Achilles Tendencies

The Gatekeeper Syndrome: Reflections on Power and Type

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Reflections on Power and Type

 By Roger E. Bissell


Although my current profession is live music performance, I am also working toward a masters degree in psychology, and I am intensely interested in research on type theory. In both these areas, I have some interesting experiences and observations to share regarding power and type.

A. The Gatekeeper Syndrome: the Use of Power in Research on Personality Type

The examples I want to focus on in type research are not ones that easily fit into the framework used by Barr and Barr. The reason is that the relationships involved are not like the one between boss and employee, or any of the other typical power relationships.

Instead, they are the two most critical relationships a researcher has: his relationships with “the gatekeepers of research.” (I am indebted to Alice Fairhurst for her suggestion of the use of this term.)

The purpose of research is to discover and communicate new knowledge. And if “knowledge is power,” it is no less true that control over data and results of research is power, as well.

The gatekeepers of research have that power, and they are capable of using it for good or for evil—to promote the finding and sharing of new knowledge or to block it—to foster research or to squelch it.

One of these is the “input gatekeeper,” i.e., someone from whom a researcher wants to obtain data. The other is the “output gatekeeper:” someone upon whom a researcher depends for an opportunity to present his conclusions.

During the past six years, I have had numerous encounters with each kind of gatekeeper. Without naming names, I would like to share with you some of these experiences and the conclusions I draw from them.

1. The Input Gatekeeper

In doing type research, we researchers gather data by having a number of people take some form of the MBTI, then they discover patterns in those data and try to explain the patterns. Often this increases our understanding of one or more of the 16 types, or of type theory in general.

As in other branches of science, researchers on type are free to share their data with others or not to. There are good reasons for sharing your data. This is even true in type research, so long as you protect the confidentiality of the people whose MBTI results you are using.

One good reason is for skeptics to be able to fully examine and question your conclusions. This is part of the process of scientific review that helps to validate correct conclusions and to weed out errors that the researcher may have made.

Another good reason is to empower other researchers to follow up on and build on your conclusions, to find new patterns and conclusions that you may have overlooked. This has been the main thrust of my own research.

Both of these reasons for sharing data are vital to progress in science. Without the free sharing of data (again, with appropriate safeguards to one’s sources), type theory risks becoming frozen at a certain level. At the very least, progress would be slower than it could be.

On the other hand, there are factors that lead people who possess the data—the “input gatekeepers”—to not share it with some researchers. What are these factors? And how do they relate to power or type?

Two input gatekeepers I have dealt with were ENFPs, and they were really busy, going a hundred directions at once! The same was true of an ENTP input gatekeeper, who also had some personal medical problems that slowed her down.

Whatever the case, I eventually got the data I wanted from each of them. My overall impression, admittedly unscientific, is that EPs are somewhat flaky, but basically well-meaning in sharing data.

Four other input gatekeepers provided me the data I wanted almost immediately. Two were INTPs, one an INFP, and one an ENFJ. In general (again, based on only four cases), it appears to me that IPs and EJs are both willing and prompt in sharing data.

Dealing with the remaining input gatekeeper of my experience, an INTJ, has been both a mystery and a frustration to me. For over a month now, I have been trying to get certain data from Consulting Psychologists’ Press, who publish the MBTI.

There is nothing controversial or confidential about this data. It is merely an updated, expanded form of data published in the appendix of David Saunders’ 1988 manual for a form of the MBTI called the “Expanded Analysis Report.”

CCP is very protective of the manual, and you cannot even purchase a copy of it, unless you meet certain qualifications. I did not, so I had a friend photocopy the data from the appendix of his copy and send it to me.

This six-year-old data convinced me I was on the trail of something big. Some of the results of my analyzing this data are found in other essays posted on this website: Achilles Tendencies.

In my quest for newer data, I originally contacted an INTP in Alaska, who was perfectly willing to share this data with me, but he insisted I first get approval from CCP. I then phoned CCP in Palo Alto, and from the INTJ I spoke with, I have gotten cautious questioning, then a promise to pass along my request to their “scientist” (whoever that is), but no data.

Perhaps this is just an example of the typical slowness of bureaucracies or under-staffed small businesses. Maybe the data is “in the mail.” We’ll see.

Another factor may be the fact that I am an amateur. I have no academic credentials or certification for doing type research. I am an independent maverick, to boot.

Against this, I simply say that if such highly technical disciplines as mathematics and astronomy benefit and have nothing to fear from talented, intelligent amateurs—and I humbly submit that I am one—then neither does psychology. I would be surprised if the people at CCP held such an unenlightened position about amateur researchers.

But perhaps there is another explanation. The data I have been trying to get is an outgrowth of findings that Isabel Myers first made in the early 1940s. Her findings revealed many more details and nuances of personality than we are used to seeing in our four-letter MBTI types—and some of those nuances were not very flattering, showing certain types of people as more likely to be defiant, or inhibited, or distractible, or worried.

Myers, being an INFP, wanted to accentuate the positive. She felt that focusing on people’s neurotic personality traits would hurt them in some way or other, so she tucked away some of her most important results for over 40 years!

Recently, there has been a great deal of interest in the Five Factor Model. This is very similar to the MBTI’s four dimensions, plus an extra scale for Neuroticism. Probably because of this, Myers’ “lost research” was resurrected and used in making the Expanded Analysis Report (EAR) and the Type Differentiation Indicator (TDI).

