Either/Or, or Shades of Gray

Once upon a time there was an adult mind who craved simplicity. One day it met up with its mirror opposite who craved complexity. They argued. Failing to resolve, they called Einstein to referee. “Tis wise to be as simple as possible, but not too simple!” the German-American wise man urged.

In my field—personometrics, the measurement of various aspects of the person—simple versus complex is best illustrated by scales that force a choice between two extremes, versus scales that allow a continuum from one extreme to another. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an example of forced choice. Both the questions and the scores force one to one extreme or another. A question would be “Do you prefer being a) alone or b) with others?” The problem with this question is that it does not allow for persons who have no preference, for those who enjoy both being alone and being with others. The MBTI reports one’s score, for example, as either an introvert or an extravert—you are one or the other.

An example of the other extreme—measuring a continuum—is the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™. A question would be “Enjoys spending time alone.” The answer to this question is not a forced choice, not a simple yes or no, but is a so-called Likert scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, or Strongly Agree. This response scale permits shades of gray, and not just two extremes. The WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ reports scores as a number from 1 to 100, such that a person might score more extraverted (i.e., between 55 and 100), which comprises 31% of the population, more introverted (between 1 and 45), which comprises another 31% of the population, or more ambiverted, in the middle (between 45 and 55), which comprises 38% of the population.

To say I am an Extravert, I think Einstein would call this too simple. To say I am a 48 on the Extraversion/Introversion scale, I think Einstein would call this too complex. To say I am more ambiverted and more likely to exhibit a balance of extraverted and introverted behavior—I think Einstein would call that simple, but not too simple.

false dichotomy
to be or not to be: a false dichotomy, by Tantek Celik, 2010. CC BY-NC 2.0


These two opposing ways of reasoning have made their way into the logical fallacies hall of honor. The fallacy of the false dichotomy (or false dilemma) refers to assertions like either/or—as in you are with me or you are against me, when in truth your position may be somewhere in between. The fallacy of the middle ground, also called the argument to moderation, refers to assertions that extremes are bad, and that only moderation is of value. The MBTI exhibits the fallacy of the false dichotomy—one is either an introvert or an extravert, while another traditional personality model, the Enneagram, exhibits the fallacy of the middle ground asserting that the ideal personality scores in the midrange on all traits—one should be neither an introvert nor an extravert, but ambiverted—half and half.

Last week a friend give me a current copy of the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal (January 2016). She pointed me to an article by Leslie A. Gordon titled “Most lawyers are introverted, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Really, I thought to myself? What’s their evidence? In reading the article I learned that a New York consulting firm had administered the MBTI to 6,000 lawyers since 1990, with 60% scoring as introverts. This would mean, in MBTI terms, that 3,600 scored in the introverted range. They were counted as introverts whether they scored only one point into that range or whether they scored 100 points into that range. An attorney who scored just one point into the introverted range and one who scored just one point into the extraverted range were labeled introvert and extravert respectively, even though they were only one point or so apart. This is an example of the fallacy of the false dilemma.

On the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™, where 31% score from 0 to 44, and approximately 19% score between 45 and 50 (or, half of the 38% who score between 45 and 55), in order for 60% of these lawyers to score as introverted would mean that all 3,600 would have had to score below 45. To directly compare these MBTI results with an assessment like the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™, we need to understand that a score of 50 on the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ is neither introvert nor extravert, but ambivert. The MBTI, in terms of the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™, is saying that 3,600 people, or 60%, scored below 50, and were thus introverts. However, current personality scholars would say that you have to score below 45 to be considered introvert. I do not have the New York firm’s data, so I do not know how the 3,600 scores were distributed below the midpoint. However, if this set of scores is similar to other sets, then quite a few would fall in the ambivert zone of 45 to 50. Perhaps as many one to two thousand of them. So, six out of every ten lawyers do not score introvert, but rather some score introvert and some ambivert. I would need to see the data to know the actual spread. But my educated estimate is that about four out of ten score below our 45 cutoff for introversion.

Conclusion: About four in ten lawyers score in the introverted zone, with maybe three or four of ten in the ambiverted zone and two or three in the extraverted zone. That is a far cry from the assertion that “most lawyers are introverted.” Almost as many are ambiverted. The more introverted lawyers likely prefer spending time in reading, research, and case preparation. The more extraverted lawyers likely prefer spending their time in court or conferences. The more ambiverted lawyers likely prefer a balance between the two extremes. Given the many legal specialties, these preferences can certainly be accommodated.

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