MBTI and Big Five: Advantage MBTI?

The MBTI and the Big Five (Five Factor Model) differ in one way that may be a greater strength for the MBTI.  The question mark in the title here, and the “may be” are saying that the difference is clear, but the advantage is untested.  Isabel Myers, in her creation  of the MBTI scales, was always mindful of depicting the strengths of the polar opposites in each preference pair as well as relative shortcomings.  From one viewpoint this can be thought of as a highly egalitarian view of the preferences–each is as good, useful and valuable as the other. Being a Thinker was just as valuable as being a Feeler, no more no less.  By all reports, Isabel Myers was a kind and gracious person, and possessed of the Feeling preference, so a bias in this direction would seem to be in character.

But–is that the whole story?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  It is possible that the different temperament preferences do each have their own counterbalancing strengths.  If so, that is certainly not explicit in the scales used in the Big Five. (In this discussion we would have to pretty much leave out Neuroticism and its implied opposite–emotional stability–for two clear reasons.  First there is no comparable scale to discuss in the MBTI, and second, it would be a tough case to make that Neuroticism has any upside or list of strengths.)

For the rest, however, comparisons can be made.  MBTI descriptions for Extraverts include positive qualities of high sociability, enjoying team work and collaboration, getting new ideas while talking with others, acting quickly and enjoying a broad range of activities.  On the down side, however, they may act impulsively, lose interest in long tedious tasks, and become restless when spending long periods working alone.  Introverts are relatively quiet, uninterested in parties and large gatherings of all kinds and just generally less sociable.  But on the upside, they are described as much better at working alone, much better at working on a single project for long periods of time, more reflective, more likely to think before speaking or acting, and generally more involved in the world of ideas.  All of this is reflected in the kinds of questions that are offered in the Extravert/Introvert preference scale.

In the NEO -PI version of the Big Five it seems evident to me that Extraversion is the positive side and Introversion is not.  An MBTI question about discussion style might have alternatives like “I always speak up when a group leader asks for ideas” vs. the reverse, “I tend to wait and think about the issue carefully before saying anything”.  A similar pair of questions from the NEO-PI might say something like “I often do most of the talking in a group” vs “I usually let others do the talking”  The difference here is that in the MBTI set the Introverted item suggests a different style–something more than the absence of Extraversion, where in the second case “I usually let others do the talking in a group” is simply the negative of the Extraverted response.

I believe that this difference carries through all of these categories.  For the MBTI, Intuitives are imaginative, creative, perhaps dreamy, and Sensors are not, but Sensors are present in the moment and attentive to ongoing happenings.  Intuitives use imagination and thought to see the links between events and future possibilities, but Sensors store up information about past experiences and make use of that in planning the next move.  The closest Big Five category is Openness, which does correlate with MBTI Intuition. Here, Openness might be reflected by having a very active imagination and non-Openness (closedness?) by not wanting to waste time in letting your imagination wander.  The equivalent of the Sensing mode here seems to have no positive difference to balance the lack of Openness.

MBTI Thinking and Feeling are yet another example.  The closest Big Five category is Agreeableness, and here Agreeable people are trusting and believe in the honesty of others, while the ‘Disagreeables’? say they are cynical and skeptical of others.  One goes out of his/her way to help others while the opposite is seen as selfish etc.  Again there is a good side (Agreeableness) or simply a lack of this good side. The most directly related MBTI scale would be Feeling and its opposite, Thinking.  In Feeling,  the individual is also trusting and appreciative of others, but the emphasis is on these two preferences as different ways of making judgments about the world.  Where the trusting Feeling person emphasizes preserving harmony with others and being true to personal values, the Thinking person, while skeptical and untrusting at times, and perhaps lower in interpersonal empathy, also positively values reason and logic, and tends to be more straightforward and honest with others.  Thinking here is not simply the absence of Feeling; it is an entirely different mode of behaving.

Finally, for the MBTI pair of Judging and Perceiving, Judging is most like the Big Five Conscientiousness category.  Judgers are organized, can be relied on, and follow through.  However, they are also seen as sometimes hasty in decision making, wanting to get closure and finish the task at hand.  They may also, in a very strong case, be impatient with non-Judgers, perhaps even critical.  Their opposite, Perceivers, while seen as lacking structure, organization and persistence, also are credited with paying more attention to incoming information, being more curious about events as they happen, and being more adaptable in the face of change.  For the Big Five category (Conscientiousness) it again seems to me that persons low in Conscientiousness are just that–low in conscientiousness.  They do not seem to have any redeeming qualities–except perhaps to a soul mate who wants a partner who will always be willing to skip final exams and spend the last penny on a sudden trip to Vegas.

