Personality and Psychology Testing for Dummies

| September 17, 2023

This is one in a series of short discussions of the myriad ways our society in general, and the mental health field in particular, fail to understand the veteran culture. That there is a such a thing as a “Veteran Culture” as something unique is itself a hotly contested when not summarily dismissed concept.

Are you an ENFP? An INTP? Or maybe an ISFJ? If you have ever taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBPI) test, you have a clue what those acronyms mean or at least know they purport to mean something about your basic personality. The idea is that everyone is described according to four paradoxical pairings of traits, with each of the four letters of the resulting acronyms casting the person on one side or the other of some dichotomy.

Military, law enforcement and all those who require a security clearance take several forms of personality and psychology tests. In fact, this type of testing was originally developed as a way to determine suitability for frontline action, i.e., which soldiers were most likely to develop “shell shock”.

Nowadays, personality and psychology tests are separate and distinct with the former most often seen as informative, even just for fun, and the latter as more diagnostic in nature. It is important to bear in mind psychological or diagnostic testing can be just for fun or idle curiosity too, but using personality testing as a primary diagnostic tool can be quite dangerous. To better explain, here’s a breakdown of the MBPI personality type result of ISFJ.

The “I” means you are more Introverted as opposed to Extroverted. This is not necessarily how you behave, think of it more like losing energy rather than gaining it being around other people. Saying, or thinking, “I really don’t feel up to people-ing today” in response to a social invitation captures this definition. It doesn’t mean you don’t like people, are overly shy, or even insecure. It’s about what happens in you in response to being around others.

As an ISFJ you also fall into the “Sensing” rather than “Intuiting” the world around you category. Yes, the “S” is for “Sensing” and “N” is for “Intuitive”, and if that bugs you as being illogical, just think phonetically. Sensing here would be more observational or literal and intuiting would be more of a trust your gut approach.

How you perceive what you Sense or Intuit is captured by either F for “Feeling” or T for “Thinking”. It is how you describe your decision-making process. A Thinker would be an analyst, and a Feeling type would be a diplomat.

The final letter choice of J is for “Judging”, which is presented in opposition to P for “Perceiving”. At first blush, this seems a repeat of the “Feeling vs Thinking”, and in truth there is a lot of interplay. The intent here is the previous refers to how you make decisions within yourself and this “Judging vs Perceiving” is more about how you approach the outside world. There is a connotation of being open to the world around you in Perceiving, letting the world tell you what it is. Judging is more about selecting and interacting with the world based on an interior-oriented set of criteria.

So, if you are an ISFJ, you don’t dislike people, necessarily, but find being social more often than not draining. You also consider yourself a realist, preferring to take the world in as you see it; if it walks like a duck, it’s not a camel with duck-shaped feet. Because these two traits can seem to infer a bit of coldness, or aloofness, you’ll justify the existence of feelings for your decisions, and reject accusations of over-thinking. But, because you are a realist at heart, you’re more likely to let people and experiences tell you what they are rather than subscribe to an emotion-based pretense.

In other words, you’re a well-adjusted thinker with feelings, the kind of person that can be trusted, relied upon, etc., etc. Just what everyone wants to be and what every organization, boss, whatever, could want on their team or as their leader.

As you can see, this is all highly scientific. Do I really need to add a /sarc tag? Given that, it is mind-boggling how much stock is given to, and how many decisions are made on the MBPI test. The single biggest indictment of these types of tests being used as selection criteria for anything, is the ISFJ is the most common result of the sixteen different possible combinations. That is proof positive of a phenomenon known as Social Desirability bias in testing. If these tests and results are relied upon in any diagnostic capacity, that is the hallmark of an organization that values pre-determined, easily categorized metrics over substantive results, hence the title of this piece.

The MBPI does, however, give valuable information when Social Desirability bias is understood. It tells us how a person wants to be perceived. Which is the exact opposite of the purpose of the test, determining the inner personality of the test-taker. With this perspective, let’s look at another way of understanding the result of an ISFJ.

An ISFJ wants to be perceived as social but not too social, because being too social is needy or flighty, unreliable, un-serious. The proof is seeing the world as it really as, based on facts and learning and experience. But not as emotionless automaton, but with feelings about things too, and that is a perfectly logical and acceptable way to make decisions. Most of all, an ISFJ is a realist who accepts things as they are presented, without some Pollyanna, wishful-thinking perception.

This is not as deeply a cynical description of the personality of the tester who gets assigned the ISFJ type as it may seem. It is more a description of the often unconscious motivational drivers, presented harshly.

At this point, then, it may come as a surprise that I recommend taking the MBPI test. Here’s a link to do just that. (I’m recommending the test, and I like this online site for how it explains the results. I am not endorsing the organization or suggesting buying the “premium” part. I have no opinion on either). Why, after this scathing diatribe on these types of tests do I make this recommendation?

