The 16 Personality Types

How many different personality types are there? Is there even a fixed number? The answer depends on what you mean by the word “type”.

In the psychological study of personality, there are essentially two opposing theories: type theory and trait theory. Both theories use personality traits as a starting point. Trait theory measures each trait on a sliding scale and leaves it at that. But type theory sorts people into a fixed number of groups based on common traits, and then offers insights and takeaways that apply to each group (or “personality type”).

Essentially, trait theory proponents will say that personality is so fluid that you cannot define a fixed number of “types”. By contrast, type theory proponents say there are fixed types and that grouping similar personalities into a fixed buckets is more useful than leaving the matter open-ended.

So what’s our opinion? At The Career Project, we think they’re both right. Certainly people are too varied and complex to accurately define everyone in a limited set of 16 categories. We don’t all fit so neatly into a fixed number of buckets. That said, we can also see the merit in grouping similar personalities together in order to produce actionable takeaways.

In other words: the 16-personality model can be a useful tool for self-reflection, but take it with a grain of salt.

A Hybrid Approach?

The most popular type-based model today is the Myers-Briggs Type Indictor (MBTI). This model used 4 different scales which created a resulting set of 16 distinct, 4-digit personality types. These type acronyms are widely used even outside of the MBTI model. Other models and assessments have since found it convenient to use the same 16 acronyms even as they may have changed aspects of their model or the theoretical underpinnings.

Some popular online tests (discussed below) have settled on a hybrid of elements from both Myers-Briggs and the Big Five trait-based personality model, often keeping the familiar 16 distinct 4-digit acronyms for grouping purposes.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator

The Myer-Briggs Type Indictor (MBTI), introduced by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs in 1957, is arguably the most popular and well-known personality assessment to date. With over 1.5 million people taking the test each year, the MBTI has certainly become well-known and well regarded.

The MBTI is based on the earlier type theory of Carl Jung and measures our behavior, using a self-report method, across four preferences. Our orientation of energy is either extroverted (E), meaning we are energized by our outer world, or introverted (I), meaning we are energized by our inner world.

We either make perceptions using sensing (S), which means we focus on facts and details, or by iNtuition (N), which means we focus on meaning and possibilities. We either make judgement by thinking (T), which means we focus on analysis and reasoning. Or, by feeling (F), which means we focus on our emotions and values. Finally, we our orientation to the outer world is either judging (J), which means we prefer structure and planning, or perceiving (P), which means we prefer spontaneity and flexibility.

From these we can be placed into one of 16 distinct personality types, such as “INTP” or “ESFJ”. These 16 types all have their own unique characteristics, strengths, weaknesses and areas for self-development. According to the theory, we can only be one of these unique types and our type does not change throughout the course of our lives.

Yet, despite the popularity, the MBTI receives some heavy criticism from academics. The reliability and validity are questionable, and many argue that there is little use for it in predicting organizational outcomes. However, personality is difficult to measure, and these conclusions are common for most personality assessments and not just MBTI.

Despite the criticisms, the MBTI can provide a lot of insight into our personality and aids us in recognizing tendencies in ourselves. Like all personality assessments, it allows us to self-reflect and further understand our likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, possible career preferences and compatibility with others ? both on a professional and personal level.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter

David Keirsey presented his theory on personality in his 1978 book, Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types. Keirsey’s approach looks similar to Myers-Briggs on the surface, and indeed it was influenced by the Myers-Briggs theory.

Despite similarities, there are a number of practical and theoretical differences. Most notably, where Myers-Briggs focuses on how people think and feel, Keirsey focuses on how they act – which is more observable.

Nonetheless, Keirsey’s model has a resulting set of 16 personality types (grouped into 4 temperaments) with the same naming convention, and these 16 types correlate to the same 16 types from the Myers-Briggs model.

Recommended Online Tests

Further Reading