How personality types drive social dynamics

4 Mins read

MBTI has taken the Internet by storm, rooted in the social circles of young people.

In the past two years, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has sparked extensive discussions and attention in many countries; the popularity of this system has reached an incredible extent, with strings of codes gradually becoming a common “self-introduction” for many young people.

“I enjoy self-examination as a process of achieving self-construction. MBTI has made me more comfortable and confident in social situations,” said Lexy, a master’s student in advertising from Southampton. She met me during our internship and was fascinated by MBTI, often sharing posts she found on Weibo and Red Book.

Two years ago, Lexy was attending university in Shanghai, but due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was confined to her home. Most of her time each day was spent scrolling through her phone.

By chance, she came across the MBTI test on Weibo. Her result at that time was INFP (introverted, sensitive, self-conscious). Since MBTI wasn’t a trend back then, she didn’t pay much attention, just remembering the result.

Last year, a report in the Korean ‘Central Daily’ dubbed MBTI as the “21st-century fortune-telling craze.” There’s even a reality show called “MBTI INSIDE,” gathering 16 different personality types to compare differences between MBTI types, sparking extensive discussions.

Similarly, in China, MBTI-related terms frequently trend on social media platforms. The hashtag #MBTI# on Weibo has been used more than 3.1 billion times.

Many Gen-Z internet users put their MBTI type in their social media profiles or actively post to find friends with the same or compatible types.

Despite the existence of scientifically-valid personality tests, MBTI remains a tool for self-expression and emotional connection among today’s youth.

The MBTI defines 16 types of personality [instagram: @inidigo_academy]

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality type theory model developed by American writer Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs.

It categorises people’s personalities into 16 types, each with unique characteristics and behavioural patterns. The fundamental distinction lies between ‘E’ for Extrovert and ‘I’ for Introvert.

After answering test questions in the latest version, people receive a report detailing their personality type and its interpretation.

This report describes the personality type in terms of strengths, weaknesses, intimate relationships, social relationships, and career paths, outlining a set of personality portraits like ENTJ (Commander) and ISFP (Mediator).

Why has MBTI sparked a social craze?

As Henry Jenkins, a researcher of fan culture studies stated: “Such new participatory cultures have relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced members pass along knowledge to novices. Members believe that their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another.”

In reality, young people face multiple pressures, including a competitive job market, rising unemployment rates, skyrocketing housing prices, and toxic workplace culture. These factors lead them to seek an understanding of their personality traits through MBTI, finding self-identity and comfort.

While pursuing her Master’s degree, Lexy noticed that MBTI had become a widely discussed topic online, so she decided to take the test again, and the results revealed that she belonged to the ENFP (enthusiastic, sociable): “I take pride in being an ENFP. I feel really happy when I become more extroverted. I feel happier than before,” she says.

Socially, Lexy often observes her friends’ behaviours to speculate about their MBTI types. After confirming their types, she discovered a preference for interacting with ‘J’ individuals (Judgers), as their strong planning and execution skills complement her more spontaneous nature.

“As a ‘P’ person (Perceptive), I am more casual about things, but the ‘J’ person’s methodical approach to things makes people feel at ease. When I travel with my ENFJ (passionate, reliable) friend, she always plans everything. Precise scheduling of every activity, searching for good restaurants, and checking reservations. So, there are rarely any unexpected situations when we go out.”

Social Status of ENFP [instagram: @takealookiti ]

In addition to the basic four letters, MBTI results are often displayed with a ‘T’ or ‘A’ appended, such as ENFP-A or ENFP-T. Lexy mentioned this in particular during the conversation with me: “I used to ignore it because nobody discussed it, but now I think it has more value than I imagined.”

‘T’ and ‘A’ represent the results of the Identity scale. ‘A’ stands for Assertive personality trait, indicating you are more confident but may perform worse under pressure. ‘T’ stands for Turbulent personality trait, meaning you handle stress well but tend to pursue perfection.

“I belong to ENFP-T. This personality type isn’t as talkative as ENFP-A and tends to oscillate between extroversion and introversion, deliberately avoiding conflicts and arguments in social situations,” she explained.

When an ENFP is in a comfortable environment, they display the confidence of an ‘A’ type, but in a suppressive environment, they exhibit the restraint of a ‘T’ type. These two states co-exist and switch with changing environments.

“When I was in school, every group project went very well. But now at work, there are often conflicts between my colleagues. I can’t enjoy working with them and feel they’re like ticking time bombs. I shrink into the corner every day to avoid drawing attention,” Lexy admitted.

”I understand the endowments and flaws of each type. The colleague who often causes controversy is the ENTJ (bold, strong-willed leader, outspoken), which is like the portrait of this type of ‘Commander’. So I will also talk less to her directly.”

“Labeling” as a shortcut to communication

When people fervently label themselves and try to gain understanding, they also form stereotypes about themselves in the eyes of others.

Xiaoyan, hailing from China and a graduate of UCL’s Department of Psychological Education, holds a more rational perspective on MBTI. At the recommendation of her friends, she took the MBTI test.

“I don’t think MBTI is very scientific, but it’s a great social tool. Sharing your MBTI can reduce the explanation cost and help quickly understand each other. In unfamiliar situations, when I knew our MBTI was different, I would suddenly reconcile when confronted with behaviour that was incomprehensible to me,” she said.

Xiaoyan also mentioned the “Barnum effect” in psychology: People easily believe a vague, general personality description and think it perfectly fits their personality, searching for logic within it, just like astrology.

“MBTI is more of a reaction to inner projections, some people live in their own ‘characters,’ so they use statements from astrology or MBTI to confirm their characters,” Xiaoyan said.

People don’t want to be labelled or have their lives defined one-sidedly. However, they fear being entirely label-less, becoming a “transparent person.”

MBTI is just another hat people wear to show themselves to the world. Interpersonal relationships are not merely a simple exchange of labels.

To truly understand oneself and others objectively in social interactions, one still needs to invest in real-world exploration, not determine their social choices and ways based on a single test result.

You can participate in the MBTI test through this link.

Featured image by Amir Ridhwan via Shutterstock

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