My most golden friend alerted me to the fact that the Myers-Briggs Personality types are still widely used in Human Resources (HR) professions. She also works in HR, and so, being a truly golden friend, I had to read up on this stuff. It was quite fascinating, even for a hard edge scientist.
Among many highlights I discovered were the following:
- Extroversion (outward focus, not necessarily always gregarious) is a dominant western cultural paradigm in the workplaces and schools and many other institutions, and in many areas of life we, as a society need to bring this pendulum back towards nurturing and appreciating introversion.
- Children at school need more time to do silent individual work. Group work has been over-rated and over-emphasised in recent decades, to the detriment of deep thinking. Extroverts also particularly benefit from learning how to work alone for long periods.
- Susan Cain’s TED talk: Susan Cain: The Power of introverts.
- Teams function best with a broad range of personality types. This point is obvious, but worth keeping in mind.
- Myers–Briggs (MBTI) psychology sucks for predicting human behaviour or diagnosing individual quirks and coaching individuals, but is terrific for organizational psychology and team building.
- Introversion is more helpfully interpreted as a preference for inwardly focused behaviour and attitude, not as shyness. Shyness is what happens to anyone who is fearful of social interactions, which is not just a problem for introverts.
- The word Energy is often used outside of physics in very strange ways, but most people seem to be comfortable with these common outside uses, but I had to find out more, and that’s what this article is mainly about.
Here’s a recommendation up front: if you are really interested in psychology, but do not consider yourself an expert, then please find time to watch the TED Talk by Martin Seligman: The New Era of Positive Psychology
Also before I get to the main point of this post (which is the curious use of the physics concept of energy in the field of psychology) I need to explain a little of the psychology background. By the way, if you are a thinker and writer please send a reply to tell me whether you think psychology is a science or not? If not, then what is it? An art? A fantasy discipline with merely coincidental correlations with the real world of cognitive science? Or just a very young and immature science?
Basic Myers–Briggs Ideas
Myers and Briggs adapted Carl Jung’s proto-theory of personality typology and turned it into a tool that could be used in human resource management, and in a fairly humane way I might add. It does not reduce people to numbers, but it does help to semi-quantitatively assess the dynamics within teams of co-workers. And before you ask, yes, the misspelling “extravert” to follow is deliberate, it may help people to remember this is not the strict dictionary use of the word. In Myers–Briggs lexicon “extraversion” is a preferential outward turning attitude to the external world. However this is quite close to the common understanding of the word “extroversion”. Both Introversion and Extraversion refer to the preference for turning of the libido (one’s so-called psychic energy — a term which needs some careful definition in my view.
The four pairwise classifications for a 24=16 element matrix of raw types are,
- Extravert | Introvert (E/I) — for preferential attitude to the world.
- Sensing | iNtuitive (S/N) — (the twfor one’s preferential way of perceiving collating knowledge and mental input input.
- Thinking | Feeling (T/F) — for the way one prefers to contemplate and make decisions.
- Judging | Perceiving (J/P) — for the way one prefers to relate to the outside world.
The Judging/Perception distinction reuses the functional categories T/F (judging/decision modes) and the S/N (perception/gathering), and relates them to how people show outward directed character and inward directed character. They do this using notions of dominance and auxiliary functions. It works like this: the J or P indicates their dominant function for extraverts, and for introverts the J or P indicates their auxiliary function. It goes like this: E**J →implies dominance is the preferred deciding function (T or F); while E**P→implies dominance is the preferred perceiving function (S or N). I**J→implies their auxiliary function is their preferred deciding function (T or F); while I**P→;implies their auxiliary function is their preferred perceiving function (S or N).
The auxiliary function is then the one (for the person in question) that is not their dominant.
Then the direction (outward or inward) of dominant and auxiliary behaviours are inferred from whether a person is Extroverted or Introverted.
Do you get it? We all have to outwardly deal with our external interests and sometimes also our internal interests as well. For example, internally you dream of winning a sports event say, and outwardly you deal with your dream by training. The J and P distinctions help analyse how a person typically handles whatever has to be outwardly directed, and how people handle inward directed attention.
An E**J type means a person will preferentially use their preferred decision mode for external relations and so their preferred perceiving mode for internal relations. Thus, for example, an ENTJ type would be extroverted thinker (denoted eT) and introverted intuition (denoted by iN). So, for example, they would most likely act extroverted in thinking about winning their sort event, but they would introverted about gaining intuitions about how they will fair, perhaps. While an ESFP would be dominant for Sensing so would be an extroverted senser (denoted eS) and an introverted feeling person (denoted by iF), so they might have a strong sensorial input for how they will win the sports event, but introvert their feelings for making decisions about training, perhaps. In summary, P/J point to dominant functions for Extroverts.
