I suppose I should consider myself a beneficiary of the Myers Briggs test: according to its judgement I am the ‘Mastermind’. But I already knew that – I mean, hardly a day passes before I emit an Evil Laugh at the thought of my latest plan to conquer the universe. More to the point is the fact that, the one time I took the test – which my manager, in a corporate office, required of his staff – I totally failed it. Why? None of the answers I wanted to give would fit into the limited multi-choice slots required. But I was required to answer in those terms. The result, therefore, was totally meaningless. But of course I couldn’t say so because, you know, this is psychology, and psychology is an advanced science. Apparently.
I was put in mind of this experience recently, when I discovered that academic psychology has finally realised that it might be possible that cognitive tests designed to trip up those with dementia will also trip up somebody with dyslexia. It’s a qualified ‘maybe’ – I mean, psychological tests are flawless, the last word, and can never be… you know… wrong. If someone is judged faulty by a psychologist – well, that person is proven faulty, and nothing they say to the contrary will change it. Still, to me their apparent realisation that one of their arbitrary tests might produce a wrong answer is a slight ray of light in a field which styles itself ‘scientific’ but which, in fact, has far more to do with asserted power and the intellectualised invalidation of its victims.
The likelihood that arbitrary dementia tests will ‘catch out’ someone with dyslexia is actually obvious. And when I say obvious, I mean full-on Captain Obvious arriving on a giant pink elephant with brass band in tow, waving flags reading ‘This Is Obvious’. One of the outcomes of dyslexia is poor short-term memory and problems finding words. They know the answer, but can’t convert the concept into a word that other people will understand. This has similar characteristics to dementia or similar cognitive impairment, but for different reasons. Mix this with the conceit among psychologists that their field has found the final solution to human nature – a truth that gives them alone the power to judge what everybody else is really like – you know, really – and it’s a recipe for injustice.
You can picture the scene: a psychologist who’s just met their target a few minutes earlier and knows nothing about them asks a few arbitrary questions. From these the psychologist subjectively decides what the person they’ve just ‘tested’ is ‘really’ like and labels them accordingly, per the DSM manual. And if their target protests – well the Psychologist has Spoken. There is not the slightest shred of actual science in these judgements: the actual word for it is ‘bullying’. But of course ‘psychologists’ are above that, aren’t they, because psychology is such an advanced science.
Except, of course, it isn’t.
What we call ‘psychology’ is, at best, a pseudo-science; a self-perpetuating conceit that started life among a group of late nineteenth century Viennese intellectuals, buoyed on the idea that their observations of the local bourgeoise contained the ‘true’ answer to the human condition. The period idea by which human nature could be reduced to iron-clad ‘laws’ intruded. This attempt to harden psychology into a science, initially, involved these intellectuals inserting their own sexual hangups into the rest of humanity. Pioneering psychologists such as Wilhelm Reich decided that all humans were sexually repressed. All? All. But he could fix it. His method involved getting his female patients to take their clothes off in front of him. (Later, Reich decided that the entire universe was created by human sex energy, which Reich believed he had discovered. He even built ‘accumulators’ to concentrate it. And how could he be wrong? After all, he was a psychologist).
Turning this self-gratifying and very disturbing woo-woo into a ‘science’ didn’t take long. Reich’s colleague, Karl Jung, believed he had found the basic truth of humanity – iron-clad personality ‘archetypes’ into which everybody on Earth could be jammed. And if they didn’t fit – well, the person had to be wrong, not the theory. Worse, at a time when eugenics were on the rise and humanity had to be enumerated, classified and condemned if they failed to fit, Jung’s assertions gained significant traction. This led, among other things, to the entire ‘science’ of judging and classifying character types according to arbitrary questions, pioneered by Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs in the 1940s. Their test, with its arbitrary classifications and western culture-centric view of humanity remains a ‘gold standard’ corporate tool for measuring employees, sold by psychologists as a device for discovering who people really are. You know, really.
I already outlined my own experiences with that at the beginning of this post. (‘Mastermind? Why yes, pathetic minion, of course I am. Bwahahahahaha!’) But wait, it gets sillier. The corporate manager who’d brought in the Myers-Briggs tests then decided to have a ‘development day’, which included bringing in a ‘psychologist’ who proceeded to ‘test’ everybody with a system by which personalities were reduced to the four ancient Greek ‘elements’. It was just as subjective, just as meaningless – and not voluntary. Participants had to answer an arbitrary list of leading questions, from which the psychologist – who’d met them ten minutes earlier – could inform them what they were really like. You know, really, even if they objected.
It was, of course, trivial to reverse-engineer this intellectual botty-dribble on the fly. It was that shallow.
Somewhat later, the manager decided to re-run the exercise. I ended up doing the test a second time, so I intentionally produced the reverse result. This puzzled the hell out of the visiting psychologist. How could I have suffered a complete personality change in a few months? She kept asking me to confess that I was ‘really’ like the results of the first test – you know, really.