The answer is in the how. Do it on your own and don’t plan on sharing the results with anyone. This is how to combat the Social Desirability to which we are all subject, particularly when those outcomes will be viewed by someone who has some sort of decision-making authority over us. And because, at the end of the day, understanding ourselves better, gaining insights into who we are and how we do life is always a good thing.

Being surprised at some of your results is an even better thing. Like nearly everyone in my field, taking the MBPI and a slew of other personality and psychology tests were part and parcel of our education. Fortunately, the professor that made taking this particular test an assignment did so in the best possible way. First, we all went to an online portal and took the test and received points for completing the task, meaning the results would be seen as well.

Unbeknownst to us beforehand, the assignment was scheduled to be repeated but with true anonymity of results, meaning no mechanism to track if we even completed the task. For that second go, we were encouraged to think a bit deeper about our responses. The point of the lesson was both to understand Social Desirability bias in these types of tests as well as how to compensate for that in practice, i.e., there are significant clues about a person in how they want to be perceived.

My results surprised me in one crucial area. This led to some pretty significant shifts in self-perception. And this is why, despite my cynical hostility for use of these tests, as well as self-score measures in general if the results are to be shared, I highly recommend taking five minutes or so and doing the MBPI yourself. Alone. Without sharing the results. With anyone.

That said, I will share the letter assignment that shocked me about myself. My four-letter MBPI result starts with an “I” for Introvert. Initially, I completely rejected this and spent serious time researching what supported that result, ready to call into question the validity of the whole thing. By that point in life I certainly knew myself fairly well, having decades of experience of acquaintanceship.

Then I realized something very important. I had always been a bit of a social butterfly, something my family, friends and just about anyone who met me would attest to being true. I had been. When I was younger. Now, there are more days than not when it is a real struggle not to decline social occasions because I just don’t feel up to people-ing. I lose those battles more and more regularly. Perhaps I’m just older. Maybe not wiser, but certainly more tired.

If you are struggling, reach out to a buddy or call 988 and press 1 if you want to identify as a veteran. If you are not struggling, reach out and be the buddy to someone else.

Category: Mental Health

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A Proud Infidel®™

Ooh, first comment! Like any other test, the interpretation is left up to whoever is administrating it, thus an incompetent administrator or interpreter can screw it up all the way!


“Military, law enforcement and all those who require a security clearance take several forms of personality and psychology tests”.

I’ve held a clearance of one type or another since 1987 (ranging from secret to TS-SCI from DoD and public trust from DHS) and I’ve never taken any kind of psychological or personality test. At least not knowingly. And there’s always that guy that reads one or two internet articles on this subject and becomes an expert in analyzing those around him. And by that I mean “becomes a raging, pain-in-the-ass know-it-all.”

Thank you for another interesting and informative article, OAM. Love your stuff and you’re very good for this den of dickweeds!


Same…I have taken a couple forms of poly though…the only time I had to take one of these tests was at the SGM Academy…interestingly the result I got was unique among the entire class…LOL


I was interviewing for a (non-federal) job that required a poly, guy that was running the clearance program was a complete putz. Wanted copies of all traffic infractions I’d had in the last 10 years, wasn’t happy with my answer that I hadn’t had an infraction in 5 years, and Arizona clears your record after 3. Accused me of lying and said “good luck with the polygraph!” He changed his tune when I explained the federal clearance I held and that he wouldn’t even be allowed into the parking lot where I worked. Dumbass.


 “unique among the entire class”.

All I can say is “No Shit”. LOL

Tom from East Tennessee

I would really like to be able to see behind the curtain on this one. Former nuc submariner so psych testing, eval, and security clearances. The psych testing (30-40 years ago) struck me as pretty low-budget, it included an interview with a psychologist at some point in the training pipeline. He asked me if I was clausterphobic and I said “I don’t know, I guess not” and he said “good, you’re not”. There was also a multiple choice test on those use a pencil to fill on a-b-c-d-e bubbles. This was later on in the training pipeline and we joked about how they must have a template to lay over the answer sheets for “that guy’s an asshole, get rid of him”. But the test was, let’s say you’d have to be a real retard not to see what they wanted you to answer. Maybe that actually does screen out some folks I don’t know. We also used to joke that if you passed the psych test, they wouldn’t take you.

Joking aside, I’m pretty curious and would like to know what the actual truth of the matter was. Being in submarines for several years, on my boat we lost a guy on average every 6 months or so (out of 160 guys) to some kind of psych meltdown, breakdown, or casualty and this was just Cold War stuff not what troops have had to face for the past 20 years.

jeff LPH 3 63-66

When I was working and driving a Class 3 truck, I had to take DOT drug tests so one of the dispatchers gives me the paperwork to go to the testing site on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn, NY. I say to Nicky, Nicky, I don’t need a drug test, I need to see a Psycho Doc and Nicky says get the fuck out of here and throws a book at me as he’s laughing his ass off.


