Should You Know Your IQ?

As I mentioned in this post about things I’ve changed my mind on, one of them is IQ. I used to believe that IQ was unimportant or overly simplified. But I’ve since been educated against my prejudice—it is a very successful psychometric and has impressive predictive power.

Still, after accepting the usefulness of a general measurement for intelligence, I still don’t want to know my own value. I’m not sure why, I just get a squicky feeling when I think of reducing my own cognitive ability to a few digits.

Commenter Jay Cross summarizes his feelings against knowing your own IQ as well:

“Regarding IQ: while I fully concede that IQ matters, is predictive, and has value as a scientific concept, I don’t see any benefit to individuals knowing their own.

Seems to me it could only hurt. If it’s higher than you thought, you could become complacent. Lower, and you could get mired in self-doubt.”

I suspect that many (although certainly not all) of my readers share this aversion to taking an IQ test. Since it’s an issue I haven’t convinced myself of yet, instead of my typical stance where I phrase a question for the essay title and then proceed to argue heavily for one viewpoint, I’m going to open up the debate I’ve had with myself both for and against, and ask you to weigh in with your thoughts at the end.

Arguments for Knowing Your Own IQ

IQ is predictive of a wide range of life outcomes: academic achievement, income, productivity, and even whether you’ll commit crimes or not. IQ is also fairly stable and heritable. While the interpretations on that are somewhat murky, it does suggest taking the test isn’t going to give you terrible information about your cognitive ability.

In general, having more knowledge about your ability is important. It can be crucial information to help you decide whether to strive or settle, by altering the percentage likelihood of success for certain goals.

If you knew, for instance, that working your hardest at a starting a business, graduating college or becoming a physicist would have an 80% or only 8% chance of success that might change your decision. While taking an IQ test may not give you exact figures, it does give you more information. Theoretically, at least, that should make it easier to make important life decisions.

Consider an analogy: you want to become a professional basketball player. One important piece of stable, heritable information that is very important for that decision is your height. Scott Alexander explains the wild bias towards tallness in basketball in terms of your chances of being in the NBA for a given height:

“34% of the US male population is 5’9 to 6’0, so about 54 million men. There are 5 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 11 million people of this height is in the NBA.

13.5% of the US male population is 6’0 to 6’3, so about 21 million men. There are 40 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 500,000 people of this height is in the NBA.

2.35% of the US male population is 6’3 to 6’6, so about 4 million men. There are 95 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 40,000 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.15% of the US male population is 6’6 to 6’9, so about 200,000 men. There are 130 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 1,500 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.003% of the US male population is 6’9 to 7’0, so about 5,000 men. There are 160 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 30 people of this height is in the NBA.”

The analysis breaks down at the extreme ends of the distribution where slight deviations from the normal distribution in height are more apparent. But, in the middle (where most of us are in terms of height) this analysis holds pretty well.

If you can imagine we lived in a world where people didn’t automatically know how tall they were, you might seriously consider taking a height test before devoting years of your life trying to make it into the NBA.

So if knowing how tall you are would be the obvious thing to do if you plan on entering a height-dominated field, why do we feel squicky about knowing our IQ given how many life goals we work on depend on it?

Arguments Against Knowing Your Own IQ

As Jay Cross mentioned earlier, a big worry people might have is that if they know their IQ is high, that will make them complacent so they won’t work very hard and reach their potential. If they know it is low, that will discourage them from trying, and so they won’t work hard and reach their potential.

We know that effort is an important factor in succeeding at anything, and we seem to put more effort in precisely when the outcome seems to depend on it. If our IQ is largely genetic and predicts the outcomes we’ll have in life, it may feel like the outcomes have been decided in advance. If they have, why bother trying?

The obvious counterargument for this is simple: even if IQ is predictive, it doesn’t perfectly predict outcomes. There’s still plenty of room for chance, effort and the million other things in life we can’t imagine to influence your outcomes. Even if you know your IQ, therefore, you’ll still want to try hard.

The argument against knowing your IQ therefore has to explain why we seem to have trouble keeping it in that perspective.