To me all this revealed all that is wrong with psychology as an intellectual discipline. Those who practise it apparently believe that they define reality with their subjective judgements of strangers, all erected atop deeply faulty assumptions about humanity. They neither see nor accept when their system produces wrong answers. But of course, psychology as an intellectual discipline has nothing to do with helping people. As usual it is actually about power and powerlessness – in which the psychologist, by definition, holds all the cards (in this case, probably made by Rorschach). What’s more, the system they’ve developed is self-validating: anybody who objects to their judgement – or worse, plays games with their tests – is classified as suffering from a disorder known as ‘contrarianism’.
Lest any of this seem over the top, don’t forget that it’s not too many years since the APA tried to classify introversion as a disorder. None of it is ‘scientific’. None. It is a self-validating system of subjective judgement that jams people into arbitrary boxes, treats these constructions as real, and demands compliance. And that, my friends, is called bullying.
Of course, as that psychologist who I’d fooled informed me, I would say that, wouldn’t I – it’s what they’d expect from my character type.
Sigh.You can’t win, can you?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021
6 thoughts on “How I failed my Myers Briggs test, and other adventures”
I did Behavioural Science which was all about Skinner rather than the ‘therapists’, so I have to agree with most of what you say about personality types and other cute games. It’s bunk, pure and simple. But…there are a group of psychologists who are disturbingly spot on, and they are the ones who are behind things like intermittent rewards in the gaming/gambling industry. The power of intermittent rewards is precisely why slot machines are so dangerous.
Or how about the ones who inform certain politicians about how ‘most people’ will ignore the loss of privacy or ‘insert whatever here’ so long as they think /their/ lives won’t be affected.
Or the ones who correctly predict that ego will make people on social blurt out a great deal of personal information, simply for the the hope of 15 minutes of fame. And if they discover that information has been misused, they think ‘oh but I have nothing to hide’. In other words, ‘it won’t affect me so why should I care?’.
I could go on, but this short rant would then turn into a long one. Yes, psychology has more than its fair share of quacks, but when predicting the reactions of large groups of humans, it /can/ be dangerously accurate.
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To me all the founders of the field were pseudo-scientific, ego-driven lunatics. Wilhelm Reich, particularly. The damage they did to people has been colossal. I must admit I have my doubts about Skinner – this was the guy who tried to condition pigeons to guide bombs into enemy targets in WW2. His ‘operant conditioning’, to me, presents as fancy term for forcing somebody into changing their behaviour – I question whether it actually does so. It’s been shown that torture (which is a form of ‘operant conditioning’) doesn’t work – people will confess anything to make the pain go away. I think the field tries too hard to categorise, to turn what is a social science into a ‘hard science’. It’s a fault true of just about every field associated with the humanities, of course (including history – I must post about the hilarious effort to ‘numerate’ history here in NZ). It seems to be that a lot of what psychologists predict about individuals is obvious to anybody with any understanding of the human condition; one merely needs to have experience of how people behave and an understanding of some of the quirks of thought process. The field of mass psychology, to me, is something different – it’s related, for example, to economics; it’s about how societies work en masse, which is interesting and often steps away from individual behaviours – yet, simultaneously, reflects them.
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Part of my course included Sociology, which I didn’t enjoy at all because it was so airy fairy. As for Skinner, yes, he was a very…strange man. My interest is more on the statistical level. If you can devise tests that don’t give the game away [preferably not questionnaires] and if you can get enough people to do those tests, and if those test subjects are diverse enough, you /may/ end up with some significant statistical results that /may/ predict what a population as a whole may do…. Ahem.
Extrapolating from all that to individual people? No way. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what therapists attempt to do, which is why I never finished that degree.
I’m sure some clinical psychologists do help some people, but I suspect they’re the ones with masses of empathy and people skills who may have been successful even as lay people. -shrug-
I don’t discount the discipline entirely, but I agree that the therapy side lacks substance.
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I did the Myers-Briggs thing in the workplace context, but it was long enough ago that I can’t remember exactly what kind of introvert I am. I do know that some people embrace their M-B “type” the way others identify themselves with their astrological sign.
So introversion isn’t a disorder anymore, eh? Now the message is “It’s okay to be an introvert as long as you use these techniques to make yourself look like an extrovert.”
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I was the INTJ, which is the ‘mastermind’ category (pause here for Evil Laugh). Alas, every plan I’ve come up with to conquer the universe has failed at the first hurdle, usually about five minutes after I’ve thought of it … (‘Sorry, Dr Evil, we cannot send you an interositer, because nobody knows what it is’). The introversion issue is always awkward – when I was a kid, the problem was that introverts simply hadn’t ‘learned’ how to be around people a lot, and the ‘cure’ was to make them spend as much time as possible with people. They’d soon learn to enjoy it and be energised. Apparently. I often wonder how things would be if introversion was treated as ‘normal’ and extroverts the oddballs who needed curing.
Actually, the lockdowns of the pandemic have been something like that.
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