WARNING: this article may make you feel uncomfortable. For a number of reasons, some indeed inexplicable, the main subject of the article tends to seriously provoke otherwise sensible and rational people. Perhaps in itself a subject for another article another day.
The article is a follow up on a request I made via LinkedIn last year. I asked for volunteers for a private study I was about to conduct concerned with comparing psychometric assessments with the corresponding birth charts. It has been, and certainly still is, a very fascinating study, which I have now partially concluded. The results are quite extraordinary. Should you wish to participate, feel free to contact me via email@example.com. There’s still room in my database.
MBTI, Hogan, Big Five, FIRO-B, Predictive Index, DISC, PeopleTools and many, many more. The use of pre-employment personality profiling is steadily increasing. There are obvious reasons for this development, one being the ever-growing importance of hiring the right person for the job, another a very human trait of getting it done relatively smoothly without putting too much of a strain on your HR department.
Simply put, psychometrics, a branch of behavioural psychology generally devoted to testing, measurement, assessment, and related activities, is aimed at figuring out how a person behaves in certain situations and circumstances. When used in a hiring process then by extension whether those behavioural traits are a good fit for the job in question.
There is quite a lot more to some of these methods, notably the cognitive assesments, that is, an advanced intelligence test with more built-in fluidity and more measuring points than a traditional IQ test, forming an integral part of the assessment for those specific methods. However, the subject for this article is the personality assessment part.
So, do these psychometric personality assessments work? Why are they so popular? Do they appeal to something deep within us?
One path to follow in an attempt to answer those questions is very obvious, albeit not very common and in fact the very path that I warned you about before you started reading this article. That path will take us back to well before Sir Francis Galton (1822 – 1911), the English polymath who is generally considered to be the father of psychometrics.
However, we’ll start out by focusing on an individual who actually lived long after Sir Galton had passed away and who managed to establish the connections to the ancient roots from which psychometrics, and indeed psychology itself, arose. Notably, in 1921, he published the book “Psychological Types” that was to become the foundation of modern-day personality profiling. In particular one of the most widely used psychometric assessment methods, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI. This method readily admits its debt to the author of “Psychological Types”, Carl Gustav Jung (1875 –1961) already in the opening sentence on the front page of their website by stating that the purpose of MBTI is “to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives”.
So, where and how did Jung arrive at his four basic personality types: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuitive?
You don’t have to study Jung for very long before realising that he was drawing on ancient sources to a very large degree and was keenly interested in old knowledge traditions such as alchemy and astrology. Jung was actually himself a capable astrologer, even if he mostly let his daughter, Gret, perform the tedious calculation work. Jung’s wife, Emma Jung, was also a practicing astrologer making up for a whole family very much involved in astrology as hundreds of hand-drawn horoscopes found in Jung’s personal archives have confirmed. As a matter of fact, you can just read his collected works to appreciate how much astrology meant to him and his work including making extensive use of astrology in his work with psychiatric clients. That element in his work and general practice has largely been suppressed by scholars studying him, but it came into full view when his famous Red Book, or Liber Novus, was finally published in 2009. An astrological take on this book has been laid forward by Liz Greene in her 2018 published book, “The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus”. Read with that perspective in mind, the book makes a whole lot of sense whereas without it, you are sometimes hard pressed to understand what is going on. He rather consistently uses his own horoscope as a frame of reference for his experiences in the semi-subconscious world of the book.
Two fundamental things in the ancient sources Jung studied are of particularly interest here. The four elements and the four temperaments. The four elements, Fire, Earth, Air, and Water can be traced back to ancient societies in Persia, Babylonia, Japan, India, and of course Greece where the pre-Socratics formulated them in more precise terms. That was later taken up by Aristotle and also incorporated into astrology where they still form one of the basic building blocks. A fifth factor, Aether, was also introduced by Aristotle (even if he didn’t use that term), a factor that in some ways resemble some of modern physics’ findings like e.g. dark energy. The four temperaments, or humours, stem back from at least Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) who described them as part of the ancient medical concept of humourism stating that four bodily fluids affect human personality traits and behaviours. How do those two concepts, elements and temperaments, correspond with Jung’s personality types?
The Intuitive type is the most difficult to understand, which Jung himself acknowledged. However, according to him, the type is probably best illustrated by thinking of a person who acts before he/she thinks. A person who perceives rather than knows of the potential in many situations where a more thoughtful or sensitive person would simply refrain from taking any action. Jung’s explanation very clearly correlates this personality type with traits traditionally assigned to the element of Fire. Hardly a coincidence.
