Carl Gustav Jung v Jungian Psychometrics

For as long as anyone can remember people have been attempting to categorize and measure human behaviour, temperament and preferences. Perhaps the oldest system was devised by oriental astrologers, who classified character according to the four elements - water, earth, air and fire, which they then linked to astronomic constellations.

Around 400 years BC the Greek physician Hippocrates was the first person to incorporate a concept of temperament in medicine. He believed certain human moods, emotions and behaviours were caused by an excess or lack of body fluids; blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm, which resulted in the four humors; phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic.

Over the centuries many philosophers and physicians have proposed various theories but arguably the most influential work was that of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961). Jung's 1921 book Psychological Types set new standards as it was the first time anyone had defined temperament from the perspective of the person rather than from that of the observer.

In 1944 Jung's work was popularised by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers who together devised what eventually became known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The amazing success of the MBTI has led to the development of numerous other so-called 'Jungian' psychometric instruments.

Outside of academic circles, most people's exposure to the work of Carl Jung is therefore through one or more of these profiling tools - MBTI, DISC, Insights etc. This is unfortunate as most people with a knowledge of Jung's work would probably agree that they offer a very limited perspective on what Jung viewed as a highly complex subject. There are two major reasons I suggest this:

1: The Role of the Unconscious

A large part of Jung's work focused on what he described as the role of the unconscious. Gary Lachman, writing in the Huffington Post says; "For Jung, the unconscious was a positive, life-giving part of our psyche and we ignored it at our peril"1. Unfortunately though, all the so called Jungian psychometric instruments, from the MBTI onwards, have done exactly that - they have all ignored the unconscious mind. As the highly respected German psychologist Hans Eysenck wrote "[The MBTI] creates 16 personality types which are said to be similar to Jung's theoretical concepts. I have always found difficulties with this identification, which omits one half of Jung's theory (he had 32 types, by asserting that for every conscious combination of traits there was an opposite unconscious one). Obviously the latter half of his theory does not admit of questionnaire measurement, but to leave it out and pretend that the scales measure Jungian concepts is hardly fair to Jung."2

This omission, combined with the fact that the MBTI achieved widespread application in human resource departments the world over, has contributed to many organisations grossly underplaying the role that unconscious elements, such as instinct and 'gut-feelings', can play in organisational effectiveness. As an example, there is a manufacturing plant in the UK where each day begins with a stand-up meeting between the factory manager and the various section heads. At these meetings all words that are not logic or fact-based are banned. For example, it would not be deemed acceptable to say, "the mood in the paint shop didn't feel right this morning". As a result, the work environment is lacking in what people today often refer to as 'emotional intelligence'. Contrast this with companies like Nike where the 'Just Do It' marketing slogan is also, as ex-employee Kevin Carroll describes in his book Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, the philosophy by which they run the company. At Nike, Carroll's job was to inspire. What a great job! How many organisations do you know who employ someone whose sole purpose is to inspire people?

Jung described the unconscious mind as being the source of our instinct, and as being the "foundations of consciousness". In attempting to explain the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness he describes how an instinct can "cease to be subliminal" as it "rises above the threshold of consciousness" to become a "lucky idea" or a "hunch"3.

For example, if you feel hungry and walk to the kitchen to get yourself something to eat, this is obviously a conscious act, yet it was your 'unconscious' brain regions that informed you that you required nourishment.

Although Jung's explanations of the unconscious are somewhat cumbersome, modern scanning technologies reveal that his theories and assumptions were largely correct. Today we know that the brain regions associated with Jung's unconscious processing reside in the area the American neuroscientist Paul MacLean described as the 'Reptilian Complex'4, so named as these are the parts of the brain that MacLean suggested we have in common with reptiles.

In evolutionary terms these parts of our brains are also the oldest and we know that the information from our senses that we are consciously aware of passes through these lower brain structures before reaching the area of our brain where our conscious thoughts are processed. Furthermore, brain scans reveal that for many thoughts and actions these lower-brain regions 'light up' as well as the regions required for conscious thought. What is less clear is the extent to which our unconscious mind is involved in the things we think of as being purely rational decisions. On this subject Jung wrote:

" has to admit that only too often a man's unconscious makes a far stronger impression on an observer than his consciousness does, and that his actions are of considerably more importance than his rational intentions."5.

