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  1. #1
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    Default The pitfalls of personality typing, and the nascence of neuroscience

    All of us here have taken a personality type test at some point in our lives. On this particular forum, Myers-Briggs is center stage.

    For some of the more elaborate systems, there can be quite a following among its practitioners. I was on forums like these for years where Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram were dissected and broken down like science experiments. In fact, there are some researchers, among them Dario Nardi and Jon Niednagel, who believe there is some neuroscientific basis for some aspects of the Myers-Briggs system (and I don't entirely disagree, but some caveats there in a little bit).

    Emphasizing the Myers-Briggs since that is the system I am most familiar with, and since that is the focus of this forum, it is notable that I first took their test in 1998 or 1999 when I was a teenager. I remember coming out "INTJ," which is a common result for such a test, I've learned (even though that type is alleged to be a small part of the populace - other common test results include ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, and so forth). Some of the description seemed accurate, but other parts seemed "off." Nonetheless, I thought there might be something more to the system than horoscopes, so I kept learning about it.

    After awhile, I became utterly convinced I was an "INFJ" instead. I read up on all I could find, I got interested in Niednagel's "Brain Types" system that applied type to sports and linked them with motor skills (I'd heard about Brain Types before in 1997 on a sports program, but I didn't know they used the same types found in Myers-Briggs), and I was on several forums dedicated to discussion of type, including this one.

    In 2011, representatives from Niednagel's Brain Types system informed me that they didn't think I was an INFJ, but that I was either INTJ, INTP, or ENTP instead, with the strongest likelihood being ENTP. That was certainly surprising to me, but when I compared my motor skills to INFJs, I could see that I fit far better the people they had in the NT categories, at any rate, whichever one I was.

    To avoid bias, I then sent personality descriptions of INFJ, INTJ, INTP, and ENTP to friends who did not have any prior knowledge of Myers-Briggs or Brain Types. Again, with some surprise, every single person picked either INTP or ENTP. The consensus was that I was more of an INTP in person and more of an ENTP online.

    So much for the INFJ insistence.

    Still, what was the basis of all of this? How useful was such information? I could see where Niednagel's application might help in sports where motor skills are important. But could it also help me a lot in my personal life? Could it help me with jobs?

    I'm afraid this is where the usefulness of the system, however much basis it may have in neuroscience in a few broad aspects, falls short. The vast majority of ENTP profiles emphasize careers where being busy, multi-tasking, and doing a ton of things at once are to my preference. Well, they are NOT to my preference - I do best at jobs where I can write a lot, be by myself, not interact with many people, and have few distractions. That would fit more of the INTP or INTJ mold. So does the insistence of several close associates that I'm tactless, unkind, and cold. However, INTP is said to have no interest or capability in multiple sports (I absolutely love sports and follow and play several) while INTJ is supposed to be very unemotional and business-oriented (bottom line type of person). Those don't apply well to me, either - I can be quite emotional and have no interest or capability in business (unlike my parents, who took naturally to it). And if we start considering INFJ again, despite the motor skill discrepancies, the sports interest and enthusiasm is again inconsistent with descriptions of the type.

    And where is neuroscience in all of this? Nardi's and Niednagel's evidence is there for you to examine, but it's in its early stages at best. What's evident to me is, whatever merit there may be to some cognitive commonalities among type, it is by no means absolute. If mouth swabs or blood tests one day reveal that I fit an "ENTP" category, for instance, there will probably be more advanced testing that differentiates me from other ENTPs. We cannot assume at this juncture that all ENTPs, or any other people from a given type, all have the same talents and skills, or even weaknesses and Achilles' heels. We simply do not have that information.

    It's at this point where it becomes clear that type does not necessarily determine as much in your life or your brain as its biggest adherents might like to claim. It's a tool with some uses, but don't let it run your life. We have much more to learn in the coming days.

  2. #2
    Wake, See, Sing, Dance Cellmold's Avatar
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    It's a general outline at best and a constricting bear trap at worst.

    I think any other consideration to the contrary is asking for convoluted trouble. But of course I am an ESFJ, I WOULD say that.

    Actually to be more serious, I used to be heavily into reading the material. I would pour over Gifts Differing, Lenore Thompson's Personality Manual and Jung's work that it stemmed from. Trying to ascertain a decent comprehension of the information.

    I believed I did, but the issue soon became apparent. Human beings are varied, complex even when superficial, like all life and given over to personalised distortion of any body of information.

    In other words each person can interpret the information in any number of ways and the only real grounding in that environment is in a rough common consensus. As you stated yourself the neuroscience is in the early stages and still marred by the fact that the definitions came before the measurement of patterns in the brain.

    For it to work it should have been the other way around, because then they could map actual cognition and then come up with terminology to explain it and test it empirically.
    But alas Jung did not have access to such techniques, or rather he probably didn't care for them.

    The other more obvious pitfall lies in the forer effect. It's hard for information of this nature NOT to influence someone's behaviour and self-identity.
    So most typing's end up being a confirmation bias.

    Certainly there are however....patterns that seem to transcend environmental influences and even genetics. Essentially that was all Jung was going off. He merely followed that idea as it snowballed inside him.
    'One of (Lucas) Cranach's masterpieces, discussed by (Joseph) Koerner, is in it's self-referentiality the perfect expression of left-hemisphere emptiness and a precursor of post-modernism. There is no longer anything to point to beyond, nothing Other, so it points pointlessly to itself.' - Iain McGilChrist

    Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
    "Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
    Piglet was comforted by this.
    - A.A. Milne.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Jaguar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by karmacoma View Post
    We cannot assume at this juncture that all ENTPs, or any other people from a given type, all have the same talents and skills, or even weaknesses and Achilles' heels. We simply do not have that information.
    Go to the head of the class. Have a seat.

