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History / Restoration

Keirsey Temperament vs. Myers-Briggs Types

By David Mark Keirsey

Compared to the difference between astrology or even other non-Jungian based theories or methods of classifying personality, there isn’t much difference at a superficial level.  However, there are some major practical differences and a large theoretical difference between the two bodies of work.  The first essential difference is that, while Keirsey describes observed long term behaviorial patterns, Myers often describes what people have in mind. The second essential difference is that Myers used a linear four factor model to characterize ‘invariant’ patterns of behavior of the individual throughout their lifetime, whereas Keirsey uses a systems field theory model to characterize these patterns. Lastly, the problems of intelligence and madness, that is, what are they and how they relate to temperament, were not effectively addressed by Jung or Myers.

To illustrate graphically the difference between the two bodies of work, one can look at the following simplifications of how the each theory represents the ‘temperament’ and ‘character’ of an individual, although Myers did not explicitly address the notions of temperament and character.

One of the practical problems with defining the differences of the models is that a great deal of printed or web material and books have mixed the two models together, for they are similar.  Keirsey gave Isabel Myers, a layman, a great deal of credit for rescuing Jung’s work and for having done a great job at observing people.  He related her work to other work done in the early part of the 20th century in personality, not related to Jung and illustrated that these ideas about personality are quite old.

But many others have blurred the difference between ‘Myers-Briggs’ and ‘MBTI’ versus the published material and work of Keirsey. Keirsey’s ‘Please Understand Me’ (published in 1978) had a significant impact in promoting ‘Myers-Briggs’ MBTI, which was published in 1962, and ‘Gifts Differing’ by Isabel Myers, which was published in 1982.  In fact, most descriptions found in ‘Myers-Briggs’ books or web material are significantly based on Keirsey's ‘Please Understand Me’ or his sixteen portraits that were circulated in the early ‘70s.  Many people give a xeroxed Myers-Briggs ‘test’, which is, in fact, most likely the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.  There have been numerous articles on ‘Myers-Briggs’, which actually used Keirsey’s work and instruments, and attributed them to Myers-Briggs. Hence, there is a general mixing of the bodies of work.

The bottom line of the differences between the theories comes in describing the ‘aspects’ of personality.  Keirsey has done an in-depth, systematic analysis and synthesis of aspects of personality for temperament that included the temperaments' unique interests, orientation, values, self-image, and social roles.  Whereas, Myers’ brilliant simplifications of Jung’s work facilitate the talking about four scales; for example, ‘Introverts’, in general, as a useful concept of group behavior (such as INTJ, ISFJ, INTP, ISTP), whereas Keirsey says it’s more complicated than that, and if one tries to push the concept of ‘Introverts’ too far, you will make assertions that aren't true for all temperaments.

First, let's see where Isabel Myers got her ‘scales’ (E/I, N/S, T/F, P/J).  She essentially got them as she and her mother, Katherine Briggs, boiled down Carl Jung’s writings on personality types.  Where did Carl Jung get his ideas about personality?  Well, he had picked up a few notions from other people and from some common knowledge in Germany at the time.  He picked up ‘Extrovert’ and ‘Introvert’ from what had been around for years, a folk psychology notion that was Latinized by someone in Germany in around 1850.   Most people easily recognize that some people are much more sociable than others; the parallel of ‘gregarious’ and ‘shy’ are related concepts in English.  Second, Jung probably borrowed the notion of tough-minded and tender-minded from William James, when James discussed the mental aspects of the objective and subjective attitudes, while Jung visited with James in America.  Carl Jung also discussed many aspects of ‘the mind’, and noticed that it appeared that some people were better at and felt more comfortable in talking about abstract concepts, and others seem to be better at talking about and felt more comfortable with the concrete: having to do with real objects and real people.  Lastly, Jung also talked about how ‘the mind’ appears to make decisions, some people tending toward being judgmental and decisive and others being less judgmental and flexible, but that discussion is not very visible in his book ‘Psychological Types’, published in 1923.

