Why I use Myers-Briggs

Some of my most popular posts on this blog have been my “Typing Doctor Who” posts, where I assign a Myers-Briggs (MBTI) type to a Doctor Who character and show my working. A couple of years ago I was completely absorbed in everything MBTI, and those posts were the product of my obsessive habit of typing everything that moved.

My MBTI mania has abated since then, probably for the better (it’s not wise to place too much stock in any personality theory). However, when you’ve been as immersed as I was in MBTI and its progressive levels of theoretical convolution, you can never really let go of it. MBTI is still very much a tool I use in my day-to-day life, to understand myself and the people around me, and how I relate to those around me.

It’s the kind of theoretical tool that helps you understand, for example, what’s going through your partner’s head when you’re locked in an argument and you’re both frustrated that the other can’t just see things the way you do. You would use MBTI to understand why the people in your office (or class, team, etc.), who annoy you and perplex you and who couldn’t be more different from you, are the way they are.

Personally I use MBTI partly as an amusing train-spotting exercise (“Jack’s an ENFJ, interesting.”, “Ooh, Amy’s an ISFP, haven’t met many of those.”), and partly as a genuine tool to understand what Jack’s being an ENFJ or Amy’s being an ISFP means for how I relate to them, how we can best get along, work together, and avoid misunderstanding and conflict. That is, I use MBTI to improve my relationships with other people. And, partly, I use MBTI to understand myself, my strengths and weaknesses, what it means for me in various facets of my life, and where I need to grow as a person.


Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers

No one who uses MBTI, though, can ignore the charge that it is nonsense. A quick scan of the Wikipedia page for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will reveal that it has been criticised by some Very Serious People as “unscientific” and a “pseudoscience”, if not outright refuted. It also can’t be ignored that Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, who developed the theory in its modern form, were not qualified psychologists, but more like amateur hobbyists and Carl Jung devotees (who developed the theory in its rudimentary form). Real psychologists don’t take it seriously (I’m hesitant to mention my devotion to MBTI to my friends with psychology qualifications), and its adherents consist mostly of hobbyists on the internet – like me – and corporate HR departments.

The critiques are fair, and should be taken seriously by anyone who wants to place any reliance in the theory. They can be answered to some extent by pointing out that practically all scientific critiques of MBTI refer to the “official” Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test administered by the Myers & Briggs Foundation, which is considered by most adherents of MBTI theory (which would better be described as Jungian typology) who aren’t corporate HR departments as unreliable and based on a butchered and considerably watered-down version of the fuller, far more sophisticated theory. Moreover, scientific opinion even on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® is hardly uniform.

But it’s true enough that MBTI lacks the empirical scientific validation one would need to make use of it with confidence. I’m perfectly conscious of that. Why use it, then? To put it simply, I use it because it works. I find the categories and functions of MBTI to be accurate and useful for describing what I see in other people and making sense of others’ decisions and thought processes. I find that it is a system that helps me understand how people (and fictional characters, no less) work.

The idea of different personality types, variously called in different places “archetypes” or “temperaments”, is nothing new. Katherine Myers and Isabel Briggs-Myers (or Carl Jung, for that matter) didn’t invent the idea of personality types, which has a venerable intellectual pedigree going back to the ancient world. It’s this that makes me think, despite the lack of enthusiasm from the academic community, that there might just be something in the most sophisticated and enduringly popular attempt to explain and systematise personality types yet developed.


I’m hardly a scientist – I dropped all science subjects after 10th grade (a mistake) – but it wouldn’t surprise me if MBTI is not something that can be tested emprically, and should be better placed in the realm of social science or philosophy than the natural sciences. It seems sensible: in typing people we’re simply putting a name on traits and patterns we observe in ourselves and others. We don’t require the aid of scientific testing to observe that some people are more outgoing than others, or that some people are highly in touch with how they feel about things but have poor powers of dispassionate logical judgment (and vice versa). Or that some people enjoy nothing more than spending hours discussing type theory while others find this unutterably boring and would prefer to go bike riding or photo shooting.

Those differences and those patterns are there. Postnominalled scientists don’t need to tell us that Jess is outgoing and free with her feelings, or that Josh is reserved and cerebral, or Noora an unfocussed free spirit, because our experience tells us that they are. We construct mental archetypes and character traits (“outgoing”, “scattered”, “analytical”, “principled”, etc.) to describe and make sense of personality differences in other people, which in turn inform how we think about and treat different people. Personality types exist because we make them exist, not because they’re biologically inherent in us. MBTI is no more than an attempt to systematise this very human process of assigning constructed archetypes and traits to other people.