Tangentially related, here’s an idea on gun control I can get behind. What do you think OAM?


Interesting read and idea, with liability protection for the store owner, i.e., legislation or a locker like the article described. Definitely better than forced confiscation.

One quibble is with the quote stating that 5% of non-gun suicide attempts are successful. I’m guessing that number is mixing demographics, i.e., upwards of 70% (IIRC) of female attempts fail, regardless of method, so how much of that number is contributing to that 5% stat?

My official position is, those that are going to cannot be stopped. The real issue is identifying those who can be stopped before it’s too late, and not pushing them over the edge with bad therapy, policies, etc., into the category of the former. I don’t have that answer, all I see is what is not working and continuous doubling down on those failed answers.


A great example of how the average citizen is best able to address his own problems, and I’m worried to see (state/federal) government getting in on the act – while it’s definitely important to ensure those holding the weapons aren’t liable, I see encroaching bureaucracy inevitably whittling away at this program.

The lawyer who advised against such an approach was likely just practicing due diligence and I can’t blame him for wanting to protect his client… I cannot extend that same degree of faith to government lawyers when they get their hands on this kind of thing.


This would be a terrible program for the government. There’s no way they would ever be able to establish the the trust to do that.


I would never take part in anything in which the government can attach my name to any weapons.


Since the edit feature remains broken: I assure you, the line of elected officials who would love to attach their names to a program like this is long and notorious. Kandahar Joe already has his hooks in, just wait until a competent anti-gun politician gains some kind of buy-in.

Warren Peece

When I joined the National guard, back in ’85, they gave me a “secret” rating… as an E3. Years later, when I joined the marksmanship unit, they were quite impressed that I had that… as an E6. They gave me a letter saying I could have anything up to and including an M60 in my civilian vehicle. Don’t know why security “clearances” don’t really impress me now…


My last year in the Army I was stationed at Ft. Benning (and I refuse to change!). I disliked it so much I volunteered to be a guinea pig at Edgewood Arsenal. A lot of other folks obviously felt the same as they filled an auditorium with us volunteers and gave us some sort of psych test. I think I must have failed it, since I was not accepted and had to finish my sentence at Benning.

My first year of college we had a required 1 semester hour course where they administered a number of psych tests, including that MBPI. They also gave us a Rorshach test, with cool multicolored ink blots (it was the “Age of Aquarius”). the instructor, kind of a case study herself, read the descriptions aloud, without giving names. As she read my descriptions of the blots almost every head in the room turned towards me. Now, I do realize that I am a standard deviation (or two) from the mean, but I didn’t think it was that obvious. Definitely a weird experience.

Question for OAM—
Does the military culture determine membership in that “Veteran’s culture”, or is it the type of person who joins the military who determines the culture?🙂


This is the exact question I have been working on for the past decade. I believe it is a mix of both, as in, which came first, the chicken or the egg?


I have to wonder if there isn’t a “life imitating art” element to it, as well.

So much of pop culture concerning veterans over the last half-century has focused on the broken veteran… I’ve definitely known a few vets who come back with the preconceived notion that they have to now be defined by that stigma.


I think it is kind of like the personality changes that take place when someone takes certain drugs. It can amplify, reduce or occasionally alter the personality of someone based upon the drug they took (experiences they had). The problem is that no two are ever alike so you will never get a consistent result.


Never having done any heavy mind altering drugs, I can only speak to my experiences with alcohol…I tend to be either a funny drunk or a philosophical drunk. Not really a violent or aggressive drunk.

USMC Steve

The rooster.


I am currently taking a class in the Women’s and Gender Studies department. Their position (it’s Science!) seems to be that everything is determined by culture. This, among other things, leads me to believe they have their own department because even the social “sciences” think they are too loony to be in their departments.


“This one looks like a grad student needed an income stream. ”


pookysgirl, WC wife

The military will disregard psych tests (even legit ones administered by psych professionals) if they need to keep or boot someone. The results might be objective, what they do with those results is highly subjective.


Why we can get recruits today:




INTJ 30 years ago. Took this about a year ago. Still INTJ


A test embedded in a Thread Post would not normally bode well for a number of us, but it’s OAM’s test so…..

Keeping a DILLIGAFF attitude is what has kept me from going crazy for a long time. I’d ask my Guardian Angels what they thought, but they are in a meeting right now…drinking…and trying to figure out what the fook are they gonna do with me. Their struggle is real.