In the middle of the 20th century, two ordinary housewives became fascinated by the question of what makes people different. Keen observers of human behavior, they turned to the work of Dr. Carl Jung for insight, and soon developed one of the most widely used systems of personality profiling in existence.

What is personality typing?

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 system of personality typing was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, in the 1960's. Their framework for personality typing was based on their study of the work of psychologist Carl Jung, and proposed that there were four key dimensions that could be used to categorize people:

  • Introversion vs. Extraversion
  • Sensing vs. Intuition
  • Thinking vs. Feeling
  • Judging vs. Perceiving

Each of the four dimensions was described as a dichotomy, or an either/or choice between two styles of being. Myers and Briggs described this as a "preference" and proposed that any individual should be able to identify a preferred style on each of the four dimensions. The sum of a person's four preferred styles becomes their personality type.

Myers and Briggs theorized that our preferences on each of the four dimensions would combine to create predictable patterns in thought and behavior, so that people with the same four preferences would share many commonalities in the way they approach their lives.

What are the four dimensions of personality type?

The four dimensions of personality typing according to Myers and Briggs describe broad patterns in managing energy, processing information, making decisions, and organizing one's life.

Introversion vs. Extraversion

According to Myers and Briggs, individuals can be categorized according to the way they are energized.

Introverts are energized by spending quiet time alone or with a small group. They tend to be more reserved and thoughtful.

Extraverts are energized by spending time with people and in busy, active surroundings. They tend to be more expressive and outspoken.

Sensing vs. Intuition

The Sensing/Intuition dimension describes how an individual processes information.

Sensors focus on their five senses and are interested in information they can directly see, hear, feel, and so on. They tend to be hands-on learners and are often described as "practical."

Intuitives focus on a more abstract level of thinking; they are more interested in theories, patterns, and explanations. They are often more concerned with the future than the present and are often described as "creative."

Thinking vs. Feeling

The Thinking/Feeling dimension describes how people make decisions.

Thinkers tend to make decisions with their heads; they are interested in finding the most logical, reasonable choice.

Feelers tend to make decisions with their hearts; they are interested in how a decision will affect people, and whether it fits in with their values. 

Judging vs. Perceiving

The Judging/Perceiving dimension describes how people approach structure in their lives.

Judgers appreciate structure and order; they like things planned, and dislike last-minute changes.

Perceivers appreciate flexibility and spontaneity; they like to leave things open so they can change their minds.

What are the sixteen personality types?

In Myers and Briggs' theory of personality typing, people can be described in terms of their preferences on each of four personality dimensions. Each preference is designated with an initial, and the four initials are combined to create a four-letter personality type code. For example, if a person prefers Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Perceiving, their personality type would be INFP (note that Intuition is abbreviated with the letter N to avoid confusion with Introversion).

A complete list of the sixteen personality types can be found here.

How can I find my personality type?

The most common way to figure out your personality type is by taking a personality test. There are many personality assessments based on the theories of Myers and Briggs, including the original MBTI® assessment developed by Isabel Myers herself.

Most people try to find their type by taking a free online quiz. Unfortunately, most free tests have not been properly researched and validated, and may give innaccurate results. Do not depend on free online quizzes to accurately determine your type. 

To get accurate results from a personality type assessment, ensure you are taking one that has been developed in a professional manner.

Many people also discover their personality types simply by reading about the different types. Often, you will find that some type descriptions resonate deeply with you, while others sound nothing like you. Reading about different types can help to clarify confusing or conflicting personality test results.

What is the best personality test to help me figure out my type?

A good personality assessment should be developed by professionals with expertise in the field, and researched thoroughly to ensure it is accurate. High quality personality assessments should pass tests of reliability (does the test produce consistent results?) and validity (does the test measure what it is supposed to?).

There is an enormous range of free personality tests available online, but unfortunately most of them are unreliable. Most free tests are created by writers with no special expertise in psychology who just want to make a fun quiz to attract visitors and keep people entertained. These sorts of tests may be interesting but are unlikely to provide useful or reliable feedback.

The best personality test to accurately determine your type is one that has been extensively researched and tested to ensure it is both reliable and valid. For instance, the official MBTI® instrument was thoroughly researched by both its creators, Briggs and Myers, as well as the psychologists at its publisher, Consulting Psychologists Press. There are also well-researched alternatives available from other companies, including the TypeFinder personality assessment which is published by Truity Psychometrics. The TypeFinder was developed using data from over 100,000 volunteers, and has been thoroughly tested for reliability and validity.

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