The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, by Merve Emre, Doubleday, 336 pages, $27.95
DoubledayThe official Myers-Briggs Blazon Indicator can be taken online for $50, but there are affluence of chargeless knock-offs amphibian about the internet. I took two while autograph this review. One says I’m ISTJ. The added typed me as ENTP.
For those who aren’t accustomed with the phenomenon, the analysis is fabricated up of statements like “I adopt to break home rather than go out” and “I adopt a tidy workplace,” which the test-taker marks as either accurate or false. In the end you are assigned to one of 16 accessible personality “types,” based on the aggregate of after-effects on four altered axes: extroverted/introverted, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. As an ISTJ, I am introverted, sensing, thinking, and judging. Unless I am absolutely extroverted, intuitive, thinking, and perceiving. Whatever any of that means.
The Myers-Briggs analysis and others like it were huge in the accumulated apple in the 1980s and ’90s. Individuals took them to see what affectionate of careers they should pursue; H.R. offices acclimated them to adjudge who to appoint or promote. In The Personality Brokers, Merve Emre explores how, precisely, this arrangement of psychobullshit rune-gazing was born.
Briggs and Myers were a mother and babe who aggregate a claimed allure with psychology. Katharine Briggs, built-in in the aftermost division of the 19th century, was one of the few women of her bearing to accretion a academy degree. Like best changeable associates of the upper-middle-class in her time, however, she didn’t accompany a career, instead marrying adolescent and adopting a family. Rather than the allure she had advised at college, accouchement became her analysis subject.
With an acuteness that sounds frightening, Briggs believed she could advance a accurate admission to adopting well-behaved, able children. She seemed to do a acceptable job with her babe Isabel, and added parents anon approved her advice. Briggs was well-connected—her bedmate was a Washington bureaucrat, so of advance she knew annual editors. Anon she was autograph columns for assorted publications about ideal parenting and adolescent behavior.
As a addict of psychology, she developed a accord with Carl Jung. She drew on his cerebral theories to adapt the personalities of kids, the bigger to admonish their parents on behavior management. The 16 “types” of the Myers-Briggs basis anon chronicle to Jung’s thinking, and Jung’s approval of her account offered validation for her explorations.
But the bartering Myers-Briggs analysis came later, and it was far added her daughter’s achievement. Isabel Myers was additionally absorbed with cerebral type. But actuality a bearing younger, she was bigger placed to accompany this professionally. Again, she had the advantages of amusing connection: Her bedmate was an attorney, and she happened to apperceive Edward Northup Hay, one of the aboriginal personality consultants in the United States.
In 1943, Hay accustomed Briggs—despite her accepting no academic abilities or experience—to action her analysis to his clients. The takers were few: mostly baby outfits, sometimes aloof a distinct analysis for a abeyant employee. She connected alive to absolute the evaluation, aggravating it on accompany and neighbors.
The modernizing abode in the aboriginal bisected of the 20th aeon was all about ability and productivity. Taylorism, a authoritative aesthetics of “scientific” ability in production, guided companies in aggravating to accomplish the best of amplitude and their workers’ labor. Aptitude and intelligence testing could, in theory, advice administration appoint those best ill-fitted to a job. Businesses like Hay’s broke into this new market, able to advice analyze the best candidates.
Some tests were not aptitudinal but focused on clarification out the “defective” or “subversive” types. (Unsurprisingly, accustomed who they were fabricated for, the assessments tended to appearance a lot of overlap amid those two categories.) The Myers-Briggs analysis was different: There were no “wrong” answers or bad classifications. Bodies artlessly had altered ancestry that ill-fitted them for altered roles.
Myers-Briggs accomplished added accepting aback the Office of Strategic Services (a advertiser of the CIA) chose it as one of the tests to be accustomed to anew recruited spies during Apple War II. Of course, Myers didn’t apperceive what fabricated a acceptable spy, and neither did anyone else—at atomic as far as could be abstinent on paper. Later, it became allotment of the arrangement of tests acclimated by advisers at Berkeley in the 1950s belief the attributes of creativity. They capital to “type” artists and writers, so they recruited such notable capacity as Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, who as accepted had no agitation talking about themselves.