So, the first major contribution of Jung was to contradict Freud and others and say that, no, not all people are governed by the same drives, and that we are not all the same.  Jung's second contribution was to pursue Kant's notion of ‘intuition’ and discuss several aspects of ‘the mind’ that involve what the mind does: perceive and abstract from the world and to note that each person can vary inherently in their interest in doing those two acts.  Jung's third contribution was to collect a set of aspects of personality, known previously, and his own observations, in polar forms that seem to ‘cover’ the space of possible ‘types’ of people.  The major contribution of Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs was to take these contributions of Jung and make a simple linear assessment of three main aspects he talked about, then include their own scale of ‘J/P’ and associate simple descriptions of those aspects, so that people could get a sense of what preferences they have as an individual.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Myers' descriptions of personality did what no other personality instrument had done before: to be able to give most people some insight into themselves and others.  In fact, many people are amazed that by asking a few questions, the MBTI can ‘capture’ the essence of a person's view of the world.  People are surprised how accurate the MBTI can be.

However, when using this simple tool of assessment and a way of viewing one's personality, if one looks closely, there are several problems that crop up.

First, people are more complex than just four numbers or four aspects of personality.  But this is not the primary problem with MBTI and Myers' descriptions; this is true of all assessments, abstractions, or ‘theories.’  A model of personality is not a personality.  No matter what the descriptions of personality are, they pale in comparison to the complexity of the individual.  Also, the problem is not that ‘type’ or ‘temperament’ does not change, for the person is ‘changing’ all the time.  The difference between character and temperament (or type) of the personality helps distinguish between what 'changes' and what stays the same. This is true whether one uses the Jung-Myers notion of archtypes or function types or Keirsey’s notions of character and temperament.

The primary problem with Myer's method of description is the difficulty in trying to take the ‘personality’, or more specifically, what Keirsey calls ‘temperament’ (as opposed to Myers ‘type’) and break it into four ‘independent’ aspects.  There is great utility in thinking about them as ‘independent’ aspects, as people who follow the line of Myers are wont to do.  For example, some talk in terms that ‘The “Ts” tend to be like this’, ‘the “Fs” tend to be like that’. The ‘Es’ tend to be like this, the ‘Is’ tend to be like that.  This kind of talk is fine only up to a point. This is where Keirsey and Myers-Jung followers part company. The problem comes in when some ‘Es’ are different (such as the ‘ESFJ’) from other ‘Es’ (such as ‘ENTJ’) because of temperament.  The scales are not independent of each other.  Of course, we are *not* talking about the myriad other factors that complicate the analysis of personality, which includes gender, culture, etc.  Those complications are another matter, irrespective of how to characterize ‘temperament’.

Jung (hence Myers) viewed Introvert/Extrovert scale as a strong aspect,  so much so that they talked about Introverted Thinkers and Extroverted Thinkers (we will let the reader speculate out what they meant by these phrases).  Keirsey, on the other hand, regards Jung’s N/S ‘scale’ as the first ‘cut’  (which of course in reality we ‘can’t’ cut the temperament into pieces).  In other words, ‘how’ one’s mind primarily processes the world (through concepts or percepts) is the major determinant on how one evolves and reacts in life; not whether one is more or less comfortable with people. As an example, Albert Einstein (INTP—an NT ‘Rational) is quite different from Clint Eastwood (ISTP - an SP ‘Artisan’).  On other hand, if one tries to ‘talk about’ what is ‘in the mind’, one can start talking nonsense because we can't observe ‘mind’.

Moreover, Myers in her descriptions mostly treats the personality aspects as independent scales. Her descriptions of the sixteen types, essentially are a concatenation of the aspects.  She has a descriptive paragraph for ‘I’, and a paragraph for ‘E’, a paragraph for ‘N’,  and so on.   To get her descriptions, for example,  an INTP, she took her ‘I’, ‘N’, ‘T’, and ‘P’ descriptive paragraphs, stuck them together and ‘voila’ you have a full description of a person (an INTP).  The problem with this Chinese menu method of personality is that it's too simplistic. Partly to fix the problem of it being too simplistic, Myers and her followers then tried to work in the notion of shadow or dominant functions and other complications to the theory. However, this kind of speculation of ‘what’s in mind’, becomes complex and confusing, and worst of all, hard to remember.