Since dominance is outward for extraverts and inward for introverts, this P/J factor is easiest to remember in that it always points to the outward-looking function for both introverts and extraverts, because ‘outward’ is auxiliary (italicised in my denotations) for introverts and dominant (bold in my denotations) for extraverts.
So what about Introvert examples? Well, an INTP would be auxiliary in iNtuitive function because the P designator points to their auxiliary function as being their preferred perception mode, and so they would be dominant in thinking function, so they would be an inwardly introverted thinker (my symbol for this is iT — the bold font indicate this is dominant); and they would have an outwardly extraverted iNtuitive (denoted eN for their auxiliary mode). So they’d be closed off and shy about how they think about how their training decisions are being made or progressing, but extraverted and open in gathering intuitions about their sports training progress, perhaps.
An INFJ would be auxiliary (so extraverted) in Feeling (denoted eF), and dominant (so introverted) iNtuitive (denoted In).
An ENFJ would be dominant (so extraverted) in Feeling (denoted eF), and auxiliary (so introverted) iNtuitive (denoted iN).
Notice the difference with ENFJ and INFJ. The outward and inward directed functioning is the same, but the dominant attitudes are reversed in order. So an INFJ is preferentially adopting an (iN) mode, while the ENFJ type is preferentially adopting (eF) modes. But both personality types have these same pairs of proclivities for outward and inward directed modes of thinking and doing.
There are more examples we could enumerate, but just one more for now, consider an ISTJ: they would be outwardly extraverted thinking (eT)(since their auxiliary function is in their judging mode which is ‘thinking’ for them), and they would be inwardly introverted sensing (iS) (since this is their dominant which is their perceiving function of ‘sensing’. In summary: P/J point to auxiliary functions for Introverts.
Got it? This is not rocket science for sure. None of it is supposed to enable us to predict human behaviour, it’s all just guiding framework sort of analysis. It helps in planning and in building teams of people who work well together both in empathetic ways (cooperation) and in complimentary ways (cooptition=’competition with a purpose for mutual benefit’). And this MBTI analysis helps organisers avoid inadvertently building bad relations like disorganization (lack of connectivity, lack of united purpose or cohesion) and discord (disunity, distrust and competition with mutual harm).
The Wikipedia entry spells this out in terms of how people show the world their preferred modes. And interestingly this couples in the Extraversion Introversion dimension:
Myers and Briggs added another dimension to Jung’s typological model by identifying that people also have a preference for using either the judging function (thinking or feeling) or their perceiving function (sensing or intuition) when relating to the outside world (extraversion).
Myers and Briggs held that types with a preference for judging show the world their preferred decision function (thinking or feeling). So **TJ types tend to appear to the world as logical, and **FJ types as empathetic. According to Myers, judging types like to “have matters settled”.
Those types who prefer perception show the world their preferred perceiving function (sensing or intuition). So *S*P types tend to appear to the world as concrete and *N*P types as abstract. According to Myers, perceptive types prefer to “keep decisions open”.
For extraverts, the J or P indicates their dominant function; for introverts, the J or P indicates their auxiliary function. Introverts tend to show their dominant function outwardly only in matters “important to their inner worlds”.
Because the ENTJ type is extraverted, the J indicates that the dominant function is the preferred judging function (extraverted thinking). The ENTJ type introverts the auxiliary perceiving function (introverted intuition). The tertiary function is sensing and the inferior function is introverted feeling.
Because the INTJ type is introverted, however, the J instead indicates that the auxiliary function is the preferred judging function (extraverted thinking). The INTJ type introverts the dominant perceiving function (introverted intuition). The tertiary function is feeling and the inferior function is extraverted sensing.
The Wikipidia entry summarises this nicely:
“The preferences for extraversion and introversion are often called attitudes. Briggs and Myers recognized that each of the cognitive functions can operate in the external world of behavior, action, people, and things (“extraverted attitude”) or the internal world of ideas and reflection (“introverted attitude”). The MBTI assessment sorts for an overall preference for one or the other.
People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion “expend” energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.
The extravert’s flow is directed outward toward people and objects, and the introvert’s is directed inward toward concepts and ideas.”
There is also a way to fit all four functions into a personality, using tertiary and inferior classes. For most practioners the tertiary function is oriented in the same direction same as the dominant function, but of course ‘tertiary’ means the partner of the auxiliary function for both E and I individuals.
