A Dangerous Misconception

This last week has been one of frantic e-mail exchanges and posts made on group sites and pages that have as their topic the on Jung, Myers-Briggs or Keirsey based personality type differences (the psychological types) that define and explain everything that motivates and influences every person.

I initiated this action in response to an article found on healthline.com that, in an effort to describe ‘antisocial-personality disorder’, referred to some of the psychological types as “abnormal”:

“Every person’s personality is unique. However, social scientists have identified distinct characteristics of personalities that can be assigned to specific categories.

One common way to label personalities is with the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI lists 16 types of personalities. Some types are considered abnormal. People who have those types have a mental health condition known as a personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is one type of these disorders.”The symptoms of this condition tend to worsen during late teenage years to early twenties. Treatment may help improve symptoms. Symptoms can improve with age for some people, allowing them to feel and act better by the time they reach their forties.

The article (www.healthline.com/health/antisocial-personality-disorder) displays a gross ignorance of the type differences and of the basic principles of the theory and sparked many furious reactions of those perfectly normal types that were in essence being called psychopaths.

My own first response was to write to Healthline and then to alert every psychological type friendly Facebook and LinkedIn group to this misconception – the latter generated much support and many also decided to write to Healthline with the request they correct their mistake.

Healthline itself responded to me within two days with a link to a scientific study by some members of the University of Colorado (http://www.linkedin.com/redirect?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Euccs%2Eedu%2FDocuments%2Fdsegal%2FAn-empirical-investigation-Jungs-types-and-PD-features-JPT-2%2Epdf&urlhash=pxps&_t=tracking_disc) on which the article was based, which implied that they consider the conclusions of the article (since it was based on an academic study) by definition correct. This is itself an assumption since the writer of the article drew conclusions over and beyond the conclusions of the article. Additionally, I also found that the study itself has many flaws that make its value questionable.

The article is flawed, not only because it shows a complete ignorance with regard the psychological types and the theory behind it, but also  because of the conclusion it draws, since it goes on to mention that ASPD  is being treated with medication or CBT, which implies that it is not a personality type but a temporary condition (as the types are inborn), and that some types “are considered abnormal”, which implies that either the MBTI makes this distinction or the study does, neither of which is true. By ‘abusing’ the word  ”personality” (see blog post The Abuse of Personality) the writer confuses inborn dispositions with a mental illnesses.

The study, on which Healthline says the article is based, is also using many assumptions:

The title of the study is “An Empirical Investigation of Jung’s Psychological Types and Personality Disorder Features”, although its bibliography does not list any of Jung’s works at all and only has the CCP Manual to the use of the Myers-Briggs Indicator, but no reference to any other books that explain the types nor to Isabel Myers or David Keirsey.

The sample they use for their study consisted of people recruited by psychology students, which implies they already had a certain outcome in mind and certain beliefs with regard what is accepted as human nature – most academic psychology department do not acknowledge multiple types of people – which is a result of the “brain story theory” currently accepted in the academic world (see my blog post The Black and White of Grey Matter).

The conclusion that there is a correlation between the characteristics they attribute to “personality disorders” and the MBTI personality trait descriptions is nothing new to any person who understands what the psychological types are about. Jung himself already made a study of psychological types in relation to psychiatric disorders, because that is how he got to the idea in the first place. The difference is that Jung and his followers consider personality differences healthy and acceptable differences in normal people, while the researchers consider these differences unhealthy.

The study makes a caveat that advices further investigation since

“Jungian types were not verified by any instrument other than the MBTI and personality disorders or their features were not verified by any instrument other than the CATI. In addition, both instruments are self-report….”

Of course, self-report is the only possible manner of measuring types and the mention that personality disorders are based on self-report may be unavoidable for the same reason, at which point it becomes a question of who accepts that what they experience is a sign of abnormality and label themselves thus and who chooses to explain what they experience as a type trait.

This ‘choice’ in turn depends on the personality type of the people involved. Some types are keen to trust authority or popular views and other types choose to make their own assessments.

The study also states that “Lifetime prevalence rates for personality disorders in the general population are estimated to range from 8% to 13%… The present sample was expected to have sufficient levels of personality disorder traits or features in order to conduct the present investigation”.

