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Last updated: Jul 28, 2021
6 min read

Myers-Briggs personality test: what you need to know

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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Have you ever met someone who said, “I’m an INFP: Chillest person in the room” or saw a dating profile that read, “ISFP and ready to experience something new”? These are references to the Myers-Briggs personality test. 

The Myers-Briggs test is a questionnaire that clusters people into one of 16 personality types, or type indicators, according to how they perceive the world and make decisions (potentially enticing things to know before going out with a stranger). Here’s what you need to know before taking the test and some context for interpreting test results. 

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What is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?

The Myers-Briggs test, officially known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is a self-assessment used to determine personality types. It is a forced-choice questionnaire, with two choices per answer, meaning there are specific and multiple responses to choose from for each question, and one choice has to be selected. There are no “not applicable” choices either, and there are 90+ questions total.

The MBTI is typically given online and may take 30 or so minutes to complete. When completed, you are assigned a four-letter code to describe your personality type, along with insights into your preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. 

The Myers-Briggs personality test was developed during World War II to foster communication between healthcare professionals, especially nurses. A woman named Isabel Myers and her mom, Katherine Cook Briggs, developed the test—pulling from psychologist Carl Jung’s theories (Woods, 2021). Jung founded the field of analytical psychology, which helps people understand themselves and others. He also played a role in defining characteristics of introverts and extroverts (Neher, 1996).

How does the Myers-Briggs test work?

Isabel and her mom added a few tweaks to Jung’s theory to create what is now one of the most popular personality tests—the MBTI. The essence of Jung’s theory that this test captures is that apparently random variations in human behavior are due to people’s differences in mental and emotional functioning (Woods, 2021). In other words, how we think and feel affects our behavior—which is not as random as we might think. 

The Myers-Briggs test established four opposing pairs or dichotomies: extrovert vs. introvert; sensing vs. intuition; thinking vs. feeling; and judgment vs. perception (Woods, 2021). When you take the exam, your answers place you in one category for each opposing pair, creating that four-letter code by taking the first letter from what side of the scale you fall on. Those four letters are your personality type. 

Is the Myers-Briggs test a good indicator of personality?

One critique is that it’s not rooted in psychology. Remember, the original creators of the test were not psychologists. So there are claims that the test isn’t accurate in general (Roberts, 2009). Another critique is that it’s not a reliable test, meaning you may not get the same result every time—raising the question of what actually is your type indicator? 

However, not too many studies have investigated the reliability of the MBTI. A review of four studies on the use of Myers-Briggs in universities found that the test was a valid measure of personality traits in college students (Randall, 2017). Private companies offering MBTI testing may state reliability statistics on their results (Schaubhut, 2009). And, keep in mind that while some personality traits are persistent throughout your life, some attributes may change as you age (Roberts, 2008).  

How to understand your Myers-Briggs personality type 

It’s important to note that these categories aren’t black and white. It’s a scale. You are classified according to what side of the scale you lean towards, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any characteristics with the opposing category. Let’s break down what all these letters mean (Wood’s, 2021). 

Extraversion (E) vs. introversion (I)

This is a measure of energy. What energizes you? What drains your energy? Is being around people energizing? If so, you may lean more towards the extraversion side. Do you derive more energy from being alone? You may be more introverted. 

Sensing (S) vs. intuition (N)

This category refers to how a person prefers to gather and take in information (Woods, 2021). Those who are more sensitive like to see, touch, taste, hear, and feel all relevant information before making a decision. Folks who are more intuitive think about the bigger picture. They recognize patterns before the details, whereas sensing likes to piece together the big picture from the details.

Thinking (T) vs. feeling (F)

How do you make decisions? Thinkers are quite logical in their decision-making process. They may make a pro-con list about a decision or try to detach themselves from a situation altogether to make an impartial, and therefore the best, decision possible. Those falling on the feeling scale aren’t impartial. They value harmony in their decisions and choices. They may not only weigh what’s important to them but what’s important to everyone in a situation. And again, you’re not one or the other. You may gravitate towards different strategies in different situations. 