An interesting study conducted in Israel and published in 2011 appears to support Jung's observation. The study followed eight Israeli judges for ten months as they ruled on over 1,000 applications made by prisoners to parole boards. Despite the fact that the judges were trained to base their decisions on purely objective criteria, the researchers found that they were more likely to grant applications soon after they had eaten breakfast or lunch, and that their clemency declined as the day wore on and reached a low point just before they retired for food6.

To simply ignore the unconscious mind is therefore to overlook a significant element of the human psyche.

2: The Pretence of Accuracy

Validation is the process whereby instruments such as the ones we have described in this article are tested to establish whether they do in fact do what they claim. Most psychometric instrument producers see this as being extremely important because they inevitably make bold claims for their products; such as that they can be used to identify ideal candidates for jobs. On the Insights website they describe this validated quality as follows: "Due to the rigorous testing of the validity and reliability of the model, when you complete an evaluator you know that it's an accurate assessment of your unique preferences."7. On the Myers-Briggs website they claim that the validation process means that they "...should be able to use MBTI type to understand and predict people's behaviour"8.

I have always had a problem with these types of claims as it seems fanciful to believe that any standardized questionnaire could accurately account for the preferences or predict the behaviours of every individual on the planet's surface. Furthermore, to claim that any such process is following in the footsteps of Carl Jung is to totally misrepresent his work. As Jung himself observed:

" can never give a description of type, no matter how complete, that would apply to more than one individual, despite the fact that in some ways it aptly characterizes thousands of others."9

This quotation from Jung also highlights a fundamental problem with the validation process itself; namely that validation studies are always conducted using aggregated data while the instruments are applied to individuals. For example, when looking at aggregated data for the UK it is a fact that men are taller than women. If I devised a questionnaire that asked a person their gender and in the responses assigned them a height of either 'tall' or 'short' based on whether they had responded 'male' or 'female', the questionnaire would pass any validation test as the aggregated data would support the hypothesis even though the result would be clearly idiotic, as it is self-evident that some women are taller than some men.
The point is that no matter how many validation studies have been undertaken and no matter how robust a questionnaire is, whenever someone completes it the sample size is always one - which means that no individual feedback report has any statistical validation whatsoever! A point that Jung himself also made when he wrote:

"However simple and clear the fundamental principle of the two opposing attitudes may be, in actual reality they are complicated and hard to make out, because every individual is an exception to the rule." [Emphasis added]

Later in the same paragraph he added:

"Conformity is one side of a man, uniqueness is the other. Classification does not explain the individual psyche."10 [Emphasis added]

On a personal note, a friend of mine recently told me how he was once asked to complete a psychometric questionnaire as part of an interview he attended for a project management role with a large consultancy company. He was not offered the job on the grounds that the interviewers felt the resultant profile suggested he would not be very good at managing detail - a key requirement in any project management role.

As he freely admits, keeping track of the detail is the part of the job he least enjoys, but that does not mean that he is no good at it. In actual fact, my friend worked with me in the IT industry for many years and was widely recognised as one of our best project managers.

But was Carl Jung right?

So far in this article I have written under the assumption that Carl Jung was right; but is that the case, or do the producers of the various Jungian psychometric instruments have a case that their interpretation of 'Jungian psychology' is in fact more accurate than the interpretation of Jung himself? After all, all of the psychometric instruments post-date Jung's work and could conceivably have advanced Jung's theories.

Psychology is similar to philosophy in that it is a subject which represents people's opinions and interpretations. Since human psychology is far more complex than human language it does not easily lend itself to simplistic definitions, and certainly not to the type of binary definitions frequently adopted by many psychometric instruments. Indeed, when Jung himself was asked why he defined his typology with four terms rather than more or less, his response was that they merely served as reference points in much the same way as latitude and longitude operate in geography. In Psychological Types he wrote:

"The four functions are somewhat like the four points of the compass; they are just as arbitrary and just as indispensable. Nothing prevents our shifting the cardinal points as many degrees as we like in one direction or the other, or giving them different names. It is merely a question of convention and intelligibility."11

Therefore, it is more difficult to be critical of Jung than the psychometric tools that purport to be based on his teachings, as he saw his work as providing more generalised guidelines, whereas the producers of the various psychometric instruments frequently make claims that are far more specific.

