The short answer: Personality Assessments in general are popular because people have an innate drive to understand themselves and because it is valuable to be able to contextualize one’s own and others’ personalities quickly, without lengthy explanations. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) in particular is the most popular personality test today for many reasons. Initially published in 1962, the MBTI was among the first personality tests available on the market. It is also easy to administer, is supported by decades of rigorous research, and offers a comprehensive analysis and reporting that details how to apply its results to improve one’s satisfaction in diverse aspects of life, from personal relationships to vocational achievement.
Let’s take a closer look at why MBTI became popular to begin with and how it maintains its popularity today.
How did the MBTI become popular initially?
The MBTI rose to prominence against the backdrop of World War II. In the 1940s, thousands of able-bodied men were sent overseas as soldiers. At the same time, their jobs needed to be filled at home, often by people with little prior experience. The question then became which people should do which jobs. Two well-educated women – Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers – responded by developing a tool to allocate limited human resources efficiently by matching jobs with people of appropriate character and temperament. They called their tool the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
Over the next decade, Myers and Briggs developed, tested, and refined the instrument using students from high schools, universities, and medical schools. These students could then use their preliminary analyses to contribute to the war effort and the post-war recovery, which led to the MBTI becoming widely recognized and increasingly popular. The MBTI’s status was cemented in 1957 when Myers signed a contract to publish the MBTI with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which was and still is the world’s largest private nonprofit educational testing organization.
The rest is history. ETS disseminated the MBTI around the world. Today, the MBTI is published and distributed by the Myers-Briggs Company, which continues to revise and update the instrument to enhance its validity and reliability and maintain its relevance and utility worldwide.
How has the MBTI maintained its popularity?
The MBTI has remained popular for many reasons. Let’s take a closer look at just a few.
People want to understand themselves.
Philosophers have acknowledged the human need for self-understanding for thousands of years. Human identity and personality are incredibly complex, and the MBTI provides laypeople with a straightforward, easy-to-understand framework for making sense of this complexity. While they may previously have been overwhelmed by the subjective nuance of individual preferences, the MBTI 16 personality types distill human tendencies to their core and offer concrete strategies for improving people’s lives and relationships.
Taking the MBTI is enjoyable.
Some people may find the process of answering the MBTI test items and taking the time for self-introspection both relaxing and enjoyable. Free online personality quizzes capitalize on this tendency, offering MBTI-like categorizations for everything from donut preferences to fictional characters—think, “What donut are you? Take this 5-question quiz to find out!” The MBTI leverages this human tendency and applies it to a legitimate instrument for personality analysis. Moreover, because of its rigor, the MBTI allows people to learn something new about themselves and even draw attention to previously unconscious processes. These insights can be both fascinating and practical.
People seek connection.
The MBTI offers a way to go beyond small talk and connect with others on a deeper level, especially in the workplace, where personal conversations may feel uncomfortable or inappropriate. Realizing that people share certain aspects of their personalities can help them build immediate rapport and understanding. Extroverts can give introverted colleagues the space to process information before meetings, for example, while finding other extroverts with whom they can recharge. MBTI can also provide people with less common personality types the language they need to express their preferences or habits. This terminology can be especially beneficial to those who may have previously felt misunderstood or isolated. The continued popularity of the MBTI can be partially attributed to the human drive for connection and mutual understanding.
The MBTI is useful.
While there are dozens of personality tests on the market—probably thousands of free online quizzes are included—the MBTI is among the most widely recognized and useful. For decades, people from all walks of life and life stages have used the MBTI to positively impact every aspect of their professional and personal lives, from improving personal and professional communication, selecting a career or academic trajectory, increasing their organizations’ and teams’ efficiency, reducing stress, augmenting leadership and professional development programs, and more. There are also innumerable MBTI-driven resources and consultants that provide customized guidance for specific personality types in specific circumstances.
The MBTI is valid and reliable.
The MBTI has been repeatedly shown to be both valid and reliable. Researchers have studied the four preference scales independently and in relation to each other, and these analyses have proven that the MBTI is accurate and consistent across multiple administrations. In other words, one is likely to get the same MBTI results when taking the assessment more than once, even months or years apart. Furthermore, the MBTI applies to individuals of any race or gender, and to any individual over 18 years old. (Note that possible inaccuracies before adulthood are primarily due to children’s rapidly-changing preferences and developing personalities, not to any inherent limitation of the instrument itself.) The MBTI remains popular because it is a high-quality instrument that has withstood rigorous examination in the decades since its initial publication.
The MBTI has remained the world’s most popular and recognizable personality test for the better part of a century. It shows no sign of losing steam, and its long-standing reputation is likely due to its strong historical and psychological foundations, decades of rigorous verification, and widespread name recognition, coupled with an inherent human drive for understanding and connection.