The MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is a self-assessment and self-discovery instrument for Psychological Type. It was developed in the late 1940s and has been in use since the 1960s. To date, millions of people have taken the MBTI. The questions have been reconsidered and rewritten multiple times, based on how well they sort people into "Type". The assessment currently in use is "Form M".
Notwithstanding its popularity (or perhaps because of it), there are detractors. One of the loudest of these, Adam Grant, bases most of his dislike for the MBTI on the fact that he has gotten inconsistent results. In other words, he interprets his ability to "trick" a self-assessment tool, by supplying different answers each time, as a flaw in the tool. (I lost any respect for Mr. Grant after reading his essay on the topic.)
Another common method of refuting the MBTI is a version of what techies call "Not Invented Here" syndrome. Simply put, the creators of the MBTI were not psychologists.
One article I recently ran across put it this way:
It's a little troubling, given that Myers and Briggs were a mother (Katharine Briggs) and daughter (Isabel Myers) who studied the works of psychologist Carl Jung a hundred years ago, particularly his book "Psychological Types." Myers and Briggs weren't social scientists themselves. Briggs was a housewife with a deep interest in Jung; before she wrote a survey that served as a prototype of Myers-Briggs personality tests, Myers wrote mystery novels.
You can practically feel the contempt rolling out of that paragraph. Briggs was a housewife... Myers wrote mystery novels... a hundred years ago ...
It's true that the seeds of the MBTI were planted nearly 100 years ago. That's when C.G. Jung wrote about his theories. Oddly, none of the articles that dismiss the MBTI so cavalierly dismiss Jung... only the two "housewives" who dared to study Jung without benefit of a degree in Psychology.
Katherine Briggs was born in 1875. Unusual for women of that time, Katherine was homeschooled (by her father, who was on the faculty of what became Michigan State University) until she entered college at age 14. She had a strong interest in understanding people. She read C. G. Jung's work in 1923, shortly after it was published in English.
Isabel Briggs Myers (Katherine's daughter) was born in 1897. She was also college-educated. Along with her mother, Isabel was interested in understanding the differences between people.
Isabel wrote one novel in 1929 (after learning about Jung and personality type). The book applied her ideas about personality type into a murder mystery which won the National Detective Murder Mystery Contest for that year.
Neither woman was formally educated in psychology. Neither went to Harvard. But both women were smart, college-educated, and well-read. Isabel graduated first in her class from Swarthmore College in 1919.
Understanding that she had no scientific credentials in the field of psychometric testing, Isabel apprenticed herself to Edward N. Hay, from whom she learned test construction, scoring, validation, and statistics. The Indicator was tested, revised, and retested.
Myers and Briggs first tested the items for the Indicator on a group of about 20 relatives and friends whose type they felt they knew from observation over many years. If an item consistently seemed to indicate a preference, it was added to the Indicator; if it did not, it was discarded. As data started to grow, larger samples were used to check validity of items or to determine item weights.
Form C of the MBTI® instrument was developed by 1944. Myers took a part-time job with the Human Resources Director of a large company in order to familiarize herself with personality sorting instruments then in use. She persuaded her boss to give the Indicator to everyone who applied for employment.
Today, as many as 1.5 million MBTI assessments are administered annually to individuals. The MBTI has been successfully translated into over 20 languages. Over time, that's a lot of data.
Using that data:
The MBTI assessment has been revised several times since it first appeared in 1942. New item formats and scoring methods were developed and tested first by Isabel Myers and later by professional psychometricians, with each revision leading to technical improvements over the previous form.
Validity of the assessment has been examined through behavioral observations, exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, correlations with related measures, and even brain scans.
Many of the arguments against the MBTI are based on a flawed understanding of what the MBTI is and what it is not. It's not a test; there are no right or wrong answers. It's not an infallible impersonal measurement gauge. It's a self-assessment inventory that believes exactly what you tell it.
If you understand yourself and understand that the questions are asking abut your deep-down personal preferences, the MBTI can do an excellent job of telling you something about your personality type. If, instead, you change your answers every time you take the assessment, or claim "but I like both" or "I do both", the results will be as fallible as the person providing the responses!
Hint: the MBTI doesn't ask what you "like" or what you "do". Each question asks what you prefer. This isn't preference as in vanilla or strawberry ice cream; this is psychological preference. As an example, I can (and do) use my left hand for many things, but I am still right-hand dominant. I prefer my right hand.
If you can't make a decision, spend some time examining your life before taking the MBTI.
Many people – ordinary people, not formally educated psychologists – have taken the MBTI and found the results to be illuminating and helpful. These ordinary people have discovered things abut themselves.
They've discovered that they are not alone, unusual, or "broken"; they've learned that their attitudes, methods of problem solving, and ways of thinking are healthy. They now understand why they never seemed to get along with one of their parents or siblings or why some co-workers are so easy to work with and others have been so frustrating. They now understand why school was easy (or difficult) and why they're drawn to certain kinds of activities.
They understand that there are many ways to be "normal".
Perhaps that's one of the primary underlying arguments from the "formally educated" psychologists. Psychology concentrates much of its effort on what is wrong with people. The MBTI, in contrast, describes differences and similarities between healthy people.
Take Introversion as a glaring example. According to Jung (and the MBTI), introversion is a normal energy orientation. Half of Jung's original 8 types were "introverted". Half of the 16 MBTI Types are "introverted" types.
Introversion is as normal as left- or right-handedness. Brain studies have been confirming this.
Yet, as recently as 2012, the American Psychiatric Association was planning to include Introversion into the 5th edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as a contributing factor in diagnosing certain personality disorders. (In the end, Introversion was not included.)
A friend of mine commented about the "controversy" recently, saying:
[The MBTI] has much baggage. As when to satisfy those who could not comprehend Global Warming, we simplified it by calling it Climate Change, only to have Texans saying that their record-setting rain is proof that Climate Change does not exist.
We could call MBTI something else, but those who politically have it in for MBTI will never rest.
Meanwhile, those of us who have taken the MBTI and learned something – about ourselves, our families, our co-workers, our friends – will continue to use it, discuss it, learn from it, recommend it, ... and defend it. Because it works.