By A.J. Drenth
In my view, one cannot be a serious student of Myers-Briggs typology without eventually questioning the relationship between sex differences and personality type. In considering this issue, we must first take care to distinguish sex differences from gender differences. The notion of sex differences emphasizes the role of biological factors, whereas gender pertains more to cultural factors; the former speaks to nature, the latter to nurture.
One salient sex difference is testosterone levels. On average, the blood concentration of testosterone in males is 7-8 times greater than that of females. Among other things, testosterone is thought to be largely responsible for male-female differences in physical strength and muscle mass. In addition to these well-documented physical effects of testosterone, there is a slowly emerging body of evidence pertaining to the psychobehavioral effects of testosterone.
Specifically, testosterone has been shown to positively and moderately correlate with behaviors associated with acquiring and maintaining dominance or hierarchical status. While this trend appears to hold true for both men and women, since males have far greater circulating levels of testosterone, it stands to reason that status or dominance-seeking is, generally speaking, likely to be of greater concern for males. This is supported by the fact that the vast majority of mammalian species are characterized by dominance hierarchies existing primarily among males. This is not to say that some women will not be not strive for dominance. Nor is it to say that all men do or should strive for dominance. It is merely to suggest that, on average, there is a greater propensity for males to exhibit dominance-seeking and that higher levels of testosterone may play a role in this behavior.
Testosterone & Myers-Briggs Personality Type
One of the more interesting findings in the psychological research on testosterone is it appears largely unrelated to other personality factors, including the five factors of the “Big Five.” While I know of no research investigating the relationship of testosterone and the Myers-Briggs, the strong correlations that exist between the Myers-Briggs and the Big Five would suggest that testosterone levels are also unlikely to be related to Myers-Briggs personality type.
This brings us to some interesting questions involving the relationship of testosterone-related drive for dominance and the Myers-Briggs personality types. For one, I think this issue of dominance could play a confounding role with respect to any of the Myers-Briggs preferences. A drive for dominance could feasibly make one more likely to see oneself as an Extravert rather than Introvert, a Thinker rather than Feeler, or a Judger rather than Perceiver.
Extraversion is often associated with assertiveness. But this has more to do with interpersonal assertiveness, which, as we will see, is only one sort of dominance-seeking. Myers-Briggs Thinking might also be conflated with dominance, since Thinkers are sometimes painted as more independent and less concerned with achieving consensus. Finally, Judging types, who are outwardly more firm and imposing, might also be construed as more dominant. In sum, it seems rather easy to imagine how ETJs might seek dominance, such as by working their way up the corporate or political ladder. Imagining how an Introvert, especially an Intuitive Introvert (IN), might do so, however, can seem more difficult.
Since the common understanding of dominance is closely associated with common conceptions regarding extraverts, I suggest that for Introverts, especially IN types, it might be better to understand dominance-seeking in terms of their striving for eminence. Eminence involves being recognized for excellence or superiority in one’s chosen work. Understood this way, we can more readily envision how ambitious striving might occur in equal proportions among Introverts and Extraverts.
In striving for eminence, some IN types, such as INTJs, might opt for a more traditional career path. They might, for instance, aspire to become eminent scientists, physicians, or university faculty. Other IN types, including INFPs, INTPs, and INFJs, seem more prone to struggle when it comes to finding a clear path toward eminence. Often seeing themselves as independent artists, theorists, or investigators, these types often feel compelled to pave their own path. This can be a difficult road, however, since it is devoid of preset criteria for evaluating and recognizing individual achievement. The open-endedness of such a path can be another challenge, as can making it profitable.
It is no wonder, then, that ambitious IN types commonly report frustration in their work life. They may be incredibly driven and ambitious, but find themselves feeling enervated or disillusioned when “the system” or society seems to have no clear place for their combination of talents and interests. In response, others may advise INs to get a “real job” and to stop being so idealistic. Or, INs may try to deny their personal need for external feedback and convince themselves that intrinsic satisfaction should be enough. But either of these options can ultimately seem inadequate to them. The first can feel like a compromise or “selling out” of their need to act in accordance with their personality type and to pursue their personal interests, whereas the second may compromise their felt need to receive external feedback, validation, and recognition. Per the above discussion, the latter may be a particularly difficult issue for a large number of IN males.
With all that being said, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that certain intratype variations (i.e., variations among those of the same personality type) may be at least partly attributable sex differences, with dominance seeking-behavior being merely one of them. However, a great deal more work needs to be done to better delineate typological versus sex-related differences.