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The Personality Brokers

The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing

By Merve Emre
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The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre

The Personality Brokers (2018) explores the origins and enduring appeal of the preeminent personality test. Drawing on detailed historical research, as well as recent psychological insights, these blinks detail the origins of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and what the test can really tell us about the nature of human beings.

Key idea 1 of 7

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator uses an easily understandable, nonjudgmental approach to understanding personality.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) holds the crown as the best-known personality inventory. You may have taken it as part of a recruitment process for a job or simply as a way to get to know yourself a little better. But for the uninitiated, let’s start by taking a look at exactly what this popular test entails.

Our story begins during the Second World War, when a mother and daughter, Katharine Cooks Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, developed a questionnaire that later became known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This test measures a person’s personality according to several binaries of normal human behavior – common traits contrasted with their opposite, making them easy for most of us to understand.

They are: introversion (I) and extraversion (E); intuition (N) and sensing (S); feeling (F) and thinking (T); and judging (J) and perceiving (P).

In order to assess where someone’s personality lies along these four dichotomies, the questionnaire asks ninety-three separate questions about respondents’ preferences, each of which is associated with one of the test’s categories.

For example: “Do you prefer to focus on the outer world, or your own inner world?” assesses introversion and extraversion, whereas “When you make decisions, do you initially consider consistency and logic, or do you first consider people and particular circumstances?” evaluates thinking and feeling.

According to Myers-Briggs, your answers to questions like these determine your personality, which can be any one of 16 four-letter combinations. For instance, you might be an ENTJ (an extraverted, intuitive, thinking and judging personality type), or you could come out as an ISFP (an introverted, sensing, feeling and perceiving type).

Importantly, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator isn’t a test with right and wrong answers. Rather, every personality type has its own strengths and weaknesses – no type is inherently better or worse than another. People with feeling personalities, for instance, are thought to be better at empathizing with others, whereas thinking personalities are more rational problem solvers. The creators designed the indicator this way to ensure that test-takers would not worry about being regarded as inferior to others once their results were known.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is renowned for this nonjudgmental and clear framework. But people might be less enthusiastic if they knew the thoroughly unscientific roots from which this test grew.

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