The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It’s used regularly by Fortune 500 companies and lots of other organizations. Its language of personality types has inspired TV shows and online-dating platforms. Yet, experts in the field of psychometric testing have struggled to validate its results – let alone account for its success.
Myers-Briggs was conceived in the 1920s by a pair of devoted homemakers, novelists, and amateur psychoanalysts, the mother-daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Their multiple-choice questionnaire would make its way from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was administered to some of the twentieth century’s greatest creative minds. And it traveled on across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Tokyo.
How did the homegrown Myers-Briggs questionnaire infiltrate our workplaces, our relationships, our Internet, our lives? Merve Emre, until recently an assistant professor of English at McGill, explores that story in her new book, The Personality Brokers: the strange history of Myers-Briggs and the birth of personality testing.
Prof. Emre, now an associate professor at Oxford, joined us in June to discuss the story, shortly before her move to the UK. Her book, published this month, has generated considerable buzz on both sides of the Atlantic. As a New York Times reviewer put it: “’The Personality Brokers’ is history that reads like biography that reads like a novel — a fluid narrative that defies expectations and plays against type.”