ENFJ-LMNOPQ what does the MBTI say about you?
From horoscopes and lunar zodiacs to blood types and finger lengths, Korean people have long been fascinated with categorizing and predicting people’s personalities based on seemingly irrelevant traits. This year, the online MBTI test and its offspring have taken the younger Korean generations by storm, casting aside all other once-popular indicators.
The MBTI Indicator Assessment, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Assessment, was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in 1943. The two took their theory from the conceptual theory of Swiss psychoanalyst of Carl Jung (1903–1955) to develop a series of personality assessment questions and divide them into 16 personality types depending on the answers.
Stuck at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, the younger tech-savvy generation in Korea has turned to online chatrooms with friends and family to try and share their results of the online MBTI test as well as many other personality tests.
But since many people only take shortened versions of the MBTI test, rather than the official one and the consultations that must follow, the credibility of the results have been called into question. Just what does the MBTI test indicate, and to what extent can it be used?
The 16-type indicator, or predictor?
“Is there an ISFJ guy out there?” reads a post uploaded on an online community called MBTI & Healthy Psychology Cafe on portal site Naver by someone who identifies as ENTP. “I’m seeing this ISFJ guy and we keep in touch every day. But all we ask is how we’re doing or what we ate. I usually don’t really mind not texting when I’m doing something else, but he always asks me to text him back. If I don’t text him as much, will it work out between us?”
The MBTI & Health cafe is the biggest internet community for people interested in MBTI, with over 73,000 members registered as of December. People often share an anecdote from their lives interpreted based on their MBTI types or ask each other questions such as the above.
There are four categories, with two variations each: E or I, S or N, T or F and J or P. E and I stand for Extraversion or Introversion depending on how you direct and receive energy, S and N cover Sensing or iNtuition (I was already used for introvert, hence N) as they relate to how you take in information, T and F stand for Thinking or Feeling based on how you decide and come to conclusions, and J and P are for Judging or Perceiving based on how you approach the outside world.
So for the above-mentioned ENTP, they would fit into a category of someone who’s extraverted and intuitive, they think before choosing and they perceive the world with an open and spontaneous attitude. The opposite of ENTP would be ISFJ, who is classified as introverted, focuses on what they sense in the real world, they makes decisions according to their feelings and they plan their course of action according to their judgments and plans.
Celebrities and TV shows have been catching on to the trend, revealing the results of their MBTI assessments to fans, such as in an episode of tvN’s variety show “You Quiz On the Block” where entertainer Yoo Jae-suk took the test. Naver Webtoon even released a series where authors of popular works take the MBTI assessment on behalf of their characters and reveal the results to fans.
According to The Myers-Briggs Company, the official developer and publisher of the MBTI Indicator Assessment based in the United States, the goal is “to inspire everyone to lead more successful and fulfilling lives by enriching their understanding of themselves and of others.” It is not a test, as there are no right or wrong answers.
“The MBTI assessment is not constructed using scales that can predict a person's behavior: instead it uses broad categories to describe what motivates us,” explains the company on its official website.
But in Korea, predicting a person's behavior is often what it’s used for.
“MBTI actually started gaining popularity from last year, but this year it blew up and so has the number of our members,” said Sung Ki-won, a psychology counselor and the vice manager of the MBTI & Health cafe who goes by the nickname Kaga.
“It’s a good thing that people ask questions about themselves to find out who they really are, what they like and how they function. A question about myself can lead to better questions about my relationships with other people. But a concern is that because it’s spreading fast across the internet, people generalize about others to criticize a certain group of people or someone in particular. It’s not harmful as long as it stays within the boundaries of entertainment, but some people always take it one step further.”
The most scientific yet
Like all other new trends that gained spotlight this year, the MBTI fad was much aided by the coronavirus, which kept people indoors and hooked on their smartphones. People shared the results of their test with their peers through online chatrooms and encouraged them to do so as well to compare how similar or different they are. And companies targeting the younger generation did not fail to catch on.
Select shop LU42 began a Flower MBTI-type test last month, promising to donate 1,000 won (90 cents) per each respondent to the medical staff working amid the pandemic. The test asks 13 questions to the interviewee, who is given a flower and a list of traits that are considered their innate aspects. You could be an aquilegia who’s not afraid to take on challenges or a control-freak Veronica, or a peaceful phlox with a tender heart.
Design company Plus X, which was in charge of producing the test, said that the goal of a 100-million-won donation was made within just a day of opening the service, with over 1.38 million sharing their results with their peers. It was particularly popular among millennials and Gen Z.
