Merve Erme of Oxford University has written a book on the origin of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tests, astrology for the 20th century. Most know that it’s pseudo science, but how did it gain such popularity when it lacks credibility and scientific testing? (See also: Dvorak keyboards.)
My first exposure to MBTI was in college as part of a business management course. But it was not the first time I had seen such limiting tests that claimed to know people’s “true selfes”. Magazines containing “personality tests” were in the house when I grew up, and even with limited knowledge and education as a pre-teen, it was easy to see these were bunk, that not everyone fits into pigeonholes so easily.
I would rather hear someone talk about their MTBI than their MBTI.
How a mother-daughter team created the pseudoscientific quiz that conquered the world
If you’ve ever been on a dating app, you know what the Myers-Briggs personality type is—those four letters that are supposed to unlock the secrets of your inner personality and guide you through everything from your career to your interpersonal relationships. There’s (E) and (I) for extraversion or introversion, (N) and (S) for intuition or sensing, (T) and (F) for thinking or feeling, and (J) and (P) for judging or perceiving. This four-letter classification is hard to avoid. Some companies use it as a management tool, individuals use it to judge their Tinder dates, Redditors even obsess over it in subreddits dedicated to each type.
Merve Emre, an associate professor of English at Oxford, addresses this tension in her forthcoming book The Personality Brokers, which traces the lives of the two women who created the test—the mother-daughter pair of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. In recounting their lives, she examines how a methodology created from studying their husbands and children blossomed into one of the largest pseudoscientific personality testing models in history.