Judging (J) vs. perceiving (P)

This last category describes the general orientation of the lifestyle you live. And no. Judging does not mean you are constantly judging people. Judging means you prefer more orderly or structured daily patterns. The medical professional community leans heavier towards the judging side of the scale (Stillwel, 2000). Perceivers tend to be more flexible and prefer more spontaneity in their life.  

What’s the meaning behind the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators?

Here’s a brief description of what those four-letter codes mean and the estimated frequency of each type in the United States (The Myers and Briggs Foundation, n.d.). INFJ and ENTJ seem to be the rarest types, whereas ESFJ and ISFJ are the most common. 

  • ISTJ: A sponge for information who’s patterned in making decisions (11.6%)
  • ISTP: Restless individualists who like to understand how things work (5.4%)
  • ESTP: An energetic risk-taker who is easy-going yet is still pragmatic (4.3%)
  • ESTJ: An organizer, logical thinker who is certain in their decisions (8.7%)
  • ISFJ: Conscientious and sympathetic towards others (13.8%)
  • ISFP: A quiet observer who’s helpful and compassionate towards others (8.8%)
  • ESFP: A friend to all who encourages excitement and spontaneity (8.5%)
  • ESFJ: Naturally empathetic Caretakers (12.3%)
  • INFJ: Driven by a mission and are always looking for the deeper meaning (1.5%, the rarest type)
  • INFP: Independently inquisitive, striving for personal growth (4.4%)
  • ENFP: An energetic, creative thinker who can’t be tied down by a routine (8.1%)
  • ENFJ: A harmonizer, very personable and sociable (2.5%)
  • INTJ: A rational and quick thinking perfectionist (2.1%)
  • INTP: Constantly curious, who may appear as detached (3.3%)
  • ENTP: Resourceful, innovative thinkers who are change-oriented (3.2%)
  • ENTJ: A decisive competitor who plans for the future by looking at the big picture (1.8%)

Are you interested in trying the Myers-Briggs personality test? 

Myers-Briggs is one of the most widely used personality assessments today. Individuals can take versions of the test online for free (like this site offers). Some companies are now offering personal development and team-building training around MBTI to help you better understand how you work and to help teams better communicate (this company offers a variety of MBTI products for professional use). If you take the test, remember—there is no right or wrong answer, good or bad type indicator—we all have some of each trait in us. 

References

  1. Clack, G. B., Allen, J., Cooper, D., & Head, J. O. (2004). Personality differences between doctors and their patients: implications for the teaching of communication skills. Medical Education, 38(2), 177–186. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2004.01752.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14871388/
  2. The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). How frequent is my type. Retrieved from https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/my-mbti-results/how-frequent-is-my-type.html
  3. Neher, A. (1996). Jung’s theory of archetypes: A critique. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 36(2), 61–91. doi: 10.1177/00221678960362008. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00221678960362008
  4. Randall, K., Isaacson, M., & Ciro, C. (2017). Validity and reliability of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity, 10(1), 1-27. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26554264
  5. Roberts, B. W., & Mroczek, D. (2008). Personality trait change in adulthood. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(1), 31–35. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00543.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19756219/
  6. Roberts B. W. (2009). Back to the future: personality and assessment and personality development. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(2), 137–145. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2008.12.015. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20161194/
  7. Schaubhut, N.A., Herk, N.A., Thompson, R.C. (2009). MBTI® Form M Manual Supplement. 1-18. Retrieved from https://www.mbtionline.com/-/media/Myers-Briggs/Files/Resources-Hub-Files/Practitioner-Resources/MBTI_FormM_Supplement.pdf?la=en-US
  8. Stilwell, N. A., Wallick, M. M., Thal, S. E., & Burleson, J. A. (2000). Myers-Briggs type and medical specialty choice: a new look at an old question. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 12(1), 14–20. doi: 10.1207/S15328015TLM1201_3. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11228862/
  9. Woods, R. A., & Hill, P. B. (2021). Myers Brigg. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32119483/