The Story of Isabel Briggs Myers
Isabel Briggs Myers, with a bachelor's degree in political science
and no academic affiliation, was responsible for the creation of
what has become the most widely used and highly respected personality
inventory of all time. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®
(MBTI®) instrument, now taken by at least two million
people each year-and translated into sixteen languages-was developed
over a period of more than forty years, progressing from Isabel
Myers' dining room to a cottage industry, to the prestigious Educational
Testing Service, and to its current publisher, CPP, Inc.
Isabel Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, both astute
observers of human behavior, were drawn to C. G. Jung's work, which
sparked their interest into a passionate devotion to put the theory
of psychological type to practical use. With the onset of World
War II, Isabel Myers recognized that a psychological instrument
that has as its foundation the understanding and appreciation of
human differences would be invaluable. She researched and developed
the Indicator over the next four decades, until her death in 1980.
Following are the tenets of Isabel Myers' philosophy, found among
her papers after her death. She was known for her keen intelligence
and tenacious curiosity, as well as a deeply held set of values
and generosity of spirit. She is remembered for her enormous contribution
to the field of psychological testing and to the theory of typology,
but also for her strength of character and her tireless pursuit
of human understanding.
|What Is To Be Desired?
|Self-respect: To be part of the solution, not part
of the problem
Love: To love the human beings that mean the most to
me, and contribute to their lives if I can
Peace of Mind: To avoid mistakes that make me regret
the past or fear the future
Involvement: Always to be tremendously interested
Understanding: To incorporate the things, people and
ideas that happen to me into a coherent concept of the world
Freedom: To work at what interests me most, with minimum
expenditure of time and energy on non-essentials
| Isabel Briggs Myers
Isabel Briggs Myers was born October 18, 1897, to Lyman J. Briggs
and Katharine Cook Briggs and spent her childhood in Washington,
D.C., where her father worked as a physicist. She was home-schooled
by her mother, a tradition carried on from Katharine's own upbringing.
Isabel writes about the influence of her parents' ways on what ultimately
became her life's work:
The whole Indicator project is the result of four pieces of
tremendous luck that I had in my life. The first one was the kind
of people that I got born to. My father, Lyman J. Briggs, was
a research physicist. At the time that we actually got to making
the Type Indicator he was the Director of the Bureau of Standards
in Washington. Research was what he cared about most, and so I
grew up thinking that the greatest fun in the world was to find
out something that nobody knew yet, and maybe you could dig it
My mother was a faculty child; her father was on the faculty
of Michigan State back when it was Michigan Agricultural College.
This was at that time when there was no school on the campus,
so faculty kids got taught by their parents. I don't think mother
could remember who taught her writing, but she thought they did
a very bad job of it. She never went to any school until she went
into college which she did at the age of 14. . . . Having been
in the habit of doing without formal schooling before the college
level, my mother put the same thing into practice, and I went
to school very little until I went to Swarthmore College. I grew
all the way up to college with the idea that you can do things
without having formally studied them. And that is an ingredient
in the history of the Type Indicator.
While at Swarthmore College, Isabel Myers encountered what she
refers to as a "piece of enormous luck" when she met and fell in
love with Clarence "Chief" Myers, who was at that time preparing
for a career in law. The love and devotion that began in college
continued undiminished over the next sixty-one years.
Here is a brief history of Isabel Myers' life and the development
of the MBTI instrument excerpted from an article
by Mary McCaulley, Ph.D., president and co-founder of the Center
for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT). This article first
appeared in the July 1980 edition of MBTI News.
The difference between Isabel's type preference (INFP) and Clarence's
type preference (ISTJ) was an important fact in the history of
the MBTI [instrument]. When asked once how she
came to create the Indicator, Isabel Myers replied, 'Because I
married Chief.' The difference between them was clear to Isabel's
mother when Chief was brought home to meet the family one Christmas
vacation. Katharine Briggs concluded that her prospective son-in-law
was an admirable young man, but not at all like others in their
family. Katharine embarked on a project of reading biographies
and developed her own typology based on patterns she found. She
identified meditative types, spontaneous types, executive types,
and sociable types (later identified as Is, EPs, ETJs and EFJs).
