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Thematic Apperception Test

Indeed, the creators of major personality tests are themselves a colorful bunch of characters whose tests were largely reflective of their own idiosyncrasies. In researching and writing their life stories, I came to believe that personality tests tell us less about the individuals who take them than about the individuals who devised them:

  • There’s Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychiatrist who turned a parlor game into the iconic inkblot test — the results of which were for decades taken very seriously in courtrooms and mental hospitals.
  • There’s Henry Murray, the patrician (and married) professor who developed the Thematic Apperception Test with the help of his lover, who worked alongside him at his Harvard clinic.
  • There’s Starke Hathaway, the Midwestern psychologist who included questions about test-takers’ religious beliefs, sex lives and bathroom habits in his influential instrument, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory(MMPI).
  • And, of course, there’s Isabel Myers, the Pennsylvania housewife who was inspired to turn Jung’s cryptic writings into a personality test accessible to all. Her mother, Katharine Briggs, helped with this endeavor, and at first the test was called the Briggs-Myers Type Indicator; the order of the names was reversed starting in 1956.

Myers typed herself as an INFP (that is, introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceiving). Having spent many months poring over her letters and journal entries, reading the recollections of those who knew her and reporting on the way she turned an obscure psychological theory into a personality test that has been taken by millions of people worldwide, I can tell you that a string of four letters doesn’t come close to capturing the fascinating complexities of this woman. If Myers imagined that her multitudes could be contained by four pseudo-Jungian descriptors — well, that was her limitation. We don’t have to make it ours.