Saturday, March 1, 2008

INTP, Enneagram Type 5, or victim of Forer effect?

I don't know you very well. But I am getting a feeling about you. A special insight into your personality. Wait, it's coming...

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

How close was I? Does that sound like you? Probably not, because you know that anyone who stumbled upon my blog (a selective group, in my defense) is going to read the same thing. But according to studies by the psychologist Bertram R. Forer people who are given this description of themselves - pulled randomly from an astrology column - rate the accuracy of the description on average as 4.26 out of 5 when they are told it's the result of their personality test given by an expert.

In the last few months I've been going through a bit of professional difficulty - painfully coming to a recognition that the career I've spent the last five years building isn't the right one for me. This has led naturally to a desire to analyze myself in various ways and get to know myself better.

First I found a book based on the Myers-Brigg personality test. After a lot of exploring I concluded I was an Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiver. Later, a friend forwarded me a link to a test based on Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram (based on a shape that's actually an enneagon), from which I concluded that I was a Type 5, or the Investigator. Of course, in both cases I took the cheapo free version of the tests, rather than the expensive "complete" version of the tests. I have no idea if the results would have come out different had I bought the full deal, and will likely not find out because I don't want to spend the money.

In both cases, the descriptions seemed to fit me perfectly. Here's an Enneagram type 5:

The perceptive, cerebral type. Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation. At their Best: visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.

And here's an INTP from Wikipedia:

INTP types are quiet, thoughtful, analytical individuals who don't mind spending long periods of time on their own, working through problems and forming solutions. They are very curious about systems and how things work, and are frequently found in careers such as science, architecture and law. INTPs tend to be less at ease in social situations and the caring professions, although they enjoy the company of those who share their interests. They also tend to be impatient with the bureaucracy, rigid hierarchies, and politics prevalent in many professions, preferring to work informally with others as equals.

And yet, perhaps because of my personality type, I was cynical and suspicious. So I did a little digging about enneagrams and quickly stumbled across a description of the Forer Effect, as described above. Essentially, when people are told that a personality type description is specifically for them they are quite inclined to believe it. This is encouraged by other delusions, such as cold reading,, community reinforcement, and selective thinking.

The case for the MBTI is a bit stronger, because originally I tested out as an ISTP, but it didn't sound quite right and I ended up going with Intuitive over Sensing. If the Forer effect was working in full, I'd have taken the first description hook line and sinker. But that doesn't necessarily prove anything.

So here's what I'd like to know: how can I test to see if I'm falling victim to the FE? Does the validation of others count for anything? What about the quality of the tests? A lot of big companies use MBTI; and supposedly the Enneagrams are popular with some Jesuits. I've searched extensively, but I can't find any FE innoculation, except for a large double-blind study, which unfortunately is a bit out of my price range right now. Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...


The only thing I can think of to try to counter this is as follows.
If you are using the test to type yourself you're being subjective and hence the results could be very distorted. But what if you instead objectivly observe other people and their characteristics. Then type them according to what you have observe, then using your knowledge of the types (Enneagram or MBTI) alter your behavior in their presence to elicit certain reactions that you would expect from that type. If the person reacts as you would predict given their type you are proving that, at least objectivly, personality testing is credible.
However this will bring you no closer to figuring out your own personality type. Save the fact that you can then see how people alter their behavior to get reactions out of ya.

This would be my crazy idea of trying to come at this from a different prespective :P.

Max said...

Funny, so typical for a INTP/Type 5 to question the outcome of tests, to look for proof of that doubt, to question then the proof of the doubt etc. etc.
I am an INTP/Type 5 myself ... Shall we call it the Forer/INTP/Type 5 paradigm ?

Janet Coe said...

As a fellow 5er, I also am looking into the validity of the enneagon as a tool for growth. It accurately pointed out that my head is my favorite place and a compulsion when stressed. My case is bad enough that it has been labeled aspergers syndrome (objective validation). While I am a pack rat, I don’t have a stingy bone in my body. I shop at the Good Will and I don’t like to throw things out because our dumps are already too full and I might be able to use it for something someday. I will take a drunk begging for change out to lunch, yet wash & dry a piece of plastic wrap for reuse. I guess I am eccentric – my kids think so.

I have found pages of descriptions, but other than trying to be more 8ish or increasing physical activity, I haven’t found much in the way of helpful advice. I don’t know that I would pay a lot of money (avarice??) to sit in a room filled with others looking for our essence without more substantiation. I did come across a nay-sayer ( writing about the enneagram’s development that may or may not be legitimate.

Happy hunting!

Janet Coe said...

You might also be interested in attempts to relate the enneagram to the MBTI and DMS IV distinctions in personalities:,M1

Anonymous said...

this post is very old, but I am intrigue with your statements there. I'm a bit obsessed with MBTI, enneagram, or any other self assessment stuff recently. And I'm a fellow INTP as well.
Your point made sense, especially in selective thinking. My suggestion is probably inform your self a lot more about the cognitive functions in MBTI, introverted thinking, extroverted intuition etc etc as separate entity. Then compare it to your self. I hope this helps :)

Anonymous said...

I believe the FE is irrelevant if you gain something from the type descriptions. It's not the actually labelling as an INTP or a V that is important but what you gain as insights. I've read several of the MBTI and Enneagram books and find useful info in many of the type descriptions. Try observing your behaviour, no matter the time or place, if you're alive then you're behaving. There are no true types only patterns based on the an average populations, so there are no easy answers provided by any personality system. I believe it's best I to do the digging yourself, using the systems as guidelines.

Best of luck with your endeavours,

MelonMochi said...

I too agree that, though this is paradoxical, the fact that you questioned the test itself and retested on a different test and even researched for more information sort of identifies you as this type. You can't take it at face value, you must find out the "truth".

I too, am an INTP. At first I tested as INTJ, but something didn't feel quite right. After 3 years of researching INTJ and purchasing $50 worth of books on INTJ and literally 6 re-tests of the same MBTI exam spaced out throughout the years (yes, I really took that exam 6 times), and even taking the MBTI exam written by other people (different variations of the same exam), I finally found one test peg me as an INTP. Intrigued, I read the description of an INTP and lo and behold, the truth was evident. I was definitely an INTP. Only an INTP would be so anal to question and doubt something so extreme as to find "the truth" by researching for 3 years on their MBTI before finally settling on "the one". I realized I was actually an INTP, not an INTJ as previously thought.

Similar to me, you are doubting your own findings and researching into the field. I think that you are an INTP and feel you shouldn't need to doubt MBTI. I don't htink it's FE.