrious caretakers, loyal to traditions and institutions
Energetic thrillseekers, ready to push boundaries and dive into action
Observant troubleshooters, solving practical problems
Vivacious entertainers, loving life and charming those around them
Gentle caretakers, enjoying the moment with low-key enthusiasm
Myers and Briggs were careful to point out that no one type is any better than another; each has their own equally valuable gifts, strengths, and contributions. It is also important to understand that while certain types tend to gravitate naturally towards particular behavior styles, a person's type cannot absolutely predict their behavior or what they will be good at. For instance, while ENTJs are often considered to have qualities we associate with leadership, an individual ENTJ may not be a particularly good leader if he or she has not developed related skills. Personality type may predispose a person to being a certain way, but the ultimate outcome depends on many more factors.