People Sorting – another interview with Merve Emre

In mid 2018, Jessica Gross visited Merve Emre in New Haven and interviewed her for Longreads.com. They discussed the MBTI and their own personal history of friendship, leading to the question, if the MBTI is predicated on the understanding that a person’s personality type never changes, how does one account for personal evolution? A brief excerpt of that interview follows below.


Jessica Gross: One of the dangers you point to [in your new book, What’s Your Type?] is the way the indicator promotes a dichotomous way of thinking about human beings: are you like this, or like that? Do you prefer this, or do you prefer that? Along each of the four dimensions you are classed as either one thing, or the other. It seems there is a danger to inculcating black-and-white thinking in this way.

Merve Emre: I completely agree with you. I think the indicator does teach you to speak in its language—which is one of the things that’s greatly appealing about it. So even if you don’t believe your results, you still walk away from it having internalized this new vocabulary of thinking about the self and of thinking about other people. There are so many caveats in the MBTI training sessions about this question of dichotomies—they say there are degrees of the different preferences, so I might be a strong extravert and someone else might be a moderate extravert, or someone might be in the middle. But at the end of the day those qualifiers really aren’t getting you away from that dichotomous way of thinking.

And I think the bigger question it raises is, are these even the categories that we should be using to think about human beings? And to what extent have these categories, which were worked out in fairly complicated and nuanced ways, become so morphed by the uptake of the indicator in corporate environments, specifically, that they have come to mean completely different things? It’s striking to me that now when we talk about introverts what we basically mean are people who are quiet, which has nothing to do with the original definition of introversion and certainly not the definition of introversion that Jung was using, or that Katharine and Isabel were interested in. And that seems to me to be a direct product of the fact that in corporate settings, the quiet introvert is being compared to the loud, boisterous extravert, who is always held up as a kind of entrepreneurial or leadership figure. So it’s not just the problem of the dichotomy, but what specific functions or qualities are being assigned to the different parts of the dichotomy. Even if they were once capable of accommodating some kind of nuance, they have now become completely and deliberately resistant to any kind of nuanced thinking.


This interview was first published by Longreads.com in September 2018. It can be read in full here.

Our next event takes place on the 3rd June 2019 and we are thrilled to be welcoming Dr. Merve Emre to speak about her new book, What’s Your Type? Over the course of the evening, we will unpack questions around why personality tests are so popular and what their ongoing appeal says about humanity’s desire to define and label themselves. Dr. Emre will also be answering questions and signing books.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Book Tickets

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