Laboratory Personalities

I’ve always been interested in differences in people’s personality types. But after observing differences in personalities over the course of time, one thing that starts to become more apparent than differences is the similarities in personality types many people share. Anybody who has had an opportunity to move around and work in a number of different workplaces has probably noticed this and may instantly be aware of these similarities I speak of. Or perhaps you have spoken with somebody else who has worked in a number of different places and has shared such a perspective. My first exposure to this was in the workplace as a new graduate Medical Laboratory Scientist. A “seasoned” employee was just hired. He was the “observational type”, which is not uncommon among laboratory professionals. He would make comments like- “you’re Bob at the last place I worked at- quiet, wry sense of humor,” etc. He had a handful of people he could identify as other people he had previously worked with and I was intrigued by his observations. My train of thought as a new employee started to transition from “people are so different” to “wow, we are so similar.” By further exploring personality types we can discover applications of personality typing in the laboratory for things such as promotions, team building and conflict resolution.

History of Personality Typing
It is nothing new to state that individuals with similar personality types gravitate towards certain professions. A great deal of research has been done in this area. Personality testing has become commonplace as numerous personal assessments are now available and serve different purposes. Most current theories of personality type are rooted in the theories developed by psychiatrist Carl Jung that date back to the early 20th century. Jung published his work in 1921 with his book “Psychological Type”. Jung was the first person to use the words “intraversion” and “extraversion” to describe two polar opposite characteristics that individuals tend to gravitate towards2. Today these terms are known and understood by nearly everybody.

Following Jung’s work, the next big contribution to personality testing came from Isabelle Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs. Briggs was interested in Jung’s work and began to elaborate on it. Katherine passed this passion on to her daughter Isabelle. One of Isabelle’s goals was to make the work of Jung accessible to a greater audience1. Myers created simple questions and tested them on small groups of individuals with similar backgrounds. After reviewing and reworking the questions she moved on to larger groups with more and more diverse backgrounds. After 20 years of intensive work of analyzing thousands of surveys, Myers developed a personality type indicator survey now known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
There are numerous personality tests available today that can measure an endless number of psychological parameters. The MBTI identifies 16 different, normal personality types. By focusing only on individual differences, it may be surprising that all people can be narrowed down to only 16 different personality types. However, this may be less surprising if we were to focus on our similarities instead.

Even though the MBTI is often referred to as a test, it is not, as there are no right or wrong answers. The answers are only a preference an individual may have for a particular situation. Upon completing the survey, the resulting score is a 4-letter code based on the individual’s preferences. Four scales are measured and each scale contains two polar opposite preferences:

  1. Extraversion (E) vs. Intraversion (I)
  2. Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)
  3. Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  4. Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

If a person answers questions in a way that shows they prefer being intraverted rather than extraverted, the first letter in their type will be an “I.” The other letters follow similarly so that an individual’s final type may be INTJ- Intraverted, Intuiting, Thinking, and Judging- for example.

Individuals who prefer Extraversion tend to relate best to the outer world while Intraverts tend to relate best to the inner world of their thoughts. The Sensing and Intuition scale relate to the different ways in which people gather information and direct their attention. Sensing relies on the senses to gather information and work more in the present. Intuition focuses on ideas of what can be rather that what is in the current moment. A common reference to the intuition preference is to be able to see the big picture. The Thinking and Feeling scale expresses how an individual makes decisions. Those with a Thinking preference tend to base decisions on logical reasoning and deduction. Those with a Feeling preference tend to make people-oriented decisions- they consider how a decision may affect another person. The last scale shows how individuals manage their lives. Those who prefer Judging like organization and structure in their world. Those with a Perceiving preference do not desire such structure and organization and are most comfortable with going with the flow. These four preferences combine to form a 4-letter code, each of which have a unique and lengthy description.3

Functional Pairs
There is more to the 4-letter type than the 16 distinct types that result. The middle two letters are called your mental functions because they form the basis for how your brain works. The two letters combined are referred to as your functional pair. The first and last letters are referred to as attitudes and orientations, respectively, because they describe how you interact with the world4.

By looking at the 16 types you can create four functional pair groups- SPs, SJs, NFs, NTs. The 16 personality groups vary greatly in how individuals interact with and perceive the world around them. However, in terms of thinking functions all individuals are reduced to four groups that relate to the way we think. Said another way, of all our differences, we all mentally process things in one of four ways. The importance of functional pairs will be further highlighted in a follow-up article that focuses on a case study. Brief descriptions of the four functional pairs are listed in Table 1.

This brief introduction to personality types serves as a primer to two follow-up articles for a three-part series. The next article will look at how personality typing can be used in the laboratory. The final article will conclude with a case study that looks at the personality types in a 100-bed hospital.

Table 1 Functional Pairs

Functional Pair



Efficient, logical and analytical. Can be perceived as blunt, straight-forward and impersonal. Often found in business, management, applied sciences or military.


Sympathetic and like to include and help others. Can be perceived as superficial or too personal. Often found in teaching, health care, child care or other personal services.


Enthusiastic and excite others to join their causes. Can be perceived as overly optimistic or too idealistic; not grounded in reality. Often found in psychology, education, research and health care.


Logical and objective; focus on technical approaches to possibilities. Can be perceived as arrogant or too complex. Often found in sciences, law, engineering and management.


1. Allen, J., & Brock, S.A. (2000). Health care communication using personality type: Patients are different. East Sussex: Routledge.

2. Jung, C. (1976). Psychological Type. Princeton University Press.

3. The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). Functional Pairs. Retrieved February 10, 2009.

4. The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). The 16 MBTI Types. Retrieved February 10, 2009.

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