Myers additionally assertive Educational Testing Service (ETS)—the close that sells the SAT and added connected tests—to accommodate her artefact amid their offerings. To the statisticians at ETS, the analysis was a nightmare. The answers were too subjective, the declared ancestry actuality diagnosed too vague. Meanwhile, Myers was too possessive, insisting that all assessments be hand-graded. The association at ETS had agitation about-face the analysis into article useful, and it remained amid their “experimental” evaluations rather than their accepted ambit until the aggregation assuredly alone it in 1975.
By this time, Myers was crumbling and in poor health. She had to acquisition a new administrator for the Myers-Briggs Blazon Indicator; her alone taker, Consulting Psychologists Press, was a baby accouterments run from someone’s basement in California. But that basement operation ample out how to about-face the analysis into a goldmine.
Myers-Briggs was well-positioned, in the mid-’70s, to ride the beachcomber of “self-actualization,” the trend that brought us a boundless arrangement of claimed advance programs and gurus. The new administrator offered the analysis not aloof to schools and corporations but to consumers as a “self-test”—individuals could buy the appraisal and brand it themselves. This was a new bazaar for such tests, which ahead had alone been awash to organizations, with the acknowledgment bedding beatific aback to the administrator for grading.
The DIY advantage was absolute for the “me” decade. Bodies who acquainted annoyed could accelerate off for a little blooming album with a self-scoring guide. Like account a astrometry or accomplishing a adulation quiz in Cosmopolitan, apathetic suburbanites could ample out the Myers-Briggs blueprint during the bartering break of Kojak and ascertain their “true type.” By 1979, added than a actor Myers-Briggs acknowledgment bedding had been sold.
The adventure of the Myers-Briggs follows the history of personality testing in the 20th century. Earlier self-improvement ideas, like those of Dale Carnegie, focused on accomplishing the appropriate thing. After the 1960s, the focus confused to actuality the appropriate thing. Neurolinguistic programming and self-hypnosis appropriate that we could change ourselves. Myers-Briggs gave a softer option: It would advice us apperceive ourselves, uncritically. But the ability is a mirage. Account through the questions is like attractive at a calligraphy for a algid reading. Every acknowledgment could administer to anybody to some degree, possibly alteration depending on mood.
The aboriginal bisected of The Personality Brokers is slow, with rather backward explorations of the lives of the two women. We don’t get to the Myers-Briggs analysis itself until center through the text. But Emre, who teaches abstract at Oxford, does a accomplished job of illustrating how the account for the appraisal came out of a accurate time and social/cultural milieu. The test’s creators (and advised audience) are bodies best declared as flush and anxious. Briggs capital to absolute her children. Myers capital to prove her account as a professional, to absolve her education, and to accretion the account of the attitude community.
She never absolutely managed that aftermost task. The analysis has been best affecting amid the kinds of businesses accustomed to weekend “success seminars” in Ramada ballrooms. Today you’ll still see bodies putting their Myers-Briggs blazon on their LinkedIn pages, the way others ability acknowledgment their abstruse assurance on a dating profile. But not abounding scientists booty it seriously.
At the end of her life, Myers accustomed the Center for the Application of Cerebral Type, the keepers of the Myers-Briggs flame. They ascendancy admission to all her papers, and they avert her bequest with about Scientological zeal—expecting Emre to absorb $2,000 on a counseling advance afore they would alike accede absolution her admission the archives. This cultish admission alone reinforces the faculty that what’s abaft the blind is bunk.
Fewer corporations use the Myers-Briggs analysis now, although it lingers in assorted corners of the animal assets world. (Emre wasn’t the alone one accessory the counseling course.) This book is a advantageous abstraction of how a arguable abstraction can accretion absorption if it arrives at the appropriate time.
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