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Background to the MBTI and its potential benefits

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is quite unlike any of the other psychometric instruments around. It is the culmination of decades of devoted research  undertaken by two remarkable women, Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel. Neither were psychologists and both could be described as well-educated “housewives”.

The theory underpinning the MBTI™ was furnished by the eminent Swiss psychologist, Carl C Jung. Katharine Briggs’ main hobby in life was  trying to understand personality types.  When she read Jung’s groundbreaking book, Psychological Types in 1923, she put aside her own workings and adopted his typology. Over the next decade she corresponded with Jung and met him on his visit to the United States in 1937. 

In 1942 when the U.S. joined the second world war, both mother and daughter decided they could best contribute to the war effort by helping people understand themselves and others better. This they would do by popularising Jung’s Psychological Types. Isabel embarked on devising a questionnaire which she thought might take her a couple of months to draw up. The design of the instrument was a complex task which took her the best part of 30 years. During this time she was treated with derision by professional psychologists. How could an “amateur” and someone they called the “little old lady in tennis shoes” come up with something that no psychologists had managed to devise  – a questionnaire which sorted people into types?

But this is exactly what Isabel Briggs Myers did manage to do. The MBTI is now the most widely used personality questionnaire in the world. It has been translated into over 30 languages and, in an average year, over two  million people complete the questionnaire which Isabel devised.

The MBTI was inspired by Jung's work but Isabel Briggs Myers adapted and built on his work. Some criticism of the instrument and underlying ideas is that Myers' concept of type is significantly different  from Jung's own theories.


© Carol Craig

MBTI, Myers-Briggs, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries; OPP Ltd. has exclusive rights to these trademarks in the U.K.

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