Anyone who’s ever thumbed through Tinder or cruised OkCupid long enough has seen people sharing their Myers-Briggs personality types.
You probably recognize Myers-Briggs by its signature, four-letter combinations. Developed in 1942 by psychology researchers Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Briggs, the system is based on a set of four binary personality distinctions — extraversion (E) vs. introversion (I), sensing (S) vs. intuition (N), thinking (T) vs. feeling (F) and judging (J) vs. perceiving (P). Those traits categorize people as one of 16 different personality types, each with its own four-letter code (ISTP and ENTJ, for example) and corresponding title (such as “virtuoso” and “commander,” respectively).
Myers-Briggs is one of the most popular pop psych phenomenons in history, with 2.5 million people taking a Myers-Briggs test each year and the majority of Fortune 100 corporations using it to inform their leadership structures. And now it’s caught on with online daters, who advertise their personality type in the hopes of attracting someone with a complementary four-letter code.
Thing is, Myers-Briggs is kinda bullshit, and pretty useless when it comes to choosing a romantic match.
“Myers-Briggs is infamous for being the least valid, widely used personality test there is,” says David Funder, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside. “People love Myers-Briggs because it’s enjoyable. It’s fun to discover you’re an explorer and talk about it with other people, in the same way it’s fun to discuss the latest shows on Netflix. And it’s probably just as diagnostic as to who you should date.”
Psychologist Adam Grant has criticized the test as overly rigid, as it forces people to identify as wholly introverted or extroverted, for instance, when their sociability may change depending on mood or situation.
Other parts of the assessment are similarly misguided, he writes: “In the MBTI, thinking and feeling are opposite poles of a continuum. In reality, they’re independent: we have three decades of evidence that if you like ideas and data, you can also like people and emotions.”
As such, Jessie Kay, CEO of The Real Matchmaker, a professional dating service in L.A., says she never uses Myers-Briggs when assessing and pairing clients. “I went to a conference this past weekend for professional matchmakers, and there was only one girl who talked about Myers-Briggs as a way to filter clients, and this was a room of 60, 70 people,” she says.
Borrowing a term from Myers-Briggs, Kay says she takes a more “intuitive” approach to pairing her clients. She conducts a friendly interview with them about their relationship goals and personal and dating histories, and tries to glean their preferences that way. “I want to set you up like you would hope a family member or friend would,” she says.
Placing your Myers-Briggs type on your dating profile can actually hurt your chances scoring dates, Kay says. Prospective dates may make a negative assumption based upon your Myers-Briggs type, when the truth is that humans are far more complex than the system seems to indicate.
As Grant writes, Myers-Briggs is about as scientific as astrology. And yet, plenty of people use astrology to determine compatibility with a partner (if perhaps not all that seriously). Myers-Briggs may have faults, but it at least has some academic thinking behind it.
Chris Rolle, another L.A.-based matchmaker, uses Myers-Briggs to help inform his matchmaking and life-coaching business.
Introverts and extroverts tend to be most compatible with people who share that personality trait, he says. “Introverts always feel misunderstood. But introverts understand each other. Same for extroverts. Unless they’re competitive, in which case they need to dominate the whole space, and clash with other extroverts.” For the other three Myers-Briggs traits, opposites attract.
Rolle adds that a client’s Myers-Briggs type contributes 20 percent of his overall assessment. “It’s not something that might be spot-on, but in my experience it does give greater insight into the type of person I’m working with.”
And to Kay’s point, listing your Myers-Briggs abbreviation may help repel more shallow, judgmental users—which, on dating apps, is just as important as attracting the right person.