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Overview of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI personality instrument, which evolved from Jung's personality types, was developed among non-clinical populations to assess normal individual differences, unlike inventories of psychological adjustment (or maladjustment). It consists of four bipolar dimensions:

  1. Extraversion-Introversion (E-I)
    distinguishes a preference for focusing attention on, and drawing energy from, the outer world of people and things versus the inner world of ideas and impressions.
  2. Sensing-INtuition (S-N) (style of gathering data)
    distinguishes a predisposition for gathering data directly through the senses as facts, details, and precedents (Sensing) versus indirectly as relationships, patterns, and possibilities (INtuition).
  3. Thinking-Feeling (T-F) (style of making decisions)
    distinguishes a preference for deciding via objective, impersonal logic (Thinking) versus subjective, person-centered values (Feeling).
  4. Judging-Perceiving (J-P) (outward preference for structure or flexibility)
    distinguishes an outward preference for having things planned and organized (Judging) versus a flexible style based more on staying open to options than deciding (Perceiving).

Sixteen MBTI Personality Types

Sixteen Personality Types
Generated from Four MBTI Dimensions
(Click image to enlarge)

The sixteen personality types resulting from the cross-products of the four dimensions are shown in the first figure.

Many people believe trait instrumentation, such as the MBTI, provides leverage in predicting behavior in social groups. MBTI's four dimensions were found to be correlated with four of the Big Five robust personality dimensions.

Organizational consultants may use the MBTI to encourage a better fit between personalities and roles. Because the basic assumption under-girding the MBTI is that the types it identifies are immutable in nature, the consultant's mission has more to do with enhanced articulation of individual differences and organizational responsibilities than with behavior change.

Some research has indicated that the distribution of MBTI types is highly skewed in the working population. Sundstrom and associates found that nearly three-quarters of their sample of managers in business were Thinking-Judging types. Perhaps business settings are self-selecting in this regard, hiring Thinking-Judging types over other types (Thinking-Perceiving personalities and all Feeling types). Or, it may be that Feeling types, in general, are less inclined to seek managerial positions.

How the MBTI relates to SYMLOG Field Theory

Hypothetical Plot of MBTI in Symlog Space

Hypothetical Distributions of
MBTI Personality Types
in the SYMLOG Space
(Click image to enlarge)

At a theoretical level, the MBTI dimensions may be heuristically described in terms of SYMLOG Field Theory. The second figure illustrates the domains in which the various MBTI dimensions may be mapped in the SYMLOG space, as described below.

  1. Extraversion-Introversion may be subsumed in the SYMLOG U-D polarization, which contrasts dominance, control and external influence with submissiveness, withdrawal, and introspection.
  2. Sensing-INtuition may be posited as a SYMLOG F-B polarization, with Sensing emphasizing detail, linearity, and step-by-step problem solving characteristic of the Forward direction, and intuition linked with the creativity and tolerance of ambiguity typical of the Backward part of the space.
  3. Thinking-Feeling represents polarization between the rationalistic and rule-oriented F part of the SYMLOG space and the humanistic orientation of the PB part of the space, an F-to-PB polarization.
  4. Judging-Perceiving describes a SYMLOG NF-PB polarization, in which Judging is associated with the critical, and often moralistic, views of the NF part of the space, and Perceiving with openness and the concern for people characteristic of the PB part of the space.
Data-driven Plot of MBTI in Symlog Space

Plot in SYMLOG Space of MBTI Personality Types
Based on research by Sundstrom et. al.
(Click image to enlarge)

The final figure in this section shows the results of data collection in which personality was assessed via the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and SYMLOG IOVAL surveys were used to assess coworker perceptions of managers' values in intact working groups. Eric Sundstrom is the primary architect of the empirical work that forms the basis of this comparison. Sundstrom and associates conducted a number of studies of relationships between personality and interpersonal perceptions in organizational settings.

Although, the hypothetical mapping of the MBTI to the SYMLOG space shows a wide range of overlap, the individuals who made up the Sundstrom sample are constrained to a very small portion of the field.

Selected References

  • Briggs, I., & Myers, P. B. (1980). Gifts differing. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  • Myers, I. B. (1987). Introduction to type. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  • Myers, I. B., & McCaulley, M. H. (1985). Manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  • Sundstrom, E., Koenigs, R. J., & Huet-Cox, G. D. (1996). "Personality and perceived values: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Coworker Ratings on SYMLOG." In S. E. Hare & A. P. Hare (Eds.), SYMLOG Field Theory (pp. 155-173). New York: Praeger.

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