Predictive Validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Chapter 1)

The purpose of this study is to introduce a new and potentially helpful concept, a composite preference score developed from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and to determine whether the sum of the four preference scores that make up the composite preference score are predictive indicators useful to counselors in treatment planning and counseling intervention.

Predictive Validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Composite Preference Score to Estimate Counseling Difficulty and Counseling Outcome

Dissertation by
Jerry L. Brinegar, Ph.D.
Child and Family Development
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia 1992

The purpose of this study is to introduce a new and potentially helpful concept, a composite preference score developed from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and to determine whether the sum of the four preference scores that make up the composite preference score are predictive indicators useful to counselors in treatment planning and counseling intervention. This study is undertaken to determine whether higher composite preference scores are predictive of the degree of counseling difficulty and successful counseling outcome. These predictions were examined on the assumption that higher composite preference scores indicate more psychological resistance, less flexibility, more counseling difficulty and less successful counseling outcome.

There were 185 clients for this study drawn from six different clinical settings. Each research participant was placed in one of four diagnostic categories: (a) Alcohol abuse or equivalency in substance abuse; (b) Marriage or family violence; (c) Major depression, recurrent or equivalency in depression; and (d) Other diagnoses.

Higher composite preference scores are associated, as predicted, with higher counseling difficulty scores. However, contrary to prediction, the composite preference score is not significantly related with counseling outcome. Thus, there is no evidence to indicate that clients with higher composite preference scores have poorer counseling outcomes then those with lower scores.

Interestingly, the composite preference score is more substantially related when used with extraverted clients presenting one of three diagnostic conditions--alcohol/ drugs, marriage or family violence, or depression. Conversely, counseling difficulty with introverted clients presenting with any of these three diagnostic conditions is moderately well predicted by their preference scores alone, but not by their composite preference scores.

The findings are sufficiently conclusive in regard to the composite preference score and extraversion-introversion correlations to counseling difficulty, including its practical counseling utility, to recommend that a more quantitative view regarding preference scores may yield potentially important knowledge to add to the typology information when working with counseling populations. Ultimately, such information should help counselors estimate counseling difficulty.


The purpose of this study was to introduce a new and potentially helpful concept, a composite preference score (CPS) developed from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and to determine whether the preference scores that make up the CPS are predictive indicators useful to counselors in treatment planning and counseling intervention. This study was undertaken to determine whether higher composite preference scores are predictive of: (a) the degree of counseling difficulty and (b) successful counseling outcome. These predictions were examined on the assumption that higher composite preference scores indicate more psychological resistance and less flexibility in solving life's problems. It is contended that most of the literature on the MBTI has been focused on letter type preferences and pursuant personality traits without giving significant attention to the strength of the combined preference scores.

Jung's Concept of Psychological Types

Carl Jung believed that the idea of type was fundamental to the ways we human beings use our minds. The famous Jungian, Frances Wickes, said "It isn't what life brings you that matters. It is whether you meet what life brings you with courage." Different types respond in varying ways to what life brings. We have recently seen the freedom of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Vaclay Havel in Czechoslovakia after long imprisonment. In the face of injustice, they could have become bitter and destructive. Instead, they have shown us that one person living for an idea, can make a difference worldwide (McCaulley, 1990). Our ideas, driven by our psychological type, have a power that lets us bridge chasms of conflict and deal with the external world. Jung's theory of psychological type consists of three sets of opposites, i.e. extraversion-introversion (EI), sensing-intuition (SN), and thinking-feeling (TF). Katharine C. Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, added a fourth, judging-perceiving (JP).

Extraversion (E) and introversion (I) describe two different ways of relating to the world. An extraverted attitude focuses one's attention and energy on the world outside the self, whereas the introverted atti-tude involves focusing one's attention and energy on the world inside the self (Brownsword, 1987).

Sensing (S) and intuition (N) functions are two ways of dealing with the world of perception in that each is characterized by a way of collecting and generating information. They deal with the world of per-ception. A sensing function involves the use of the five senses to collect information. Sensing types ask, "what are the facts, the details?" The intuition function seeks to find meaning, possibilities and relationships in the information being gathered. Intuition asks "what meaning can I make out of the facts?" (Brownsword, 1987, p. 3).

Thinking (T) and feeling (F) functions are two different ways in-dividuals make decisions and thus deal with the world of judgment. The thinking function reflects a person's logic to make decisions. Jung said "thinking links ideas together by logic," e.g., "Given the information I have, what does logic say?" The feeling function reflects a valuing pro-cess to make decisions, e.g., people "arrange things in accordance with their value," and "Given the information, what do I value?" (Brownsword, 1987, p. 3).

