MBTI and Barnum Effect

MBTI is one of the most popular psychometric test used by HR professionals for recruitment, talent management etc. While HR professionals swear by MBTI, view of psychologists is different, most of them question reliability and validity of this test. But issue of reliability and validity has never bothered HR professionals, because most don’t even understand what it means.


Many psychologists feel that description of 16 “types” is not unique. Description of 3-4 types can be applicable to you. The language of description reminds one of “Barnum Effect”.

The Barnum effect in psychology refers to the gullibility of people when reading descriptions of themselves. By personality, I mean the ways in which people are different and unique. However, it is possible to give everyone the same description and people nevertheless rate the description as very, very accurate.

Some examples…

• You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
• You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage.
• Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
• You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
• You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others statements without satisfactory proof.
• You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
• At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
• At times you are extroverted, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.


If you give these statements as description to a group of employees, all will agree that it accurately describes them, while MBTI will show that they belong to different types. So next time your HR manager administers MBTI and interprets results, take it with pinch of salt.


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