The TDI includes a fifth scale, the Comfort scale, which is very much like the Big Five’s scale for neuroticism. So, for better or worse, with the aid of the EAR and the TDI, the MBTI is now starting to look at human frailties as well as “gifts differing.” And I believe that this is a good thing.

When we find, for example, that the four SJ types have by far the biggest risk for heart disease, we can speculate that it may be the SJ preference for introverted sensing that is the problem—and that when anybody’s introverted sensing malfunctions due to stress, they may be at more risk for heart disease.

I don’t think I’m alone in believing that type theory will make important contributions to our physical and psychological well-being with the help of this kind of research.

But there are still many who are loyal to Myers’ original vision and feel very nervous about this kind of focus. Some of them are associated with the Consulting Psychologists’ Press, and their reluctance or hesitance at sharing their data may simply reflect a fear that it may be used in a way that reinforces type bias or even downright bigotry.

For example, it would be one thing if we were to show that most schizophrenics are NFs and quite another to say that NFs have schizophrenic tendencies. Or to show that most prison inmates are SPs vs. saying that SPs have criminal tendencies. Or, especially, to claim that any and all NFs and SPs are suspect—and no one else!

I realize that this might sound like paranoid speculation, and I certainly can’t prove it. But if it’s true, I maintain that it amounts to a misuse of power by the input gatekeepers at CCP.

The fears they reflect are due more to insecurity and a failure to trust the academic process than to any real harm that could come from allowing liberal access to their data. And that brings me to my second major type of gatekeeper.

2. The Output Gatekeeper

In sharing the results of one’s type research and theorizing with others, there is a limited number of outlets in the type community, and each is guarded by an “output gatekeeper.”

You might have your results published by a type-related publisher, such as the Center for Applications of Psychological Type. Such publishers have standards for what they will accept.

You might have your results published by a journal, bulletin, or newsletter. Each of these is guarded by an editor, who is often guided by an editorial policy set in place by APT or one of its local chapters.

You might be able to deliver your findings at a local meeting or at a regional or international conference. Each of these is guarded by a program director or committee, who directly approach especially desired speakers and solicit and screen applications from others.

Both the APT Journal and conference program committees also use what is called “blind review” of papers that are submitted to them. The editors or directors give out copies that have the author’s name removed, and the reviewers are thus insulated from one of the ways they might be biased for or against a popular or controversial writer’s work. Nevertheless, final discretion of whether or not to publish usually rests with the editor or program director, who does know the identity of the author.

My impression of Tom Carskadon (the Journal of Psychological Type editor) is that he has a very open, helpful way of relating to people who submit their work to him. He and his reviewers give suggestions to help bring promising material up to the level they would accept for publication. I have observed a similar attitude of openness in the Bulletin, although I have yet to submit any pieces to either it or the Journal.

My deepest satisfaction is with the way the international conference programs have been run. The window of opportunity to submit program proposals for APT-XI in Kansas City was extremely narrow (by comparison to APT-X), and I was unable to squeeze through it. I wonder how many other would-be presenters had this problem.

My problem with APT-X was that at least three of the most interesting, challenging, cutting-edge proposals I’m aware of were turned down. This wouldn’t bother me so much, if I didn’t also know for a fact that at least one person on the APT-X program committee (no names!) expressed alarm at all the “controversial” and “oddball” theoretical papers that were submitted.

Whether or not this referred to the papers I know of, it certainly sounds as though the committee was dominated by an overly conservative gate-keeping attitude last year (1993). I certainly hope that the APT-XI program committee has a more progressive and open approach in selecting theory papers.

In contrast, I am very pleased with the way programs are set up in our own local chapter of APT. Our very own “output gatekeepers,” Carol Grams and Alice Fairhurst and Becky Bissell, have played an important role in welcoming the presentation of new ideas to our group.

Because of their open-minded, balanced way of program-building, there has been plenty of room for people like Brian Neal Burg and myself to push the envelope on type theory—and I certainly hope that trend continues under Monica Schneider and future program directors in our group.

My fervent hope is that we find a better way for provocative, original ideas to get a hearing on the national level. Unless we can get the output gatekeepers at APT International to loosen up, however, I am afraid for the future of type theory as a living, growing body of knowledge.

3. 2005 update:

My experiences since writing this paper have been mixed. I have not received any of the data I requested from CCP; but I did submit a piece which was published in the Bulletin. It is the essay on this website dealing with type-related stodginess and flakiness.

I submitted two proposals to the APT-XIII conference committee, and both were accepted and later published in the conference proceedings. They are posted on this website, also. However, more recently, I submitted a proposal to the APT-XVI committee for a sequel paper on “Achilles Tendencies” in the SP, SJ, NP, and NJ types, and it was rejected.

I delivered another research-based paper, “Lend Me Your EARs” to the Southern California chapter, but that group became defunct around 2000, and the L.A. group has scheduled meetings at a time when I can’t attend, so I have been “out of the loop” for approximately 5 years now. This problem has been accentuated by the loss of my dear friend and type theory buddy, Bruce Rowland, who passed away in October of 2004, and by the upheaval in APT with the uncertain status of its journal.

My hope is to eventually finish my Achilles Tendencies manuscript and to offer it to a publisher, as well as to lecture on applications of the topic. It may become necessary to take on a co-writer who is better connected within the type community, in order for this material to see the light of day. Other than on this website, of course.