Judging (J) and perceiving (P) attitudes were added by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. These two attitudes describe different life style orientations and two contrasting ways of relating to the external world. The judging attitude reflects a way of relating to the external world in an organized and orderly way. It involves making plans and decisions about the external world. In contrast, the perceiving atti-tude reflects a way of relating to the external world in a flexible and spontaneous way. With regard to the external world, it involves collecting information and responding to things as they occur.

Jung's theory of psychological type builds on these sets of opposites in three ways:

  1. Both/And. We all do extraverted and introverted things. We use sensing and intuition to collect and generate information. We make thinking and feeling decisions and we all relate to the external world in judging and perceiving ways.
  2. Either/Or. Each pair of opposites also act as preferences. We all experience a pull to one side of each pair of opposites. In any given situation we have preferences.
  3. Both/And and Either/Or. In each of the sixteen possible types, (produced by different combinations of the four dichotomous dimensions) the preferences and their opposites combine according to specific and prescribed patterns. The fullest appreciation of each type can only come from understanding how the preferences and their opposites combine (Brownsword, 1987, p. 4). One can begin to understand the complexities of an executive committee, for example, when it is realized that persons of several different psychological types study the same proposal and respond to it in several different ways. No one preference or type is thought of as being qualitatively superior to another. Each simply reflects differences in attitude, orientation, decision-making, and the relative importance of these functions in a person's life (Willis, 1983, p.483).

Counseling Difficulty

Counseling difficulty relates to the degree of resistance of a particular client in working toward specific goals and problem-solving. There are several factors that contribute to a client's resistance and sabotage of the counseling process. More specifically, in assessing the degree of resistance, there are very basic characteristics of difficult clients. In general, difficult clients are assumed to have fragile per-sonality structures with weak character defenses that allow little flexibility around the area of vulnerability. The difficult client falls into one or more of the following categories: (a) Clients with physical loss, illness, or disability; (b) clients with major deficit parents in-cluding alcoholism, mental illness, severe trauma victims, exposure to social violence, and family violence; (c) clients with narcissistic personalities; and (d) borderline personalities (Goodheart, 1989, p.18).

The essence of the change process in response to counseling intervention is "considered to be the accessing of emotional experiences underlying problematic and rigid interactional positions" of the client (Johnson & Greenberg, 1988, p.176). For example, unless there is a softening of a dominant, strongly preferenced client that asks for the closeness and comfort that is missing in his life, intervention would be con-sidered more difficult. Johnson and Greenberg, in using the Experiencing Scale (ES) in research on the experiential approach to psychotherapy, found this construct of "softening" to be highly predictive of change. "Softening represents a shift in the negative interaction cycle in the direction of increased accessibility and responsiveness" (p.176).

For the purpose of this study, four diagnostic categories from the DSM III-R have been selected to reflect the aforementioned categories and problematic rigid interactional positions of the client: 305.00 Alcohol abuse or equivalency in substance abuse; V61.10 or 20, Marriage or family problem with violence; 296.3X Major depression, recurrent or equivalency in depression; and other specific DSM III-R diagnoses that do not fit into the first three categories.

Process of Counseling Outcome

The number of sessions a client attends seems to be related in part to the client's willingness to make a commitment to counseling. Early termination is generally assumed by most investigators as a function of resistance or lack of counseling readiness on the part of the client (Mendelsohn & Geller, 1967). Since it is not common for counseling to be completed successfully in a few sessions, two statements can be made about this variable. First, the goals of counseling were probably not reached. Second, either the client was not well satisfied with his or her initial contact or remained uninvolved (Mendelsohn & Geller, 1963, p. 75). Outcome criteria rely heavily on "dropping out" of counseling vs. "continuing in counseling" (Russell, Atilano, Anderson & Jurich, 1984, p.242). Counseling outcome is also related to the degree of improvement on the client's part in coping with the original presenting problem that brought them to the counselor.


Related to the constructs of counseling difficulty and counseling outcome is the construct known as resistance. Resistance to change and to being coached in counseling occurs when individuals, groups and sys-tems are required by circumstances to alter their established behaviors (Anderson & Stewart, 1983, p.1). Fedor Dostoevski once said, "Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most."

"However great the distress people feel, they resist asking for help, and having asked for help, they resist being influenced by the professionals they have employed to help them" (Anderson & Stewart, 1983). Resistance in counseling is held to be a part of a universal and natural resistance to change. In the traditional psychoanalytic field, resistance is defined as "all those conscious or unconscious emotions, attitudes, ideas, thoughts or actions which operate against the progress of therapy" (Greenson, 1967, p.60). It is viewed as "the result of layers of defenses created to avoid reencountering the pain of unfinished early experiences and/or as the result of unrealistic desires for unattainable perpetual gratification" (p.15).

