Personality assessment, and the field of psychology in general, was largely influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud. In 1900, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams which to this day continues to exert considerable influence on psychological approaches to understanding personality. Around this same time, Austrian physician, Alfred Adler, and the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, also contributed to the field’s understanding of personality. In fact, Jung devised one of the earliest personality instruments, the automated word association test (e.g., ‘What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say the word baby?’) and it was his work on personality types that influenced the development of the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator.
Although less empirical forms of personality assessment emerged in the early 20th Century, it was not until World War I that personality tests emerged in a form resembling modern assessments. Modern personality testing began when Robert Woodworth was commissioned by the United States Army to develop an instrument to assess Army recruits’ emotional stability (e.g., likelihood of ‘shell shock’). The Personal Data Sheet created by Woodword in 1919 consisted of 116 yes/no questions. Questions included, “Do ideas run through your head so that you cannot sleep?” and “Do you have a strong desire to commit suicide?” While the instrument was considered to have psychometric credibility, Woodworth’s measure was face valid and allowed for faking good and faking bad. In order to address this issue, Louis Leon Thurstone developed the Thurstone Personality Schedule in 1930 to assess neurotic symptoms in civilian and military populations. Thurstone keyed items on this measure in terms of how he believed a neurotic would typically answer them.
Additionally, projective assessments of personality with credible psychometrics were also created during this time. The Rorschach inkblot test was introduced in 1921 as a means of determining personality by the interpretation of abstract inkblots. Please follow this video link to view traditional Rorschach inkblot cards and common responses for each card.
Gibby, R. E. & Zickar, M. J. (2008). A history of the early days of personality testing in American industry: An obsession with adjustment. History of Psychology, 11, 164-184. doi: 10.1037/a0013041
Gregory, R. J. (2004). Psychological testing: History, principles, and applications. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.