When Katharine Briggs discovered C. G. Jung's book, Psychological
Types, she reported to her daughter, 'This is it!' and proceeded
to study the book intensely. Mother and daughter became avid 'type
watchers' over the next twenty years.
Clarence and Isabel were married in 1918 and settled in Swarthmore,
a suburb of Philadelphia where Clarence practiced law. Two children
were born of the marriage. Peter Briggs Myers and Ann Myers Hughes.
Ann died unexpectedly after minor surgery in 1972. Isabel and
Clarence had four grandchildren, Jonathan and Jennifer Myers,
and Kathleen and Douglas Hughes.
When World War II began, Isabel Myers sought a way to help by
finding a means for people to understand rather than destroy each
other. In addition, she noticed many people taking jobs out of
patriotism, but hating the tasks that went against their grain
instead of using their gifts. She decided it was time to put Jung's
ideas about type to practical use. A type indicator was needed.
In the next twenty years she carried on her activities in a
way that was characteristic of her type. An Introvert, she worked
alone, taking each of Jung's propositions seriously and finding
ways from her own experience to use and extend them. Her Extraverted
Intuition was ever alert to new meanings, new patterns, new insights.
As she moved further into the intricacies of test construction,
she harnessed her less preferred Sensing and Thinking preferences,
using them consciously to further the goals of her dominant Feeling.
A person who disliked detail in other areas, she would spend weeks
and months scoring and analyzing data on thousands of cases to
come up with one fact of interest.
Later in her life when she was in her seventies, she described
the writing of the Manual and mentioned that she considered the
criticisms a person with a Thinking preference would make, and
then directed her own thinking to find an answer. An Extravert
to whom she was speaking, said that if he wanted to know the criticisms
of someone with a Thinking preference, he would not look into
his own head. He would go find some thinkers, and ask them. Isabel
looked startled and then amused.
Financially supported by her family, the work progressed for
more than twenty years. She did not work entirely alone, however.
Edward N. Hay, then head of personnel for a large Philadelphia
bank, and later a well-known management consultant, let her work
with the bank's personnel tests to familiarize herself with test
construction. Friends and family served as sources of items and
helped test their validity. She persuaded principals of schools
in eastern Pennsylvania to permit her to test thousands of students.
A major change in the development of the Indicator came when
her father happened to mention his daughter's work to the Dean
of the George Washington School of Medicine, who permitted her
to test the freshmen at his school. This was the beginning of
a sample that eventually included 5,355 medical students, one
of the largest longitudinal studies in medicine. This sample engaged
her attention intermittently for years. She obtained data after
four years and analyzed dropouts, and over- and under-achievers.
She looked up the students after twelve years to see if they had
chosen specialties to fit their types; they had. In 1964 she presented
a paper on her findings in Los Angeles at the American Psychological
Association. She never published her findings, but a monograph
bringing together all the work on her medical study was prepared
under government contract in 1977 and is available from CAPT.
By the time she presented the Los Angeles paper, she had also
become interested in nursing and stopped at cities on her way
home to persuade nursing schools to test their students. She ultimately
collected a sample of over 10,000 nursing students from 71 diploma
nursing schools and 670 of their faculty. The reason Isabel Myers
was especially interested in students in the health professions
was that she believed accurate perception and informed judgment,
i.e., good type development, are especially important in professionals
who have others' lives in their hands. She hoped the use of the
MBTI [instrument] in training physicians and nurses
would lead to programs during medical school for increasing command
of perception and judgment for all types, and for helping students
choose specialties most suited to their gifts. She returned to
the medical sample from time to time over a period of twenty-five
In the early days of the medical sample, Educational Testing
Service (ETS) heard of the MBTI [instrument] from
a medical school dean. Henry Chauncey, then president of ETS,
asked a psychologist on the staff, David Saunders, to investigate
the MBTI [instrument]. In 1962, ETS published
the MBTI [instrument], strictly for research use,
against objections of some of the staff. For the first time MBTI
data would be on a computer and Isabel could try out more questions.
