“The Personality Brokers” by Merve Emre


personalitybrokersThe Personality Brokers delves into the fascinating, yet strange, history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test.  MBTI, by far the most popular personality test in the world, is used by Fortune 500 companies, universities, hospitals, churches, and the military.  Through a series of innocuous questions which are geared to capture individual preferences, it scores the results along four different spectrums or types. The test purports to separate all of humanity into 16 possible configurations.  The broad brush of types is given from the introductory page of the MBTI website:

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

The purpose of the MBTI is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung (a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology) understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in behavior actually is quite orderly and consistent, due to basic differences in the way individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.

“Perception involves all the ways of becoming aware of things, people, happenings, or ideas. Judgment involves all the ways of coming to conclusions about what has been perceived. If people differ systematically in what they perceive and in how they reach conclusions, then it is only reasonable for them to differ correspondingly in their interests, reactions, values, motivations, and skills.”

I first took the test back in the mid-80s and came out an INFP – I’d rather read a book or play the piano than go to a party – no surprise there.  I re-took the test while reading this book and came out the same.  I’d still rather read a book than go to a party – unless it’s a book club party.

I, like most people, assumed the name Myers-Briggs was the hyphenated last names of two white, male psychologists.   Surprisingly, it was first conceived in the 1920s by a mother and daughter team (Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers).  Both were dedicated homemakers.  On the side, Isabell was a novelist and Katherine a Carl Jung devotee and tinkerer of his theories.  Katherine’s laboratory for her personality experiments was Isabell, later branching out to other neighborhood kids.  Isabell began testing other housewives.  Later, Isabell was part of the wave of female participation in the labor force during World War II.  Synchronistically (a Jungian term), she took a job with Edward N. Hay and Associates, which specialized in developing workplace aptitude tests for white-collar workers.  This was a first step on a long journey for the MBTI, which continued to flourish after Isabell’s death eventually taking on a life of its own.

The MBTI has inspired television shows, online dating platforms, and Buzzfeed quizzes. Yet despite the test’s widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $2 billion industry, have struggled to validate its results – no less account for its success. Like a detective, Merve Embre researches how Myers-Briggs, a homegrown multiple-choice questionnaire, infiltrated our workplaces, our relationships, our Internet, indeed our lives.

Watch Bryan Uecker on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, January 6.  Join the book club at 6pm the first Wednesday of the month at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.