There is therefore a fundamental difference between how MBTI and how scientific psychology would treat the subject matter of human personality differences. MBTI is about observing the personality traits and patterns that are there and putting names on them: the “what”. Psychology would explain “why” those traits and patterns are there, and “why” different people have different sets of traits and patterns, the “why” being what is actually going on at a biological level in the brain.

Ultimately, though, MBTI is just a tool. The utility of a tool should be judged by how effectively it helps you do what you’re using it to do. In other words, how well it works. For me, MBTI works for what I’m using it for. It gives me a frame of reference for understanding how the people in my life think and act differently. It helps me empathise with others and improve my relationships. And it helps me understand myself and my own brain. It helps me practise self-awareness and identify areas for growth. To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether MBTI is, or is even capable of being, endorsed by peer-reviewed psychologists. I’m using it positively in my life, and that’s enough for me.

Typing Doctor Who: Victorian Clara (ESTP)


Flexible and tolerant, they take a pragmatic approach focused on immediate results. Theories and conceptual explanations bore them – they want to act energetically to solve the problem. Focus on the here-and-now, spontaneous, enjoy each moment that they can be active with others. Enjoy material comforts and style. Learn best through doing.

So yesterday I was watching The Snowmen, the 2012 Christmas special which featured Jenna Coleman’s second appearance in Doctor Who, as the Victorian incarnation of Clara. And it struck me as I was watching it that there are some subtle differences in the way Clara’s various incarnations are written. The ones we’ve seen—the original Clara, Victorian Clara, and Oswin—all fit broadly into the same mould, but they’re not the same. For example, the original Clara (Clara Prime?) from 21st Century Britain, was written as a technological illiterate (much like me), but the first of Clara’s incarnations we saw, Oswin (or Dalek Clara), in Asylum of the Daleks, was a technological genius. Victorian Clara, too, was noticeably different from Clara Prime and Oswin, yet sharing much in common in terms of personality.

This should be expected—when Clara entered the Doctor’s time stream on Trenzalore, she birthed thousands of versions of herself throughout the Doctor’s timeline, living thousands of distinct lives in thousands of different places. Personality is partly a result of genetics (nature), but also substantially determined by environment (nurture). How could the various versions of Clara not differ in certain ways? No doubt there are versions of Clara of every personality type running around the Doctor’s timeline, and none, since the MBTI describes human personality, and we know at least one version of Clara was an alien: the Gallifreyan Clara who persuaded the First Doctor to choose his Type 40 Tardis.


With all that said, I think Victorian Clara is an ESTP. That’s a subtle difference from Clara Prime, whom I typed as an ESFP, and I stick to that typing. (I’ll also tentatively type Oswin as an ENTP, a rather more considerable distinction). Along with the description I linked to above, a good brief description of ESTPs is:

ESTPs are outgoing, straight-shooting types. Enthusiastic and excitable, ESTPs are “doers” who live in the world of action. Blunt, straight-forward risk-takers, they are willing to plunge right into things and get their hands dirty. They live in the here-and-now, and place little importance on introspection or theory. The look at the facts of a situation, quickly decide what should be done, execute the action, and move on to the next thing.

Some celebrity and fictional ESTPs you might know are: Miley Cyrus, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Donald Trump, Madonna, Jaime Lannister (Game of Thrones), Bart Simpson (The Simpsons), Oliver Queen (Arrow), Dean Winchester (Supernatural). And of course, Captain Jack Harkness.

Let’s start with what Victorian Clara and Clara Prime have in common. They’re both perky, flirtatious and outgoing. They’re both daring and have a thirst for action and danger. They’re both cleverer than they let on. Everything Steven Moffat seems to like in a female companion, in other words. But I think they clearly differ in one fundamental respect: Clara Prime is more gentle, more touchy-feely, and Victorian Clara is more hard-nosed and logical. Clara Prime’s emotions are more frequently on show—not in the sense that she’s emotional or irrational (she can be very rational and tough-minded when she wants to), but in that she more readily feels about things, she processes things through her emotional filter, and since she’s an extrovert (an ExFP), her feelings are much more clearly on show (something I’ve learned about ExFP types from knowing quite a few of them).