Thus, the study set out with the assumption that the disorders listed in the DSM-IV (because it has an official name) are objective facts rather than a collection of traits that are given a special name when sufficient people are found that match the description, forgetting that most people making these descriptions do so because they have learned that they exist as a fact. In other words, the more popular or accepted a ‘disorder’ becomes, the more people will either self-report having it or label others thus, on which, in turn, the existence of the disorder is based.

The sample used is that of the general population (“The present sample is limited by a non-clinical sample of convenience”)  and not of clinically ill psychiatric patients, yet the study is happy to assign certain types with “schizotypal” (a new fancy word for “psychotic”) and “antisocial” (which used to  be called “sociopath” or “psychopath”) and a whole range of descriptions that used to be considered “neurotic”.

However, such descriptions of syndromes used to refer to temporary problems (like depression), but are now suddenly referred to as “lifetime prevalence”, which is confusing the state of unwell being (of real depression) with a melancholic disposition, which, indeed , fits certain types more – even if not the ones the study mentions, and is making the same mistake as the writer of the article, mentioned above.

The study mentions that “Psychopathological MBTI poles were clearly more likely to be introversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving” –  which ironically describes among others Jung himself, Einstein, Bill Gates,  Kant and David Keirsey and most any academic who chooses theoretical physics or computer programming, while the ASPD label would include people like Benjamin Franklin, Churchill, Socrates, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and Richard Branson.

My point is that the intent of the study was to accept personality disorders as a given and use the MBTI as a way of recognizing them, rather than the other way around – as in acknowledging the differences and then note that some types may be more sensitive to certain problems, which is what Jung did. The difference is that the former attitude predetermines that being melancholic, short tempered,  not practical, not inclined to express one’s feelings, and preferring one’s own company is by definition pathological and that the MBTI is merely an “instrument” that can help  find and treat these ‘potential patients or sociopaths’.

Therefore, the most important issue have with the study is that it claims to ‘know’ personality type theory, yet it totally omits to allow for the personality type influences of the researchers that influenced the manner in which the sample was collected and the conclusions drawn, as well as for the prevalence of certain types in the population that makes any random sample .

“No matter how open-minded we try to be, our own psychological types influence how positively or negatively we view the traits of others; we are stuck in our own type and nobody can look at other personalities objectively.” (Playing with Natural Talents, Nursery Rhymes and Musical Complement).

Many researchers, especially in academic psychology, are of the J type that measure to one standard and believe that every person should conform to the norm, which leads them to consider other people “abnormal”, so that the conclusion was predetermined , since most academics are of a personality type that prefers to work with categorical standards (as explained in my book Concerto for Mankind).

The other feature most academic psychologists have in common is that they are more likely Fs than Ts, while empirical studies tend to attract more Ss and extraverts are more likely to go out and interview others and to volunteer for such studies than are introverts.

Additionally, any statistics based on volunteers or a random sample of the population is bound to be flawed to begin with (as explained in Concerto for Mankind) since certain types are more common prevalent in the population.

In short, the study is naïve, not original, non-conclusive and based on assumptions.

So, if the correlation is nothing new, then  why the anger?

For two reasons: it justifies discrimination and opens the door to pre-emptive justice

The study itself  is just a study of some people who are only recently waking up to the accuracy of typology. The problem comes with people who write articles to the general public based on such studies and say things like “some of these types are considered abnormal”, as described above, which causes other members of the public or politicians, who have accepted the existence of personality disorders at face value, to conclude that if certain types are more likely to be psychopaths, we should be able to recognize them early and prevent school shootings by removing them.

Though I understand that sentiment, we are now talking pre-emptive justice: the idea that if we medicate or imprison these types before they act we are doing the world a favour.

Hitler (who was an ENFJ, by the way) thought so too: he thought that if most Jews behave in undesirable ways, they should be removed before they could do so.

This is discrimination of the same kind as racism, only unlike skin colour the different personality types are not immediately visible.

