The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator is an introspective self-report questionnaire with the purpose of indicating differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world around them and make decisions. The MBTI was constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. ~ Wikipedia
Who isn't familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test? It is after all one of the most popular personality tests in the world, used regularly by Fortune 500 companies, universities, and even the military. Did you know that the Myers-Briggs personality test was conceived a century ago by a mother and her daughter - fiction writers with no formal training in psychology? How did this home-grown multiple-choice questionnaire, infiltrate our workplaces, our relationships and our lives?
Merve Emre's The Personality Brokers, tells the story of the birth of personality testing. The book is a blend of history and analysis. The story goes that Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, designed the test to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses.
As a child, Katharine Elizabeth Cook once said worriedly to her mother, "I think science may lack the data that the soul possesses." To ease her conscience, she sought advice from the elders, but was dissatisfied by their response.
One had to deal with "the task of the individual," Katharine wrote, "who from his own microscopic beginnings must repeat in one lifetime the adventure of his whole race or go to Hell."
When Isabel Briggs was born to Katharine and Lyman Briggs, she seemed like a gifted child, although according to her mother's assessment of her child's abilities, she was not a genius. A genius, in Katharine's mind, was sometime whose talents were concentrated on one activity. Isabel, by contrast, grew in a generally competent child, "a well-rounded and high-achieving specimen". Everything her mother directed her to try, she excelled.
Isabel did not have the childhood that most children had in those days. She could speak in full sentences when she was two, and read the bible by the time she was five. She was also in and out of school, whenever her mother felt like it. Katharine's child-rearing methods did not bode well with everyone. A neighbour had once heard five-year-old Isabel read aloud from Pilgrim's Progress, and warned Katharine that the child may die of brain fever in her early teens, or else become neurotic and stupid as she approached maturity. The woman's own child, named Mary, had failed first grade. Later, the woman would make an appearance in Katharine's articles called "Ordinary Theodore and Stupid Mary."
The story of Katharine, from homemaker to writer of "The Diary of an Obedience-Curiosity Mother" was an interesting read. Set during the times when women were almost never paid to write, this was quite an achievement. For a non-fiction book and one that's arguably, there was a surprising fluidity to the writing style.
I also loved the way The New York Times captured a short summary of The Personality Brokers.
"The indicator owes its existence to two American women, Katharine Briggs and her only daughter, Isabel Myers, who took the ideas of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung and refracted them through their own interpretations of human behavior. Neither one was a trained psychologist. A couple of years after Isabel was born in 1897, Katharine, in a quest to create “civilized adults,” turned her living room into the fantastically named “cosmic laboratory of baby training,” where she could conduct behavioral experiments on Isabel and the neighbors’ children. Katharine dutifully recorded her observations in a notebook she called “The Diary of an Obedience-Curiosity Mother.”
Blog Post by Shilpa Raikar, who believes in the power of storytelling to connect readers, and strives for diversity and inclusivity.
The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre is published by Random House Canada. Copy provided by Penguin Random House Canada.