Compare Victorian Clara. Victorian Clara’s emotions don’t leak out of her the way Clara Prime’s do. She has feelings, sure—there are a couple of times in the episode when Victorian Clara becomes emotional—but she typically approaches things coolly and logically. She’s an adept problem-solver: the way she figured out what the Doctor’s plan was (to take the Ice Lady up to the cloud) was a masterclass in using quick deductive logic in a crisis situation. See, too, how she responds to happening upon the snow and the Doctor: she wants to understand the snow, and understand the Doctor. She interrogates a random stranger about the snowman rather than dismissing it as something inconsequential, or as her memory playing tricks on her or something. The curious Doctor piques her interest and she follows him all the way to his Tardis in the clouds. She wants to know, to understand. That’s very typical of the Introverted Thinking (Ti) that characterises TP types—the desire to understand and to make logical sense of things. Curiosity.

What I’ve been talking about is what fundamentally distinguishes Victorian Clara, the ESTP, from Clara Prime, the ESFP. Expressed in MBTI terms, it’s the distinction between each type’s primary judgment process: ESTPs use Introverted Thinking (Ti) to make judgments, and ESFPs use Introverted Feeling (Fi). But both share Extraverted Sensing (Se) as their dominant perceptive (information-gathering) process. Se is being attuned to the sensory details of things around you, in the moment. It’s being aware of sensations, colours, tastes, people, activity, beauty around you, and wanting to interact with it all. It’s also taking action in the moment. The example I gave above of Victorian Clara deducing the Doctor’s plan also illustrates this, her ability to react and take action and think coolly in the moment. Crisis and danger don’t fluster her, she thrives on it. That says ESTP all over. Victorian Clara’s Se is also illustrated when she decides on the spot to pursue the Doctor after basically being told to bug off, and in the way she spontaneously kisses the Doctor. The latter, overt (and spontaneous) displays of sexuality, is very Se, and very ESxP. Amy, an ENFP, spontaneously kissed the Doctor too, once, but one thing I noticed about Victorian Clara was how much more physical a person she was than Amy, which indicates to me SP rather than NP.


One last thing I noted about Victorian Clara is her deftness, as a governess, in caring for Francesca and Digby, Captain Latimer’s children. I think this is illustrative of another point of distinction between Victorian Clara and Clara Prime, between ESTP and ESFP. Although she’s a Thinker, Victorian Clara’s nurturing abilities come from her tertiary Extraverted Feeling (Fe), which is being attuned to the feelings and values of others and being skilled in dealing with others’ feelings. As an extravert, and a well-rounded person in general, Victorian Clara can slip fairly easily into using Fe in her role as a governess, a carer of children, when she needs to. In contrast, FP types like Clara Prime use Introverted Feeling, which, in contrast to the outward, interpersonal focus of Fe, is attuned to the person’s own intrapersonal feelings and values. Victorian Clara’s emotional expression is somewhat affected, because it’s focussed upon others, while Clara Prime’s expression comes off as more authentic and sincere, because it’s focussed upon herself. See my post on Clara (Prime) for more on the way Clara uses Fi.

Typing Doctor Who: Amy Pond (ENFP)


Quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically. Good at reading other people. Bored by routine, will seldom do the same thing the same way, apt to turn to one new interest after another.

(What is this? Read my introduction to my Typing Doctor Who series).

Well, I’ve been re-watching Doctor Who in recent weeks, and I felt the familiar sensation of affection as I reached Series 5 and 6 and got to watch my favourite fictional characters again: Eleven and the Ponds. Amy is my all-time favourite companion, and Eleven is my favourite Doctor. I already typed Eleven (as an ENTP) here, but, with Eleven and Amy fresh in my mind from my rewatching of Series 5 and 6, I couldn’t resist thinking about the type of Eleven’s iconic partner in crime shenanigans too.

