How the MBTI® Assessment Was Created
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator® personality assessment began with Katharine Briggs’ fascination with Carl Jung’s “theory of typology,” which categorized people based on how they process information. Katharine began applying Jung’s theory by observing people in her community and working on categories to help people better understand themselves and others. Her daughter Isabel Briggs Meyers then took Katharine’s work to the next level when she developed a paper and pencil assessment, which she named the “Indicator,” to help people identify their personal types.
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator® personality assessment was created by the mother-daughter partnership of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. They had no formal training in psychology, psychometrics or statistics, but they shared a passion for helping people understand themselves and each other. Building on their research into the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, as well as their own everyday experience as wives, mothers, and keen observers of human behavior, they created the most popular personality assessment used in the world today. The MBTI® assessment is taken by more than two million people annually and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Myers and Briggs' theory originates in the work of Carl Jung, who observed the different ways that people take in and then process and organize information. He laid out his “theory of typology” in his 1921 book entitled Psychological Types, writing that “What appears to be random behavior is actually the result of differences in the way people prefer to use their mental capacities.”
Katharine was impressed by Jung’s ideas and believed they offered a powerful way to understand human development and potential. What followed next was two decades of “type watching.” Working from her kitchen table, Katharine began a system to categorize the personalities she’d observed in life, leaning heavily Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. Her motive was to help people understand psychological typology without having to pore over Jung's academic theory.
Although Katharine did a tremendous amount of study in interpreting Jung's theory for practical use, her work never really took flight until her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, took an interest in the theory. Isabel was interested in contributing to the war effort during World War II, using Katharine's system to help allocate workers to tasks that suited them. Beginning with Katharine’s system, Isabel developed a 172-question, pencil and paper “Indicator” (she was very specific that it not be referred to as a "test," as there was no pass or fail). She threw herself into the development of the indicator, testing it on local high school students, family and friends.
In 1957, Myers sold the Indicator to a psychometric test publisher and the theory became marketable. The assessment soon caught on with employers who were looking for an inexpensive, standardized test to match workers to the jobs that were right for them. As use of the assessment became more widespread, new applications were discovered in career coaching, team building, and employee development.