Glibly Attractive: Reading Annie Murphy Paul's "The Cult of Personality"
Peter Geyer, INTP - Warrnambool, Australia
Annie Murphy Paul: The Cult of Personality - How Personality Tests are leading us to miseducate our children, mismanage our companies and misunderstand ourselves. Free Press NY 2004 ISBN 0-7432-4356-0
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Some general errors of fact include Ernst Kretschmer misrepresented as being associated with Nazis (see Bair,2003, for a different view) David Keirsey as a follower of Isabel Myers (See Keirsey, 1998), William James tough-minded - tender-hearted miswritten, and also Jung's development of his idea of psychological types and his depiction of Freud as an extravert (a claim Jung did not make). A number of references taken from C.G.Jung Speaking (Misreferenced as C.G.Jung Speaks) are incorrect and a search is still on for the correct pages. Paul's understanding of Jung's ideas, including an associated timeframe for them, is minimal at best and this is reflected in the few references given.
In the MBTI chapter, Paul starts off with a slightly more colourful description of its developers in Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers and their families than what you might find in her text reference (Saunders 1991). There's a slight slip when Paul refers to Briggs' alma mater by its current designation, not what it was in the 19th century when she attended, nor is there reference to Briggs' academic family background. This and other data might make it harder to use the term "housewives" to describe the two women, when the nature of their intellectual surroundings and activities belie that sort of label.
Paul's description of Jung's development of his theory of psychological types is cursory and incoherent. She uses the term "extrovert" for instance, rather than his "extravert", and misinterprets his description of Freud. "Extrovert" is used continuously throughout this chapter, notwithstanding the lack of reference to that designation in any MBTI material. Her designation of Jung's three sets of opposites is also technically not correct, and she can't quite manage to get the classical Temperaments: Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, putting Bilious in instead of the latter. She misidentifies Freud's stages of development as a typology per se, as well as Jung as a follower of Freud.
There's a certain undertone of cynicism to the description of Isabel Myers' life as a crime novelist, particularly her spirited defence of a murder technique. One is left with the idea of a crazed woman who could willingly kill, rather than a benign author defending her work. This theme, one might call it demonizing, actually continues throughout this section, with respect to interpreting Myers' behaviour.
"People-sorting instruments" follow, and are treated with disdain, something to keep in mind when Myers and Briggs get to construct the MBTI. But any notion of how the questions might have been developed is jumbled: no explanation is given of "forced choice" questions as a conventional method for instruments or her methods.
History isn't a strong spot either. Typologies in American psychology, were in little favour from the 1920s at the latest, not World War II; "scientific" psychology antedated World War I. She shows little knowledge of either the development of instruments as a whole or their association with business. This is partly because she doesn't refer to intelligence tests, but it may also be that she hasn't read a couple of the references she provides, which actually deal with this topic. Most of the references seem to be more of a quick internet cruise.
A diversion is made into Ernst Kretschmer and William Sheldon follows, which has nothing to do with the MBTI, but more with David Keirsey, whose publication of Please Understand Me had to do with their ideas more than Isabel Myers. This is followed by a strange interlude with Frederick Taylor, whose life (he died in 1915) and work in organisations antedates the MBTI by some decades.
An implication here, and one strongly made, is that Isabel Myers was interested in orderly workplaces in the same way as the inventor of "scientific management" and promoter of the "one best way". By definition, the MBTIs 16 types are the opposite of Taylor's views about workers and management (Kanigel 1997) , so it's difficult to see where the facts for this assertion come from.
No mention is made of Isabel Myers' researching gender differences in MBTI responses from the start, nor that her presentation to ETS was clouded by the fact that she was female, in addition to her qualifications and her topic. Her "improvised vocabulary" is not explained. Presumably these are the questions and the scales, but it's hard to know. The first dissertation of any kind, in 1949, by A.R. Laney is also not mentioned, nor the use of the MBTI from 1948 at IPAR at UCLA (Berkeley).
Paul appears to imply that Myers did not write an MBTI Manual for ETS (this was published in 1962, and Paul seems to think that ETS had published the MBTI for sale. This date is attested to be associated with ETS' publication of the MBTI, whereas Form F, the subject of the manual, was available from 1958,as a research instrument. The author implies that it was for sale, which leads to some confused language when CPP Inc., the current publisher, come into the picture in 1975.
Paul's selected practitioner, Shoya Zichy, doesn't even use the MBTI, but Keirsey's Temperament Sorter, which is an entirely different questionnaire made up for different reasons. Paul is unaware of this, and in any case can't pick that Zichy's use of the Sorter immediately discounts her as an expert on the MBTI. At any rate, Zichy seems oblivious to its complexities (see e.g. Quenk, 1999). This is later confirmed by Paul's outline of Zichy's Color Q development.
Paul in any case seems to be more interested in this sort of thing. Something called the Omnia Profile and the Similarity Index, or Management by Strengths all seem to have their purpose and intent locked into the aims of Isabel Myers. There's actually an opportunity here for Paul to launch a substantial critique here on the trivialisation of both Myers' and Jung's ideas in the use of such tools in organisations. This would have been a worthwhile enterprise, in my view, but Paul's lack of knowledge and acumen allows this opportunity to be passed by.
A later comment on Myers, regarding her genius, by Mary McCaulley is given a different meaning because two following words are not provided. Regrettably, Lynne Baab, a prominent MBTI user, makes an inappropriate comment regarding assigning volunteers in church work, something Paul is surprised to be an area where the MBTI is used, possibly indicating that she'd made a conclusion and set out to find the data to prove it. She's probably be discomfited to know that the MBTI was brought to Australia by Roman Catholic priests and nuns
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About Peter Geyer
Peter Geyer offers a review of "The Cult of Personality" by Annie Murphy Paul, a former editor of "Psychology Today."
Criticizing the tool rather than the tool users, Paul has painted with a broad brush protesting the use of personality testing, including lumping the MBTI among the medicine she believes society can do without.
Peter Geyer is a teacher, writer, researcher and PhD student, currently studying the ideas, history and practicality of the MBTI at the University of South Australia. He conducts MBTI Qualifying Workshops and advanced seminars. He writes for the Australian Psychological Type Review and at www.petergeyer.com.au