From the NEO PI-R, to the MBTI to Psychoanalysis – The many and varying faces of human personality

In an attempt to have a brief respite from cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology, I chose to complete my final year undergraduate dissertation in the area of personality theory.  It was also an attempt to dip my toe in the vast pool of personality assessment.  I was particularly keen to gain some insight into this area, as I was making my decision as to whether I should specialise in Occupational Psychology.  I’d done my research, and gleaned that the MBTI was quite a popular instrument within the industry, whereas the NEO PI-R was much more accepted in academic circles.  I wondered why that was, as despite the masses of research backing the NEO, surely there was a decent empirical basis for a tool that was used so much in industry?

So, I set out to fight the corner of the MBTI.  But how?  I investigated whether the MBTI personality types (EI, SN, TF, JP) correlated with the more academically accepted personality traits/factors of the NEO and EPQ (Eysenck Personality Questionnaire).  And hence, provide validation for the MBTI’s widespread use.  To cut a long (very long, I must admit, as I recently sat down and re-read it) story short, there were some notable correlations.  These included the somewhat expected strong relationships between both Extraversion factors (NEO and EPQ) and Extroversion (MBTI).  I also found good relationships between ‘Openness’ and ‘Intuition’ and ‘Conscientiousness’ and ‘Judging’. Similarly, there was a somewhat lesser, but still respectable relationship between ‘Agreeableness’ and ‘Thinking’.  The key point is that there was a match between each MBTI type and a NEO domain.  This was even more exciting as it was based on all of the studies that had been published which correlated these tools (from 1806-2010).  For those interested, see data tables below.

So I came to the conclusion that the MBTI is not so bad after all.  And that it could perhaps ‘piggyback’ on some of the vast, high quality research conducted on the NEO, as there is a decent overlap between what these two are measuring.  But why is this important?  Surely, if we are using the NEO as a springboard for the MBTI, why not just use the NEO in the first place.  The fact is that personality assessment and particularly the MBTI is primetime and this is no better illustrated by articles surrounding its use in the mainstream media;  Increased media coverage of personality assessment will have a large influence on what the general public and those who aren’t necessarily involved in the industry will take away about these measures.  One very important point which is raised in the article, when discussing the MBTI, is its need to be used in the right context.  And this is in a developmental, not assessment and selection setting.  Or this is what the benefits of the MBTI, Myers-Briggs publishing company, CPP and I’m sure many practitioners would suggest.  Instead, as Adrian Furnham very clearly articulated at a Psychometrics Forum event earlier this year, the NEO PI-R has all the data behind it to suggest that it should be used in assessment and selection.  Having just completed my ‘Level B’, or Test User Training in Occupational Personality, as it’s now called, I understand that the NEO can be a cumbersome tool to use.  But then again, the right balance of empirical support (academics) and practical relevance (pragmatics) must be reached of course (see blog two).

Returning to the MBTI and media, the brain behind the conceptualisation of this tool, was recently in the Hollywood limelight.  The MBTI stems from Jungian theory, i.e. Carl Jung, the famous Swiss Psychotherapist.  Jung, according to the directors of the recent Hollywood blockbuster, ‘A Dangerous Method’, was the most successful Psychologist of all time.  I think his contemporary and in many ways adversary, Freud would have something to say about that.  Without turning this blog into a film review, it gave an interesting insight into the father-son relationship of Freud and Jung, which eventually became so fractured.  Well worth a watch, particularly for fans of the history of Psychology.  But it emphasises an interesting approach to personality – Psychoanalysis.  As an empiricist, I’m compelled to object to this entire field because of its unfalsifiability.  But I wonder if there are any practitioner members who use techniques stemming from this approach.  Inkblot tests anyone?

Blog posted by Rajesh Chopra. Follow me on twitter – @Raj_Glowatwork

Data as mentioned above:

NEOxMBTI figures are based on weighted average data from 16 samples (13 studies) comprising 13392 participants. NEOxEPQ figures are based on weighted average data from 6 studies comprising 1593 participants. The systematic review found many studies which compared these three personality tools, however several exclusion criteria limited the usable studies to the respective numbers. The correlations below represent the stand out relationships that were found.

NEO/EPQ Factor/trait


Extroversion Intuition Thinking Judging
NEO Extraversion 0.71
NEO Openness 0.59
NEO Agreeableness -0.39
NEO Conscientiousness 0.47
NEO Neuroticism -0.2
EPQ Extraversion 0.7
EPQ Neuroticism -0.3
EPQ Psychoticism -0.3