One way to think of it is that people have a tendency to over-explain their lives in terms of signals with weak or non-existent predictive power. Think of astrology. People throw themselves to believe that they are totally a Gemini or Libra because of the month they were born, and explain everything from their personality to the events of their life through that lens.

If it isn’t horoscopes, it’s the modern pseudoscientific equivalent: personality tests. While some tests have scientific support, the incredibly popular Myers-Briggs test is essentially a sciencey-sounding horoscope. Still, people love taking the tests and viewing their behavior as being totally INTJ, ENFP, HYZX or whatever.

Given that IQ tests actually do have predictive power, I think it’s a reasonable worry that people might fetishize it in the same way. Rather than treat it as a source of partial information that can adjust the mental percentages you weigh to particular outcomes, which seems to be difficult to do intellectually, people switch to explaining everything in terms of their IQ just as people currently do with bogus horoscopes or Jungian personality tests.

Another possible argument is that the issue isn’t with IQ, but our conception of it as being fixed. Studies show that IQ’s heritability increases with age. One explanation for this is simply that environmental variables can push our IQ around a lot in early childhood, but eventually we settle onto our truer inherited value.

But another explanation is that IQ works through positive feedback. People who are a bit smarter when they’re younger (because of genetics) enjoy learning and cognitively demanding tasks more. By doing more of those tasks, they increase their IQ over time, widening the gap between them and those who didn’t like learning and cognitively difficult tasks.

In this second explanation, some of the perceived heritability of intelligence wouldn’t come just from having better mental hardware, but because enjoying the type of activities that increase intelligence is also heritable.

I’m not sure the split of evidence in favor of these two interpretations, or their relative prominence. But if the second one is a factor, then effort matters in your eventual intelligence. In this case, you might want to learn your IQ, assuming you adopt the perspective that it’s a partially trainable quality (like muscular strength) and not a mostly fixed on (like height).

A final argument against knowing could be that we already have good knowledge about our intellectual abilities and that IQ, far from adding more predictive power, actually distracts us because it is a cruder measurement than our own prior experiences (but has greater perceived legitimacy).

Most students know whether they’re good at school or not. So why not trust your dozens of years in an academic institution for guidance on whether you should go to college or what to major in, rather than a test that took only a few hours? Certainly that private experience not only includes details of your general cognitive ability but the many other factors that influence academic success (such as work ethic, habits, conscientiousness and interest).

From a rational, Bayesian perspective, more information can never hurt. However it may be that knowing a cruder instrument that has high perceived legitimacy, might cause you to exaggeratedly update your prior beliefs. Since we generally already have immense personal experience with cognitive tasks of different sorts, IQ would then appear to only offer information to the outside perspective where statisticians and psychologists can’t access our own intuitions and instead need to rely on hard numbers.

Still, all these arguments seem to weigh more in favor of taking IQ lightly, rather than ignoring it altogether.

Idiosyncratic Reasons for Ignorance

Ultimately I’m not sure. In presenting reasons for knowing or not knowing IQ, I feel like those on the side of knowing present a somewhat more convincing case. But I still can’t shake the gut aversion I have to taking an IQ test.

Maybe I have my own personal reasons for not wanting to take the test which would apply more to me than to others. After all, I’ve built a blog and following around learning accomplishments. If I took an IQ test and publicized it, what would that mean? If I have a higher-than-expected IQ, it might make it easy to dismiss the efforts I put in and the efforts other people put in who try to follow those projects. If I have a lower-than-expected IQ, it might undermine myself as a writer (who wants to listen to someone who isn’t very smart?).

My instinct, despite all the rational discussion I’ve presented is to ignore it and continue working on learning projects exactly as I have been before.

What do you think about knowing your IQ? Do you feel persuaded that it’s something worth knowing or ignoring? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  • jcmets4112

    Not opposed to it at all. If he wants to, bless him.

    I’m saying it wont signify much. You’re implicitly saying “whatever Scott’s IQ is, that’s the floor of cognitive capability for doing what he did.”

    And I don’t see the basis for that.