  4. #4
    i love skylights's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by karmacoma
    We cannot assume at this juncture that all ENTPs, or any other people from a given type, all have the same talents and skills, or even weaknesses and Achilles' heels. We simply do not have that information.

    It's at this point where it becomes clear that type does not necessarily determine as much in your life or your brain as its biggest adherents might like to claim. It's a tool with some uses, but don't let it run your life. We have much more to learn in the coming days.
    Indeed. Nicely written.

    I too am moving past the point of type identification. It was very useful in my life for a while; it is still occasionally useful. But there are so many deviations that go beyond it and it fails to include all of those in the picture. I have also run aground of the function/MBTI differences, in which I am functionally NeFi but preferentially ExFJ. So I deviate far from ENFP in many cases... career application in particular. Many ENFP-prescribed careers would be a nightmare for me.

    So important to remember that it is a tool, and its meaning is limited to its application.

  5. #5
    untitled Chanaynay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by karmacoma View Post
    It's at this point where it becomes clear that type does not necessarily determine as much in your life or your brain as its biggest adherents might like to claim. It's a tool with some uses, but don't let it run your life. We have much more to learn in the coming days.
    I thought this was obvious.

    Yeah, I agree that people shouldn't take this stuff so seriously. The end bit I quoted is basically a good TL;DR of your post. It's fun to read about and discuss, but there's clearly something wrong if you're using it as a way to decide what you want to do for a career. People should also be aware that if there's a theory that tries to compact people into one of 16 personalities, there's obviously going to be some (and varying) levels of deviation. It is a useful tool or something fun to learn about but it's still just another lens to look at life with - there are plenty of other ways to look at life too so you shouldn't let one confine you and make huge changes to your life. No matter how much I read into personality theories I don't let it affect my life.

    Quote Originally Posted by skylights View Post
    I have also run aground of the function/MBTI differences, in which I am functionally NeFi but preferentially ExFJ. So I deviate far from ENFP in many cases... career application in particular. Many ENFP-prescribed careers would be a nightmare for me.
    FWIW I think you seem more P than J in pure MBTI (is that what they call it these days?) and more N but that's just me. I'm definitely ENFP going strictly by the 4 letters.
    7w6 - 2w3 - 8w7 sx/so


  6. #6
    i love skylights's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chanaynay View Post
    FWIW I think you seem more P than J in pure MBTI (is that what they call it these days?) and more N but that's just me. I'm definitely ENFP going strictly by the 4 letters.
    More N, yes, definitely. P/J I tend to test 50/50. I went with P early on because I dislike decision-making and I tend to run later than earlier, but I prefer closure and structure. I seek more closure and plan more than my ISFJ IRL, but still dislike making decisions having to do with my personal preferences. So... meh.

    Like I said, I still identify ENFP, but I am at the point where it just doesn't feel that applicable in many situations.

  7. #7
    untitled Chanaynay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skylights View Post
    More N, yes, definitely. P/J I tend to test 50/50. I went with P early on because I dislike decision-making and I tend to run later than earlier, but I prefer closure and structure. So... meh.
    I think it depends on why you prefer structure? I like structure too but I don't establish it; I need someone to establish it for me. If no one gives me anything to tighten the ropes in my work environment then I'll just lay back and just go with the flow 24/7. Although the closure thing seems Jish yeah.

    Not trying to derail the conversation though. Although most ENFP careers actually seem pretty fitting for me:

    Consultant: yes
    Psychologist: what I'm going for
    Entrepreneur: why not?
    Actor: it'd be fun if I learned how to put on a convincing performance
    Teacher: I've considered it a few times really
    Counselor: yes
    Politician / Diplomat: no, I don't have the work ethic, patience, or capacity for responsibility enough for that
    Writer / Journalist: I've considered it
    Television Reporter: if I was on a decent news station
    Computer Programmer / Systems Analyst: I suck with computers though
    Scientist: and science
    Engineer: and anything related to engineering
    Artist: I've considered it and might want to try learning how to draw properly in the future
    7w6 - 2w3 - 8w7 sx/so


  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chanaynay View Post
    I think it depends on why you prefer structure? I like structure too but I don't establish it; I need someone to establish it for me. If no one gives me anything to tighten the ropes in my work environment then I'll just lay back and just go with the flow 24/7. Although the closure thing seems Jish yeah.

    Not trying to derail the conversation though. Although most ENFP careers actually seem pretty fitting for me:
    Haha, I am usually the one creating structure if it is not there. I prefer to have input on the things I care about. But again this may be more 6 than MBTI, really.

    I am glad you find the ENFP careers mostly fitting! I will finish up via VM.

  9. #9
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    Thanks, all. Good discussion, and thanks for not misreading my main point. Some over at PC thought I was just slamming MBTI wholesale and dismissing it outright, but all I'm saying is we need to be careful how far we apply it. Naturally, some self-proclaimed guru also felt the need to think he could glean my type from my thread, which was a type I'd never seen applied to me before.

    Folks seem more careful before leaping to conclusions here.

  10. #10
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    Jung wrote much of this early on, something about being dissatisfied with knowing only the average weight of pebbles.

    Was the type ISFx?

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