So–was the MBTI scheme just excessive niceness toward the Introverted, Closed Minded, Disagreeable and Non-Conscientious sad souls of the world, or is there something to its counterbalanced balanced approach?  As far as I know, this question has not been asked academically or experimentally.  Thus the answer, for now, is that the answer is unknown.

There is, however, some logic in the MBTI view.  A good example would be Thinkers and Feelers.  It is assumed that a core characteristic of Feelers is a very strong value on interpersonal relationships and on preserving harmony in those relationships. On the positive side this makes them highly sensitive to others needs and values and empathetic to the feelings of others.  The down side of that is difficulty in situations where “no” is the right answer.  Presumably, since they don’t seek harmony at all costs, Thinkers are much less influenced by this value.  While they exhibit less empathy and concern they are also free to view situations with cooler logic, and to be more frank and honest in their dealings. If this is the right analysis, it is not a matter of giving positive attributes to each pair of preferences just to be nice, so to speak, but of seeing that strengths and weaknesses have their natural counterparts.

I think that research would show that Introverts have produced a remarkable number of ideas, essays and research papers, suggesting that there is something to be said about spending more time thinking and less time talking.  I am sure that Perceivers would be high in creative achievements in many areas, and especially the arts, suggesting that there is something to be said about not being constantly organized and on schedule.  Does the little Sensor make valuable contributions by refusing to dream and focusing on the moment?  I suspect that most of the things that work well in our daily life, from household plumbing to signal lights, owe a debt of gratitude to Sensors.  And Thinkers versus Feelers?  I suspect we wouldn’t have liberals and conservatives without the contributions of both.  Those with one strong affiliation or the other might think we would be far better off with just one of those preferences–but I think it is a vital balance.

So–I don’t know the answer, but I do have strong opinions here.  The MBTI may not have it exactly right, but I think it is their “ad”.



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7 Responses to MBTI and Big Five: Advantage MBTI?

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  2. INTJ says:

    That is interesting about Pierce’s work. I will have to look into that. Meanwhile, there is also another relatively new take on the Big Five, called the Hexaco Model. They have added a sixth factor called Honesty-Humility, and have renamed the Neuroticism scale as Emotionality. According to Wikipedia they have also moved some types of items from one scale to another (quick temper has moved from Neuroticism to the reverse of Agreeableness.). Sometime soon I would like to hunt down more information and do a blog on this. I also know that there is controversy in the literature about the Big Five Openness scale, re–is it really openness or intellect or both, and if both should that be all one scale?

    • Lars says:

      The Openness-Intellect controvesy goes back to Goldberg and is not easy to solve or answer, i’m also not sure about this. I think intellect has its part in the opnenness scale, but how much is the question.

      The Hexaco Model looks interesting, especially the new Honesty/Modesty scale.
      Its hard to keep an overview about all theories around the Big Five, with all the developed six-factor, four-factor, three factor, or the two factor supertraits models.

  3. Lars says:

    I think the Big Five are a great way for scientifically understanding personality and an essential tools for every personality study.
    But if you want to “work” on your personality for positive change, help others understand themselves etc., Mbti has a lot more to offer. One big reason for this is of course that there are no negative traits in Mbti, which leave a bitter taste for many who take the Big Five and find themselves on the assumed bad sides.

    • INTJ says:

      I think the one-sided look of the Big Five has the potential to be scary. If you read the professional manual very carefully (for example, the description of the Agreeableness domain) after saying all good things about Agreeableness and all bad things about disagreeableness the manual does add statements that there are goods and bads on both sides. But, that just covers a couple of short paragraphs, and the overall impression is certainly that it is better to be agreeable (Trusting, straightforward. Altruistic, Compliant, Modest, and Tender-Minded). In the future, when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is published in 2013, all clinicians will be urged to include a Big Five-like assessment of all clients. Feels a little to me like compliance and modesty may be seen as Mental Health goals in the future.

      • Lars says:

        Since i have no psychology degree, unfortunately i can’t get hands on a Neo manual, but i’ve read similar things elsewhere: that every site of a factor “may” have its pros and cons, but without delivering convincing arguments about the pros of the bad results. For example that neurotics may be more alert to dangers, but this is no real consolation for someone who scored high N.

        Do you know Howard J. Pierce “The Owners Manual For Personality At Work”?
        He developed his own, slightly different version of the Big Five, which is not as scientifically solid as the orginal one, but he describes good and bad sides for all factors, which i find appealing. He doesn’t write it, but i think he orientated himself a bit on the Mbti for his Big Five approach. For example he describes low scorers in Openness as as practical, efficient, doers and in the present, and low scorers in Conscientousness as spontaneous, multitaskling and playful.

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