For obvious reasons (he was very protective of his reputation and already at that time, official science was very touchy when it came to old knowledge traditions such as astrology), Jung never officially acknowledged that the four elements and the four temperaments were at the very core of his personality types. However, the above grid makes perfect sense to anyone with just a superficial knowledge of astrology. I am quite confident that it is not possible to refute the direct link here between the ancient concepts and Jung’s personality types. And hence between the ancient concepts and the 16 MBTI personality types.
Can you then take the next step and connect other psychometric analysis methods with Jung’s personality types? My answer is, yes you can. Why? Because almost all of them focus on four or five personality traits that are just too close in meaning to those four elements and temperaments for it to be a mere coincidence. Even for the systems with more than four or five traits, you can relatively easily break them down into four or five core elements. Modern psychology has not invented these traits. They were already there waiting to be dressed up in modern-day language and scientific terms. Today, they are almost always derided as superstitious or old remnants of magic. And herein lies perhaps the most fundamental answer to the question why these assessments are so popular. They speak to something in our innermost nature, our collective psyche as Jung would have put it. Something we all feel an instinctive familiarity with because it has always been there.
One example: a well-known personality assessment method, DISC, specifies these four personality traits: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance. It is practically a 1:1 correlation with the elements of Fire, Air, and Earth (covering the two latter DISC traits). The element of Water seems to be missing, but it has to be kept in mind that many of the psychometric assessment methods were developed at a time when the personality traits correlating with Water (e.g. empathy, emotions, compassion) were not necessarily considered important in work situations. Other methods do indeed incorporate the Water traits, for example Predictive Index with a factor E, a fifth factor in their system introduced later than their initial four factors, supporting the notion that Water traits were not originally part of the equation as it were.
Together with my wife, I have published an article (in Danish) in two parts in the Danish astrology magazine, “Stjernerne”, where the first part is concerned with how Jung most probably arrived at defining his personality types and from which sources and how his findings defined the basics for MBTI and other methods as outlined here.
The second part of the article takes it a step further and compares the psychometric personality profiles of two of our astrological clients with their respective horoscopes. There are only two examples in the article due to space issues, however, we have several more examples in our database.
With psychometric methods aimed at specific purposes, they obviously have some limitations compared to the much more all-encompassing horoscope. A few of the main differences and similarities are listed here:
- Every human being is unique. In other words, there are 7.6 billion different horoscopes for people alone. All other methods attempt to put people in pre-defined boxes to varying degrees.
- The personal history – childhood, dreams, fears, potentials – is latent in the horoscope, not in a psychometric assessment.
- The timing element. When is the right time for a job or career change, moving, buying or selling house, and general personal development? This is probably astrology’s single biggest advantage compared with all other methods.
- The capacity for empathy and sensitivity is reflected in both the horoscope and a high-quality personality assessment.
- A psychometric assessment can be manipulated if the candidate has some knowledge about the theory behind. A horoscope cannot.
- A horoscope is very complex and demands an interpreter – the astrologer – and the candidate is hence dependent on the astrologer’s knowledge, experience and possible biases. Psychometric assessments are more neutral; however, the result of an assessment is ideally conveyed to the candidate by a certified practitioner in that specific method resulting in some of the same challenges as for the astrologer performing a reading for a client.
Since the horoscope can reveal practically anything about a person, we have attempted to limit and adjust the method of interpreting the corresponding horoscopes to obtain a meaningful comparison between the personality profile and the horoscope. That has been done by focusing on those elements of the horoscope traditionally recognised as important when you are dealing with work and career, e.g. interpersonal skills, introversion vs extroversion, level of ambition, and several more.
Henrik Bisbo – D.F.Astrol.S (and certified practitioner in some of the most widely used psychometric assessment methods)
1.See for example this article from 3 March 2020 (in Danish): https://jyllands-posten.dk/premium/erhverv/karriere/ECE11978588/klar-til-test-din-nye-arbejdsgiver-vil-kende-hele-dig/
3. The four basic types add up to 16 when considering each of the four types expressed as either introverted or extroverted and subsequently as conscious or subconscious. These are not quite the same as MBTI’s 16 types.
4. For Jung’s interest in and work with astrology see Liz Greene: ”Jung’s Studies in Astrology” and ”The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus”