MBTI: Functions vs Traits, Criticism & Correlation

I have an interest in psychology in general, but anyone who reads my blog knows that I have particular love for all things Jung (specifically Jungian typology as it was more fully developed with Myers-Briggs).  I came to MBTI through my studies of Jung and esoterica.  I was studying Tarot and noticed some correlations people had made between the card suits and Jungian functions.

However, like Jung, my interest in the esoteric is rooted in my desire for truth and so I’m not content to look at pretty diagrams of possible correlations.  So, I’ve studied the theoretical and scientific side of it well enough that I have a broad grasp of all the details and different viewpoints.

Anyone who has been on a type forum or checked out the variety of info available on the web quickly will realize that there is much debate and disagreement.

There is Myers-Briggs versus Kiersey, and then there are Berens’ Interaction Styles that attempt to bridge the two (also, Berens based her model on that of DISC which is something entirely else).  There is Beebe’s function roles which puts the functions in one order versus Thomson who puts them in another order.  Then there is the Russian field of Socionics which (mixing in some other theories) interprets Jung entirely different than Myers-Briggs (and some of the Socionics supporters claim that Kiersey fits their model the best).

The real interesting debate, though, is those who claim that the MBTI isn’t scientific and that Trait Theory (the favorite Trait Theory being FFM, aka the “Big Five”).  It’s this last area of disagreement that I was just now considering in some recent web-searches, but it’s something I’ve considered off and on these last couple of years.  I would gladly give up MBTI if it proved entirely or mostly false an unuseful, and so it’s an important to determine what is presently known.

There are several criticisms often stated:

  • Limited peer review research
  • Bimodal theory is disproven by trait research
  • Unreliability because of low incidence of test result repeatability
  • Neuroticism is excluded

Well, I don’t plan on answering all of those criticisms.  I’m not an expert and so my opinion isn’t all that important, but I am a very curios cat.  I will say that I doubt at present any absolute conclusions can be made.  These are worthy criticisms to consider, but further research is required.  Also, even if the MBTI is imperfect and requires improvement, that isn’t a reason to scrap it.  Research improves theories and so thinking of MBTI as a static belief system is far from helpful.  Furthermore, Jungian typology goes beyond just the MBTI (in more than a half century, numerous theories and tests have been created, and some of these are based on different premises such as not forcing bimodal results).

Here are some things that I found interesting which support various aspects of the MBTI:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Wikipedia)

What Did Isabel Do? Insights into the MBTI

A “Big Five” Scoring System for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Hierarchical Confirmatory Factor Analysis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Score Reliability Across Studies

Reliability of the MBTI® Form Q Assessment

Myers-Briggs and Four-Type Structure

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Mapping to Circumplex and Five-Factor Models

MBTI is NOT a pseudoscience. Check your facts, nay-sayers!

4 thoughts on “MBTI: Functions vs Traits, Criticism & Correlation

  1. You raise an interesting issue for debate. IMO, both Function theories and Trait theories have their merits. I think the criticism against Function theories does not make them redundant.

    Function theories offer great analytical insight into the operations of the underlying functions that shape the personality. While Trait theory is a more descriptive approach.

    IMO, the motive for developing each theory is different. and therefore the application is differentt. Function theory is more concerned with understanding how a different minds work. Whereas, Trait theories are more concerned with describing how different individuals “are” .

    • It seems our views are similar.

      I think functions and traits serve different purposes. Traits are more just descriptive and so they don’t necessarily offer additional insight… or at least not in the way Jugnian typology does. Jung’s and Jungian-related theories provide a language beyond mere description because it allows one to think about the self holistically, about how the different aspects interrelate.

      There is one other major difference. MBTI was intentionally developed to have a positive focus. Traits theory, on the other hand, doesn’t offer neutral descriptions. MBTI is idealistic in that it sees potential in the variety of human nature. Also, MBTI is focused on self-understanding both for self-acceptance and self-development.

  2. Hi Benjamin,

    Just dropping by to say hi, and comment how what a great blog you have going on here. I haven’t had time to read them all, but I’ve certainly read all the Psychology ones.

    You’re quite articulate, more analytical than you give yourself credit for, and have a very engaging writing style.

    I’ll be sure to read more when I get the chance!


    • Hello barcode,

      I had to think for a moment where I recognized your name from. It can be rather confusing trying to remember names from various places around the internet.

      I wasn’t expecting someone from youtube to visit my blog. How did you find my blog? I don’t think it’s listed on my youtube page, but I suppose it might make sense to mention it there. Okay, it is now added to my youtube page.

      I appreciate the compliment about my writing.

      I have become increasingly analytical over the years… which has its downsides as my thinking too much often goes hand in hand with my depression. Oh well.

      As for my writing style being engaging, I hadn’t really thought about it. I try to communicate well and I’ve had much practice, but I can be a bit lazy which is demonstrated by a few spelling errors in this post. I sometimes write late at night and often don’t do much editing before posting.

      I have had people complain about my lack of brevity at times. I can’t deny that my thinking style lends itself to a long and rambling writing style. I try to rein it in a bit and organize my thoughts to the best of my ability.

      It’s interesting that you visited my blog this week. I’ve been thinking about a particular good criticism of the MBTI. I’ve been discussing research and theory with another blogger.


      He referred to a study done by Reynierse. I only vaguely recognized the name when he mentioned it, but this past week I’ve been reading some papers written by Reynierse. The basic conclusion is that type dynamics isn’t supported by research. Beyond that, I can’t say I as of yet understand the implications of this study.

      Are you familiar with Reynierse?

Please read Comment Policy before commenting.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s