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History and Significance of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test

Jennifer L. Black has a BA and an MS in Psychology and has also completed master's-level coursework in criminal justice.

Discover who created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test and why, and explore how the test is used today.

Discover who created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test and why, and explore how the test is used today.

Most people probably do not know what the MMPI or 16PF is, but if you mention the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, they are likely to show at least a glimmer of recognition. Although some research shows that not everyone who retakes the test gets the same results each time, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is very popular. It's used by psychologists, schools, and even businesses.

How and Why the Test Was Created

The study of personality was a lifelong passion of Katharine Briggs. As early as her teenage years, she started observing human behavior to better understand how personality affected one’s ability to be a good parent, teacher, or student. She and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, documented their observations on personality, and this research became a long-term fascination of Isabel’s as well. When they discovered Jung’s work, they compared their findings to his theory and were excited when they found them to be consistent (Meyers, 2006).

The Goal of Increasing Job Satisfaction During WWII

The mother-daughter pair conducted their research during World War II, when there were many people working in jobs that did not suit them. Isabel wanted to do something to improve performance and job satisfaction for both civilians and soldiers. She decided to find a way to measure people’s personality traits so that she could help them find positions that suited them better. Her goal was to increase job satisfaction and also reduce the stress caused by a mismatch between personality and job duties. She explained her ideas to her mother, and soon they were collecting data and analyzing results to improve the questions they designed (Meyers, 2006).

Isabel and her husband published the first copy of the MBTI themselves but were eventually approached by Educational Testing Service (ETS), which is best known for publishing the SAT. ETS took over publishing the test (Meyers, 2006).

This graphic shows the 16 different type designations in the MBTI. The letters indicate the subject's preferences in each of four categories.

This graphic shows the 16 different type designations in the MBTI. The letters indicate the subject's preferences in each of four categories.

Construction

The MBTI is a forced-choice test that is usually self-administered. There are 126 questions, not including the two separate forms that are available to assist in the individualization of the generated report. There are four equally valuable preference categories that could lead to 16 different type designations. Each category has two preferences to choose from that range from one extreme to the other:

  • Extroversion (E) vs. Introversion (I)
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

Each response generates a point value that is used to determine personality type (McCaulley, 1990).

Reliability and Validity

Although there are some differences depending on the sample used, internal consistency has been established for the MBTI. There is also strong support that the test adequately reflects the Jungian personality theory it is based on (Chen & Miao, 2007).

Some studies have shown that the test-retest reliability in adults is not as high as one would expect, since Jung thought that personality was, to some extent, a set variable once adulthood was reached (Pittinger, 2005). Other studies showed that, on average, 92% of adults who retook the test received the same four letters. The percentage is lower if there is a long gap between tests or if the test taker is younger. Among younger test takers, 66% received the same four letters and 91% had at least three of the four letters remain the same (Chen & Miao, 2007).

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Significance: How Is the MBTI Used?

There are many uses for the MBTI, including educational counseling, career counseling, job placement, team building, and personal development.

  • It helps people improve relationships. Being aware of personality types allows one to accept others as they are—or at least better understand why they act the way they do.
  • It helps supervisors identify strengths and weaknesses in their employees so they can do a better job with employee placement.
  • It can help reduce conflict in the workplace, allowing a more productive and positive working environment to develop.
  • It also provides an outline to develop training programs (Allen, 1994).

It is up to each person to recognize his or her true preferences.

— Isabel Briggs Myers

The Lasting Impact of the Personality Test

Although it started out as a simple idea from a mother and daughter interested in watching people, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator soon became one of the most-used personality tests available (Chen & Miao, 2007). Many well-known companies, including Hallmark Cards, have used the MBTI for many years, not only to assist them with hiring decisions but also as a basis for developing strategies for change and developing a strong team that can communicate effectively with employees of all personality types (Overbo, 2010). Although not everyone involved in psychology is an enthusiastic supporter of the MBTI, there are many who are, myself included.

Works Cited

Allen, J. (1994). Using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator—part of the solution? British Journal Of Nursing, 3(9), 473.

Chen, J., & Miao, D. (2007). Introduction to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. US-China Education Review, 4(3), 44-53.

McCaulley, M. H., (1990). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: A measure for individuals and groups. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 22(4), 181-195.

Meyers, K., (2006). An Extended History of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® Instrument. Retrieved on August 13, 2012 from http://www.mbtitoday.org/downloads/An-Extended-History-of-the-MBTI.pdf

Overbo, J. (2010). Using Myers-Briggs Personality Type to Create a Culture Adapted to the New Century. T+D, 64(2), 70.

Paul, A. M. (2004). The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves. New York, New York: Free Press.

Pittinger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary comments regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57(3), 210-221. doi:10.1037/1065-9293.57.3.210

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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