Apparently the general public is not as familiar with Meyers-Briggs personality types as I'd thought. Whee! Let's go through this, then.

Scale 1: Introverted vs Extroverted

Basics: Introverts expend energy to interact with people. Extroverts gain energy from interacting with people.

Introversion is not the same as shyness, awkwardness, or social anxiety. Extroversion is not the same as mania, obnoxiousness, or lacking any kind of verbal filter. All this scale measures is whether you go more crazy not being able to get to people or not being able to get away from them.

One of my readers over on Facebook expressed surprise that Colbert, being a performer who quite obviously is intensely curious about other people, would come out as an introvert on the Meyers-Briggs scale. Introversion is not the same as misanthropy, either. Introverts who like people just have the sociability on a toggle switch. It runs entirely off of battery power, so you have to plan ahead to charge it up, and when the volts are all gone, that's it, I'm going home, good night. Colbert clearly adores other people and wants to dig around in their heads a lot, but I will point out that all those tapings are scheduled -- he knows exactly when he has to be in the studio to talk to the public, and can prepare for it.

What the intro- and extro- prefixes on this scale refer to being inside or outside of is basically 'your own brain-meats'. Introverts need a lot of quiet time, either alone or with a very short list of people who are so familiar they don't qualify as 'other' anymore, because they prefer to grind their ideas into usable form internally. It takes a lot of energy to run that mill, and it is somewhere between uncomfortable and impossible to do it properly if there is someone else in the room. You have to pay at least a little bit of attention in case they talk to you, and splitting off any attention at all is incredibly trying. Having to scan the surroundings for people who might be staring at you or calling your name or attempting to set you on fire constantly breaks your train of thought. That thinky mode is a lot like sleep, in that having gotten eight hours of it is not at all useful if you got it in a lot of fifteen-minute bursts over the course of the day, because some jackass kept shaking you out of it. Enough interruptions, and you start wanting to punch things. Usually starting with the interruption.

Extroverts need people. They tend to think while talking. The process of putting things into language forces them to sort things out, but if they don't have another human being to start bouncing things off of, they start to go a bit mental. It's not helpful to them to roll things around like the introverts; they need to ricochet ideas off of other brains before anything coalesces. Stick an extrovert in a small apartment alone and the walls begin closing in. Dysfunctional extroverts, when lonely, are the people who make one friend and cling like a lamprey, because they cannot stand the idea of being all alone ever again. Functional extroverts cope more constructively, learning which local hangouts are full of people they have stuff in common with, so they can go there and chat with strangers whenever they need to feel less isolated.

I come in solidly "I" on a Meyers-Briggs test, if you couldn't tell by the pronoun use up there. It's actually my only score that skews way the fuck over to one end of the scale and has never budged.

Scale 2: iNtuition vs Sensing

Basics: Intuitive learners sift through data to find patterns. Sensing learners sift through patterns to find data.

The intuition vs sensing scale is a description of how you organize your world. The division is complicated and differs depending on who exactly you ask, but in general, the S-types are hands-on and like to acquire knowledge by taking in raw data. This is how it is now, and how it was before or how it will be in the future are not so important. They tend to be very pragmatic and, at the extreme end, not very patient with people who take joy in giving detailed technical explanations of everything. The underlying Theory of Everything strikes them as extraneous information, and unless they spot something they can use in solving the problem they're working on, they will just translate your beautiful multimedia presentation on the delicate complexities of intercontinental networking as "computer magic" and flip straight to the page that tells them how to reset their password. In emotional terms, Sensing learners go into therapy so that other people can help them spot patterns that need to be broken, because the downside of being able to ignore huge amounts of noise to focus on the immediate problem is that sometimes, the noise is concealing a much larger problem on a longer time scale that also needs to be beaten into submission.

Intuitive learners start grouping data points as soon as they come in, hoping to find some kind of regular pattern. Patterns make them feel better. Where S-types benefit from being allowed to do things methodically, N-types often work better if you throw all the information on their desk at once and let them sort it out. Their reasoning tree is often more of a spider web -- it's great, because you can connect the weirdest things together and somehow it helps, but it's also distracting, because suddenly all the connection points look equally neat and maybe you forget that you're also supposed to be evaluating them for how useful they are to you right now. Intuitive learners get exasperated with people who don't know how the system works and also don't care; it seems to them that if you understand the algorithm you can solve problems much faster in the future, even if the learning takes some extra time now. In emotional terms, intuitive learners go to therapy so that someone else will make them slow down and stop trying to make sense out of what's going on long past the point where they should have just solved the problem by DTMFA, as Dan Savage says, and moving on.

