The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® [MBTI®], has become the most researched, respected, and most widely used personality
inventory in history. Simply put, Isabel Briggs Myers created it.
Isabel was the only child of Lyman Briggs and Katherine Cook Briggs. Her father, a renowned physicist, was director of the
National Bureau of Standards during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency as well as that administration’s first representative to the
Manhattan Project. The Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University was named in his honor.
“In the beginning”…the moving force behind development of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® was Isabel’s mother. At first,
Katharine Cook Briggs's began to comb data from her own extensive studies of contemporary children's educational and social
developmental theories. Then, she developed a testing method to help determine the best vocation for a child…what she saw as
a key to their future happiness and well being. It wasn’t long, however, before daughter Isabel added her own imagination and
drive and these two very gifted women quickly honed their skills in becoming astute observers of human behavior.
In 1918, while at Swarthmore College, daughter Isabel 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. As it turned out, the
difference between Isabel's type preference (INFP) and Clarence's type preference (ISTJ) was an important fact in the history of
the development of the MBTI®. Once, when asked once how she came to create the Indicator, Isabel 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. Soon thereafter, 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 psychologist Carl Jung's book, Psychological Types, she
reported to her daughter, 'This is it!' and proceeded to study the book intensely. Mother and daughter became even more avid
and learned 'type watchers' and pressed forward with their research during the 1920s and 1930s. By now, Isabel had graduated
from Swarthmore, was married, and had started raising a family of her own. The marriage would last for 61 years before Chief
When World War II began, Isabel Myers sought a way to help. She noticed many people taking war-related jobs out of
patriotism, but hating the tasks that went against their grain - instead of using their gifts. At the same time, she had also
concluded that a psychological instrument that had as its foundation, the understanding and appreciation of human differences
would be invaluable. In short, Isabel decided it was paramount that Jung's ideas about people types be put into practical use
and that a ‘type indicator’ be created. The war had to be won. Wisely, on May 05, 1943, Chief had applied through his law firm
to the United States Register of Copyrights for a copyright on Isabel's "eighteen pages". It was this action that marked the
formal beginning of what would become the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. And so, 1943, the publication of Forms A and B
marked the official start of what we today call the MBTI®. Of particular note was a man named Edward Hay who gave the
MBTI® a large boost. Hay worked for the Pennsylvania Company, but made his initial contribution to the war effort in the (OPA)
Office of Price Administration, where he was involved in solving management and operation problems. As the end of the war
approached, Hay was working half-time for the Pennsylvania Company. And it was in this position that Hay engaged the services
of Isabel and her "people-sorting test". Thus, as Isabel, had originally hoped, industry was beginning to embrace her work to
find a better fit for their workers so as to increase their effectiveness on the job. In short, there is little doubt, that the Indicator
proved to be quite valuable in the war effort itself.
With the war won, Isabel set out on a second goal. She wanted to promote world peace by helping people develop more
appreciation for individual differences and how to use the differences constructively rather than divisively. In the late 1940s,
Isabel took over the majority of the work from her semi-retiring mom and dad (Katherine and Chief) and by now, the Indicator
was now being referred to as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.
Another major moment in the development of the MBTI® came when her now-retired 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. Since then, the MBTI® has grown in several stages. In 1956, Isabel’s Indicator caught the eye of Henry
Chauncey, head of the prestigious Educational Testing Service (ETS), publisher of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The ETS
first published the Indicator in 1962 (strictly as a research instrument) and continued this association for 13 years. Meanwhile,
in the late 1960s, Harold Grant, first at Auburn and later at Michigan State University, introduced many students to the Indicator,
and a series of important basic studies were conducted under his guidance. Slowly, the MBTI was being discovered nationwide.
Yet another milestone in the advancement of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® was reached in 1968 when Dr. Mary McCaulley,
head of the psychology department at the University of Florida at Gainesville, discovered the MBTI® in the Buros Mental
Measurements Yearbook. According to Mary, a clinical psychologist, the importance of the MBTI® grabbed her almost
immediately. Little did McCaulley know at that time that the MBTI® would became her life’s work, mission, and her playground
... and that a life-long academic collaboration as well as a great friendship with Isabel would soon form. For the moment,
however, McCaulley began testing the MBTI® with her students and clients.
One year later, Mary and Isabel met for the first time. The collaborative academic relationship between the two continued to
grow over the next five years. It was during this time that they created the first computer scoring program for the MBTI®
instrument, conducted research studies of more than 3000 students, and developed the first training programs for professionals,
teaching them how to use the Indicator.
The 1970s saw increasing appreciation of Isabel Myers' work as faculty and students of the University of Florida began working
with the Indicator. During the early 1970s, Isabel visited the university several times a year, and she and Mary McCaulley
attended other professional meetings together. Now, and for the first time, Isabel met and shared ideas with numbers of people
who were using her work.
In 1975, Isabel Briggs Myers and Mary McCaulley co-founded the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) in
Gainesville, Florida – an event that in and of itself, gave rise to a vast amount of research regarding the MBTI®. This was
especially true regarding the cross-cultural applications of the MBTI®. During this period, Isabel and Mary collaborated on
developing a program to test a large body of unpublished research whereby Isabel hoped to individualize the Indicator, using
MBTI® 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. Today, with the
combination of its current publisher CPP Inc. (Consulting Psychologists Press), and 60+ years of research, there is world-wide
useage of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. As stated earlier, the first version of the MBTI was Form A in 1943. The most
recent form of the MBTI® is Form Q. That’s a lot of research and question tweaking!
