Books

The Personality Brokers

A nonfiction book by Merve Emre.

Merve Emre

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It has been harnessed by Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospitals, churches and the military. Its language — of extraversion vs. introversion, thinking vs. feeling — has inspired online dating platforms and BuzzFeed quizzes alike. And yet despite the test's widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry, struggle to account for its success — no less to validate its results. How did the Myers-Briggs test insinuate itself into our jobs, our relationships, our Internet, our lives?

First conceived in the 1920s by the mother-daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of aspiring novelists and devoted homemakers, the Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. But it would take on a life of its own, reaching from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was honed against some of the 20th century's greatest creative minds. It would travel across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne and Tokyo; to elementary schools, nunneries, wellness retreats and the closed-door corporate training sessions of today.

Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers examines nothing less than the definition of the self — our attempts to grasp, categorize and quantify our personalities. Surprising and absorbing, the book, like the test at its heart, considers the timeless question: What makes you you? (From Random House Canada)

From the book

To investigate the history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the most popular personality inventory in the world, is to court a kind of low-level paranoia. Files disappear. Tapes are erased. People begin to watch you.

In the fall of 2015, I was seven months pregnant and rifling through the archives of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey. Many people are familiar with the ETS as the longtime publisher of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), but it was also the first publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the first institution to try to determine its scientific validity in the 1960s. Some months before, I had written a controversial article on the origins of the Myers-Briggs, and it seemed my reputation had preceded me. In anticipation of my arrival, the staff had removed the folder containing letters from ETS staff to Isabel Briggs Myers, creator of the type indicator. When I asked to see the letters, there was a bit of hushed talk and a brief consultation with a lawyer before the archivist told me that he would not share them with me because of the "sensitive information" they contained. Later that day, a young male ETS employee who, I would later learn, was tasked with surveilling me during my visit, posted the following message to his Twitter account: "Today I'm creeping on a pregnant lady as part of my job." He seemed like an ambivalent creeper or perhaps just an incompetent one. He proceeded to post a link to the article I had written and tagged me in his subsequent post. "Great article by the lady I had to creep on thi smorning," he wrote.


From The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre ©2018. Published by Random House Canada.

Interviews

Using the Myers-Briggs personality test is a way to engineer a workforce while appearing to care about employees' self fulfillment, says Merve Emre, the author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing. 23:54

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