Colbert's entire comedy career has been one unending game of, "Hey, is this a pattern? What happens if I break it here?" The mediocre bio I read mentions that right around his junior year of high school, he suddenly went from being stuffed into his own locker whenever the jocks noticed he existed to being socially brilliant and loved at least by his fellow nerds -- absolutely no indication is given of how or why this happened, which is one of the reasons I think the book was not so great. I have no idea what the catalyst was, but I'd be willing to bet that how that happened was that one day he decided he was going to stare at people until he figured out how social skills worked, and he did. That's exactly what I did, and he has a lot of the same weird self-evaluation gaps as I do, so I'd say it's a reasonable guess.

I almost always fall on the N side of the scale, though how far from the center I hit depends on the version of the test and how well-written the questions are. The longer and better vetted the test, the farther N my score skews. Shorter tests are easily confused by my insistence on being left alone to do things myself, not having a place for me to explain that's because I hate being interrupted when doing vector diagrams in my head.

Scale 3: Feeling vs Thinking.

Basics: Feeling types prefer to make decisions that prioritize how people will feel about what happens. Thinking types prefer to make decisions that prioritize logical correctness and parsimony.

This scale refers pretty much exclusively to personal decision-making. Thinking types aren't robots and Feeling types don't want to burn science to the ground. It's basically a measure of what makes you happier with your big life decision: Knowing that it's empirically right and could be defended before a thesis committee, or knowing that it brought the greatest emotional good to the largest number of people. These two things do overlap at times. To use a particularly nerdy example, the (logical Vulcan) Ambassador Sarek was once asked why he married his (emotional human) wife, and his response was, "It was only logical," the implication being that since the question at hand literally was 'how to bring the greatest happiness to both parties', the logical solution was the same as the emotional one, and they ran off to get hitched.

Where it gets much stickier is in politics, where, in addition to all the partisan muckity-muck going on, you get Thinking people shouting, "We can't do that, look at the numbers, it'll ruin us!" and Feeling people shouting, "What the hell do you think ruin is, if not mass unhappiness?" There's no one answer to either shout that will make everyone happy, so the conflict remains.

Not that Colbert is all F and no T, but I could have told you he skewed heavily towards the F side ages ago. He has a colossal intellect that's been pressed into service fixing as many sads as he possibly can. I'm not pulling this out of my ass; go scare up any interview where anyone asks him how he got into comedy, how he got into improv, why he agreed to testify to a Congressional committee on behalf of migrant workers, or even how he can be such a dedicated science geek and also a dedicated Catholic. He seems to run on joy and wonderment and a sincere desire to pull laughter out of nothing. It goes a long way towards explaining why he often appears to be an unusually tall nine-year-old in a very nice suit.

I skew mildly T on this scale, but the longer and more comprehensive the test is the closer I get to sitting on the fence. This score is also the most likely to change over time, as your responses are likely to be influenced by life experiences. People who run on feels eventually learn when logic will get a better outcome, and vice versa.

Scale 4: Perceiving vs Judging

Basics: Judging people are most comfortable when they know a decision has been made. Perceiving people are more comfortable when they know options still exist.

This one is possibly the most misunderstood scale, mainly because 'perceiving' and 'judging' are both English words that have non-neutral connotations in regular speech. What this scale describes is essentially the extent to which you like being able to reliably predict the future. If it drives you fucking crazy when you make plans to meet up at the bar at 8, and you have to start texting reminders at people at 7 to get two-thirds of them to wander in by 8:30 (WHY CAN NO ONE PLAN!?!?), then you fall on the J side of the scale. If you have absolutely no idea why it is so important for you to all be at that bar at 8pm sharp -- I mean, there are lots of other bars you could go to if that one's crowded, and it's not like they're going to vanish, and besides, you could always get together tomorrow -- then you're on the P side.