Like many visionaries, Isabel Briggs Myers did not live long enough to realize the widespread dissemination of the MBTI®.
Fortunately, her dreams for the Indicator were entrusted to Mary McCaulley. And carrying forth Isabel’s dream was exactly what
McCaulley did. Mary took Isabel’s work and genius and worked tirelessly to get the MBTI® accepted as a legitimate
psychological instrument. Along with statisticians and psychometricians, Mary and several other academicians like Harold Grant
established the psychometric credibility it now enjoys. But we’ll return to Mary in a moment.
In 1980, in the last months of her life and having fought an on-and-off battle with cancer, Isabel spent much time sleeping or
fighting fatigue. Nonetheless, with regards to the MBTI®, the sound of a new and theoretically interesting idea would cause her
to sit erectly, with her eyes sparkling, and with her usual incisive mind - all curiosity and challenge. Even in these final days of
her life, she continued to analyze data on the Indicator. And while doing so, in conversation, she was always appreciative and
interested, never critical. Those close to Isabel knew it was not wise to be lulled into academic complacency by her personal
warm demeanor. 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?' And in this process, if you were lulled into
thinking she was talking 'arm-chair' philosophy on a point, you quickly found there were indeed, 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. In her mind, she now had a new problem to solve to improve the Indicator. And she never ceased her search
for perfection. Toward that end (literally), one great source of personal satisfaction was realized in the last month of her life
when Isabel had the pleasure of seeing the printer’s proofs of her completed book, Gifts Differing.
On May 05, 1980, Isabel died at 82. 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 undoubtedly go on to enrich millions of lives in the years to
"I dream that long after I'm gone, my work will go on helping people." - Isabel Myers, 1979
As is often the case, the accolades often do not arrive until after a person is gone. One of these honors came in September of
2001 when Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York posthumously conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree on Isabel Briggs
Myers. The Hartwick College honorarium was a particularly poignant event since, in her final years, when everything was in
place for her to receive an honorary doctorate at her alma mater, the male head of the psychology department at her alma
mater blocked the action, suggesting that her work was not worthy of the honor.
Finally, another of these honors came in December of 2005 when HR Magazine (Human Resources) named Isabel Briggs Myers
one of the 50 people who have most significantly changed the face of human resource management. Also on this prestigious list,
is Peter Drucker (revered as the father of corporate management), Jack Welch (legendary GE Chairman who had a solid
reputation for uncanny business acumen and unique leadership strategies), Tom Peters (expert on business management
practices), and former President Lyndon Johnson for his enormous influence in breaking down bias and discrimination in the
And so, relative to the above accolades, it now appears quite noteworthy that someone once remarked, "How can a
questionnaire with questions about everyday life in the United States, created by a middle-class housewife in the 1950s, possibly
be useful in other cultures? Especially since the questionnaire is based on an esoteric theory, described in the 1920s, by some in
Relative to these above bestowments, someone once said that while Isabel was not the type of person who sought such
attention…her heart must be smiling at all the attention now being given – not to her - but to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.
Returning to Dr. Mary McCaulley...upon Isabel’s death, despite having lost a life-long friend...from that time onward, Mary did
exactly as Isabel would have wanted. She continued tirelessly to promote the dream Isabel had that her work would bring an
appreciation of “the constructive use of differences” to make a better world. To frame it in another way, if Isabel Briggs Myers
and her mother were the combination of authors, pilot and co-pilot of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, then psychologist Dr.
Mary McCaulley was almost certainly the navigator as well as the missionary for the instrument. In a word, she gave the MBTI®
scholarship. That is, she was instrumental in building professional and academic credibility for the MBTI®. Again, this was in
addition to maintaining a deep and abiding friendship between herself and Isabel. Far more than ‘just’ being academic partners,
it is an understatement to say Isabel and Mary were kindred spirits.
Once, when asked why the MBTI® was called “The Indicator”, Mary explained that Isabel believed that it was indicating
something that was already there. She went on to say, these are not some esoteric concepts. That is, people all over the world
and in every culture instantly recognize type preferences from their own experience. They know there are active people and
quiet people (extroverts and introverts); they know there are practical folks and dreamers (sensors and intuitives); they know
there are hard heads and soft hearts (thinkers and feelers); and they know there are people who seek order, a system and
closure, while others are eternally curious, flexible and who like to go with the flow (Js and Ps).
Mary McCaulley Bulletin of Psychological Type 23:7 late autumn 2000, page 22.
When she died on August 26, 2003 at the age of 83, Mary was indisputably the foremost expert in the world on psychological
type as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. In keeping with that, perhaps a segment from Mary’s writings is
“I am so thankful that my life’s path with the MBTI has helped people all over the world increase understanding and appreciation
of type differences – in their families, their schools, and their work places. My path has helped with the dream of Isabel Myers
that her work would being an appreciation of “the constructive use of differences” to make a better world. The years of my life
with the MBTI have brought many challenges, many adventures, and some very hard work that I would have never have
predicted. Most important, as I enter the last years of my life, I am happy and very fulfilled".
Mary McCaulley from the Journal of Psychological Type, Volume 61, entitled: My Life’s Path
|Isabel Briggs Myers
in her early adult years
|Isabel Briggs Myers
Katherine Cook Briggs
|Isabel Briggs Myers
in the mid 1970s
|Dr. Mary McCaulley in Scottsdale AZ in 2001
MBTI® history and tributes to Isabel Briggs Myers and Mary McCaulley
|Dr. Mary McCaulley and Isabel Briggs Myers
photo is believed to have been taken in 1975
|Dr. Mary McCaulley in a 1992 portrait