    It’s even less relevant if (as I strongly suspect, but cannot prove) Scott’s audience is self-selecting and has IQs similar to his own.

  • I would go further. There are at least seven kinds of intelligence, so I’d test all of them just for the knowledge. Even this late in life, I found how well I did on entrance tests to high school, so now I look again into where I scored the highest, just to test whether I am really good at a certain subject. I want to know whether I’d missed my vocation four decades later. At this point, I have nothing to lose by testing it out.

  • BuddyNovinski

    I would go further. There are at least seven kinds of intelligence, so I’d test all of them just for the knowledge. Even this late in life, I found how well I did on entrance tests to high school, so now I look again into where I scored the highest, just to test whether I am really good at a certain subject. I want to know whether I’d missed my vocation four decades later. At this point, I have nothing to lose by testing it out.

  • Scott Young

    Simple: MBTI is widely discredited among the psychologists who study it. Quoting from Wikipedia:

    ‘Psychometric specialist Robert Hogan wrote that “Most personality psychologists regard the MBTI as little more than an elaborate Chinese fortune cookie…”‘

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers%E2%80%93Briggs_Type_Indicator#Criticism

  • Scott Young

    Simple: MBTI is widely discredited among the psychologists who study it. Quoting from Wikipedia:

    ‘Psychometric specialist Robert Hogan wrote that “Most personality psychologists regard the MBTI as little more than an elaborate Chinese fortune cookie…”‘

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

  • Scott Young

    You’re absolutely right. Higher-than-average cognitive ability definitely made the MIT Challenge possible. You said yourself that 99% of my readers assume a higher-than-average intelligence, so it’s not entirely clear to me that people’s assumed number for my IQ is actually higher or lower than it actually is.

    Put another way, if not publicizing my IQ would be dishonest, then people must assume my IQ is lower than it actually is. As you yourself pointed out, I’m fairly confident people don’t think I’m dumber than I actually am (more likely the opposite).

    Instead, my feeling is that the real difficulty of communicating is because people’s beliefs vary, not in how intelligent they think I am, but in their beliefs about the relative contributions from both effort/technique and immutable intelligence. Some people have beliefs on the extreme of “anyone can do anything anyone else can” to the opposite end of “fixed talent explains all of success”. Obviously few people hold something as extreme as these two beliefs, but people fall at different ends of the spectrum. People who hold closer to the former belief are more willing to see my achievements as the result of effort and method, people who hold closer to the latter belief are more willing to see them as an unsurprising consequence of latent ability.

    To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where I fall within this belief spectrum. I have philosophical objections to the arguably more scientific view that tends to see human agency as inert and the outcomes of our lives entirely being “explained” by genes, IQ, environmental disturbances, etc. However, my beliefs have shifted more to that scientific view in recent years, which explains some of the shift in tone of my writing.

  • Scott Young

    You’re absolutely right. Higher-than-average cognitive ability definitely made the MIT Challenge possible. You said yourself that 99% of my readers assume a higher-than-average intelligence, so it’s not entirely clear to me that people’s assumed number for my IQ is actually higher or lower than it actually is.

    Put another way, if not publicizing my IQ would be dishonest, then people must assume my IQ is lower than it actually is. As you yourself pointed out, I’m fairly confident people don’t think I’m dumber than I actually am (more likely the opposite).

    Instead, my feeling is that the real difficulty of communicating is because people’s beliefs vary, not in how intelligent they think I am, but in their beliefs about the relative contributions from both effort/technique and immutable intelligence. Some people have beliefs on the extreme of “anyone can do anything anyone else can” to the opposite end of “fixed talent explains all of success”. Obviously few people hold something as extreme as these two beliefs, but people fall at different ends of the spectrum. People who hold closer to the former belief are more willing to see my achievements as the result of effort and method, people who hold closer to the latter belief are more willing to see them as an unsurprising consequence of latent ability.

    To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where I fall within this belief spectrum. I have philosophical objections to the arguably more scientific view that tends to see human agency as inert and the outcomes of our lives entirely being “explained” by genes, IQ, environmental disturbances, etc. However, my beliefs have shifted more to that scientific view in recent years, which explains some of the shift in tone of my writing.