“People have been going through tough times this year,” Plus X said. “We took the questions from the conventional MBTI Test and recreated them. We interpreted the test in the theme of flowers to help people feel a sense of consolation from busy city life.”
Another company that made its own MBTI-esque test, but based on different snacks, also proved popular. Snack start-up company Snackpot created their test also using questions from the original. After answering 12 questions, interviewees are given a snack and its accompanying traits, such as an honest and self-motivated mint candy. It has been tried by 10 million people as of Dec. 9.
“Just as different snacks have different tastes, textures and images, we thought it would be fun for people to link themselves to the traits of different snacks,” said Chang Moon-young, co-founder of Snackpot. “We wanted to create something that people could use and experience themselves, and concluded that a personality test would be the best. There have been similar tests, but one using snacks has not been tried before.”
Along with the entertainment value, psychology Professor Lee Dong-gwi at Yonsei University cited millennial's and Generation Z’s interest in themselves and their egos as another factor for the MBTI fad. In a crisis, such as the coronavirus, the human instinct automatically turns to things that are certain and tangible — oneself. And when stuck at home alone, people suddenly have more time to contemplate who they really are.
“People have both the instinct to focus on themselves as well as the urge to communicate with others around them,” said Lee. “The MBTI trend does both of that. Since the MBTI has names of each type that are relatively easy to understand, it makes it easier for people to tell who’s similar with them and who’s not. It’s like pop psychology — it’s easy and it’s fun.”
A cause for concern
Taking the official MBTI questionnaire and the follow-up consultation sessions are pricy, like most psych tests and consults. But a website called 16personalities provides a “free MBTI Test” for anyone with no hidden strings attached. The website was developed by a British company named Neris Analytics Limited and a total of over 40 million people have taken the test, according to the site, 70,000 of which are from Korea.
Many people who cite their MBTI type do so from the results they garnered from 16personalities, which experts say is a cause for concern. Not only does the site not take any responsibility for the results of its questionnaire, it denies even using the MBTI model, even though they use the exact same categories and initials as the official test.
There are some people who doubt the scientific credibility of the MBTI Assessment itself, such as columnist and writer Park Jin-young, who studied social and personality psychology at Yonsei University.
“Humans are such complicated animals,” wrote Park for the 23rd volume of the Korea Skeptic 2020 magazine in September. “Using the MBTI to overly simplify a person’s personality or saying that ‘you can see what a person is like by seeing one of their actions’ is highly likely to lack scientific backing.”
But according to Kim Jae-hyoung, head researcher of the Korea MBTI Institute, the official MBTI research institute authorized by the Myers-Briggs Company in Korea, it’s not the assessment itself that is the problem — it’s the way it’s being used by people online. The questions on the official MBTI Assessment are not only different in both form and content from online questionnaires, but the way that the results are analyzed are also different. The internet test gives seemingly convincing results to interviewees, which fools them into believing them without any questions.
“Around 40 percent of the time, the results from the online test and the official assessment differ,” said Kim. “We monitor online psychology tests, because this isn’t the first time for them to be popular. But 16personaliteis has been the most popular yet. There so many different things, from the questions to the way people are required to answer and how the results are used. But since it’s not officially been cleared by the Myers-Briggs Company, it takes the iconic alphabet initials from MBTI and explains it as something else to evade copyright issues, when clearly, they look similar enough to fool people.”
When this reporter took both the online test and the official MBTI assessment, the two results were quite similar. The online version indicated ESFJ, while the official test showed ESTJ. The difference in a single letter F and T may seem small, but the way that the two types function and process are completely different.
“A personality is like a seed,” Kim said. “There are traits that are innate to a person, and those things cannot change. But depending on what soil, what weather and what environment that seed grows in, it can bloom in all shapes and sizes and colors. To categorize all those different outcomes according to one definition is not only impossible, but dangerous. The counselors’ job is to learn the difference in people by talking to them and then assessing the situation. A personality or psychology test without interviews is dangerous.”
The recent trend may not be faithful to the original purpose of Briggs and Briggs-Myers, but Kim says that the idea of looking into oneself to find out more about their self and ego is never a bad thing. The MBTI trend has come and there’s no going back. What’s important is that people remember that what’s on the internet is just for fun and if they really want to delve into some self-reflection, they should take the official assessment.
“We have people who call us at the institute and demand an explanation on why the results from the internet don’t match their real personality,” said Kim. “A culture has settled in and it would be wrong for an institute to superficially stop that. We need to respect that, but people also have to keep in mind that there are other places where they can fully learn a deep understanding of themselves. Exposing themselves too long in the play culture can make your whole identity look foolish.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]