Piedmontese tarot deck, F. F. Solesio, 1865: the Moon
Merve Emre strikesa rare off-note in her crackling new book, The Personality Brokers, when she briefly purports not to understand the appeal of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). A questionnaire that sorts humanity into sixteen personality types, the MBTI is a means of “annihilating individuality,” Emre points out. “What remains unexplained,” she writes, is why so many individuals embrace it.
Unexplained? Please. People love to think about themselves, and they love a pseudoscientific rubric with which to do so. Every person to whom I mentioned this book asked immediately whether I’d found out my type. Of course I had, and by beginning this review with one of my very few complaints about the book, I am arguably indulging the foibles of that type: ENTP, the Devil’s Advocate, per FamousTypes.com. The MBTI uses questions with “forced-choice” answers (Which do you agree with: A or B?), to break down personality along four dualisms, based loosely on Jungian psychology: introversion versus extroversion, sensing versus intuition, feeling versus thinking, and judging versus perceiving. Hence the sets of four initials (with N for intuition, to distinguish it from introversion) that make up the types.
As Emre notes, the uninitiated often assume that Myers and Briggs were colleagues in scientific research, as well as probably men. They were not: Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, never had any specialized training in psychology or conducted much in the way of research—certainly nothing that would hold up to peer review—before formulating the ideas to which they gave their names. Yet the Myers-Briggs indicator became a management tool embraced by corporations, universities, and the military. It also became a pop-psychology phenomenon—witness the innumerable knockoff tests available online, and self-help literature, from the 1978 best seller Please Understand Me to the Kindle e-book How to Slay Dragons and Understand People: MBTI & Personal Growth for Gamers.