  • Scott Young

    Possibly. But it’s also possible that the “vague feelings of discomfort” are signs that it’s better not worth knowing. I’m agnostic on the IQ question, but our emotional intuitions provide a powerful complement to our rational faculties in making decisions, they are not entirely inferior to them.

  • Scott Young

    Possibly. But it’s also possible that the “vague feelings of discomfort” are signs that it’s better not worth knowing. I’m agnostic on the IQ question, but our emotional intuitions provide a powerful complement to our rational faculties in making decisions, they are not entirely inferior to them.

  • Scott Young

    All true. I suppose one counter-argument is that it’s easier to distort your self-image with a multiplicity of partially ambiguous signals than with a single, clear one. Perhaps knowing your IQ makes it easier to be honest with yourself?

  • Scott Young

    All true. I suppose one counter-argument is that it’s easier to distort your self-image with a multiplicity of partially ambiguous signals than with a single, clear one. Perhaps knowing your IQ makes it easier to be honest with yourself?

  • Scott Young

    A big difference between vision tests and IQ tests is that we can use the vision score to precisely create a device (eyeglasses) to counteract the effects of poor vision. There is nothing comparable for IQ.

    I wonder if eyeglasses were impossible, whether normal people would get their eyes tested. After all, as you mentioned, they can already see with their own eyes how well they can see, so it’s not clear that it provides much useful information.

  • Scott Young

    A big difference between vision tests and IQ tests is that we can use the vision score to precisely create a device (eyeglasses) to counteract the effects of poor vision. There is nothing comparable for IQ.

    I wonder if eyeglasses were impossible, whether normal people would get their eyes tested. After all, as you mentioned, they can already see with their own eyes how well they can see, so it’s not clear that it provides much useful information.

  • Scott Young

    That’s a good point. Where treatments for specific disabilities exist, it’s probably better to diagnose more often.

  • Scott Young

    That’s a good point. Where treatments for specific disabilities exist, it’s probably better to diagnose more often.

  • When I was 10 years old, I participated in a study wherein I underwent an 8-hour-long IQ test, half of which was conducted inside of an fMRI machine. Given my age, the scores were reported to my parents rather than to me. To this day they have refused to tell me what the results were.

    Am I curious? Extremely so.
    Do I honestly, when it comes down to it, want to know the final #? No, probably not.

    I recently read an article about how Nobel Prize winners live on average 2 years longer than their peers, due to the status effect rather than the monetary gain (http://www.livescience.com/1238-nobel-prize-winners-live-longer.html). A similar effect has been seen with the Oscars. One way that I have heard this effect described is that, once a person has received indisputable evidence of the respect and adulation of their peers, they no longer need to stress about their social status and thus many subsequent negative experiences can easily wash over them.

    This effect may be beneficial towards the end of one’s career, especially as pertaining to longevity and quality of life, but I believe that it is entirely counterproductive when it is evaluated in the context of intelligence. If I had concrete proof that I were smarter than my peers then yes, it might contribute towards my peace of mind. But when it comes to intelligence, peace of mind is not what I strive for. Rather, it is the very fact of my uncertainty that drives me to constantly work and improve my own cognitive abilities and thus prove my relative intelligence time and again through demonstrable achievement.

    The concept of “fixed intelligence” is inherently detrimental. It has been shown time and time again that praising children for achievement based on effort leads to improved performance in subsequent tasks, whereas praising them for their intelligence has the reverse effect (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids1/).

    This leads me to my last point: IQ tests can be gamed. They measure very particular aspects of cognitive ability and make the overall measurement based on assumed correlation with the rest of your psyche. If one were to spend a few hours practicing the types of activities measured on these tests, a significant jump in “IQ” can be observed. I have done it on multiple occasions.

