The concept of 'personality types' is a hotly debated one among psychologists and one that has potentially wide reaching implications. The question is whether or not it's possible to group personalities into 'types' that can be reliably measured and which can then predict behaviour, or whether personality is too changeable and abstract a concept to record.
Businesses and organizations generally are very hopeful that the former is true because it would enable them to better pick the right candidates for their job roles, and to better work with them to enhance their productivity. At the same time though this could also be a negative thing if it meant that some candidates are ruled out based on the results of personality tests before they've been given a fair chance, or if it started to affect law enforcement – conceivably you could end up with a 'Minority Report' type of situation where people are punished for actions they haven't committed because their personality types are deemed dangerous.
Either way, the search for a reliable personality type theory continues and has yielded some very effective systems. Among these, the 'Myers-Briggs Type Indicator' is one of the most enduring and popular, and can be very useful for shedding light on our personalities and those of others. On the lighter side of things this can be a fun way to learn more about yourself, and I personally have found it very useful for coming to terms with some of my weaknesses and dealing with them as a result. Without further ado then, let's have a look at how the system works and what 'type' you are.
How it Works
One of the major strengths of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) is that it is based on relatively simple principles – revolving around four simple dichotomies and placing each person on one side of each. These four dichotomies are:
Extraversion Vs Introversion
Sensing Vs Intuition
Thinking Vs Feeling
Judging Vs Perceiving
By identifying where you lie on each of these it's possible to paint a fairly accurate picture of the way you are likely to react in certain situations and of the mental models you are likely to use in everyday life.
To help you decide which you are, and to shed a little more light on the system, let's have a look at what each of these actually means.
Extraversion Vs Introversion
This first division is the one most of us are most familiar with. An extravert is generally considered as someone sociable and outgoing, whereas an introvert is generally considered someone who is more withdrawn and prefers time spent alone. What's important to recognize here though is that you won't necessarily be able to tell immediately which type someone is – this divide doesn't refer to how good you are at socializing but rather how you prefer to 'energise'. In other words, someone might seem to be very outgoing and lively in social groups but still be an introvert because they would prefer to be spending time at home with a good book/working on a project. Likewise there are other tell-tale signs of a true introvert, for instance the preference for deeper connections with a select few friends over a wider range of more shallow 'acquaintances'. Most introverts prefer one to one interactions whereas extroverts prefer large groups.
The sensing/intuiting section describes how we prefer to operate when we're problem solving or seeking to understand something. Here the sensing types will much prefer to work with stats and numbers, they will prefer to be hands on, and they will prefer to work in the here and now. They like to work with what they can see and with what's black and white. On the other hand though the intuiting types prefer working with abstract concepts and ideas and will be more likely to enjoy being creative and to enjoy coming up with philosophies and ideas. The intuiting type will tend to think ahead and imagine possible scenarios and they will attempt to look at the bigger picture often missing the smaller details.
What's important to understand here again is that this isn't a description of ability but rather preference. Being a sensing type for instance doesn't mean you can't see the bigger picture when forced to, while being intuitive doesn't mean you'll be any worse at maths or logic. Rather this just refers to the kind of problem solving you are likely to apply to a situation.
The thinking/feeling section similarly applies to your problem solving and analytical skills but this time refers to whether you are likely to view the situation from a detached 'thinking' standpoint or a more empathetic situation where you attempt to come up with the most peaceful solution. Feeling types are generally conflict avoidant and sensitive and will be more likely to be sensitive to the needs of the whole group, whereas the thinking types will be more likely to be direct and calculating. You can tell a thinking type if they give you criticism without sugar-coating it, whereas two feeling types in a relationship will rarely argue but may 'bottle up' a lot of unresolved issues. Again it's important to note that this is a preferred mode of operating, not a description of how good you are at empathising or thinking.
The perceiving/judging type has a misleading title and doesn't actually describe anything to do with 'judging' as such. Rather this element describes which of the two middle categories you are more likely to use. In other words if you are a perceiving type, then you will use your sensing/intuiting aspect most, whereas if you're a judging type you'll use your thinking or feeling preference most.
Furthermore this interplay goes further, as being an extravert or introvert will dictate what you show to others. If you are an introvert who's also a feeling and judging type, then you will be more likely to come across as someone who is highly sensitive and empathetic. On the other hand though if you're an introverted feeling and judging type, then you will use this as your primary method of decision making but will keep that more to yourself.
So in other words, if you were an INFP (Introvert, Intuiting, Feeling, Perceiving) like me, then you would predominantly use your abstract thinking ability to approach problems and issues (I'm a dreamer in other words, and in fact the label for my type is 'idealist') but others wouldn't necessarily see you that way because you'd be private about your real motives. On the other hand, if you were an ENFP, then you would be more likely to come across as outwardly eccentric and abstract.
To get your type then you need to think about where you lie on each of these scales, and then take those letters to create your four letter 'type'. I'm an INFP, but you might be an ESFJ like my girlfriend or an ENJP. If you can't decide there are plenty of great questionnaires online.
Once you have your type you can then look online for a summary of your personality type and this can often be quite enlightening regarding aspects of your personality. Of course it's not a flawless system so don't take it as gospel, but at the same time you may just find it can show you some of the thinking processes you use but aren't necessarily aware of.