Behaviorally oriented counselors have attempted to construct a model of resistance which could be researched. Munjack and Oziel (1978) proposed five types of resistance: (a) misunderstandings of the client, (b) skill deficits on the part of the client, (c) lack of motivation or a low expectation of success, (d) anxiety or guilt arising from previous therapies and (e) the secondary gains accruing to the patient from his or her symptoms.

In family systems theory, a pragmatic working definition of resistance is given as "all those behaviors in the therapeutic system which interact to prevent the therapeutic system from achieving the family's goals for therapy" (Anderson & Stewart,1983, p.24). The therapeutic system includes family members, the counselor and the context of counseling. "Resistance is most likely to be successful, that is, to result in the termination or failure of family therapy, when resistances are present and interacting synergistically in all three components of the therapeutic system" (p.24).

Counseling difficulty within this study is understood in relation to the degree of resistance encountered in the natural process of counseling. Anderson and Stewart compare the counselor to a navigator of a ship and the family members to the captain. Resistances, i.e., behaviors, feelings, patterns or styles opposed to change, make the ship's journey difficult (p.151-152). Examples of resistance in ongoing counseling are: (a) the too talkative family member, (b) chaotic or disruptive behavior, (c) sullen or hostile client, (d) intellectualization and rationalization, (e) denial, (f) pseudohostility, (g) blaming, (h) scapegoating, (i) utopian expectations, (j) hopelessness, and (k) family privacy, secrets and withholding information (p.165-204). Mark Twain once said, "Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time."

Resistances, in conclusion, are signals that something is happening, and their occurrence can help counselors to regulate the pace of their interventions (p.151). In this study, the CPS may prove to be a valuable assessment tool for counselors in the degree of counseling difficulty. A high CPS (of 80 or above), it is hypothesized, would relate to a predictable level of resistance that increases the difficulty of counseling intervention (navigation) and decreases successful counsel-ing outcome.

Assessing Psychological Types with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Origin and use of the MBTI

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a self-report measure of psychological types based on Jung's theory of personality, helps indivi-duals understand more clearly how it is that they make decisions, solve problems, and deal with their relationships at home, work and in the world. It also helps them understand the value of differences in other people and how it is that these basic differences generate disagreement and conflict as the natural result of two or more personalities working on the same task or project. It invites an appreciation and acceptance of personality differences (Keirsey & Bates, 1984).

As an inventory instrument of self-report forced choices that permits the classification of individuals into psychological types, the MBTI is structured so that individuals choose between opposites of the same pair of preferences (McCaulley, 1990). Each question deals only with one set of opposites. Each choice is presented in the language of those holding that preference. An example of a question on the extraversion (E) and introversion (I) dichotomy is, "When you have to meet strangers, do you find it (a) pleasant, or at least easy, or (b) something that takes a good deal of effort?" (p.350). A few examples of questions correlating to the other attitude (judging-perceiving, JP) and functions (sensing-intuition, SN & thinking-feeling, TF) are given in Appendix A.

Traditionally the MBTI has been used for career counseling, classroom teaching, management development, human resources management and psychotherapeutic counseling. It is concerned primarily with individual differences in attitudes and functions. In teaching, for example, it is an asset for teachers to know the type personality of their students in order to understand how they best learn and relate to their world. Sensing type students, for example, will focus on facts and what can be seen, touched and experienced via the basic senses. On the other hand, intuitive pupils will be more abstract and creative in their approach to the subject being taught. Such knowledge of students' learning styles can help teachers in their approach to facilitating the students' grasp of the ideas being presented. For example the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indi-cator for Children (1989), grades 2-5, provides a manual in which general teaching strategies and suggested activities are listed for use with each type of student. This test is an adaptation of the MBTI for children.

In career and guidance counseling, the MBTI has been a useful tool in helping students and individuals evaluate and choose occupational goals. Based on a data base of over 500,000 cases, the MBTI manual contains an appendix in which tables of occupations that are attractive to the different personality types are shown. For example, an ISTJ (intro-verted-sensing-thinking-judging) personality could be counseled to look at the occupations that typically draw the interest of other ISTJs: (police supervisors, accountants, math teachers, bank officers, admini-strators, etc.). Let's say an ISTJ is the pastor of a church and struggling with career satisfaction. It would be helpful to point out to him/her that at the bottom of the list of occupations for this personality type is the clergy profession. This information could, therefore, encourage this individual to begin looking for jobs more likely to fit the talents and temperament of an ISTJ type. This is not to say that ISTJ types could not or have not been successful in the ministry. It merely reflects that the clergy profession is generally not attractive to ISTJ's based on the MBTI sample.