Thus, Using the INTP type as an example, we start from ‘I’ which mean the ‘P’ indicates an auxiliary perceiving function, thus auxiliary=N for this type. The remaining orientations would be as follows:
- Dominant introverted Thinking
- Auxiliary extraverted iNtuition
- Tertiary introverted Sensing
- Inferior extraverted Feeling
The tertiary function is Sensing here since it partners iNtuition. How about a rare INFJ type? They’d have:
- Dominant introverted iNtuition
- Auxiliary extraverted Feeling
- Tertiary introverted Thinking
- Inferior extraverted sensing
The tertiary function is Sensing here since it partners iNtuition.
One more example, for an ESFP:
- Dominant extraverted Sensing
- Auxiliary introverted Feeling
- Tertiary extraverted Thinking
- Inferior introverted iNtuition
The tertiary function is Thinking since it is the partner to Feeling.
Relations Between Jung’s Work and Myers–Briggs
Jung original had the two broad attitudes (Extroversion and Introversion) and coupled these with the four functions (Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling). He thought of the pair of functions (Sensing & Intuition) as the two irrational or perception types or the main ways people collect information. And he thought of the pair (Thinking & Feeling) as two main rational or decision-making types of ways people process the information to make decisions or judgements. Myers and Briggs adapted all of this and made the Judging/Perception (or Rational/Irrational) layer a separate category to be assessed.
They could then tell when a person favoured Ep or Ej (irrational or rational type of extravert) and whether they favoured Ip or Ij (irrational or rational type of introvert) .
Already I have an issue with this, which is why do sensing and intuition need to be thought of as irrational? And for that matter why do thinking and feeling have to be thought of as rational? Well, they don’t! But I will come back to this later.
The key thing with MBPT is to interpret the type of a person not as a hard and fast fixed type, since there are more than sixteen types of character in the whole of humanity I think you will agree). But rather to think of people, as having certain grouped primary preferences for worldly attitude, contemplation or collation of input, and contemplative preference for the rational collation of information and in the way they make decisions.
It is the primary preferences that the Myers–Briggs matrix seeks to capture. It does not aim for personal psychological depth of analysis, but rather more humbly seeks to assess group dynamics and interactions between people in a very general context. So it is used by organisational psychologists more than by personal psychologists. Indeed, it would be kind of stupid for a personal psychologist to ever bother to use MBTI, unless for some reason their patient had some problems directly associated with their work environment which MBTI theory might be able to help analyse.
Note that Myers–Briggs typology seems redundant since
- Sensing — collation–gathering mode is Irrational+Perception.
- iNtuition — collation–gathering mode is Irrational+Perception.
- Thinking — contemplation+decision mode is
- Feeling — contemplation+decision mode is
By the way, I am equal parts INFJ and INTJ. Every time I run through the indicator tests I score equally (often dead tied) on the T/F category, but very clearly and unambiguously on the other three dimensions. So this frustrates my friend or other psychologists, because I cannot be dropped into their Matrix as a single point. But I figure there have to be plenty of people who similarly cover more than one square in the MBPT matrix.
This is all fine so far, we’ve just laid out the framework. But how is it used? What are the normal roles of these dominant and subordinate functions?
Before I write much more I want to emphasise that I am not a critic of MBTI organizational psychology. In fact I would endorse it’s use. For the one reason alone in that it can aid all sorts of people to learn how to work more harmoniously by showing them when to cooperate and when it is better to work alone. But there are many other reasons to appreciate MBTI theory, which I do not intend to elaborate upon here, it is up to readers to take away more from their own wider reading.
People are normally familiar and comfortable with their main type. What is tricky and interesting is how people can change and grow, and this often means paying more attention to your tertiary function.
Development of your tertiary function tends to come later in life (about midlife) after you have grown and feel comfortable with the dominant and auxiliary. As you grow and develop, you learn that there is a time and place to use your third and fourth (inferior) functions. The tertiary function can guide you toward areas of your life you have avoided, or expand your skills into areas that require skills you did not earlier in life feel comfortable using. This is useful for so-called ‘up-skilling’ (a euphemism used by some employers for “get better or you’re fired”) and for becoming in general a more useful person, more varied and adaptive and flexible. For example, a Thinking type with tertiary Intuition may begin taking literature or creative writing courses. A Thinking type with tertiary Sensing may begin doing carpentry or weaving or gardening.
The inferior function is naturally the least well developed mode for most people. From Wikipedia: “The inferior function is often considered to be more associated with the unconscious, being most evident in situations such as high stress (sometimes referred to as being in the grip of the inferior function).”
