The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

During World War II, a mother-daughter team, Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a questionnaire based on Jung’s Psychological Types, which measures four dimensions of psychological preference related to how people perceive the world and make decisions (Wikipedia, 2012c; Geyer, 2011).

What it is

The MBTI is a forced-choice inventory based on Carl Jung’s theory of Psychological Types. When people complete the instrument, they are given a four-letter code as their results which, when verified, indicates their personality preferences as one of 16 Types. The different type preferences describe different ways of working, taking in information, and making decisions. They distinguish different but equally effective learning styles and methods of managing, leading, coaching and teaching.

Comparison of different types yields wide disparities in general communication style and capacity for — and ways of negotiating – teamwork, relationships, and counselling (Geyer, 2011). All of the results are stated in non-judgmental language, because the underlying assumption of the MBTI is that all preferences are useful in some contexts – and conversely, that all preferences will have contexts in which they are less effective.

Beginning in the early 1940’s, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs, developed the MBTI by extending Jung’s model and putting his concepts into language that could be understood and used by the average person. Isabel Myers worked on the MBTI for nearly 40 years, until her death in 1980. While the MBTI has been continually researched, its main revision came with the publication of Form M in 1998.

With a purpose of making a comprehensive theory of personality practical and useful in people’s lives, the MBTI enables users to dynamically represent what people are, and what they may become. Inasmuch as the MBTI is not designed as a clinical inventory, all 16 types are considered valuable and normal; each has its own strengths and weaknesses and contributions to make to society and the workplace (Geyer, 2011).

What it measures

The MBTI contains items which attempt to establish a preference for one pole or the other in four dimensions of personality:

1. Extraversion (E) or introversion (I): the question of whether people gain their energy from the outer world of people, things, and action, or from the inner world of thoughts, ideas, and concepts. Extraverts (those closer to the Extraversion pole on the continuum) tend to prefer being in large groups of people and acting before reflecting. Introverts (those closer to the Introversion pole) prefer quieter activities and like to reflect before acting

2. Sensing (S) or Intuition (N): whether people mainly pick up information from their five senses and prefer dealing with facts and the world as it is, or they prefer to interpret and apply meaning to what they see in front of them. Those preferring Sensing are generally seen as grounded, down-to-earth types; they tend to solve problems using either past experience or present perception. Those using intuition, meanwhile – the visionaries and idealists of the world – tend to be future-oriented, working toward the fulfilment of transcendent principles.

3. Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): Whether a person prefers to make decisions based on objective, non-personal assessments, or on subjective, personal values. Either way of deciding can be rational (that is, an ordered process). It is important not to confuse a T preference with simply being intelligent or using the intellect. Nor is a preference for F indicative of emotion, or over-used emotionality. Some have observed that people preferring T orientation attend to “task first, relationships second”, whereas F people do the opposite: “relationships first, tasks second.” T preferences would tend to seek factual clarity in a dispute, looking to objective principles to help solve the problem; F people would attempt to look for common ground, commonly held values, and seek collaboration in order to help resolve the issue.

4. Judgment (J) or Perceiving (P): The question of how a person organises and runs his/her life. J preferences seek organisation, schedules, timeframes, and lists to guide them; they expect others to follow suit. P preferences tend to “go with the flow”, leaving decisions until the last possible moment and resisting closure before that. Their lives and work are spontaneous and less strictly ordered (Geyer, 2011).

Here are the sixteen types and the typical strengths that result from the possible permutations of these four preference poles:

  1. ISTJ – Orderly, persevering, responsible, task-oriented, honest, fair-minded, loyal, business-oriented, interested in trends
  2. ISFJ – Serves & protects, helpful to others, sympathetic, team-oriented, loyal & dependable
  3. INFJ – understands others, harmonious, quietly determined, leads small groups, constructively confronts, comfortable with complexity
  4. INTJ – Original, has high standards, autonomous, practical, strategic, visionary, good decision quality
  5. ISTP – Independent, good troubleshooter, enjoys challenge, uses tools, solves concrete problems, action-oriented, knows how things work
  6. ISFP – quiet but warm, loyal & team oriented, builds relationships, values-driven, free spirit, artistic, lives in the action of the moment, likes to have an impact
  7. INFP – Peacekeeper, caring, idealistic, good at projects, participative, understands individual differences
  8. INTP – Has a world of ideas & strong willpower, writing skills, good conceptual and analytical capabilities, strategic, creates something from nothing, non-defensive
  9. ESTP – Fast-paced, good natured, fact-based, good at crisis management, decisive, has social presence, picks up on non-verbal cues, good negotiator, charismatic
  10. ESFP – Entertaining, team-oriented, accepting and compassionate, hands-on, action-oriented, warm, praising
  11. ENFP – Warm, enthusiastic, imaginative, future-oriented, relationship builder, develops others, appreciative, leads groups
  12. ENTP – Inventive, can argue both sides of an issue, stimulating, can multi-task, outspoken, confident and independent, quick, continuous improver
  13. ESTJ – Practical, likes to run things, results-driven, time-efficient, organised, decisive, planful & orderly, takes a team approach
  14. ESFJ – Warm-hearted, sociable, caring, strong values, involved, loyal, decisive, results-oriented
  15. ENFJ – Popular, responsible, charming, warm, good communicator, develops relationships, initiating, funny, good as coach & mentor
  16. ENTJ – Natural leader, confident, well-informed, future-oriented, logical & complex, commanding, independent, avid learner, questions a lot.

