Korea is a country where trends come and go quickly. With increased time spent at home, trends like the Dalgona Challenge, whipping Dalgona cream on top of coffee, swept across the country. Similarly, people have also started to take personality tests and share their results online. MBTI, shortened for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is one such tests which gained immense popularity in a short period of time.
Living in a society with endless competition, differentiating oneself from others has become increasingly important. Companies look for applicants who understand themselves. They expect them to utilize and develop on strengths, while improving on weaknesses. Since personality is one of the factors related to job performance, some companies even require applicants to hand in their MBTI results prior to employment.
Kim Jae-hyoung, a senior researcher at the Korea MBTI Institute, said that he had never imagined the level of popularity that has risen recently since the test was first introduced in Korea.
“The new generation is very familiar with social media, so they find it easy to access the tests and even share them on social media,” Kim said. “Especially because people had to stay home for a long time, they tried to self-reflect more. Our society has continually shown interest in psychological tests and COVID-19 significantly increased the number of people taking them.”
Kim added that he felt the popularity of MBTI soar when the answers to the questions he was asked were of higher quality. As a professional, he knew that people were not simply curious about the test but saw it as a way of interpreting social phenomenon. He also mentioned that people in their 20s to early 40s seemed to be the main test takers because they made up most of the standard sample for the institute’s MBTI research.
According to Kim there are potentials for both positive and negative effects on university students.
“Dividing people into certain groups can have both positive and negative effects,” Kim said. “By knowing the strengths that each individual has, they can work to develop these abilities and learn to respect others. When they succeed, their self-esteem and selfefficacy would increase as they gain confidence in their work.”
However, if some people become too immersed in their results and categories, one might start distancing from those in other categories. Especially students who have a strong sense of belonging should be careful about this.
In regards to the criticism that MBTI is unreliable, as it is not used in psychiatry, Kim pointed out that the MBTI tests were designed to find out more about individuals and categorize people with similar traits rather than medically diagnose individuals.
“People should understand that the test was not made for any medical purpose,” Kim said. “It is just a process of finding one’s identity and its ultimate end is for people to be able to find out what they are comfortable with.”
In a word of caution, Kim said that many of the trending online tests that are sweeping across the nation are not official. To receive proper interpretations of the results taking a verified MBTI test provided by the institution is, according to Kim, of utmost importance.
“The final test questions we provide are the result of lengthy studies and deliberate selection, which differentiate them from the free personality tests” he said. “We are currently putting effort in training experts to give detailed explanation about the results, so we encourage people taking the tests to receive professional counseling so they can know more about themselves.”
The Ewha Student Counseling Center (ESCC) provides free MBTI tests, along with further interpretation about the results. According to Cho Yu-kyeong, a professor at ESCC, MBTI tests have always been popular, but recently its popularity rose ever more. She noted that students who want to know more about themselves can get offered free official MBTI tests at school, which are exactly what they need.