    But is this a bad thing? Does it mean that IQ tests are totally worthless? Of course not. As Scott mentioned, they have quite the proven efficacy throughout scientific literature. On a personal basis, however, if one wants to take an IQ test I believe that it should be handled in the following manner:
    1. Take the longest, most in-depth IQ test you can find.
    2. Ignore the results. Believe all sorts of things about different types of intelligences, practice, effort, etc. to internalize the fact that these results do nothing in terms of comparing you to your peers.
    3. Prove #2 by periodically practicing the tasks and then re-taking the test several weeks later.
    4. Use your newly improved IQ as both an indicator that A. You should feel good about yourself for being smart, B. Your intelligence can be improved through your own efforts rather than just being based on genetics, and C. Anyone who tells you that their IQ is higher than your own probably just practiced more or took a worse test.

  • Avisha

    When I was 10 years old, I participated in a study wherein I underwent an 8-hour-long IQ test, half of which was conducted inside of an fMRI machine. Given my age, the scores were reported to my parents rather than to me. To this day they have refused to tell me what the results were.

    Am I curious? Extremely so.
    Do I honestly, when it comes down to it, want to know the final #? No, probably not.

    I recently read an article about how Nobel Prize winners live on average 2 years longer than their peers, due to the status effect rather than the monetary gain (http://www.livescience.com/123…. A similar effect has been seen with the Oscars. One way that I have heard this effect described is that, once a person has received indisputable evidence of the respect and adulation of their peers, they no longer need to stress about their social status and thus many subsequent negative experiences can easily wash over them.

    This effect may be beneficial towards the end of one’s career, especially as pertaining to longevity and quality of life, but I believe that it is entirely counterproductive when it is evaluated in the context of intelligence. If I had concrete proof that I were smarter than my peers then yes, it might contribute towards my peace of mind. But when it comes to intelligence, peace of mind is not what I strive for. Rather, it is the very fact of my uncertainty that drives me to constantly work and improve my own cognitive abilities and thus prove my relative intelligence time and again through demonstrable achievement.

    The concept of “fixed intelligence” is inherently detrimental. It has been shown time and time again that praising children for achievement based on effort leads to improved performance in subsequent tasks, whereas praising them for their intelligence has the reverse effect (http://www.scientificamerican…..

    This leads me to my last point: IQ tests can be gamed. They measure very particular aspects of cognitive ability and make the overall measurement based on assumed correlation with the rest of your psyche. If one were to spend a few hours practicing the types of activities measured on these tests, a significant jump in “IQ” can be observed. I have done it on multiple occasions.

    But is this a bad thing? Does it mean that IQ tests are totally worthless? Of course not. As Scott mentioned, they have quite the proven efficacy throughout scientific literature. On a personal basis, however, if one wants to take an IQ test I believe that it should be handled in the following manner:
    1. Take the longest, most in-depth IQ test you can find.
    2. Ignore the results. Believe all sorts of things about different types of intelligences, practice, effort, etc. to internalize the fact that these results do nothing in terms of comparing you to your peers.
    3. Prove #2 by periodically practicing the tasks and then re-taking the test several weeks later.
    4. Use your newly improved IQ as both an indicator that A. You should feel good about yourself for being smart, B. Your intelligence can be improved through your own efforts rather than just being based on genetics, and C. Anyone who tells you that their IQ is higher than your own probably just practiced more or took a worse test.

  • KoinToss

    I said myself that 99% of your readers assume a higher-than-average IQ because that’s what they *eventually* come to believe.

    Most of us probably assumed that we could replicate your results if we adopted your techniques, but after going through the rest of your blog and your projects, and through personal experimentation, it becomes apparent that you obviously have a higher-than-average IQ despite there being no explicit mention of it, yet all the implicit mentioning of learning strategies and techniques.

    You have all these new readers coming to your blog every month through your challenges who are led to believe “If he did it, so can I” only to fail and later realise (after blaming themselves for not executing the techniques correctly) that they don’t have the requisite IQ to replicate your results.

    I understand your point about people projecting their own beliefs onto your challenges but that doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of sticking to the truth and taking time to communicate it.