(Pearman, Lombardo, & Eichinger, 2005)

Preferences, not skills

It is important to note that the MBTI picks up a person’s preferences, not their skills. Thus a person acting from an N (intuitive) preference may have a vision for how he would like his life to be, but it may not be an appropriate vision: one which would tend to promote happiness or growth. An Extravert may desire to be with people, but not have the interpersonal skills to create interactions which genuinely recharge her “batteries”.

Similarly, people can develop their opposite pole by concerted will effort. Jung, in fact, believed that it was important for wholeness to understand and develop some skill in the opposite preferences. This tends to happen somewhat anyway, in middle age, as people see possibilities for personal expansion in “the unlived life” of the opposite preference. An Introvert, for example, can develop the ability to mix happily with people at parties, or approach people fairly comfortably in order to make a sale.

A Thinker can train herself to consider the effect on different groups before a decision is made, rather than just making the decision on the basis of objective facts. A person with an Intuitive preference can learn to look at the details and facts of a situation in addition to trying to “make meaning”. The Introvert, Thinker, and Intuitive preferences, however, will always be such individuals’ core preferences. When the opposite preference on a given dimension is developed, it supports the work of the core preference. If a person is forced to operate too long within an opposite preference, however, it can result in stress, eventual illness, or ineffectiveness at work and life (Geyer, 2011).


Because the MBTI is based on a comprehensive and coherent theory of personality, applications can be found in almost anything which involves people: that is, communication, strategic thinking, leadership, change management, performance appraisal, team building, planning, marketing, writing, counselling, personal development, career planning, teaching, and learning. The potential applications are limitless.

It would not be ethical or appropriate for recruiters to exclude a job candidate based on type, nor for a job seeker to exclude a whole occupation simply because most of those in it were a different type. It can be useful, however, to explore which personality types seem to be found in – and fit – which life endeavours. Thus, studies have shown that Extraverts tend to predominate in marketing and entrepreneurial endeavours, and Introverts are more common in professions such as medicine, law, and (surprisingly) politics. There seem to be slightly more Extraverts in Australian society than Introverts.

Intuitives (the “big picture” people) are far more readily found in academic institutions, particularly at the higher, post-graduate levels, and naturally are “at home” in the arts, counselling, and consulting. The feet-on-the-ground Sensing types find themselves in places where their keen ability to pick up details and facts is useful: sporting arenas, law enforcement, banking, small business, and teaching. Large organisations have many Sensing type preferences in them, although the upper echelons of management are normally more visionary N (Intuitive) types. There are about three times as many Sensers as Intuitive types in Australian society.

Thinker types will be overwhelmingly found in large corporate and government organisations, as well as in medicine, law, and management. In fact, in large organisations, it is often because the feelings and concerns of people are not factored in enough (mostly by Thinker types) that things go awry in decisions being made. Feelers are found in counselling and the helping professions, such as social work and caregiving. Not surprisingly, there is a gender divide among this preference, with more men being Thinkers and more women being Feelers.

As regards the J-P preferences, Judgers are mostly chosen for management positions and law enforcement, banking, and teaching roles. Perceivers, conversely, are more commonly found in marketing, counselling, and entrepreneurial endeavours. There are estimated to be slightly more Judgers than Perceivers in contemporary Australian society (Geyer, 2011).

Sample items of the MBTI

While the actual Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can only be purchased online or from a distributor in-country, there are several sites online where individuals can take a test purporting to measure the same four dimensions of personality. Clicking on “Jung tests”, you can take one such test at: Here are sample items from that instrument, where the respondent chooses (out of a scale of five) how “accurate” to “inaccurate” the statement is:

  • I prefer structured environments to unstructured ones.
  • I tend to trust the mind more than the heart.
  • I am far more casual than orderly.
  • I require lots of time alone to recharge.
  • I feel very comfortable around people.
  • I focus far more on possibilities than present reality.
  • An argument with feeling has far more effect on me than a cold rational one.
  • I tend to be more down-to-earth than head-in-the-clouds (, n.d.)

This article is an extract of the upcoming Mental Health Academy course “Overview of the Principal Personality Tests”. More details:


  • Geyer, P. (2011).MBTI: An introduction to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ® & Personality Types. Personal Pathways: Exploring personality type and its applications. Reinhold Development. Retrieved on 18 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Geyer, P. (2011).Understanding the MBTI and Personality Type. Personal Pathways: Exploring personality type and its applications. Reinhold Development. Retrieved on 18 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Pearman, R.R., Lombardo, M.M., & Eichinger, R.W. (2005). You: Being more effective in your MBTI type. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Lominger, Ltd., Inc.
  • (n.d.). Personality tests. Retrieved on 31 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Wikipedia (2012c). Personality test. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved on 17 December, 2012, from hyperlink.