OK, so you can probably see where I am coming from: what is this use of the concept of energy? Does it bear any relation to my beloved subject of physics? Or should psychology devise it’s own new and original lexicon using concrete and unambiguous definitions?
Cognitive Learning Styles
This is the application which most appealed to me. I found it all quite intuitively obvious in applications for teachers and students. Here is Wikipedia again:
- E/I The first continuum reflects what generically energizes a person. Extraverted types learn best by talking and interacting with others. By interacting with the physical world, extraverts can process and make sense of new information. Introverted types prefer quiet reflection and privacy. Information processing occurs for introverts as they explore ideas and concepts internally.
- S/N The second continuum reflects what a person focuses their attentions on. Sensing types enjoy a learning environment in which the material is presented in a detailed and sequential manner. Sensing types often attend to what is occurring in the present, and can move to the abstract after they have established a concrete experience. Intuitive types prefer a learning atmosphere in which an emphasis is placed on meaning and associations. Insight is valued higher than careful observation, and pattern recognition occurs naturally for Intuitive types.
- T/F The third continuum reflects the person’s decision preferences. Thinking types desire objective truth and logical principles and are natural at deductive reasoning. Feeling types place an emphasis on issues and causes that can be personalized while they consider other people’s motives.
- J/P The fourth continuum reflects how the person regards complexity. Judging types will thrive when information is organized and structured, and they will be motivated to complete assignments to gain closure. Perceiving types will flourish in a flexible learning environment in which they are stimulated by new and exciting ideas.
For a nice talk about research on cognitive learning styles and MBTI see Jane Kise at TEDx: Neuroscience, Jungian Type and Mathematics: Insights into Student Struggles.
The cool thing about MBTI is how easy it is to get students to self-assess their type. It is pretty easy for a competent teacher to create lesson resources to suit all styles. They can take good quality generic lessons and tweak them in usually just a couple of ways for adaptation to the different learning styles.
Alternatives to MBTI: FFM and HEXACO
The favoured alternative, often considered to be more comprehensive than MBTI is the so-called Five Factor Model (FFM) or the Big Five:
Wikipedia: “A summary of the factors of the Big Five and their constituent traits, such that they form the acronym OCEAN:”
- Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called “intellect” rather than openness to experience.
- Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
- Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
- Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
- Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”.
These are OK, but when I first looked at them they seemed a bit too overlapped. But apparently most studies show they are not overlapped. Maybe the published research is biased by a lack of published negative results?
My favourite personality type model is the six-dimensional HEXCO model, each factor in which has polar extremes, so is expected to be centrally distributed across large groups of people, not bimodal:
- Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous
- Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable
- Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved
- Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric
- Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded
- Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional
Those are the descriptions of the types. And here’s how the six HEXACO factors are analysed in questionaires, through four subsidiary facets each:
- Honesty-Humility (H): Sincerity, Fairness, Greed Avoidance, Modesty
- Emotionality (E): Fearfulness, Anxiety, Dependence, Sentimentality
- Extraversion (X): Social Self-Esteem, Social Boldness, Sociability, Liveliness
- Agreeableness (A): Forgivingness, Gentleness, Flexibility, Patience
- Conscientiousness (C): Organization, Diligence, Perfectionism, Prudence
- Openness to Experience (O): Aesthetic Appreciation, Inquisitiveness, Creativity, Unconventionality
It’s pretty easy to guess why I like this model — it has a dimension of spirituality lacing in MBTI and FFM, that of Humility/Honesty, and I believe this is incredibly important in human life, and although not in vogue in cognitive sciences, I think honesty and humility are the most important factors in creating a more peaceful world.
It probably doesn’t matter which framework one uses, FFM, HEXACO, or MBTI, since to a degree they capture the same insights about human personality and human interrelations. In fact, I suspect they’d work across extraterrestrial boundaries!! It has been argued by strong promoters of FFM that MBTI is not as powerful, but this is not real true. A typical FFM assessment and a MBTI assessment capture the same sort of information. What differs in the approaches is ease of use and ease of fitness to the purpose of the analysis.
So, for example: the Big Five (FFM) are quite good for future occupation success predictions and career and academic guidance. The MBTI are quite good for organizational management and team building. Yet both frameworks are also useful in the others role. The HEXACO model has a unique position of personality psychology frameworks because it is based upon analysis of lexical structure in languages, across many cultures, so HEXACO has good claims to being very universal (always a highly desirable attribute for a general theory).
MBTI is also a great tool for analysing learning styles, which a deep and practical knowledge of how to assess and use is extremely helpful for teachers and any leaders in education. There is an excellent short TEDx talk by Jane Kise about MBTI types and learning styles in primary school mathematics classrooms. Jane Kise at TEDx: Neuroscience, Jungian Type and Mathematics: Insights into Student Struggles.
