Employers have been trying for centuries to identify the best hires, just as researchers have been trying to measure personality. Some stops along the way:
400 B.C. In Platonic Athens, civil service candidates are required to pass physical and cognitive tests.
202 B.C. The Han Dynasty begins testing civil service candidates. By 1370, it's become an onerous process: a day in isolation writing essays and a poem, three three-day district exams, and a final test in Peking. The system was finally abandoned in 1906.
1823 The Phrenological Journal and Miscellany advocates a way of assessing personality in which the skull shows bumps where corresponding parts of the brain are well developed. So a bump at the top of the skull, just before the crown, is an indicator of benevolence. Wander half an inch down and you're at mirth.
1869 Francis Galton argues that there are measurable differences between individuals' minds, introducing the idea of psychological testing.
1917 The American Psychological Association asks Robert Woodworth for a test to assess emotional stability in Army recruits. Woodworth devises 116 yes-or-no questions. The questions on his "Personal Data Sheet," the first job-related personality test, seem fascinatingly outdated today: "Do you have too many sexual dreams?" "Do people find fault with you more than you deserve?"
1928 Harvard's Henry Murray devises tests to analyze "normal" subjects (as opposed to, say, shell-shocked soldiers).
1940 At a mental hospital in Minnesota, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory is born. It is meant to call out neuroses with yes-or-no questions such as "Were you considered a bad boy?" and "Everything is turning out just like the prophets of the Bible said it would." Oddly, it becomes a popular (and, as of last year, illegal) employment test.
1943 The Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, begins putting would-be spies through exercises that mimic what they would do on the job. Sample: Devise a propaganda campaign to dispirit South Manchurian Railway workers. These are the first work assessments.
1946 A psychologist named Raymond Cattell uses an IBM sorter and the brand-new Illiac computer to perform factor analysis on 4,504 personality-related words. He concludes that there are 16 measures of personality, including boldness, tough-mindedness, and self-sufficiency.
1956 AT&T, following the example of the OSS, sets up assessment centers to test executives.
1963 W.T. Norman analyzes Cattell's work. His verdict: Only five factors--neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience--really shape personality. The "Big Five" approach, as it's called, becomes the basis for many modern personality tests.
1964 The Civil Rights Act is passed...
1972...followed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act...
1990...and the Americans with Disabilities Act. All the acts challenge conventional hiring practices.
2000 Personality tests go online, and interest in them revives.