Home Lifestyle Swipe for your type? How one personality test is changing dating

Swipe for your type? How one personality test is changing dating

If you’ve been on dating apps in the last few years, swiping right and left in the hopes of a good match or at least a good time, you’ve probably seen it. In the bios there’s often a four-letter abbreviation: ENFJ, INTP and the like. It’s not a degree or accomplishment. It’s the result of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Your potential partner is hoping to hack dating.

Think of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a kind of Sorting Hat for non-magical adults. It uses a 90-point questionnaire measuring extraversion (E) or introversion (I); sensing (S) or intuition (N); thinking (T) or feeling (F); and judging (J) or perceiving (P). Your responses place you in one of 16 distinct types, with a corresponding four-letter acronym that comes with an upbeat title such as “virtuoso” or “commander”. There are no bad results. But unlike the Sorting Hat, which takes your preference into account, the questionnaire relies only on itself.

More than 2.5 million people take the MBTI assessment every year. Myers-Briggs-certified professionals, typically consultants and counsellors, coaches and therapists, administer the tests for large workforces so employers can hone in on strengths and capabilities. Some individuals pay $50 to take the test online, directly from the Myers & Briggs Foundation. A vast number simply try the dozens of free versions available and zip through the 90 questions in a few minutes for an instant four-letter result.

It’s when that result ends up on a dating profile that the confusion begins. “The MBTI is a tool of professional assessment. Any proper assessment should include a one-on-one session with the coach, who will analyse your other traits,” says Venkatesh Athreya, a corporate trainer and certified Myers-Briggs test administrator. “Online, you could end up thinking you lack the qualities that are missing in your results. But humans are too complex, their personalities too impressive, to fit neatly into 16 categories. Anyone using it as a template to find a partner will be disappointed.”

Even in the corporate world, the test falls short. While countless scientific studies find introversion and extroversion to be real human traits, no human is strictly one or the other. Most of us fall somewhere in-between, depending on the situation. Worse, none of the other MBTI categories are binaries. Our thinking doesn’t take away our ability to feel. We can judge and perceive in equal measure. Those who sense are fully capable of intuition too.

“Each of us is more than four letters,” Athreya says.

Gaming the system

For those hoping to stand out in the sea of options on a dating app, though, the MBTI type can be a useful marker of identity. Vasanth SR, a 29-year-old marketing analyst, has added his result, INTJ, to his profiles on Bumble, Hinge and two other match-making sites. “I took the official test at work in 2019,” he says. “An INTJ personality is rare. It identifies me as a shy, quick-thinking problem-solver. At best, it helps the swiping women understand that I’m not an outgoing, creative, emotional guy. At the least, it offers more useful data than my sun sign, and it’s a conversation-starter.”

The markers are being used by algorithms in the dating world too. Most introverts, for instance, think they’d match well with a gregarious person who mirrors all their other dominant traits, and the algorithm can be taught to use the four-letter tags to suggest matches accordingly. This formula has served So Syncd so well, the six-month-old American dating app recently raised more than $1 million in funding.

“Use it as a starting point, but don’t pick a partner based on it,” advises Athreya. “Even within a type like ENTJ, people are so different, ever-changing. If you’re hoping to minimise conflict in a relationship, you must remember that conflict is part of a relationship anyway, regardless of how many personality tests you try.”

The backlash is here already, mostly from women who are fed up of seeing the four-letter alphabet soup all over men’s dating profiles. Vasanth once came across a woman whose bio read: “If you’re INTJ, I’m LMAO.” He reached out to her. She didn’t reply.

Assessing the Myers-Briggs test

In 1926, psychology researchers Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Briggs expanded Carl Jung’s personality elements (sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking) in an effort to help people find happiness by understanding themselves, their preferences and motivations.

By 1942, Briggs Myers had developed the Type Indicator system for career-placement purposes.

In the ’70s, amid a booming American economy and growing workforce, the test became a quick way to assess employee strengths, identify leadership capabilities and figure out who’d be best suited to new roles. Many Fortune 500 companies and IT firms still use the MBTI.

The official test is available in 29 languages and is the most widely used personality assessment tool in the world, even though psychologists have long stopped using it.

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