Critiques of MBTI and FFM
These are the two personality frameworks used in professional psychology I suspect. So it is useful to know a bit about their weaknesses.
- MBTI was supposes to discern Types, so logically the pairs should show bimodal distributions in statistics for a large population. But they do not! They are centrally distributed, so most people are on the borders between the categories E-I, S-N, F-T, P-J. This is very strange a a serious flaw in the whole framework of MBTI. Amazingly though it appears not to seriously affect the efficacy of MBTI analysis for team building. Perhaps because team work is more cooperative than competitive, so extremes of personality are not the important thing, but rather what are important are compliments of skill and talent.
- FFM is purely empirical, it has no underlying theoretical support. But this does not forbid a theory behind FFM from being developed a posteriori by future researchers.
- There are statistical irregularities in both models — for example, the lack of expected bimodality in MBTI, and lack of orthogonality.
- Reliability: many people can be re-tested weeks after an MBTI test and find they are now a different Type!
Lack of orthogonality is interesting. Orthogonality is a measure of independence of factors. If they are not fully orthogonal then this means there is some residual degree of overlap and correlation between them, so it means a more efficient set of factors could be found in principle. A hypothetical set of factors that better and more clearly distinguishes personalities. Perhaps no one knows the names for a maximally orthogonal set of personality types perhaps such names do not even exist yet in English language.
The figure here shows a set of MBTI scores for 10 people. Each single individual is colour coded. You can see that most people have scores clustered near the centre, which suggests, at least for this data, the MBTI statistics are not bimodal, but rather more central.
Here the person who yielded the red data points is INTJ. The person who yielded the yellow data points is *SFP, they are borderline for E/I and would need to be retested or self-assessed perhaps to decide on an Extrovesion or Introversion preferred attitude.
A scatter plot of scores for a larger group of 100 people might look like this next chart, which shows a clear central type of distribution.
Reliability of MBTI, or consistency, is not a big deal for me, I like the idea that people are not fixed! It does imply that MBTI lacks a sharp enough, or orthogonal enough, set of categories. But then where would you draw the line? Surely any good theory of personality types has to allow for the theoretical possibility that people can change with time. But what is a reasonable time frame for change of Type? Six weeks, a year, a decade? It’s hard to say. The answer has to be determined by a better model of personality type, so that we can trust the model to tell us how much a person has changed, and for this trust one needs a model that is consistent and reliable over short time frames of days and weeks, given the circumstances of a person’s life have not changed too radically in between tests.
So I think in future MBTI will be revised. It is not a completed framework. It has to be evolved to better fit with it’s intended purposes. The same is probably true of FFM and HEXACO.
As you can easily imagine from their respective definitions, the FFM nd HEXACO models reproduce very similar analytical results and characterisations of people, especially when FFM is supplemented with a Humility/Honesty Factor to become six-dimensional. So the theory behind HEXACO is a good candidate for theoretical support for FFM.
The Use of the Concept of Energy in Psychology
First, let’s be clear that energy is properly a technical term in the science of physics. It has many forms, one of which is potential energy (energy locked away in the position of a mass in relation to some force field), and another is kinetic energy (energy of motion, the faster or more massive a thing the more kinetic energy it possess, quantitatively). The key thing is that energy is numerically measurable, it is quantitative. It is not a vague concept, it has real meaning.
As you can easily imagine, these definitions are not arbitrary. Potential energy can indeed be turned into kinetic energy, that’s the way the world works — I’m not kidding — this is the fundamental fact of physical reality — this interrelation between potential and kinetic energy is literally, precisely, what makes the universe evolve as it does. In a deep sense there is nothing else to know about the world.
What makes the world an interesting and beautiful place is that physics cannot actually perfectly predict what will happen to all the potential energy stored in the positions and motions of matter — and so physics cannot give us a complete account of past and future. All it can do is give us probability measures of how energy might unfold in the future or past motions of matter in spacetime.
This is why we need to supplement physics with higher level sciences like chemistry, biology and economics and even psychology, in order to fully understand the universe and all the life it supports you cannot get by just on Sheldon Cooper’s bank of knowledge.
But clearly the pure physics definition of energy is not what psychology has in mind when studying things like behaviour and temperament in human interrelations. So what exactly does psychology want us to understand when it employs the word “energy” or at least the phrase “psychic energy”?
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OK, sorry folks, I had to split this article in two. This is the introduction to the background frameworks in personality type psychology. The next post will take a closer look at the concept of energy in psychology.
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