Do you know what the Myers Briggs test is? Most people would probably scratch their heads, but the questionnaire is relatively easy to understand. The Myers Briggs test is a psychological survey that analyzes how different personalities influence our perception of reality and our ability to make choices. Although some people deem the exam to be “fake science,” it is actually based on psychologist Carl Jung’s theories. Read on to discover more about the evolution of the Myers Briggs test.

Mother of invention

The Myers Briggs test was created by the mother-daughter duo Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. In 1875, Katherine Briggs was born to parents who valued equal education for women and men. Her father was a lecturer at Michigan State. By age 14, Katherine had already started attending college. Once Katherine received her college degree, she wed scientist Lyman James Briggs.

In late 1897, their child Isabel Briggs Myers was born in Washington, DC. While Katherine was taking care of Isabel, she created several hypotheses about childrearing. Soon enough, the inventive mother removed her child from public school and began educating her at home. Several years later, Isabel met her future husband Clarence “Chief” Myers while studying political science at Swarthmore College. In 1918, Isabel and Chief officially tied the knot.

After some time, Katherine started to feel that Chief’s personality was significantly different from the other members of the family. At that point, she began her study of Chief’s identity. Katherine sought to pinpoint the personality distinctions between Chief and her relatives. This was important to her because she had to get along with Chief in order to maintain her relationship with Isabel. Through understanding Chief, Katherine began her lifelong journey into the depths of the human mind.

A beautiful mind

Over the next couple of years, Katherine’s psychological studies resulted in her obsession with Carl Jung. When she came across Jung’s 1923 novel Psychological Types, she felt that Jung’s work accurately explored the distinctions between personality types. It was then that Katherine decided to ditch her personal theories about personality and adopt Jung’s instead. Her love of the famous psychologist led to her attempts to get in touch with him.

Surprisingly, Katherine was able to successfully contact Jung. According to Oxford University associate professor Merve Emre, Briggs started “to write to Jung to ask him to clarify what he means in different sections of the book. Eventually, she [began] to type everyone around her using Jung’s categories of introversion and extroversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling.” Katherine even claimed to have met Jung during his trip to the United States.

Meanwhile, Isabel was pre-occupied with her marital and motherly duties. At this point, she and Chief were focused on raising their two children. When Isabel wasn’t busy with her household chores, she would spend her time working on creative writing. Eventually, Isabel had won a distinguished competition for mystery writers. While her mother Katherine had begged her to get involved with type theory, Isabel just wasn’t interested. Suddenly, Isabel changed her mind when she came across a study that attempted to match personality types to career interests. It was then that Isabel decided to collaborate with her mom. Although they had no formal training in psychology, Katherine and Isabel embarked on a type watching journey that spanned two decades.

The personality test

In the mid-1940s, Katherine and Isabel enlisted Lyman Briggs’ help to run their initial psychological assessment with students at George Washington Medical School. Isabel was heavily influenced by Katherine’s previous studies throughout World War II. As a result, she wrote a standardized exam intended to determine a person’s war-time occupation. Isabel also used her mother’s and Jung’s research to create a handwritten survey to evaluate personality type. While Kathern was the original brainchild of the Myers Briggs test, Isabel was the one that actually formulated the finished product.

In 1944, the mother-daughter team had published their popular personality test. Since its creation, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has become instrumental in business development and marriage therapy. In 1962, the MBTI was accepted into the Educational Testing Service’s curriculum. Since then, approximately 50 million participants have completed the exam. The MBTI aims to identify different personalities in correspondence with four sets of classifications. According to Katherine and Isabel, every participant should fit into at least one of the 16 possible personality descriptions. Despite the fact that the MBTI was created to determine career assessment, it has become a valuable instrument in exploring interpersonal relationships. However, the accuracy of the MBTI has been questioned by critics who believed that Briggs created the test without the proper amount of research.

In 1968, Katherine Briggs passed away at age 93 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, Isabel continued to pursue her mother’s work. During the 1970s, Isabel discovered that she was suffering from cancer. That is when Isabel and her son Peter penned their classic text Gifts Differing, which summed up the theories presented in the MBTI. While her health declined, she spent her last days doing final edits on the novel. Isabel passed away soon after she finished the book in the comfort of her home. She had completed her lifelong goal of introducing her personality test to the masses. In this way, Isabel achieved what she once spoke of as her ultimate fantasy: “I dream that long after I am gone, my work will go on helping people.”