Since the mid-seventies, counselors have been utilizing the MBTI for individual, couples, family and group counseling. Type knowledge has been helpful in conflict resolution, communication skills, divorce negotiations and problem solving. Counseling advantages of using the MBTI include: (a) understanding an individual's preferred way of functioning in the world, including relationships with others: and (b) understanding an individual's behavior based on choices and decisions made as the result of personality type preferences. This provides insight into relationships of different or similar types for counselor and client. A couple with the husband as an ISTJ (introverted-sensing-thinking-feeling type) and wife an ENFP (extraverted-intuitive-feeling-perceptive type) will need guidance in understanding and valuing their differences as opposites. For interested counselors, summary descriptions of preferences and defini-tions of terms are given in Appendix B.

Thus the MBTI has become one of the most widely used instruments with normal populations and populations in counseling settings. Over 3,000,000 answer sheets were sold in 1991 and it has been translated into languages including Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Italian, German, French, Finnish, Turkish and Vietnamese (McCaul-ley1990). The MBTI's credibility, according to Mary H. McCaulley 1, is established on the fact that it is "based on the insights of a powerful theory, has generated research to support the theory, and translates the theory into terms that affirm individual differences in ways that, although easy to understand, are in fact very sophisticated" (p. 343). A brief history of the instrument's development is given in Appendix C.

Scoring the MBTI

In order to reach the conclusion of type, the questionnaire is designed in a forced-choice format since Jung's psychological type theory presupposes dichotomies. Scores on these tests allow you to identify 1 of 16 possible personality types based on the 16 combinations drawn from the four dimensions of preference choices: attitudes (two--extraversion-introversion and judgment-perception); functions of judg-ment (thinking-feeling); and functions of perception (sensing-intuition). For each of these four sets of dimensions (EI, SN, TF & JP) there is a score that measures the strength of preference between opposites. Therefore, each type has four preference scores. In this study, these four scores summed is called the composite preference score (CPS). For example, I-20, S-10, T-5 & J-35 equals a CPS of 70. The individual preference scores can range from 1 to 49-67, depending on the parti-cular preference (Willis, 1983).

Each preference score indicates the degree of partiality to each preferred function and is calculated by a formula. 2 This score is not considered of concern if it is less than 25. Preference scores are given with each letter of type (e.g., E-24, extroversion) but the letter is considered the more important of the two (preference score and letter) by Isabel Briggs Myers, codeveloper of the instrument. To quote from the manual, "While letters indicate the direction of the preference, the number indicates the strength of the preference. Preference scores on intuition of N-9 and N-41 both show a preference for intuition, but the N-41 shows that in the forced-choice format the respondent reported intuition over sensing more often than the respondent with the preference score of N-9" (Myers & McCaulley,1985). The manual states that while higher scores [25 and above] indicate stronger and therefore more clear preferences, "The numerical portion of a score shows how strong-ly the preference is reported, which is not necessarily the same thing as how strongly it is felt. It is also not necessarily correct to assume that the person with a preference score of N-41 has developed skills of intuition more effectively than the person reporting a score of N-9" (p. 58).

Interpretation and Use of Preference Scores.

Despite the disclaimer that the size of the preference scores does not indicate the effectiveness with which a given personality attitude (extroversion-introversion, judgment-perception) or function (sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling) is employed, in the manual it is suggested that very clear preferences, i.e., preference scores >40, may raise the possibility that the client's preference is so one-sided that they may not be able to use the less preferred choice comfortably even if the situation demands it (Myers & McCaulley, 1985, p. 58.). In other words, extreme scores may denote some degree of psychological resistance in problem-solving tasks. This is the position taken by the present writer.

The development of an individual's four preferences continues throughout life as one comes to terms with his or her nonpreferences. While their four-letter type probably remains the same, the strength of the four preferences may vary considerably. A person in his 30s, for example, may be a very strong extravert with high social needs. By mid-forties, while still an extravert, his preference may have moderated because of different needs; indeed, this may be a rather introverted time of his or her life. It does not mean that this person becomes an introvert. It simply means that in the maturing process, he begins to respect some of the gifts of his nonpreference. The same is true for each of the other three sets of preferences (Kroeger & Thuesen, 1988, p.48). Based on this information, it stands to reason that the more immature or dysfunctional a client is, the stronger his/her preference scores will be, resulting in a higher composite preference score.

Copyright 1992 Jerry Brinegar. All rights reserved.

For conclusion, summary, appendix, and bibliograpy, see Chapter Five