Yet it is discrimination of the same kind as is currently exercised in schools, where every child that cannot sit still (due to their absolutely normal personality type) gets tranquillizers like Ritalin and where every child that does not like team sports is labelled “autistic” – without anybody wondering if maybe humans were not meant to sit still in schools for hours on end without being allowed to exercise their individuality, their autonomy or their lateral thinking.

What is flawed is the school system; what is flawed is the academic investigation that has prejudged certain behaviour as abnormal because it is unlike that of the researchers.

I have yet to get a response from Healthline to my request that they allow me to publish a counter article, hence this blog post.

The Abuse of “Personality”

This is about the word “personality”, not the natural tendencies and gifts people are born with, although those might in some cases also be abused.

What concerns me here is the ease with which the word “personality” is used by medical and other ‘experts’ when they refer to a group of characteristics they detect in people – especially problematic characteristics – for which they cannot give an explanation. This is where we get the recent increase in “personality disorders”.

Throughout history there have been disagreements about whether “personality” only refers to the outward behaviour (from Jung’s “persona”) or whether it includes the inner motivations, emotions and unconscious functioning (psychological type) that cause this outward behaviour. The dictionary describes it as “the complex of characteristics that distinguishes a person” or “the totality of an individual’s behavioural and emotional characteristics”.

Half a century ago, in the west, it was largely accepted that personality formed as a result of the environment (behaviourism) and that children came into the world as “empty slates”. That view has been replaced by the idea that children inherit their disposition in part from their parents (DNA) and that the environment has much less of a role to play, while Jung’s psychological type theory, that is almost a century old, states that most of a person’s personality is predisposed and the environment only influences how happy a person learns to be with his inborn self depending on how tolerant it is.

In any case, what we refer to when we are talking about somebody’s personality  is something that is more or less permanent – not as changeable as moods or a stage of life and not as superficial as habits or manners – and includes their inner motivations and natural tendencies.

Implicit in any of the definitions – since they refer to “distinguishable” and “individual” – is the acknowledgement that not every person has the same personality. For both the behaviourist and the DNA-based view, this means that the amount of personalities could be unlimited, while in the Jungian view there are sixteen different types.

So what are personality disorders if inner motivations and tendencies are individual? How do ‘experts’ come to talk about “borderline personality disorder” when they have yet to define the “healthy” personality, since each personality is different – where is the border if there is no territory to circumscribe it?

How do they justify taking a group of behaviours, such as murder and sexual assault, and excuse it as “antisocial personality disorder”?

How do they explain saying that people who present with excessive mood swings are having “bipolar personality disorder”? – And let’s face it, most people who today claim having this disorder, because their doctor or therapist said so, are perfectly normal functioning individuals, who sometimes feel a bit down and at other times a bit happy. I wonder if these doctors or therapists have ever encountered a person with true manic-depressive psychosis, since if they did, they’d not so easily throw those labels around.

And since when do people who develop anxiety due to stress in their life and try to compensate for that with sometimes rigid routines suddenly have “obsessive-compulsive personality disorder”?

Not too long ago, these were called psychiatric disorders, such as psychopathy, psychoses and neuroses, which suggested that a person’s behaviour was ‘abnormal’ due to a certain problem.  What this new terminology suggests is that people who do not behave according to the norm have something wrong with the very core of their person.

If people present with a collection of symptoms that are physical, we call it a syndrome and consider it a temporary state of physical unwellbeing. So why do syndromes of behaviour refer to a permanent personality?

Since when is a temporary emotional problem due to stress and the very demanding life style we have imposed upon ourselves suddenly a personality related problem if a personality is largely inborn?

This misuse of the word “personality” destroys the acknowledgment of the healthy and natural differences (called personalities) in people that can explain our different life styles, moods, coping mechanisms and stress responses without forcing everybody who does not fit the template to start swallowing Ritalin or other behavioural drugs in order to be accepted. This is no different than putting non-conformists in mental institutions so they won’t trouble your social order.

I would like to know how psychologists who say that DNA and environment create different personalities so that “we are all individuals”, justify measuring each person to one psychological standard?

It is so common to meet people who claim having a personality disorder nowadays that the norm has become this tiny little fraction of the population that does not rely on labels to excuse their dissatisfaction with life. In other words the norm has become being “abnormal” – you figure it out.