In the 1960s, several years after publication, Harold Grant,
first at Auburn and later at Michigan State University, introduced
many students to the MBTI [instrument], and a
series of important basic studies were conducted under his guidance.
Slowly, the MBTI [instrument] was being discovered.
The 1970s saw increasing appreciation of Isabel Myers' work as
faculty and students of the University of Florida began working
with the Indicator. For some time she visited the university several
times a year, and she and Mary McCaulley, Ph.D., attended other
professional meetings together. For the first time, she met and
shared ideas with numbers of people who were using her work.
During this period, Isabel Myers and Dr. McCaulley collaborated
on developing a program to test a large body of unpublished research
whereby Isabel Myers hoped to individualize the Indicator, using
MBTI [instrument] response patterns to identify
problems in use of perception and judgment; the goal of this work
was to suggest next steps to further type development. Individually
and together they conducted pilot studies to test their program.
Three national MBTI conferences were heldthe
first at the University of Florida in 1975, the second at Michigan
State University in 1977, and the third in Philadelphia in 1979.
Her health did not permit attendance in 1977, but Isabel Myers
enjoyed the other two thoroughly, though at times she would be
dismayed at the ways researchers treated her data. 'I know Intuitive
types will have to change the MBTI [instrument].
That's in their nature, ' she would say. 'But I do hope that before
they change it, they will first try to understand what I did.
I did have my reasons.'
In 1975, publication of the Indicator was assumed by CPP, Inc.
For the first time, the MBTI [instrument] was
available as an instrument ready for use in helping people.
Despite failing health, from 1975 to 1979 Isabel re-standardized
the MBTI [instrument] and developed the shorter
form, Form G, paying attention to every detail, including design
of the new scoring keys. She also conducted a study aimed at refining
MBTI scoring. She completed her book, Gifts Differing
and had the pleasure of seeing the galley proofs in the last month
of her life. She remained actively interested in a chapter on
the MBTI [instrument] to appear in the next volume
of Paul McReynolds' Advances in Personality Assessment. Shortly
before her death, she and Harold Grant worked out a plan for validation
of her research to individualize the MBTI [instrument],
using the longitudinal data at Auburn University, so that her
many years of research on type development could be published
and put to use.
In the last months of her life, when she spent much time sleeping
or fighting fatigue, the sound of a theoretically interesting
idea would cause her to sit bolt upright, her eyes sparkling,
her incisive mind all curiosity and challenge. Throughout her
research life, any mention of a sample in which members had high
excellence or demonstrable problems set her off to study their
answer sheets in search of response patterns that might predict
their behavior. Over the years she completed a number of what
she called 'little studies' comparing criterion groups with base
populations of hundreds or thousands, without help from computers.
In conversation, she was always appreciative and interested,
never critical. It was not wise to be lulled into complacency
by her warm approbation, however. If you used a negative adjective
to describe a type, she gently substituted another adjective with
the same intent, but with a neutral tone. 'You mentioned pig headed.
Did you mean firm?' If you assumed she was talking 'arm-chair'
philosophy on a point, you found there were months of work and
analysis behind her statements. She cared deeply about her work
and fought for it against all criticisms. If data showed her wrong,
she was all attention. She now had a new problem to solve to improve
the Indicator. She never ceased her search for perfection.
"I dream that long after I'm gone, my work will go on helping
people." -Isabel Myers, 1979
From small beginnings four decades earlier, through long, solitary
years of painstaking research and development, Isabel Myers saw,
at the end of her life, acceptance and appreciation of her work.
Much more important to her was the certainty that what she had created
would indeed go on to enrich millions of lives in the years to come.