    Let’s recall Arnold Swartanegger, back in his prime, promoting supplements and nutritional plans. He didn’t need to explicitly say anything, all he needed to do was take a picture of himself holding a product. People naturally inferred that if they’d take that product they’d look like him. Of course Arnold new that it wasn’t true, he knew that he had a large genetic advantage, yet it wasn’t in his interest to communicate this fact. And so thousands of wannabe bodybuilders were left disappointed with a product that didn’t meet their expectations, wondering what they had done wrong.

  • KoinToss

    I said myself that 99% of your readers assume a higher-than-average IQ because that’s what they *eventually* come to believe.

    Most of us probably assumed that we could replicate your results if we adopted your techniques, but after going through the rest of your blog and your projects, and through personal experimentation, it becomes apparent that you obviously have a higher-than-average IQ despite there being no explicit mention of it, yet all the implicit mentioning of learning strategies and techniques.

    You have all these new readers coming to your blog every month through your challenges who are led to believe “If he did it, so can I” only to fail and later realise (after blaming themselves for not executing the techniques correctly) that they don’t have the requisite IQ to replicate your results.

    I understand your point about people projecting their own beliefs onto your challenges but that doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of sticking to the truth and taking time to communicate it.

    Let’s recall Arnold Swartanegger, back in his prime, promoting supplements and nutritional plans. He didn’t need to explicitly say anything, all he needed to do was take a picture of himself holding a product. People naturally inferred that if they’d take that product they’d look like him. Of course Arnold new that it wasn’t true, he knew that he had a large genetic advantage, yet it wasn’t in his interest to communicate this fact. And so thousands of wannabe bodybuilders were left disappointed with a product that didn’t meet their expectations, wondering what they had done wrong.

  • jcmets4112

    That’s a fantastic point I had not considered.

  • jcmets4112

    That’s a fantastic point I had not considered.

  • Scott Young

    Good food for thought. I’ll definitely think more about this as I go forward in my writing and in selling my books/courses.

  • Scott Young

    Good food for thought. I’ll definitely think more about this as I go forward in my writing and in selling my books/courses.

  • Ella Jordan

    Surely you know that Wikipedia can’t be taken seriously.

    That said, MBTI does have flaws. At its heart, though, it is correct. All it really needs is a ‘facelift’ of sorts–better terms, better explanations, etc.

    All in all, I agree with jcmets4112: real-life observations, in general, support MBTI.

    Example:
    I myself am an introvert. I prefer long-term ideas and hypothetical universes to living in my immediate surroundings. I would rather be convinced by logos than pathos. And my family will testify that I’m terrible about organisation and planning. Taken together, I identify myself as INTP.

    Does this mean that any common INTP description or explanation will tell you how I live and how my brain really works?

    No! (Turns out we INTPs are kinda rare, and difficult to explain.)

    Does it mean that the whole system is irrelevant?

    No! Several other type descriptions seem to hit home for people. They were probably written by that type (e.g. an ISTJ wrote her own description), so there was already an intimate understanding of how that type works.

    Do people misuse and misunderstand MBTI?

    YES. Just like anything else, if you haven’t done your research, you won’t understand why you should believe something.

    A more common misunderstanding is the expectation that MBTI will explain everything. It doesn’t, of course, so then people say that it doesn’t work at all. However, they were expecting it to do something that it was never intended to do–so no wonder they’re disappointed! You can’t expect a minivan to win a Nascar race, and you can’t base your entire life on the assumption that MBTI is the solution to your problems. It’s like knowing your IQ. Helpful occasionally, but not to be used constantly, and especially not as an excuse for failure.

    Finally, I have to say that your ‘simple’ point (that the system is widely discredited among the those who study it) is actually a fallacy. Just because most people believe it doesn’t mean it’s true, and vice versa. You need actual scientific facts to back up your assertion that MBTI is unreliable, just as I should really do the brain research required to back up my assertion that MBTI is trustworthy.

  • Ella Jordan

    Surely you know that Wikipedia can’t be taken seriously.

    That said, MBTI does have flaws. At its heart, though, it is correct. All it really needs is a ‘facelift’ of sorts–better terms, better explanations, etc.

    All in all, I agree with jcmets4112: real-life observations, in general, support MBTI.

