The Myers-Briggs Type Sign has been commonly used by businesses, universities, the military and other organizations for decades to examine personality. Merve Emre, associate professor of English at the University of Oxford and fellow at Worcester College, delves into the story behind the test with her brand-new book, The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Training. Emre recently joined the Knowledge@Wharton radio program on SiriusXM to describe why Myers-Briggs continues to mesmerize our collective creativity as part of the $2 billion character screening market.
A modified records of the discussion follows.
Knowledge@Wharton: I feel like the Myers-Briggs test is something that everyone has actually taken at some point in their lives– even you. Is that correct?
Merve Emre: My dirty little secret is that prior to I got a Ph.D. in English literature, I was a management specialist at Bain & Business. That’s where I initially encountered it during an off-site training. We were all asked to take the Myers-Briggs, and after that an executive skill coach came in to debrief us on our types and what our strengths and weaknesses might be going forward at the company.
Knowledge@Wharton: What drove you to write a book looking at the historical element of it?
Emre: When I initially started researching it, I hadn’t understood that Myers and Briggs were the names of two women. Like lots of people, I had actually presumed that they were two men who had found themselves interacting in a clinic or a lab, had actually developed this survey and had popularized it through their connections in business world, in the military, in the church, all of the different institutions where Myers-Briggs is really widespread today.
When I discovered that it was a mother and daughter, the appeal of it got this brand-new fascination for me. How did these 2 females who had no formal training in psychology establish the most popular character indication worldwide today?
Knowledge@Wharton: What is the answer to that concern?
Emre: It was a number of different things. The motivations were different for mother and for daughter. Katharine Briggs was the mother. She was born in 1875. When she actually starts examining psychological type at the start of the 20th century, she has an interest in it as a child-rearing tool. She has an interest in how one can type one’s kids really early in life and find out what they ought to focus on. She believed that this was actually valuable for moms and dads because you would not press your children to do things that they didn’t innately prefer to do. She saw it as this tool for early youth education and expertise.
” It remains in the 1980s that management consultancies … are placing a focus on individuals’s personalities, and they’re discussing marketing yourself in certain kinds of methods. The Type Indicator then explodes as this tool for marketing one’s self.”
Her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, inherits this way of thinking about type from her mom in the 1940s. In the 1940s, she sees the rise of all of these brand-new personality tests that are supposed to match employees to the jobs that are best suited to them. She takes issue with a number of these tests since they divide employees into great workers and bad workers, or employees who have a typical character and workers with an unusual character. She believes, “What if I created an indicator in which all types were created equivalent and each type had their place in the world? And this indicator would assist sort people into the tasks that were right for them.” That’s why she does it, because she believes that will really be a method for people to find happiness.
Katharine Briggs reads Carl Jung’s Psychological Enters the 1920s, so the categories are based upon it. She checks out that in the 1920s and starts writing about type then, but the real survey isn’t developed until the early 1940s.
Knowledge@Wharton: How rapidly was it accepted by businesses and other companies when it lastly came out?
Emre: It’s a bit of a slow burn. These companies are all utilizing it to have their CEOs examine themselves, to speak with job candidates, to figure out whether or not you need to charge specific individuals with specific type profiles higher premiums for their life insurance coverage.
It’s not till the 1980s when it becomes this immensely popular structure for believing about character. It’s in the 1980s that management consultancies, huge Wall Street companies are putting an emphasis on people’s personalities, and they’re talking about marketing yourself in particular kinds of ways.
Knowledge@Wharton: It was also used quite a bit by the military, including during The second world war, fix?
Emre: The first individual to acquire it from the consultant that Isabel Briggs Myers was working for was this man named Donald MacKinnon, who ran the Office of Strategic Services Station S during The Second World War. It was a secret operation where they matched spies to the concealed objectives that they believed were finest matched for their personalities. MacKinnon would administer [the Myers-Briggs], along with a variety of other mental tests and role-playing scenarios and interviews and things like that, to possible operatives whose characters he was trying to evaluate. Throughout examining it, I have actually discovered that it’s being used by the Department of Defense, by the CIA, by more contemporary military institutions.
Knowledge@Wharton: You mentioned the development of this kind of screening in the 1980s. However organisations for decades have actually wanted to know about a task prospect’s personality due to the fact that they want that individual to be a great fit.
