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Articles on MBTI ® applications: The Cult of Personality ?

About Steve Myers

Steve Myers offers a review of "The Cult of Personality" by Annie Murphy Paul, a former editor of "Psychology Today."

Criticizing the tool rather than the tool users, Paul has painted with a broad brush protesting the use of personality testing, including lumping the MBTI among the medicine she believes society can do without.

"The Cult of Personality" or "The Cult of Journalism"?
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Steve Myers, INFP - Wirral, UK


Lack of substance to the book's claims

Another area of concern is that the book makes a number of potentially damaging claims, but provides no real evidence or substantiation for them. For example, the very title states that psychometric questionnaires are being used to "mismanage, misunderstand and mis-educate". But no data is provided to justify this claim (ironic given the lack-of-data criticism leveled at the MBTI, which has 7,800-studies-worth of data). When asked, on her Yahoo Group, where the data was to demonstrate that the MBTI was being used to mismanage, the author said it was in the Druckman and Bjork publication (In the Mind's Eye). But that book contains no such data to suggest any mismanagement - it only criticises the standards for research and calls for better quality work.

Another area lacking in substance is the book's claims that an interview-based approach (McAdam's Life Story) is a better approach than psychometrics. Yet, no research cited to support this opinion. In fact, research undertaken over the past few decades consistently shows that in some contexts, such as recruitment, an interview-based approach is often much less valid than using personality questionnaires. Yet, the assumption is made in the book that the "life story approach" is better, without recognising, for example, the confounding role that "projection" can play in an interview scenario.

Factual errors/misrepresentations

Finally, there are some errors and/or misrepresentation of facts, with some of the quotes referred to being out of context by a matter of decades. For example, the book uses a quote from Jung's Argentine foreword to Psychological Types implying he would dismiss the MBTI as a parlour game. This is misleading because:

  • the foreword/comment was written 10 years before the MBTI was published.
  • after the MBTI had been published, Jung wrote to Isabel Briggs Myers saying that the MBTI would make a significant contribution to the development of psychological type theory.

Another example is using a comment by Jung in a BBC interview in 1959 about "type changing" to demonstrate that Isabel Briggs Myers' philosophy, of type being inborn had departed far from Jung's philosophy. This is also misleading because:

  • this one comment can be viewed as contradictory to Jung's own previous writings in Psychological Types and in a 1957 interview (the latter had both been reviewed/edited, whereas the 1959 comment used in "The Cult of Personality" had not been edited).
  • it fails to recognise the complexity of both Briggs Myers' and Jung's understanding of the theory, in that they both posited an inborn element and a developed element (therefore, whether "type changes" depends on what you are referring to).

These are just two of many factual errors/misrepresentations - if you would like some more examples, see Peter Geyer's review, as he considers the research problems with the book in more detail.


There was a definite need for a book like "The Cult of Personality" to highlight the dangers and misuses of psychometric tests, and to stimulate a debate. Unfortunately, this book does not fit the bill. The simplistic analysis, sweeping dismissal of research, lack of substance to the book's claims, and the misrepresentation of facts undermine the judgments made, and direct the debate in the wrong direction. Rather than provoking healthy debate about the important issues, there has been a negative backlash, probably due to an injured sense of justice -- either from being criticized fairly, or being judged on the basis of a distorted presentation of the facts.

Hopefully, the author will come to recognize the errors that have been made in the book and produce a second edition that contains more reasoned and rational arguments, and not simply a journalistic presentation of opinions that exploit people's fears. This is the type of reporting one expects from sensationalistic, tabloid journalism, not an award winning journalist.

Will such a second edition be produced? We'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, perhaps someone ought to start work on a new book called "The Cult of Journalism".

Steve Myers

® MBTI, Myers-Briggs, Meyers Briggs, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries (aka meyers briggs or myers briggs).

Steve Myers is founder and principal of Team Technology, an international consultancy practice focusing on improving team performance. He is author of "Influencing People using Myers Briggs." For more information see www.teamtechnology.co.uk

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