Saturday, November 29, 2008

Myers Briggs and gender differences

Yesterday on Gender Blog, Brent Nelson wrote,
Scientifically, empirically, and experientially we know men and women to be different. Women tend to be more nurturing, better at forming closer relationships and are better than men at encountering life with both sides of their brain. Men tend to do better at abstract thinking – men can focus on singular questions well. Women are more intuitive, sensitive, and insightful than men – in general. Women tend to enjoy the process; men drive to conclusions. Men fixt things, women experience things. Women have more white blood cells and more endurance than men. Men have increased brute strength and higher ability for burst energy.
I was impressed by the energy of his opening sentence. "Scientifically, empirically ..." Curious, I decided to follow some of this up. First, there is a consensus that females are verbal earlier than males. Males have higher brute strength, on average. No, let me rephrase this. This is not at all what scholarship says. I am drifting into the rhetoric of the alienation of the male.

What scholarship says is that men have a "stronger musculature" than women. This is scientific. That men on average participate in violent crime statistics at a higher rate is also true, but needs to be interpreted. So, women are more verbal, men have a stronger musculature, these are genetic gender attributes.

Now for the Meyers-Briggs profile. The conclusions here may be surprising.

Extraversion-Introversion differences affect how we deal with the outside world. Extraverts (E) are energized by having interactions with others, and may often speak without thinking something through. They are people of action and present their best abilities to the world. Introverts (I) prefer quiet reflection, and may think about something and never get to the point of telling others. They keep their best skills to themselves, and present their secondary skills to others. Studies estimate that 75% of the population is Extraverted, while only 25% is Introverted.

Sensing-intuition differences affect how we take in and process data. Sensors (S) gather information through experiences and are practical and orderly. Intuitors (N) gather information and process it in innovative ways and are creative and imaginative. It is estimated that 75% of the population prefer Sensing while only 25% prefer intuition.

Thinking-Feeling differences affect how we make decisions. Thinkers (T) make decisions objectively and impersonally using logic. Feelers (F) make decisions subjectively and personally based on what they feel is "right". This personality grouping is the only one that shows any gender difference, with male Thinking- Feeling preferences being 60%-40% and female Thinking-Feeling preferences being 40%-60%.

Judging-Perceiving differences affect how we prefer to live. Judgers (J) like being planned and structured and having things settled and decided. Perceivers (P) like being spontaneous, unstructured, open, and flexible. In the general population, Judging-Perceiving preferences are 55%-45%.

The last strong observable difference is that men are more field-independent than women in terms of learning style. Men are more abstract and women are more concrete. However, this is a an attribute which maay vary more from culture to culture, and by age difference, than by gender. Results have been contradictory here, and the cross-cultural psychologist who I studied with claimed that it was cultural. John Berry, 2002, made a convincing case, claiming that

the usually found gender difference (females relatively more field dependent than males) did not appear in a variety of Inuit nd North American Indian samples. This was interpreted as an outcome of the relatively similar socializtion and other ecological and cultural experiences of boys and girls in these hunter-gatherer societies. page 140

Assessments of male vs female leadership styles also suggest that it is more significant to consider what the majority style is and how the institution is able or not able to adapt to a minority style, rather than consider whether male or female styles are better. Studies show that men and women are able to adapt their leadership styles, and that there are a variety of successful styles. I recommend to you this study on women in the military.

Both men and women leaders can and should develop their non-preferences to become more balanced as leaders. This development requires conscious effort and work. Men and women are not locked into one style of leadership and behavior preventing effectiveness in the workplace. The more serious problem appears to be organizational inflexibility in accommodating dissimilar personality types. In the military, the ISTJ preference type is predominant. Since this is the majority type, discrimination towards other preference types (natural preference types of some women) may lead to self-selection and adaptation, limiting benefits of variance or diversity and creativity critical to a flexible growing organization.

On one last point,

Men fix things, women experience things.

Clearly whoever wrote this line is living in some alternate universe. (Actually I do know women with handy husbands - hmm - but then I also know men with handy wives) Anyway, let me simply link to an important narrative on this topic also published by gender blog - Mr. Fixit strikes again! The story is by Dave Barry, so you are prewarned. I for one, think that he is funny - most of the time. Enjoy!


J. K. Gayle said...

Fascinating. Thanks for the observations and links to studies and Barry's funny essay. The study on "women in the military," I think you should say, is by Martha J. M. Kelley, Lt Col, U.S. Air Force.

And there's something else related to her finding that "In the military, the ISTJ preference type is predominant." Did you know that Isabel Briggs Myers decided to create the MBTI because her fiance, very different from herself, was an ISTJ? And Briggs-Myers's mother, Katherine Cook Briggs, noticed that this young man was "not at all like others in their family [women or men]"? Briggs-Myers, it turns out, was an INFP. And her mother was an INFJ. (Carl Jung, whose models they used for the MBTI, was INTP).

I guess the point is that the categories of the MBTI are developed by women. So what does that say about this empirical science? (Their story is here: My own little family of five has me being the only T in the group, although my son (the other male) is an F. And my daughter who is most keen about the MBTI is, like Isabel Myers, an INFP. And I think Jesus is an INFP. And so was Mary his mother, and two of the gospel writers (John and Luke). Not sure the T/ F divide follows our experience (or this Thinker's analysis anyway).

Sue said...

Thanks for adding important information. I am INFP myself, I think. I am not all that invested in MB in any case, but I thought it was funny that "intuitive" is not a female characteristic according to this.

I more or less think that stereotypic gender differences are nonsensical. There are differences, I just have difficulty describing them.

Peter Kirk said...

"Studies estimate that 75% of the population is Extraverted, while only 25% is Introverted."

I understand that this is true in the USA, but in the UK the figures are approximately reversed. Perhaps Canada is more evenly balanced. This suggests that these differences are also culturally related, or possibly genetically selected on the basis that extroverts were more likely than introverts to emigrate from Europe to North America. In any case it suggests that the small gender differences in type are swamped by larger national and cultural differences.

Sue said...

Excellent point. In citing John Berry I had hoped to suggest that cultural difference outweigh gender differences. Your remarks support that.

David Ker said...

I find this very interesting. Where I have really seen the gender difference played up is in the 5 Love Languages where women are invariably service and men are invariably touch.

I also liked the Bailey post. Thanks for writing.

Matthew Celestine said...

I do like the Myers-Briggs personality test.

I am an INTJ.