Young Koreans Turn to Magical Thinking in Troubled Times

  • By Kim Sung-yoon, Bae Jun-yong

    October 20, 2023 08:32

    Young Koreans are turning to pseudo-science and fortune-telling as they try to make sense of an increasingly confusing and complex world that seems to offer dim prospects for the future.
    One craze is for the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator personality chart when experiencing difficulties in relationships, while horoscopes or tarot cards are used to soothe anxieties about their careers or love lives. Some companies even rely on MBTI woo-woo to choose new workers.
    One 32-year-old office worker says he now avoids what the chart classifies as an "extraverted, intuitive, thinking, and perceiving" or ENTP-type personality whenever he goes on a blind date. "The worst kinds of people I encountered in my life have all been ENTP types," he claimed. "It's normal now to meet people who fit your MBTI typology." 
    MBTI is a self-report questionnaire developed in 1944 by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers, inspired by the mystically inclined Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung. It classifies people into 16 different types by combining different personality traits. The indicator has fallen out of fashion in its homeland but survives in certain corners of the Internet and suddenly popped up in Korea in the 1990s to replace other dubious predictors of personality like blood type. 
    A company that makes school uniforms surveyed 400 youngsters and found that a whopping 84 percent use MBTI as a guide when making new friends. Even some universities have adopted MBTI as a guide to advise students on their career choice, while matchmaking services use it to pair couples.
    The survey conjures comical images of young people frantically consulting their charts under the table when they meet but reflects real anxieties about an increasingly unpredictable world.
    Experts have warned that MBTI is pseudo-science, but nobody is listening. Kim Jong-koo, who runs a personality test center, admitted, "MBTI is simply a tool to understand the personality differences between people and shouldn't be used to exclude others or pass judgment on them." 
    Lee Dong-gwi, a psychologist at Yonsei University, said, "MBTI should not be used to evaluate people or hire workers." 
    Experts also cautioned that MBTI compatibility tests for couples cannot be trusted. "MBTI merely classifies people according to personality types and does not judge their character or morality," Kim added.
    Instead Kim Se-young, a 31-year-old office worker, is busy learning about Chinese horoscopes. "I used to have tremendous trust in MBTI because I felt it was more accurate than blood types in determining a person's personality," Kim reveals. "But MBTI differentiates personalities according to 16 different personality types, while there are only four different blood types," and apparently that is not enough to explain a bewildering world.
    "Chinese horoscopes, on the other hand, classify people according to 518,400 types, which shows how intricate and detailed it is," Kim added.
    A recent survey by job search portal Alba showed that nine out of 10 young Koreans have had their fortune told through online services. Naver's online advice platform generated 74 percent of its revenues last year from horoscope readings, and 72 percent of users were in their 20s and 30s.
    Smartphone apps offer readings through cartoon characters and chat services, and just like MBTI, the perpetual consulting of charts can become addictive. 
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