The Judging type is not the same as being a "Type A personality", or whatever pseudopsych jargon you want to use for someone who demands everyone adhere to their plans or else. I fall on the J side of the scale, but unless you personally have access to both my Habitica page and my Google Calendar, you'd never know it. I have been called "laid back" more times than I can count, mainly because I could not give less of a shit what other people do maybe 90% of the time. If you can't get your act together long enough to come with me, I will do it by myself. Other people seem to see this as 'going with the flow', but truthfully, I do it because it causes me orders of magnitude more distress to have a plan that changes five million times than to just give up and make plans that don't include people who aren't me. If I absolutely need you for something, and you won't just nail down a damn date, I will sincerely want to throttle you.

I would elucidate P-type thinking here, except I can't. I have had to corner a lot of them over the years and explain in tiny words that you cannot assign me a project or an essay and then tell me to make it about "anything". THERE IS A LOT OF ANYTHING IN THE WORLD, OKAY? YOU NEED TO NARROW THAT DOWN. I know it looks like I come up with my research binges by hurling darts randomly at a board, but it's actually more like a pachinko machine in here -- something drops in at the top and plinks chaotically downwards through the pins and unexpectedly ends up over at the right edge of a lesson book for Ecclesiastical Latin.

In light of that, I have basically no idea how to explain this aspect of Stephen Colbert to you, except by comparison to people like Noel Fielding, who are also impossible to practice my lipreading on. They both have a wide-open Perceiving field of view in their work that's tempered by acquired intellectual skills like logic and narrative, strung together with stupid puns, and for some reason I find that hilarious. I also laugh myself stupid at Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Some mysteries are just not meant to be solved.

Comments

  1. I've always had trouble with the Meyers Briggs tests, mostly because the results I get when I assign a type to myself and the results I get when I take an actual test never, ever match up. I haven't yet figured out if that's because I have a skewed view of myself, or because invariably I run into questions that I cannot answer because none of the answers are applicable or because the questions lumps things together that I don't. (One of the tests I poked at once, for instance, had a question that went something like, 'I find it easy to stay relaxed and focused under pressure' which prompted me to look at it for several seconds going, '...those aren't the same? I can generally focus but relaxing not so much because the way I focus is to induce panic? How am I supposed to answer this one truthfully?')

    Going by the scale as you've described it, I'm probably something like INFJ, although, like you, my plans tend to only ever include me. (And then they promptly fall apart on me because I cannot, in fact, function entirely without other people, much as I would like to, and so I have to take them into account after all.)

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    1. Well, that's a terrible way to word that question, for one. What they're trying to get at is, as stuff piles up and deadlines get closer, are you more prone to letting the urgency on everything build and then knocking a whole bunch of stuff out in a short period of time, or do you just disintegrate and get nothing done if you feel like you're being rushed? They're basically asking if it's easier for you to achieve a state of flow under high stress conditions or low ones.

      It's also a terrible question, because it doesn't ask why you do what you do. In theory, it's on the J/P scale, and the idea is that since Perceiving types prefer to have all the possible options until the last minute, they procrastinate to avoid having to nail anything down, whereas Judging types are uncomfortable with unfinished things and will do things as soon as they are able. It's a rubbish question for a number of reasons, one of the biggest of which is that the Myers-Briggs test has no corrective factor for things like, oh, colossal anxiety disorders, or depression. Things like that. A subject who procrastinates might be a Perceiving type, or they might be a Judging type with a mortal terror of making a decision and getting it wrong, or might be either and be too damn tired and sad to do anything at all until circumstances force them to grind something out.

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    2. Huh. If that's what they're trying to get at then it's an even worse question than I thought it was. It's one thing to write questions in such a way that people have a hard time gaming the test, but it's quite another to make the entire purpose of the question inscrutable to those who haven't already essentially studied for the damn thing.

      For what it's worth, I have a hard time achieving any kind of flow without being in a high stress situation, but I suspect it's as much to do with a ADD/lingering depression/learned coping mechanisms cocktail as with any inherent personality traits. (Out of curiosity, if you take the tests in person, do the people administering it give you a chance to explain your reasoning, or are you stuck with the same sliding scale of agree to disagree that you get online, do you have any idea?)

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    3. I've no idea. I've never taken one in person. I don't think anyone who has ever met me has not had a guess at my personality, rightly or wrongly, within a few minutes of hearing me talk. I suspect, though, that you do not get to explain anything. Or, rather, you can try, but it won't do you any good -- Myers-Briggs and MMPI are generally computer-scored, so they probably just leave you alone to fill in bubbles.

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