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A Brief History of Personality Tests

Source | https://hbr.org : By Eben Harrell

First used by the U.S. Army during World War I to try to predict which soldiers would suffer from “shell shock,” personality testing today is a roughly $500 million industry, with an annual growth rate estimated at 10% to 15%. Millions of workers take assessments each year as part of personnel selection, to improve collaboration and teamwork, and to identify satisfying career paths.

But personality screening is not without controversy. In recent lawsuits, courts have ruled that the use of certain tests discriminates against protected classes of workers, particularly those with disabilities. Research suggests that many beliefs held by HR professionals about personality screening run counter to scientific evidence. And management scholars worry that fixating on personality as the primary source of conflict at work can cause managers to overlook the crucial role they play in creating the enabling conditions for teams to succeed—whatever their composition.

The industry’s robust growth, however, suggests that managers increasingly rely on personality testing as a tool to optimize their workforces. The tests are inexpensive compared with other assessment tools, and they are easy to administer—modern tests can be taken online without an examiner present. Hundreds of assessments exist today, yet over the past century, three have had an outsize impact.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Katharine Briggs began her research into personality in 1917 as a means to understand what she saw as an unlikely attraction between her cherished daughter, Isabel, and fiancé, Clarence Myers. Over 20 years, the mother-daughter team worked to develop the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, drawing heavily on the work of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Since the 1960s, some 50 million people have taken the test, making it by far the most popular personality assessment ever created.

The MBTI holds that people have preferred modes of perception (sensing or intuition) and judgment (thinking or feeling) as well as attitudes about how they build energy (extroversion or introversion) and their orientation to the outer world (judging or perceiving). These preferences combine to form 16 personality types.

Experts argue that the categories don’t predict individual or team effectiveness. Studies have found that more than half the people who retake the test get a different result the second time. The Myers-Briggs Foundation warns against using it “for hiring or for deciding job assignments,” yet the test’s popularity persists at many blue-chip firms. Proponents find it useful for helping people understand their own and their colleagues’ styles and preferences and for reducing conflict in the workplace.

Read On…..

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