Jung is also revered by numerous people who have a far better understanding of the value of his work than I do. For example, in the 2002 publication 'The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century' Carl Jung was ranked 23rd12, Wikepedia say "His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies."13. The New York Times referred to his Red Book as "The Holy Grail of the Unconscious"14 and he even appeared on the cover of the famous 1967 Beatles album 'Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.

On the other hand, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the best know and best-selling of the Jungian psychometric instruments, is largely ignored by the world of psychology15, was described in Psychology Today as being "about as useful as a polygraph for detecting lies"16 and in her book 'The Cult of Personality Testing' Annie Murphy Paul cites one observer who described the MBTI as "An act of irresponsible armchair philosophy."17

I have to admit that my own view is not as sanguine as that of Annie Murphy Paul. For many people the simple act of completing a psychometric questionnaire and receiving the feedback is beneficial as, regardless of the quality of the output, it provided the stimulus for thinking about their personal preferences and approach. However, if the person providing the debrief is not sufficiently aware of the severe limitations and potential inaccuracies of such instruments, there is an ever-present danger that the feedback will be afforded too great a significance and that the terminology and 'labels' will either provide 'excuses' or, worse still, reinforce or create self-limiting beliefs.


Today, the rapidly advancing world of neuroscience is providing more and more insights into the workings of the human brain. Interestingly, many of these insights are providing evidence to support many of Jung's theories, especially in the area of the role of the unconscious mind, whereas the same research is progressively providing evidence undermining many of the claims made by the psychometric industry. As an example, take the claim made by many psychometric instruments, including the MBTI, that if a person is profiled on multiple occasions that the results will be consistent. There are many research studies that prove that this is incorrect and now we have neuroscientific evidence to prove that even the responses of individual neurons can vary according to circumstances.18

As neuroscientific research progresses we are gradually understanding more and more about why, given the enormous similarities in the structure of our brains, we are all individuals with our own personalities, preferences and attitudes. The MiND instrument from MyBrain International is the first profiling instrument to be based on current neuroscientific understanding, which is why it is referred to as a neurometric rather than a psychometric. In the years to come it may be that neuroscientific knowledge will allow for the development of neurometric instruments that offer more extensive insights into areas such as skill and aptitudes, but for now the MiND instrument represents the forefront of profiling in this area and ironically, since Jung was a psychologist and not a neuroscientist, a more accurate representation of the work of Carl Jung than any of the so-called 'Jungian' psychometric instruments.

1 Why Jung Is Important, Gary Lachman, Huffington Post, Feb 2013

2 Genius: The Natural History of Creativity, H J Eysenck, 1995, p179

3 Psychological Types, Carl Jung, 1921, para 180

4 The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, Paul D. MacLean, 1990

5 Psychological Types, Carl Jung, 1921, para 602

6 Extraneous factors in judicial decisions, Shai Danzigera et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2011

7 The Insights Group Limited,

8 The Myers & Briggs Foundation,

9 Psychological Types, Carl Jung, 1921, para 895

10 IBID para 895

11 IBID para 958

12 The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, Review of General Psychology 6 (2): 139-152, Haggbloom et al, 2002

13 Wikipedia

14 The Holy Grail of the Unconscious, Sarah Corbett, New York Times, Sept 2009

15 Nothing personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test, Dean Burnett, The Guardian, March 2013

16 Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won't Die, Adam Grant Ph.D, Psychology Today, Sept 2013

17 The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves, Annie Murphy Paul, 2005, p132

18 A number of studies reveal that neuronal responses to sensory (Zipser et al., 1996; Das and Gilbert, 1999; Rossi et al., 2001; Albright and Stoner, 2002; Herzog and Fahle, 2002; Malone et al., 2002) and emotional (Diamond and Weinberger, 1989; Freeman et al., 1997) stimuli may vary greatly depending on the circumstances, or context, surrounding their presentation.

< Back to list