10 Things to Know About the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, is a popular personality test that claims to differentiate 16 distinct personality types, distinguishing the extroverts from the introverts, the sensing from the intuitive, the thinkers from the feelers, and the judgers from the perceivers. Though widely criticized by professional psychologists as pseudoscience, the MBTI is still beloved by HR departments and career counselors around the globe. Here’s some background.

1. The test was the brainchild of a mother-daughter team.

Katharine Cook (married name Briggs) was born in 1875 and went to college at the age of 14, where she studied agriculture and graduated first in her class. While Briggs was expected to live as a traditional homemaker after receiving her diploma, her desire to learn remained unquenchable. She'd pour much of her energy into educating her daughter, Isabel—who, as an adult, would later help her develop the famous test.

2. For Katharine Cook Briggs, childrearing sparked a passion for psychology.

Briggs was fascinated with the “correct” way to raise a child. She began studying developmental psychology, largely kept her daughter out of traditional school, and kept a detailed diary of Isabel's developmental progress. (Briggs referred to her living room a “cosmic laboratory of baby training.”) In the meantime, she wrote about child psychology in popular magazines like The New Republic and Ladies' Homes Journal, usually writing under the pseudonym “Elizabeth Childe.”

3. Briggs began making personality tests after meeting her future son-in-law.

When a grown-up Isabel began attending Swarthmore College, she met a law student named Clarence “Chief” Myers. They two began dating and, eventually, Isabel brought Myers home over Christmas to meet her parents. The young man perplexed Katharine—his personality was so different from everybody else in their family—and she wanted to figure out why. Briggs visited the Library of Congress and began studying the psychology of personalities.

4. Carl Jung's work had a major influence on Briggs.

Everything changed after Briggs discovered Carl Jung’s 1921 book, Psychological Types. Simplified, Jung argues that human consciousness has two perceiving "function-types" (sensation and intuition) and two judging "function-types" (thinking and feeling), which are moderated by a person’s introversion or extraversion. Briggs was so fascinated by Jung’s theories that she began calling his book "The Bible" and wrote him fan mail. In 1926, she published an article in The New Republic distilling his theories into a sort of paint-by-numbers exercise entitled, “Meet Yourself: How to Use the Personality Paint Box.”

5. Isabel’s disillusionment with temp work turned her into an apostle of her mother's work.

Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-MyersKatharine Myers, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

One summer, Isabel Briggs Myers (she married "Chief" in 1918) landed an unfulfilling job at a temp agency. She later gave it up for housework, but found homemaking just as lackluster an occupation. In a letter to her mother, Myers expressed a wish for “some highly intelligent division of labor that can be worked out, so everybody works, but not at the wrong things.” (She’d eventually find satisfaction as an author, later writing a detective novel called Murder Yet to Come, which won a $7500 magazine writing contest.) Her preoccupation with finding the right work, however, boosted Isabel's interest in her mother’s research.

6. The First Myers-Briggs test was originally focused on the WWII job market.

With the adoption of the GI Bill and a new influx of working women, World War II saw the American labor force blossom. It was a boon for career consultants, too, who were seeking standardized tests that could sort all of these new workers into their ideal jobs. According to Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers, a slew of tests were, “made under the watchful eyes of executives eager to keep both profits and morale high.” Myers would adapt and pitch her mother’s personality tests to a consultant named Edward N. Hay, arguing that they could help people entering the workforce find their career match. Hay loved the idea.

7. The test gained popularity as a way tool for hiring—and firing—employees.

Hay pitched the test to his biggest clients: General Electric, Standard Oil, Bell Telephone, and officials in the U.S. Army. Corporate honchos were quickly convinced that, by directing the right people to the right jobs, the test could help reduce turnover. According to Emre, Myers-Briggs encouraged employers to “reassign or fire people” according to their personality types. (At an electric company, for example, introverts could be assigned clerical work while extroverts were sent out to read meters.)

8. It’s not based on any formal psychology.

One concern with the MBTI is that nobody involved in developing it had any formal education in psychology or psychometrics (the study how to objectively measure psychological traits). Briggs, a devoted autodidact, would say, “One need not be a psychologist in order to collect and identify types any more than one needs to be a botanist to collect and identify plants.” Her critics, however, disagreed.

9. The MBTI is statistically unreliable.

The Myers-Briggs indicator suffers from “low test reliability.” That is: If you take the test more than twice, there’s a good chance you’ll be classified as a different personality type. “If you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there's around a 50 percent chance that you will fall into a different personality category compared to the first time you took the test,” the philosopher Roman Krznaric wrote for Fortune. As a scientific metric, the test is consistently unreliable.