Amy, by my reckoning, is an ENFP. In short, ENFPs are excitable and spontaneous free spirits. Like their thinking cousins, the ENTPs, they are energised by the exploration of possibilities and ideas. They are restless and enthusiastic, driven primarily by a need for novelty and exploration. In this way—their overt openness to possibilities and novelty—they’re similar to their sensing cousins the ESFPs (such as Clara and Rose), but, as an intuitive type, ENFPs tend to be more cerebral and intellectually-oriented than ESFPs. Beneath their extroverted enthusiastic, excitable, spontaneous exterior, ENFPs harbour a depth of feeling and passion which, in combination with the intuition and imagination they display to the world, makes them a highly idealistic, compassionate and creative type. They’re adept at inspiring and motivating others, and fluent at navigating social and emotional dynamics. They’re some of the most fun people to be around, and, once you get talking to them, make for absorbing conversationalists. Some fictional and celebrity ENFPs you might know are Robin Williams, Phil Dunphy (Modern Family), Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender), Willy Wonka, Andy Dwyer (Parks and Recreation).


If you come to see that Amy is an ENFP, you can understand why the Doctor-companion duo of Eleven and Amy worked so well. They’re both ENxP types who lead with Extraverted Intuition: they are both extroverts energised by the perception of possibilities, the craving for novelty, the flightiness and the lust for exploration. They both have an imaginative turn of mind which manifested in the fairytale, romantic, somewhat fanciful and surreal dynamic of their Doctor-companion relationship (of which the high point was Series 5)—a dynamic which might have ascended into pure fancy and fairytale totally divorced from the reality of Amy’s (and the Doctor’s) life if not for the grounding, sensible influence of Rory, an ISFJ.

You see the tension between Amy’s respective relationships with the Doctor and with Rory in Amy’s Choice: with Rory, the down-to-earth, comfort- and stability-seeking ISFJ, Amy has a contented married life in a quaint English rural village; it’s a life Rory adores but Amy, although she seems to appreciate it (she has inferior Si after all), finds herself feeling restless and bored. Contrast with her life with the Doctor: an unreal and fantastical life of adventure, excitement and danger aboard the Tardis. It’s sort of clear which Amy prefers: her affection for the life in Leadworth is associated with her investment in her relationship with Rory, but it’s obvious she finds more appealing the life in the Tardis:

RORY: I want the other life. You know, where we’re happy and settled and about to have a baby.
AMY: But don’t you wonder, if that life is real, then why would we give up all this? Why would anyone?

AMY: We’re in a time machine. It can be the night before our wedding for as long as we want.
RORY: We have to grow up eventually.
AMY: Says who?


Consider, too, the way Amy as a child imagined a whole world around her “imaginary friend”, the “Raggedy Doctor”, after a brief encounter with the Doctor one night. She made toys and created stories and let her imagination run wild with the possibilities associated with the strange, raggedy man with his box who invaded her garden one night when she was a child. She imagined an idealised Doctor in her stories and fantasies, the Doctor taking on a whimsical, fairytale quality in her imagination, and imagined that he was one day going to return and whisk her away in his time machine (in spite of, maybe because of, the insistence of almost everyone that the Doctor wasn’t real). All of this—the whimsical imagination, the idealisation, the projection of emotion into fantasy—is so xNFP, and so very much like an xNFP child.

As an FP type, Amy uses Introverted Feeling—she makes judgments based on her subjective valuation of things: good, bad, right, wrong. In this way she’s similar to Clara and Rose, both ESFPs (whom I’ve previously typed), but different from her husband Rory, an FJ type who makes judgments based on considerations of group values and harmony and the feelings and needs of others. In The Almost People she spurned and acted frostily towards the (apparently) flesh Doctor because she recoiled at the idea that her emotional attachment and feelings for the Doctor could or should be transferred to manufactured clones of the Doctor. In The Girl Who Waited the elder Amy initially refused to help herself, because she and the last 36 years of her life would cease to exist, but relented when she understood that it would be cruel to Rory to deprive him of the chance to grow old with the love of his life. Amy is a passionate woman—not overtly so (FP types typically aren’t), her passion and feeling is internal, but there’s no doubt it’s there.


To end with a note about ENFPs, they’re a magnetic personality who inspire and captivate others with their energy, spontaneity, excitement, ingenuity and charming lack of inhibition. They’re some of my favourite people in the world—my best friend in high school was an ENFP, and I’ve also, er, found myself inexplicably attracted to people and characters of this personality type (he says blushingly). Maybe that’s why I took such an immediate and deep liking to Amy Pond, who will forever remain my all-time favourite companion, and one of my favourite fictional characters. Amy is undoubtedly a fantastic ambassador for this type, and ENFPs should be proud to count her among their number.