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Keirsey Temperament and Myers Briggs

A Critique

Keirsey's model of temperament is based on people's "core needs" - having the need for freedom, to be useful, to be competent or to become. The Myers-Briggs or Jungian model of personality is based on cognitive functions: Sensing, Intuition, Feeling and Thinking; and in the Myers-Briggs operationalisation of Jungian theory, the arrangement of the functions leads to 16 different personality types.

In Please Understand Me, and Please Understand Me II, Keirsey asserts that there is a direct correspondence between temperament and four groups of four Myers Briggs personality types:

However, in Psychological Types, Carl Jung said the correspondence was:

Jung also said said that one couldn't make a clear distinction between Dionysian and Epimethean (and Promethean and Apollonian) using his function theory.

So why did Keirsey make the association that he did? When he formulated his temperament questionnaire (the Keirsey Temperament Sorter), rather than report the results as Dionysian, Epimethean, Promethean and Apollonian, he chose to report the same four letters as the MBTI® - E/I, S/N, T/F and J/P. Is Keirsey's association true? Here are two theories, with two completely different theoretical bases, and using two languages. The same words or labels are being used in both systems, which gives the impression that they are the same. But it appears from Jung's writing that a different mapping should have been used.

First of all, it is important to realise that, just because two systems use the same words it does not mean that they are talking about the same thing. To use a metaphor, this is akin to using the term "trunk". Any two people speaking English might be forgiven for thinking that when they say "put something in the trunk", the other person fully understands what is being said. However, in the US, this term refers to the luggage compartment of a motor car; in the UK, it means a large box (a sort of large wooden suitcase) used for travelling. They misunderstand each other - and because they assume that the other person has understood the term in the same way as themselves, they may not realise that that they have misunderstood each other.

In the same way, the Keirsey temperament system uses the term "SP" to mean Dionysian or Artisan - having a core need for freedom. But in the Myers Briggs/Jungian system, the term "SP" means the use of the Sensing cognitive function in an extraverted orientation. The same term is used in the two different languages, to mean different things. But because the same expression "SP" is used in both cases, the misunderstanding is not recognised.

The key question, therefore, is "are the two meanings of SP in the temperament and Jungian systems equivalent, or not?".

Whilst there may be correlation between temperament and type, Jung and Keirsey mapped the classic temperaments in different ways - so I don't think we should assume that they are equivalent.

Keirsey's comments on typology

In Please Understand Me, Keirsey makes the association between Jungian typology and temperament. However, he does not make a straight association - rather, he: So, according to Please Understand Me, the two theories cannot be directly put together - Jungian typology has to be changed in some way to make it fit with temperament.

Keirsey expands on his criticism of Jung in Please Understand Me II. For example, on p331, he states that:

"Myers' E-I scale is badly flawed because she inherited Jung's error of confusing extraversion with observation (S) and introversion with introspection (N). And so to make the E-I distinction useful at all, we must define the two concepts, not in terms of mental focus or interest, but in terms of social address or social attitude".
This changes the meaning of the Jungian terms quite radically: social attitude, as appears to the outside observer, is a very different concept to mental focus of cognitive functions. Clearly, when Keirsey refers to "E/I", he means something quite different to what Jung and Briggs-Myers meant. When we talk about extraversion, or the letter "E" in the type code, then it is akin to using the word "trunk" in the US or UK. When we are talking temperament, we mean one thing; when we are talking type, we mean another. Unfortunately, because the same letter is used in both systems, the misunderstanding may not be recognised.

Confusion of Extraversion with Sensation

Another criticism from the above quotation is that Jung confused Sensation with Extraversion. In fact, this is not true. This misunderstanding probably emanates from either: It is clear, from Psychological Types, that in Jung's final theory, Sensing and Intuition had been completely separated from Extraversion and Introversion, and there was no confusion in his own mind.

The confusion only arises when one tries to make Jung's theory fit into the framework of temperament. For example, in Please Understand Me, Keirsey starts his description of an INTP with:

"INTPs exhibit the greatest precision in thought and language of all the types; they tend to see distinctions and inconsistencies in thought and language simultaneously. The one word which captures the unique style of INTPs is architect - the architect of ideas..."
From a Jungian perspective, this section is clearly defining INTP in terms of the dominant introverted function: introverted Thinking. The description focuses on the inner world of ideas, thoughts, understanding, and explanations.

The description of ISTP, however, starts with:

"Just as impulsive as other SPs, the ISTP's life is artful action - and action is end in itself. Action for the ISTP is more gratifying if it is born of impulse than purpose. If the action is in the service of an end or aim, let the aim look out for itself; it cannot be allowed to influence execution"
From a Jungian perspective, this section is clearly defining ISTP in terms of the extraverted auxiliary function: extraverted Sensing. The description focuses on action, and the outer (extraverted) world is so pre-dominant that it cannot be influenced by any inner world thoughts. There is no mention, whatsoever, in the ISTP description, of the introverted dominant function: introverted Thinking.

Clearly, when Keirsey describes an ISTP he uses terms that are much more 'extraverted', and when he describes an INTP he uses terms that are much more 'introverted'. By comparison, Isabel Briggs-Myers description of ISTP is written in terms of the introverted Thinking dominant function:

"ISTPs have a vested interest in practical and applied science... ISTPs can use general principles to bring order out of confused data and meaning out of unorganised facts" (p91 Gifts Differing)
In fact, Isabel Briggs-Myers description is in some ways opposed to Keirsey's: whereas he describes them as action-driven, she states that they are "great believers in economy of effort".

Keirsey resolves this difference by stating that Isabel Briggs-Myers "inherited Jung's confusion between Sensing and Extraversion", but in this respect her writings are completely consistent, and she portrays ISTPs as introverts. Keirsey portrays ISTPs in an extravert fashion because his system of temperament is different to Jungian typology - and the use of the same system of letters to describe both is unfortunate because of the confusion it both causes, and hides.

Temperament, type and the MTR-i(TM)

The differences between Keirsey's version of temperament, and psychological type, are particularly important when using the MTR-i. The MTR-i is based on the same Jungian theory as the MBTI, and it measures cognitive functions and orientations by assessing the effect that an individual is having on the outer world of people/things, or the inner world of ideas/information.

Used in conjunction, the MBTI and MTR-i can provide a valuable insight into the differences between personality preferences and work role. However, if comparisons are made between Keirseyan temperament and the MTR-i, they are at best less meaningful and at worst may confuse. In the context of the MBTI and the MTR-i the label "ISTP" means one thing: that a person has an innate preference for introverted Thinking (which involves understanding the principles involved, identifying discrepancies and inconsistencies between ideas, logical analysis of ideas, etc.). An ISTP is working with his/her primary preferences if he/she is undertaking the Scientist team role.

In the temperament system, however, "ISTP" means something completely different - having a core need for freedom. The Keirseyan description of ISTP has, as can be seen from the above, an extraverted orientation. For this reason, care should be taken when using temperament alongside the MBTI and MTR-i.

Please note that the above comments only apply to Keirseyan temperament. For example, Linda Berens' temperament research institute has adapted the concept of temperament to more closely fit with the theory of psychological types, and the criticisms above, say, of ISTP descriptions do not apply to TRI's descriptions.




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