    Example:
    I myself am an introvert. I prefer long-term ideas and hypothetical universes to living in my immediate surroundings. I would rather be convinced by logos than pathos. And my family will testify that I’m terrible about organisation and planning. Taken together, I identify myself as INTP.

    Does this mean that any common INTP description or explanation will tell you how I live and how my brain really works?

    No! (Turns out we INTPs are kinda rare, and difficult to explain.)

    Does it mean that the whole system is irrelevant?

    No! Several other type descriptions seem to hit home for people. They were probably written by that type (e.g. an ISTJ wrote her own description), so there was already an intimate understanding of how that type works.

    Do people misuse and misunderstand MBTI?

    YES. Just like anything else, if you haven’t done your research, you won’t understand why you should believe something.

    A more common misunderstanding is the expectation that MBTI will explain everything. It doesn’t, of course, so then people say that it doesn’t work at all. However, they were expecting it to do something that it was never intended to do–so no wonder they’re disappointed! You can’t expect a minivan to win a Nascar race, and you can’t base your entire life on the assumption that MBTI is the solution to your problems. It’s like knowing your IQ. Helpful occasionally, but not to be used constantly, and especially not as an excuse for failure.

    Finally, I have to say that your ‘simple’ point (that the system is widely discredited among the those who study it) is actually a fallacy. Just because most people believe it doesn’t mean it’s true, and vice versa. You need actual scientific facts to back up your assertion that MBTI is unreliable, just as I should really do the brain research required to back up my assertion that MBTI is trustworthy.

  • Scott Young

    I think the confusion here is that by saying MBTI isn’t supported by research that the ideas of personality it espouses are entirely wrong. I don’t think researchers would claim that either–it’s simply that the Big 5 (conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness) are more reliable, internally consistent and experimentally validated.

    The introversion characteristic of the MBTI is actually one of the four type dimensions argued that does have validity, but that’s why it’s also in the Big 5. The other three aren’t consistent indicators of personality.

    Second, the MBTI is based on the assigning of binary types, when people are actually a range. Sure you can say that this idea is implicit in your interpretation of the MBTI, but then why not actually use a model (Big 5, again) that actually allows for people to sit along a spectrum.

    The problem isn’t that MBTI has completely no relation with a scientific understanding of personality, but simply that there’s a demonstrably better way of measuring personality.

  • Scott Young

    I think the confusion here is that by saying MBTI isn’t supported by research that the ideas of personality it espouses are entirely wrong. I don’t think researchers would claim that either–it’s simply that the Big 5 (conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness) are more reliable, internally consistent and experimentally validated.

    The introversion characteristic of the MBTI is actually one of the four type dimensions argued that does have validity, but that’s why it’s also in the Big 5. The other three aren’t consistent indicators of personality.

    Second, the MBTI is based on the assigning of binary types, when people are actually a range. Sure you can say that this idea is implicit in your interpretation of the MBTI, but then why not actually use a model (Big 5, again) that actually allows for people to sit along a spectrum.

    The problem isn’t that MBTI has completely no relation with a scientific understanding of personality, but simply that there’s a demonstrably better way of measuring personality.

  • Kate

    Please, look up cognitive functions before you join the “MBTI is just horoscope!!!” gang. At least figure out why the type INTP has much more in common with the type ENTP than it does with INTJ, even though both types consist of just a single change of the binary I/E, J/P. And also why ENFPs might be more “introverted” than ISFJs and that any decent MBTI practitioner will never assume superficial extroversion for actual extroversion.

  • Kate

    Please, look up cognitive functions before you join the “MBTI is just horoscope!!!” gang. At least figure out why the type INTP has much more in common with the type ENTP than it does with INTJ, even though both types consist of just a single change of the binary I/E, J/P. And also why ENFPs might be more “introverted” than ISFJs and that any decent MBTI practitioner will never assume superficial extroversion for actual extroversion.

  • Scott Young

    I’m a big believer of the general Hansonian (see: Robin Hanson) worldview, which argues that a lot of our motivations are hidden from ourselves but come out through our emotions.

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