Emre: This is why Isabel Briggs Myers found an interested clientele for her product in the 1940s. In the 1950s, William H. Whyte publishes the book The Organization Man, which is thinking specifically about the kind of person you have to remain in order to be considered a great fit within a business office. This conversation about what sort of employee looks like a good suitable for a white-collar task has definitely been around for a while. It’s really more that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator pulled ahead as the leading tool around which these discussions were oriented in the 1980s.
Knowledge@Wharton: As the test was distributed, existed criticism since it was a marketing tool rather than an academic one?
Emre: One of the institutions that had an interest in being the primary publisher for it in the 1950s and 1960s was Educational Testing Solutions, ETS. They’re the people who make the SAT. They were interested in finding a test that could do for personality testing with the SAT had actually provided for aptitude screening, which was that every college would use it to assist identify their admissions.
They were attempting to validate it, and they couldn’t. Their team of statisticians might not discover a way. They simply could not discover proof for the fact that the questionnaire measured the classifications that it declared to measure, or that it was even reputable. Over 50% of individuals who took it got a various outcome when they took it a second time.
It’s truly fascinating due to the fact that at that point in the test’s history, the people at ETS start saying things like, “Well, when employers give potential staff members personality tests, typically the staff members feel alienated by them. They feel evaluated. What if the Myers-Briggs were one that they could give the staff member and tell them their results so they didn’t feel so alienated, so they seemed like the employer had an interest in them finding the job that was best for them, or interested in them self-actualizing more usually?”
When they have to face the absence of scientific credibility and dependability, the indicator handles this very various kind of function, a softer function. It was a way of persuading workers that companies are keeping an eye out for their benefits, when maybe they’re not.
Knowledge@Wharton: The word “indicator” was an important consider the test due to the fact that it didn’t make people feel like they were being evaluated, fix?
If you go to a contemporary Myers-Briggs training session, which I had to do in order to compose this book, one of the very fascinating things they tell you up front is that under no situations are you expected to refer to it as a test. Since a test is something that has right and wrong responses, a test is something that creates hierarchies of its topics based on how well they have answered the questions.
Calling it an indication and explaining it as they do is another method of getting around these concerns of validity. If you do not concur with it, they often state, “Well, maybe you just took it in the incorrect frame of mind. Possibly you weren’t addressing it as the real you,” or what Isabel Briggs Myers called your “shoes off” self.
For the individuals who sell and market and teach based off of the sign, the only thing that actually matters is whether or not you’re pleased with the results that you’re provided. I kind of take for approved that it’s not legitimate or reputable.
Knowledge@Wharton: Is there more character screening now than when Myers-Briggs initially came out?
Emre: There’s absolutely more of it. The market has grown. In the 1990s, the number that was being thrown around in posts on it was in between $400 million to $500 million as an industry. There’s an internal report from Facebook that came out last year that put the marketplace at around $2 billion, so it has actually absolutely grown because sense.
What’s interesting is that there are numerous more tests out there, numerous more models of analysis than Myers-Briggs. You do see them putting their Myers-Briggs type in there. You see Buzzfeed quizzes and type tables about Myers-Briggs and what your Myers-Briggs type says about which Game of Thrones character you are.
You took a personality test and clicked the terms of services box that enabled Cambridge Analytica to basically scrape your Facebook profile for data. One of the things that signaled to me is that the personality test has actually become harmless enough that you could use it to draw individuals to offer you their data without believing that there’s anything wrong.
Knowledge@Wharton: When mother and daughter were putting this together, was there an issue that they didn’t have any formal training in psychology?
Emre: I do not believe there was that issue for 2 reasons. That’s one factor why I don’t believe it was alarming.
The 2nd factor is, I believe numerous individuals have actually mistakenly taken my focus on the reality that this was a mom and child to mean that it ought to be dismissed due to the fact that it was two females who had no formal training. I think these ladies were convinced that the work they were doing as partners and moms had taught them something, not just about character, however about how to handle the different kinds of characters that jostle for your time and attention on any provided day.
Knowledge@Wharton: Do you think that we will continue to see a basic desire to provide tests like Myers-Briggs and others?
Emre: I do. I believe if it’s not Myers-Briggs then something else will fill its place. I believe we are starving for the type of self-knowledge that it presents. We are seduced by the fact that it presents that knowledge in a painless and quickly absorbable method. I believe we are likewise incredibly compelled by the reality that adequate people around us know the language of type, so that if I tell you I’m an ENTJ, you understand precisely what that implies. You may even have the ability to conjure up some famous people or literary characters or TV stars whose types are also ENTJ. It is a method of making meaning of a world that is untidy and complex.