Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers

A mother and daughter’s passion and devotion creates a personality instrument based on the work of Carl Jung
After 70 years, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular psychometric test in the world

Katharine Briggs (1875 – 1968) had a life-long interest in human development and a particular interest in why people were different from each other. She witnessed differences in personality among the people around her and began formulating her own theories around the causes of these differences. Over time, Briggs became determined to understand and describe the origin of personality differences.

An image weighing up personality testing like the mbti.Briggs’ own theories were already well-formed when, in 1923, she came across Carl Jung’s book Psychological Types (1921), which had recently been translated into English. Briggs knew immediately that Jung’s theories gave life to her own. She spent a great deal of time researching Jung’s work and used the principles he had set out in Psychological Types to complete her hypotheses.

Jung’s theories of personality were new. He did not believe in the personality tests that prevailed at the time. Psychometric tests then (and some now) were trait-based. In other words, it was assumed that individuals might have identifiable personality traits and tests were devised to measure whether these traits existing within a personality.

Jung did not believe in trait-based assessments of personality. Instead, he believed that most people have all traits, and that we have preferences for how we go about life. In his book, he set out three parameters for personality preferences.

The personality type indicator begins to take shape

Sharing her mother’s enthusiasm, Isabel Myers (1897-1980) began studying Jung’s theories and together with her mother, began a 30-year research project that would eventually become the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator©. Katharine and Isabel took Jung’s three parameters and added a fourth. In short, they formulated a four-part assessment of personality preferences based on Jung’s typology:

  • Extraversion or Introversion: referring to where one directs his or her attention and energy  — on the outer world of people and places around them, or on the inner, internal world of reflection
  • Sensing or Intuition: referring to how one prefers to deal with information — by focusing on the details of the information, or by interpreting the details and adding meaning
  • Thinking or Feeling: referring to decision making processes — objectively, using logic and consistency, or subjectively, considering other people and individual circumstances
  • Judging or Perceiving: referring to how one interacts with the outer world — with a preference towards getting things decided and completed, or for staying open to new information and options

In therapy, everyone is unique.The first pencil and paper version of the MBTI was published in 1943, though the questionnaire has evolved considerably since that time. Both Katharine and Isabel devoted the rest of their lives to the research and development of the Myers-Brigs Type Indicator. They felt that through increased self-awareness, an individual could reach his or her full potential.

One of the strengths of the MBTI questionnaire is that it’s an entirely positive approach to understanding personality. It seeks to identify personality preferences; there are no right or wrong answers to the questionnaire’s questions.

Neither Katharine or Isabel had any academic affiliation to psychology or sociology. Isabel held a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. The drive and determination for creating the MBTI came from their own passionate interest in human development and their devotion to the theory of psychological type.

The MBTI questionnaire is now available in 16 languages and more than two million MBTI assessments are completed around the world each year. However one feels about psychometric testing, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the world’s most popular psychometric instrument and would not exist had it not been for the life’s work of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers.

‘I dream that long after I’m gone, my work will go on helping people.’ – Isabel Myers, 1979

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