The Science Behind Personality Quizzes

By: Jackie Thompson

Which Full House character are you? What type of emoji are you? Which Bible figure are you? Buzzfeed’s personality quizzes are arguably the best way to find out these crucial bits of information about yourself and waste hours of time procrastinating along the way. Personality quizzes are silly, fun, and take only minutes to complete. But is there any merit to them?

One of the most well-known personality quizzes, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is administered to nearly 1.5 million individuals annually, many of whom are employees of Fortune 500 companies. It’s designed to indicate differences in the way people see the world and solve problems. This assessment is so popular because, as the Myers-Briggs Foundation’s website says, one’s MBTI type “provides a framework for understanding individual differences” that can cause conflict and reduce productivity in the place.

The test was created by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers based on the earlier of works of Dr. Carl Jung who had hypothesized there were four primary psychological function through which all humans experienced the world—sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. Jung claimed that one of these functions is dominant in a person for the majority of the time and each function expressed was done so in primarily introverted or extroverted form. Briggs and her daughter extrapolated on Jung’s ideas to create sixteen unique personality types they claimed could be applied to anyone.

MBTI makes use of four dichotomies to sort through personality preferences: Extroversion (E) v. Introversion (I), Sensing (S) v. Intuition (N), Thinking (T) v. Feeling (F), and Judging (J) v. Perceiving (P).  The first three were explicitly described in Jung’s work, but the last is unique to MBTI.

In the first criterion, extrovert and introvert have a different meaning than they do in everyday. An MBTI extrovert is someone who draws their energy from the external world, whereas an introvert draws energy from their own internal world. A great analogy to help understand this compares extroverts to solar panels and introverts to rechargeable batteries. Extroverts soak up energy from the world around them, but introverts’ find their energy drained by it and need alone time to recharge.

The second criterion assesses how we gather information. People who are described as Sensing pay attention to the concrete, the information that flows through their fives senses. People who are described as Intuitive focus on the abstract, the patterns and the possibilities they see in information.

The third criterion explores how we make decisions. Thinkers put more weight on the objective; principles and facts largely govern their decision-making process. Feelers take note of the subjective; personal concerns and emotions and the people who are involved in and will be affected by their decisions.

The Myers Briggs Foundation describes the fourth criterion as “how you like to live your outer life.” For those who are described as Judging, that means structured, planned lifestyle.  For those who are Perceiving, that means being more flexible, adaptable, and even spontaneous.

The court is still out as to whether MBTI is entirely credible; it has its devout followers and scathing critics all the same. It’s doubtful, at least in my opinion, that MBTI will ever be debunked or sufficiently supported by scientific evidence. On an opposing side, personality is a complex product of a number of biological and environmental factors, so it seems absurd to simplify it into 16 coverall personality types. It’s ambiguous and dynamic. The assessment itself is also inherently subjective; test takers may describe themselves as who’d like to be rather than who they are. On the supporting side, MBTI is arguably the closest thing there is to a scientific personality quiz. It can be startlingly accurate. I personally remember the awe I felt when I read the description of my type, INFJ, because it applied so strongly to me.

My advice is to take MBTI (and any other personality quiz) with a grain of salt and try to understand the psychology behind it. A person who MBTI deems Feeling is still capable of crafting a cogent, compelling argument. A person who MBTI calls an extrovert can still enjoy moments of reflective solitude. MBTI tells you who you are most of the time, not all of the time. It’s also important to note that MBTI is based on cognitive functions, not solely the the letters I described earlier. Your MBTI type is derived from which cognitive functions are dominant for you and how they interact.

Here’s the link to my favorite MBTI test to start you off:

Please be sure to take other tests and cross check your results as well as do research into your type’s functions and see if they are applicable to you in order to find the best fit. Happy MBTI’ing!



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