Keirsey is not concerned with ‘what’s in mind’, but what people do.  He is interested in what are the long-term behavioral patterns: ie. temperament.  Moreover, Keirsey’s descriptions are more integrated.  He looks at the notion of personality as an organic, unified whole.

Next, Keirsey has a different view of the ‘aspects’ of personality.  He views them as an integrated configurational form that emerges. Thus, given that N/S is the ‘first’ cut, the descriptions might be viewed as in a tree (or as an unfolding ‘emergence’ of an individual's temperament), as in the following.  The lower level is constrained by the configuration above it.

First cut.
‘Ns’   What Jung called ‘iNtuitives’.   Keirsey likens them to ‘martians’.  Abstract. Introspective.  Those who look *primarily* through their *own* ‘mind’s eye’ (ie. ‘visionaries’)
‘Ss’   What Jung called ‘Sensors’. Keirsey likens them to ‘earthlings’  Concrete. Observant.  Those who look *primarily* at the world by their ‘percepts’, using what’s out there.

Second cut of the Ns
‘NTs’  Myers called them ‘iNtuitive Thinkers’. Keirsey calls them ‘Rationals’.
‘NFs’  Myers called them ‘iNtuitive Feelers’. Keirsey calls them ‘Idealists’.

If one is primarily viewing the world in terms of ‘concepts’ of your own making, then clearly its important what kind of concepts are important to you.  The NTs value concepts born of their own objective (not emotional) reasoning, and the NFs value concepts born of their own guts (emotion associated).  The NTs are pragmatic and the NFs are credulous.

The more extroverted NTs include ENTJs and ENTPs. Both correlate to the Myers ‘E’ letter in that they have something in common regarding their expressiveness towards the outside world.   The problem is that the E of the ENTJ or the ENTP is quite different conceptually from the E as in ESFJ (‘SJ’), even though some of the outside behavioral aspects can be close.

Both the ENTJ and the ENTP can be ‘gregarious’ or ‘not shy’, in fact, they can be sometimes overbearing.  They are usually pretty friendly at parties and open to people to some extent, although they don't have to be.   Moreover, if an ENTJ is finding a particular person boring (and that can be in a few seconds), he will find any excuse to exit the scene very quickly or rake the person over the coals, so to make sure that person realizes he is not considered worthy.  So the ENTJ is an ‘E’ with a purpose; they are pragmatic, and their sociability is often contingent.  Sometimes that purpose can be very narrow, such that the common notion of ‘extrovert’ is not well suited for the ENTJ.  The same is true with the ENTP.   The ENTP often appears like an ESTP, always invested in having an interesting time.  The difference is that the ENTP is looking for new experiences, and mainly new IDEAS or some way to promote his IDEAS, so those who don't help in this endeavor are quickly cast off.  That is, the ENTP is an ‘E’ with an interest (outer-directed might be a better term), and that specific interest often being so narrow that the term ‘extrovert’ is misleading. Although in casual acquaintance they appear to be ‘extroverted’.

The other obvious difference between Myers and Keirsey is the classification and characterization of the concrete types.  Isabel concentrated on the sixteen types, not making a major distinction between Ns and Ss in certain type groupings (such as the Thinking Types and Feeling Types).  On the other hand, Keirsey finds the distinction as being major.

Second cut of the Ss
(Myers or Jung never thought of using different criteria for different parts of the tree, because they didn't view it as a tree)
SPs  Keirsey called them ‘Artisans’
SJs  Keirsey called them ‘Guardians’

If one is primarily viewing the world in terms of ‘percepts’ (nature supplied or environment supplied) then the issue of what to do with those percepts, based on experience, is crucial.  Hence, you can either take it in based on experience and experienced judgment (SJ) or just take it in with no judgment and just react to it based on experience or what looks good at the time (SP).

The problem with both Keirsey and Myers characterizing personality for a particular individual is in both the complexity of the individual and the myriad of circumstances that effect the individual: its hard to apply general descriptions to some specific examples.  General descriptions are just that, and other important aspects that can confuse the issue of ‘temperament’ are the areas of intelligence (smartness and goodness) and madness (badness and stupidity), which are two subjects that will be addressed in Keirsey's forthcoming books: Temperament and Talent, and Dark Escape.

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