10. Professional psychologists have described the test as a "fortune cookie."

Researchers have described the MBTI as “an act of irresponsible armchair philosophy” and a “Jungian horoscope.” Critics argue that the mother-daughter team misread Jung’s work on types. (Indeed, Jung himself said that slapping personality labels onto people was “nothing but a childish parlor game.”) In the early 1990s, a U.S. Army Research Institute commissioned study concluded, “At this time, there is not sufficient, well-designed research to justify the use of the MBTI in career counseling programs" [PDF] and the psychometric expert Robert Hogan said that, "Most personality psychologists regard the MBTI as little more than an elaborate Chinese fortune cookie." Despite the criticism, the test is still used by a majority of Fortune 100 companies—all to the tune of $20 million a year.

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The Hidden Meanings Behind 11 Common Tombstone Symbols

Tombstone symbols can sometimes be hard to interpret.
Tombstone symbols can sometimes be hard to interpret.
Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Walk through any cemetery in the world and you’ll find a solemn landscape that honors loved ones that have passed on. Accompanying the inscriptions of names, dates, and family crests are some common symbols that crop up repeatedly on tombstones. If you’ve ever wondered what they could mean, take a look at some of the explanations behind the graveyard graphics.

1. Eye

The eyes have it.Valerie Everett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you feel someone may be looking at you in the cemetery, you might be near a tombstone engraved with an eye. Often surrounded in a burst of sunlight or a triangle, an eye typically represents the all-seeing eye of God and could denote that the decedent was a Freemason.

2. Clasped Hands

Hands on a tombstone can mean several things.Christina Ramey, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Seeing two hands clasped together can illustrate shaking hands or holding hands, depending on the position of the thumbs. A handshake can mean a greeting to eternal life. If clasped hands have different cuffs, it could indicate a bond between the deceased and a spouse or relative. If one hand is higher than the other, it could also mean that a person is being welcomed by a loved one or a higher power. The hand engraving grew into wide use during the Victorian era.

3. Dove

Doves appear in a variety of poses on tombstones.Tim Green, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A dove usually symbolizes peace and the Holy Spirit, but its specific meaning depends on how the bird is posed. If it’s flying upward, the soul is ascending to heaven. If it’s flying down, it represents the Holy Spirit arriving at the baptism of Jesus Christ. If it’s holding an olive branch in its mouth, it refers to an ancient Greek belief that olive branches could ward off evil spirits.

4. Broken Chain

Chains on tombstones can be linked or broken.Carl Wycoff, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Medieval wisdom once held that a golden chain kept the soul in the body. In death, the chain is broken and the soul is freed. If the chain is unbroken and if it features the letters FLT (for Friendship, Love, and Truth), it probably means the deceased belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that seeks to promote charitable causes and offer aid.

5. Book

The meaning of a book on a tombstone isn't always easy to read.Carl Wycoff, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Was the deceased an avid reader? Maybe, but not necessarily. An open book on a tombstone might refer to a sacred text like the Bible, the “book of life,” or the person’s willingness to learn. If you see a dog-earned corner on the right side, it could indicate the person’s life ended prematurely and before their “book” was finished.

6. Finger Pointing Up

An index finger pointing up can direct visitors to look up.Christina Ramey, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

A hand with the index finger raised skyward is one of the more ambiguous symbols found in graveyards. It might be pointing to heaven, or indicate the fact that the decedent has risen from the land of the living.

7. Corn

Ears of corn could mean the deceased was a farmer.mike krzeszak, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A corn stalk on a tombstone means the deceased could have been a farmer; it used to be a custom to send corn instead of floral arrangements to a farmer’s family. It might represent other kinds of grain. Alternately, corn seeds can symbolize rebirth.

8. Scroll

Scrolls on a tombstone can refer to an unknown future.Kelly Teague, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

A scroll engraved on a tombstone with both ends rolled up can indicate that part of life has already unfolded while the future is hidden.

9. Lamp

Lamps can mean a love of knowledge.Sean, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

A lamp on a tombstone could speak to a love of learning or knowledge, or it might refer to how the spirit is immortal.

10. Camel

Camels aren't something you'd expect to see on a tombstone.Glen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

While this particular camel signifies the Imperial Camel Corps that occupied desert regions during World War I, a camel can also represent a long journey or a skilled guide—in this case, for the afterlife.

11. Hourglass

An hourglass can be a message to the living.justiny8s, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As you may have guessed, the hourglass symbolizes the march of time. An hourglass on its end may mean the deceased died suddenly, while a winged hourglass communicates how quickly time flies. It may also be construed as a message to the living—time is short, so don’t waste it.