Isabel Briggs Myers: Biography, Test & Quotes

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education Administration.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the most popular personality inventory tests, used in schools and companies throughout the world. In this lesson, we'll learn about its co-creator - Isabel Briggs Myers.

A Short Biography of Isabel Briggs Myers

Isabel Briggs was born in 1897 to Katherine Cook Briggs and Lyman Briggs in Washington, D.C. Her interest in psychology and academics began early in life, likely influenced by her parents. Katherine was the daughter of a Michigan State faculty member and Lyman worked for the federal government as the Director of the Bureau of Standards.

Isabel attended Swarthmore College, just outside of Philadelphia, where she studied political science. In 1918, she married Clarence Myers. She later credited their marriage and her interest in their similarities and differences as a primary reason she developed her personality test. Clarence and Isabel were married for 61 years, until Isabel's death in 1980. They had two children and four grandchildren.

While Isabel didn't have any academic affiliation, she independently wanted to develop an instrument to assess individual's personality types and preferences. Her mother was heavily involved as well, as they both subscribed to the works of psychologist Carl Jung and were astute observers of human behavior.

Isabel and her mother developed what became the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator independently, and as it gained popularity and acceptance it became the subject of research at universities across the country. The George Washington School of Medicine, University of Florida, Auburn University, and Michigan State University were all involved in early research that provided Isabel validation, as well as valuable information, to improve the test.

In 1964, Isabel presented the test and her findings to the American Psychological Association, increasing the credibility and professional respectability of the MBTI. This led to more research by psychologists and universities and even three national conferences in 1975, 1977, and 1979 focused solely on the MBTI.

The Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) Test

The Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) test is a personality preference evaluation tool used to identify the test taker's personality 'type.' There are 16 possible types, each a different combination of two possibilities across four different dimensions. By answering questions about their thoughts, beliefs, values, and preferences, the test taker provides the information necessary to determine their type.

The four dimensions used in the assessment, along with the two classifications for each are:

  • Directing and receiving energy, extroversion or introversion
  • Taking in information, sensing or intuition
  • Making decisions, thinking or feeling
  • Approaching the outside world, judging or perceiving

Directing and receiving energy is related to how you prefer to experience the world. For example, do you like to focus on the social, outside world, or do you prefer a quieter, more independent approach. Isabel Myers Briggs described the difference between extroverts and introverts as 'Extraverts cannot understand life until they have lived it. Introverts cannot live life until they understand it.'

Taking in information can be seen as either using and accepting information that is fact-based, versus using information and adding meaning. In some descriptions of sensing versus intuition, sensing is described as a trait of people that focus on reality and what they know, while intuition is a trait of people that are imaginative and future-focused.

While sensing versus intuition is related to how an individual gathers and collects information, making decisions - classified as either thinking or feeling - is more about how someone makes decisions. Someone that is a more thinking-oriented person will be more logical, critical, and thick-skinned about decisions, while someone that is feeling-oriented tends to be more passionate about their decisions, considering others, and making decisions with their heart or emotion.

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