What (if any) is the best system for classifying human personality types?

Anybody who’s been a while in the job market has probably been asked, at some point, to take a Myers-Briggs personality test, which determines which of sixteen personality types you are. The Myers-Briggs system is based on the theories of Carl Jung and posits four axes of human personality, each axis with two opposed poles: Extroversion-Introversion; Sensing-oNntuition; Thinking-Feeling; Judging-Perceiving. The test subject is assigned a number placing himself/herself along each axis and then assigned a four-character “personality type.” (I’ve been tested as an INTP-INFP split.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_psychology; and the website of the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, http://www.capt.org/.

The system certainly seems to have had widespread influence – it’s like astrological signs, only more scientific (or perhaps “scientific” – that’s the question of this thread). Like, “Hey, baby, what’s your Myers-Briggs?” Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger have published best-selling self-help books based on it, including Do What You Are (Little, Brown, 2001), a guide to finding the career best suited to your personality type; and Just Your Type (Little, Brown, 2000), a guide to finding a type-compatible mate. (See Tieger and Barron-Tiegers website at http://www.personalitytype.com/.)

Only, the Myers-Briggs isn’t the only personality-typing system out there. For instance, there is the “enneagram,” a nine-type system based on the writings of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enneagram; and the Enneagram Institute, http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/.

There’s also the VALS (Values and Life Styles) system – invented by the advertising industry as a target-marketing tool – which divides people into eight types, based on their level of “resources” and “innovation,” as well as how they relatively value “ideals,” “achievement” and “self-expression.” This system is based on demographic factors – education, income – as well as psychological ones. See http://www.sric-bi.com/VALS/types.shtml.

I once asked a clinical psychologist, at a party, what personality typing system is the most valid? He replied, none of them. They’re all pseudoscientific, with no practical value, clinical or otherwise.

What’s the Straight Dope? Are any of these personality typing systems any more valid than the twelve signs of the Zodiac or the medieval system of the four humours?

Saying that they’re not valid at all is taking it a bit too far. The introvert/extrovert distinction is pretty well-established; there really are two different types of people out there. However, that’s purely descriptive, and it really doesn’t make a difference as to what kinds of jobs you can do well.

I sold the book a while back, but my text for intro to personality psych said that all of the various categorizations out there map pretty well onto a 5-dimensional systems, with dimensions corresponding to openness (to new things), conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeability, and neuroticism. As a descriptive system, that seems reasonable.

:confused: “Neuroticism”?

Basically, how neurotic you are. I wish I had the book, as it explained all of these in some detail.

But wouldn’t any healthy personality have a “neuroticism” of zero? Why include that as an axis for classification of basic personality types?

What about the other factors? Is “conscientiousness” the same as a conscience, sense of ethics, what Freud called superego? How does “agreeability” differ from “extroversion”?

Here, this page has a good description:

I’m not a psychologist and have only anecdotal data. I have been subjected to, used, and taught the DiSC system:
(for a comparison to Myers-Briggs: http://www.inscapepublishing.com/pdf/PPSMBO-231.pdf )

I, like the few hundred others to whom I have administered the test, was very cynical going in. I mean, really, how can a 24-question test that only takes 15 minutes tell anyone much about anyone else?

But having used it as a tool in the workplace, I have seen definite value in it. By knowing what situations motivate or discourage a given person (a co-worker, typically), I found that my interaction with them was improved. Further, it made my own tendencies much clearer, and allowed me to know - beforehand - how I would like or dislike certain situations.

The DiSC system was, for me, all about knowing how comfortable an individual would be in a given situation, or in dealing with another individual of known type “X”. When taking the test, your focus is always specific (“my role as director of IT”, for example), as most people can be quite different in their various roles in life (at work, at home, etc.)

I would guess that 50% of those to whom I gave the test said it nailed them perfectly, and another 30% said it was largely accurate. 10% said it wasn’t accurate at all and 10% simply refused to accept the entire concept. These are all WAG numbers from memory. One of the 10% who rejected the concept was a close friend, who dismissed the whole thing as both impossible and completely inaccurate. When I queried him about the specific points revealed by the analysis, he admitted that each was accurate.

It absolutely did not (and did not pretend to) predict how well a person would do a particular job. It did predict very well, IMO, the level of comfort a person might have in doing a particular task or dealing with a particular type of individual. For example, the system would predict that I, as a type S, would find it stressful to discipline a subordinate. Spot on.

Well, for one thing, the Zodiac signs don’t really describe personalities.

They are all valid in the sense that they can allow someone some insite in how they percieve the world and why they act the way they do. It might even give you some idea of what type of job you might like. It is a mistake, however, to ascribe too much value to their meaning when it comes to things like job aptitude or matching up couples.

There is a funny Dilbert comic strip where they take a personality test:
HR lady: According to his personality test, Dilbert here uses reason and logic to solve problems while Tony uses feelings and emotions.

Dilbert: Isn’t that just a nice way of saying Tony is a moron?

They don’t? Practically everybody who even mentions signs seems to think they describe personalities. Why else would it make any kind of sense (even to a believer) to chat up a person of the opposite or otherwise desired sex by asking “What’s your sign?”

I keep thinking a supermodel’s gonna show up in my bedroom at random, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen.

The last company I worked for found that the DiSC system worked extremely well in enabling analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of employees – not for hiring purposes, per se, but in determining how to maximize the value of people whose skills they had already decided to employ. Like all companies, their management system was not all that it might have been, but in general, they seemed to have a pretty good handle on how to use a systematizer introvert or a schmoozer with good insight into interpersonal relationships. (Both can be valuable to a company – but not in the roles the other ought to be filling!)

In general, I dislike “classifier” systems – people are more complex than any such system can describe. But one that assesses traits and ranks people’s skills at them, can be of great value in understanding and dealing with human resources (meant literally, not as the euphemism for personnel decisions).

There are many obviously valid criteria by which humans can be classified. Why should it be impossible to classify them by personality type?