The Origins of MBTI

Katherine Cooke married Lyman Briggs in the period of World War 1. She had an interest in typology through studying biography and once she discovered Jung she accepted his system then explored and elaborated on it. Lyman Briggs was a scientist who had a major role in modern aviation and atomic energy. They had one daughter Isabel Briggs whom they educated at home until college age. She graduated first in her class and married Clarence Myers and until the outbreak of world war 2 she was a mother and a homemaker.

She had absorbed her mother’s admiration of Jungian Typology and determined to devise a method of making the theory of practical use, thus the idea of a Type Indicator was born and due to the combination of both her own and her husband’s names it became the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI as it is known today.

Isabel Myers Briggs was a remarkable woman who was well ahead of her time, as was the MBTI. She believed that many problems might be dealt with more successfully if approached in the light of CG Jung’s theory of psychological types. She also thought the implications of the theory went beyond statistics and could be expressed only in human terms.

Jung would have agreed with her on this. He was a psychiatrist as well as a psychologist. Isobel had no training in psychology or statistics, no academic sponsorship or research grants yet she set about the painstaking task of developing an item pool to underpin the MBTI. She and her mother had information on many people and she wanted to create this item pool to tap the attitudes, feelings, perceptions and behaviours of these different psychological types to start her MBTI research.

Being a singuarly determined woman she taught herself statistics and psychometrics then apprenticed herself to Edward N Hay, who later founded one of the first successful personnel firms in the USA. She knew that she would need many people to undertake her testing and as a result persuaded many school principals in Western Pennsylvania to allow her to test their students. She then tested medical students until she had MBTI results for more than 5000 medical students and 10000 nurses. It seems that if statistics were to be demanded she was going to provide plenty of them.

In 1962 Henry Chauncey, head of educational testing services ETS, sufficiently impressed with the MBTI, wrote to Myers with a proposal for ETS to distribute and test for research purposes. Donald T McKinnon, the distinguished director of the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at the university of California, added the MBTI to the tests used in assessing creative persons and published supportive findings.

Professor Harold Grant of Michigan State and Auburn universities and Dr Mary McCaulley of the university of Florida also undertook significant research with the MBTI. In 1975 publication of the MBTI was transferred to Consulting Psychological Press and the Centre for Appplications of Psychological Type was organised as a service and research laboratory for the MBTI.

Isabel Myers was indeed a pioneer in her generation and one wonders what she would have made of the technology available to today’s generation. PeopleMaps is on a similar crusade to assess Typology, also based on the work of Carl Jung and recognising the enormous contribution that Isabel Myers Briggs and her MBTI made while using the very latest modern technology to pioneer the method.