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Out 29, 2007, 9:41pm

Is the study of personality types (Jung, Meyers Briggs) looked down upon by psychologists and psychiatrists? I thought it all seemed interesting, and explained a lot for me and my family, but I spoke to my neighbor who is a psychologists, and she indicated that is didn't have any validity. Also I didn't see any books about it in the shared books for this group.

Nov 27, 2007, 4:25pm

First up a disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist, so I can't claim any externally validated expertise. But I have read widely in this area (in fact, I met my fiance online at an MBTI forum.)

If you are really interested in this type of theory, it's important to distinguish between Jung's work, Myers-Briggs, and Keirsey. Although the latter claimed to base their ideas on the former, in a lot of ways they missed key details. They reduced what were conceptual tools for understanding to rigid classes. Where Jung believed that there were no "pure" types but spoke of them as archetypes for simplicity of argument, some of his followers refused to read all of his work as a whole and completely took his typology out of context. In Myers-Briggs 16 classes were formed and in Keirsey 16 are given lip service but really only 4 are stressed. The MBTI, while useful as an explanatory tool, does not have what is called "construct validity" because it supposes that individuals should very tightly cluster around the pure opposing ends of the spectrum for each of the scales (I/E, S/N, T/F, J/P,) forming in essence two groups with very little overlap. This two-group pattern is known as a bimodal distribution. When the tests are given to large groups of people, however, most don't fall at the extremes of the scales, but cluster toward the center in a normal distribution, a bell curve. Many people, in fact, are so close to the center that they do not reliably test as one or the other, and when questioned further these same individuals reveal it is not merely a testing issue but a true blending of the extremes. This is just one way of several in which the MBTI has been shown to lack validity in an empirical sense.

That said, MBTI when understood as an oversimplification can be useful because it does help group and reveal real individual differences. Jung coined the terms of introversion/extraversion which are accepted in many psychological tests by people who can agree on little else.

In a foreword to an Argentine edition of his Psychological Types, Jung noted "far too many readers have succumbed to the error of thinking that chapter X (General Description of the Types") represents the essential content and purpose of the book, in the sense that it provides a system of classification....This regrettable misunderstanding completely ignores the fact that this kind of classification is nothing but a childish parlour game." Later he states, "It is not the purpose of a psychological typology to classify human beings into categories--this in itself would be pretty pointless....we could compare typology to a trigonometric net or, better still, to a crystallographic axial system....it is an essential means for determining the 'personal equation' of the practicing psychologist, who armed with an exact knowledge of his differentiated and inferior functions, can avoid many serious blunders in dealing with his patients." Just like positive and negative numbers form a line centered on zero, Jung envisioned a spectrum where each person had a general preference in one direction or the other for an element of each of the pairs, but no person was ever purely an extreme. Jung also stresses that the psychological functions, like the other archetypes in man's psyche, will change in the importance of their roles during a person's lifespan.

Even Jung, however, is not universally accepted by psychologists any more than Freud, or Fromm, or Maslow. His theory cannot be understood without valuing interpretations based on metaphor, personal meaning, and development through one's living. Those who value only a strictly quantifiable psychology, such as behaviorists, will not find value in Jung. Psychology has struggled to define itself as more "scientific" and so many, especially in academia, have moved away from Jung. Also, Jung is in need of some updating. He did not have access to modern developments in cognitive science which show that thinking and feeling are not opposed, but rather both are necessary for proper rational decision making. Like any other psychology, Jung's work is best read critically to gain insight but it shouldn't be swallowed whole.

I enjoy discussing this sort of theory with others, but I find that most people either dismiss the whole of it outright, play the "parlour game" shallow version based on online quizzes, or defend one dogmatic approach without considering others. If you do find yourself interested, I would encourage you to read different authors. It's good to start with David Keirsey and Isabel Briggs Myers because they *are* popular and simpler to understand, but also it's interesting to read Jung himself or other variants on Jungianism such as John Beebe, Linda V. Berens, and Katherine Benziger. Happy reading!

Editado: Ago 27, 2011, 4:06am

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Fev 20, 2013, 1:12am

Thank you for such a clear, comprehensive explanation. Your explanation demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Psychological Types, and is very well constructed. I really appreciate the effort you expended to answer my question. This was something I had wondered about for a number of years. I am also sorry I did not see your explanation until now. I have read Keirsey, and Briggs Meyers, and will look for Beebe, Barens and Benziger. I am also interested in finding more information on the cognitive science studies showing that thinking and feeling are not opposed. Again, thank you for your thorough response!