ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Me, Meyers-Briggs and I

In a recent CNN article  Susan Cain highlights the unappreciated accomplishments and value of introverts. She quotes from her 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

In his New Yorker article in 2004 Malcolm Gladwell cites Cult of Personality by Annie Murphy Paul and examines the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) and other personality tests widely used as a way of measuring introversion vs. extroversion and other personality traits in people.

For being an loosely-validated testing instrument created by a housewife and her daughter in the 1940s,  Meyers-Briggs exerts a lot of influence still. Inspired by Carl Jung’s notion of personality types, it is based on the assumption that these can be extrapolated from our responses to questions indicating our preferences in certain situations.

Businesses use personality tests such as Meyers-Briggs to evaluate (and exclude) job candidates. Psychologists use them to provide clients with insight. Children are classified with them. Our culture accepts the notion of inherent personality types. People love categories. It’s somehow comforting to measure and know where we stand in relation to others. So we are judged and judge ourselves by our conformity to these labels. But of course, what we use as convenient shorthand can become either limiting or self-fulfilling.

In college after reading David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, I was sure I was inner-directed . (How do Riesman’s and his co-author’s Glazer and Denney’s notion of inner-, outer- and traditionally-directed relate to Myers-Briggs definitions of introverted and extroverted?)

I present public lectures and performances. At professional and social gatherings I am happy to introduce myself and talk to strangers. I enjoy getting to know people and having conversations with them. You might decide based on this that I am an extrovert.

As a kid I could read for hours and shut the world out. I still like solitude and happily do activities like camping and canoing by myself. So am I an introvert?

The answer, as Gladwell points out, is that it depends. We change, adapt, grow. (Well, some of us.)

Ironically, Kenneth Gergen has written not uncritically about the chameleon-like personality that the Internet and technology of social networking supposedly promote. Virtual relationships favor a certain adaptability, if not plasticity, of character. If we are only what we perceive others (employers, friends, frenemies, relatives, acquaintances) require us to be, what is left at the center of our (selves? soul?), assuming we have one?  Or have we become like T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men?

What do you think (assuming you’re not too introverted to share)? ; – )



One response to “Me, Meyers-Briggs and I

  1. ALCStudies Journal on Wordpress July 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    As you can tell, I’m inclined to be skeptical of how personality tests like the MBTI are used and misused in our society. But it’s important for me to realize how validating it can be for people to recognize themselves and have others acknowledge the qualities and quirks that make them uniquely who they are. Please see the following poignant response I received to this post. (And thank you to the sender.) — CDL

    “I’ve often said that the Meyers-Briggs personality test ‘saved my life’. Not literally, of course, but it helped a great deal when, after answering the long questionnaire, I was found to be an INFP. I scored practically off the charts in all four areas, and I actually wept when I read the characteristics of an NF; before that, I’d always thought there was something inherently wrong with me. NFs, particularly INFs, really are out-of-sync with American culture. I’m sure there are flaws in all of these so-called personality tests, but I’m really happy that my [ex] came home one afternoon… and said “You’ve got to take this! I just know you’re an NF!'”

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