Katharine Cook Briggs

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Katherine Cook Briggs
Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers
Born(1875-01-03)January 3, 1875[1]
DiedJuly 10, 1968(1968-07-10) (aged 93)
Known forMyers-Briggs Type Indicator
Spouse(s)Lyman James Briggs
Children2, including Isabel

Katharine Cook Briggs (1875–1968) was an American writer who was the co-creator, with her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, of an inventory of personality type known as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).[2]

Early life[edit]

Family life[edit]

Katharine Cook Briggs was born on January 3, 1875 in Ingham County, MI, to a family who promoted education for women as well as men.[3] Her father Albert John Cook was on the faculty of Michigan State University, previously known as Michigan Agricultural College. Her mother, nee Mary Harris Baldwin, attended Oberlin College. After Katharine graduated from college she married Lyman James Briggs, a physicist and Director of the Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C.[2][4] On October 18, 1897 Katharine gave birth to Isabel Briggs Myers, the couple's only child who would survive infancy.[4] Through raising Isabel, Briggs developed many theories about the proper ways to raise a child. She took her daughter out of traditional schooling, brought her home, and encouraged her to read and write on any topic of interest.[3] Briggs' interest in personality types grew as her daughter met the man she would marry, Clarence “Chief” Myers. Briggs felt that Chief was different than the rest of the family. To maintain her relationship with her daughter, Briggs sought to better understand Myers and his differences using what she knew of personality types.[3]


Briggs was home schooled by her father. Briggs claimed that she did not recall who taught her to write, but that he or she did so poorly. She never attended a formal school until she left for college at the age of fourteen.[4] Briggs earned a college degree in agriculture and became a well-known academic during a time when it was falsely believed that too much education for women harmed their reproductive abilities. She worked as a teacher after college. She was a devoted reader and writer throughout her life.[3]

Early research[edit]

Briggs looked at data from studies of contemporary children's educational and social developmental theories. She created a vocation test for children. She saw this as a key to a child's future happiness and well being.[2] Her earliest research led her to identify 4 main personality types in 1917: meditative types, spontaneous types, executive types, and sociable types, which later developed into the MBTI terms Ixxx, ExxP, ExTJ, and ExFJ.[2][4][5] However, while investigating the works of various philosophers, scientists and psychologists, she was unable to identify one definitive theory of type that encompassed all aspects. From the lack of findings, she decided to begin to distinguish her own theory of type.[3]


She wrote essays about child-rearing and education, believing that children have an innate curiosity and that education is what fuels this natural instinct. Briggs' early interest in personality types bloomed from her attempts at fiction writing. To create richer characters for her fiction writing, she attempted to understand the details of human personality and behaviors.[3] Briggs' first two articles were published in the journal New Republic. Both discussed Jung's theory. The first was published in 1926 (Meet Yourself Using the Personality Paint Box) and the second in 1928 (Up From Barbarism).[5]

Isabel's involvement[edit]

In 1923, Briggs read the work of Carl Jung and introduced it to her daughter. His theory focused on innate differences between people in regard to their decision making and their intake of information.[6] She was inspired to write erotic fiction about Jung.[7] After reading C.G. Jung's Psychological Types, Briggs abandoned her own creation of a personality theory and began to focus on Jung's ideas in a more in depth manner. Isabel, initially uninterested in type research, had a change of heart when she encountered work that attempted to identify people's appropriate type of work for their character. She decided to join efforts with her mother.[3] Katharine and Isabel were greatly influenced by Jung and decided his ideas could help people make better life choices and put individual differences in a positive light. From here they began a twenty-year period of type watching.[8] In 1945, Katharine and Isabel, with the help of Lyman Briggs, ran the first assessment on George Washington Medical School students.[9] Keeping in mind her mother's early work, during World War II, Isabel created a test that would help identify a person's appropriate war-related job.[2]


The rest of Briggs' life was devoted to bringing the ideas of Jung forward and applying them in ways that could better people's lives. Isabel took over the studies and with hers, her mother's and Jung's observations, was able to initiate the creation of a pencil-paper questionnaire to assess type. Isabel spent the later half of her life trying to fulfill her mother's vision.[8] Briggs was primarily the driving force and inspiration behind the creation of the MBTI and Isabel was the work force that created the physical test itself.[2]


Briggs and her early personality type research were instrumental in creating one of the most well-known and widely used personality tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Today it is used in areas as broad as executive development and marital counseling.[6] Since it was formally added to the Educational Testing Service's collection of tests in 1962, it is estimated that 50 million people have taken the MBTI.[9] The MBTI classifies personality types along four pairs of categories. Katharine and Isabel claimed that everyone fits into one of the 16 possible combinations of personality type, with a dominant preference in each of the four pairs. The framework of the test has barely changed since Briggs first developed it.[9] The MBTI is criticized by some who claim that Briggs developed the assessment in her home before doing any extensive scientific research, instead of the other way around.[9]


  1. ^ Katharine E. Cook Briggs Papers - UA.10.3.68, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "MBTI® history and tributes to Isabel Briggs Myers and Mary McCaulley". becomewhoyouare.net. Archived from the original on 20 January 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "The Remarkable Story of the MBTI®: How Two Unlikely Theorists Created the World's Most Popular Personality Test". typefinder. Truity Psychometrics LLC. 2011-09-26. Retrieved 6 November 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b c d "The Story of Isabel Briggs Myers". capt.org. Retrieved 2 December 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)". Development Edge Consulting Ltd. Archived from the original on 8 December 2014. Retrieved 2 December 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b "The history of the MBTI assessment". unlocking potential. The Myers-Briggs Company. Retrieved 4 October 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Emre, Merve. "The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myer-Briggs and the birth of personality testing". The /Week.
  8. ^ a b "Isabel Briggs Myers". MBTI. The Myers & Briggs Foundation. Retrieved 6 November 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ a b c d Cunningham, Lillian (2012-12-14). "Myers-Briggs: Does it pay to know your type?". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 December 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)