Home | Why Personality Type Is A Spectrum, Not Binary Scales

Hey everyone, I’m Erik Thor, an expert on using personality psychology for flow and personal development.

Why Personality Type Is A Spectrum, Not Binary Scales

Spectrums are everywhere in nature, and most biologists rely on spectrums to approach and discuss a wide range of phenomenon. But many experts in the MBTI and 16 personalities community rely on simple binary coins, where people can be either one or the other, and no nuances are added. In this article, I show you why you’d benefit from looking at personality as a spectrum, rather than a simple two point dichotomy.

The reason why people like to refer to personality as a two point scale, is for the sake of simplicity. When starting out, it’s simply easier to just assume you’re either one or the other, and learning to understand nuances takes more time and cognitive skill.

Why Personality Is A Spectrum

I spent years trying to prove the 16 personalities were real, only to realize there were subtypes and variations, and that people couldn’t be broken down to 16 simplified categories. Here’s why I think you’d benefit from doing the same.

1. Improving accuracy

When relying on simple two point scale dichotomies, we make classification more easy, but lose accuracy. Say we run a study on 100 people and classify them based on whether they are introverts or extroverts, and we’ll effectively have accurate classifications for a large group of people. However, we’ll miss out on important nuance. There might be people who are more ambiverted, and people who show more extreme preferences, but we won’t know who.

2. Encouraging open exploration

Many seek to find one category to fit inside and discount the other side completely. Once they’ve decided they’re an introvert, they’ll stop considering or thinking about situations or times when they show more extroverted traits. But by showing that it’s a spectrum, people are allowed to explore more aspects of themselves without suddenly having an identity crisis. In fact, it’s more than common for many introverts to have moments or times in their life where they are more extroverted, or to have certain interests or hobbies which are more extroverted in their nature.

3. Using the cognitive functions

Using the cognitive functions is a step in the right direction. By talking about Introverted Feeling and Introverted Thinking we already show that there are many ways to be introverted and extroverted, and this already makes people see more nuances they previously missed. However, even the cognitive functions can be placed on a spectrum. We can’t generalize or prove through tests that all INFPs use the same kind of Introverted Feeling, the exact same way, and it seems that even this goes on a gradual scale, and we will see INFPs that have stronger introverted function preferences than others. So even these, must be looked at gradually. We must discuss “Super Introverted Intuitives” vs “Average Introverted Intuitives” next to each other and discuss the subtypes and nuances that come with these variations.

4. Divorce the Myers Briggs Personality Types

Most people are ultimately more married to the idea of personality types than cognitive functions, and proof of this can be found in that most would place personality types in the center of the universe, and show the cognitive functions relative to the personality types. There are millions of theories on what functions each personality type uses, and how much, and how often, and in what way, but there are few theories on how the personality types might show up differently if a person has a cognitive variation or unique development. We need to change this – and place cognitive functions at the center of the personality universe, and show and use types as tools to explain variations of functions.

To examplify what I mean, imagine that you take a personality test, and get a list of cognitive functions, and scores for each one, and imagine that instead of trying to decide which personality type that is, you primarily look at what each function does and represents, and how you use that in your life, and only use types as general categories to explain in simple, non-nuanced terms, to beginners, what group of personality types might use those functions the most.

5. Triangulate the personality types

Instead of trying to fit yourself within one personality type, instead, look for three personality types that show similar traits and functions to your own. For example, if you show strong introverted intuition and introverted thinking use, you might boundary three personality types, the INFJ, ISTP, and INTP. This is in itself a distinct personality type or development. It is a distinct way of living life, clearly distinguishable from an INFJ who for example, shows strong Extroverted Feeling and Introverted iNtuition use, who might boundary the ENFJ, INFJ, and ESTP personality types.

Now, critical readers might think “That’s not how it works. Everyone has ONE MBTI type. And that type can never change.

Yeah? According to who? Isabel Briggs. Not Carl Jung.

This statement has been echoed a million times yet never really been challenged. Everyone wants to believe these categories are real – and that they’re perfect, and that there’s no nuance between them. But that dismisses the value of the original, authentic theory, and enforces a simplistic, black and white way of thinking about the human mind. We know neuroplasticity is real today. We know epigenetics is a factor – and we know that from the Big Five, personality traits and our development and function and trait use can change over time. We’re just clinging to old, outdated, simplified models.

The idea of 16 personalities is as outdated as the idea that the earth is flat, and continues to force people into flat categories, without really addressing the nuances of personality or how we develop over our life, and without illustrating how people can change or grow if they work on themselves. People keep trying to model function development for the personality types, and even speculate how function development changes for a type as they age, as if everyone in the world grows and develops the exact same way, and as if our individual choices throughout life don’t matter, and as if education and cultural aspects don’t play a role in human development.

At least, that’s what I think.

What do you think?

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