Why You Should Go Beyond 16 Personalities & Learn Cognitive Functions?

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most popular personality tests and frameworks since the 1950s, created by the mother-daughter duo Isabel Myers and Catherine Briggs. Officially licensed under the Myers Briggs Company, the MBTI becomes even more popular due to the proliferation of (questionable) free online tests and generic type descriptions, often known as 16P or 16-personality test.

sample results from 16personalities.com of an MBTI type
A typical result chart from 16personalities.com

As a result, there are generally two levels of understanding that we have seen. In the first group are those who came across the popular 16P personality quiz, or similar sites like truity.com. These sites peddle a type of personality assessment that simply asks “are you Extroverted or Introverted”, “are you an Intuitive or a Sensor”, “are you a Thinker or a Feeler”, “are you a Judger or a Perceiver” with percentage scores and give you your “MBTI type” based on those results.

It is a dichotomy (“strictly one or the other”) method that leaves much to be desired, because in a dichotomy system, you cannot have balance in your capability for sensing/intuition, or thinking/feeling. The end result is that many test-takers feel like they do not fit the extreme definitions of “introvert” / “extrovert” / “thinker” / “feeler”, because naturally every person is a bit introverted at times, a bit extroverted at times, and uses logic and inner values depending on the situation at hand.

Picture of Carl Jung
Portrait of Carl Jung

In the second group are those who look further back to the origins of the modern MBTI, to the original theory introduced by Carl Jung in his 1921 book “Psychological Types” and expanded by Jungian analysts like John Beebe. Based on this theory, all our psychological thought processes can be categorized into 8 different cognitive functions.

This group also recognizes sixteen different types, but organizes each of the sixteen types by a unique combination of these 8 cognitive functions. It is a more holistic and nuanced understanding of personality types that accounts for the fact that everyone has a bit of everything, and the difference between types lies in the different order of strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s where the confusion arises: both groups have 16 types with the same 16 names, but a very different and incompatible understanding of what defines each of those 16 personality types.

Funny memes: seeing the cognitive functions as savior light in the distince
Have you seen the light of the cognitive-function perspective?

We are firmly in the second group, and we have seen that generally, people in the first group who start to learn about cognitive functions will almost always “see the light” and join the second group, seeing the types through the lens of cognitive functions rather than the simple dichotomies.

Once a person sees the more robust and comprehensive system, they will naturally accept it over the simplistic dichotomies. In writing this post, I hope to bring you from the shallow pools of the 16P and truity.com to the real nuts and bolts of Jung’s theory of personality!

What are the cognitive functions?

Left hand and right hand as an illustration of opposing cognitive functions
Like left and right hand, we have opposing ways to perceive and judge information

Perception can be done in two ways; it can be in the present, the “here and now” (Sensing) and it can be looking beyond into the future and inferring patterns beneath the surface (Intuition)

On the other hand, judgement can be also done in two ways; it can be done for quantifiable things, judging value between two black-and-white comparisons (Thinking). It can be also be done for unquantifiable things, judging value in aspects like love or personal values (“do I love Alice or Bob more?”) (Feeling)

So as a result, we have 4 functions (Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling) and for each of these four functions , there is an introverted and an extroverted version.

Picture of a swimming person to illustrate the idea of introversion vs extroversion
Think of introversion and extroversion like water and land, for introverts, the inner mind is the relaxing land while it takes effort to “swim” in the outer word

The extroverted functions are oriented outwards towards the external world, they are:

  • Extroverted Sensing (Se): Enjoying the finer aspects of life in food, fashion. Being physically in tune with the world
  • Extroverted Intuition (Ne): From one observation, deriving ten different ideas and possibilities
  • Extroverted Thinking (Te): Real-world practicality, results-driven, things that can be written down on a resume
  • Extroverted Feeling (Fe): Being able to “read the room”, attuned to the social atmosphere, tailoring your words to your audience

The introverted functions are oriented inwards towards the subjective personal world

  • Introverted Sensing (Si): Seeing and remembering things as they were in the past, taking things step by step
  • Introverted Intuition (Ni): From ten observations, deriving one single theory that explains everything. Projecting the one future path that most likely will happen
  • Introverted Thinking (Ti): Logical and consistent, having various categories to ensure that everything has its own place in a water-tight system
  • Introverted Feeling (Fi): Having a clear idea of individual desires, values, tastes. Living life authentically without being affected by what the rest of the world does

A more detailed explanation of each of the functions can be found here.

Flow chart of how Jungian psychology branched into the 8 mbti functions
A flow chart that summarizes how Jung theorized the existence of 8 cognitive functions

How are the cognitive functions organized?

  1. A person’s combination of functions (i.e. the function stack) can’t simply be randomly picked from the list of 8 functions (otherwise we would have 8^8 = 16,777,216 types! There are commonly accepted rules for the positions and pairings of the functions developed by readers of Jung such as Myers Briggs and John Beebe.
  2. Each function has a partner: its “opposite” within the same Judging/Perceiving category.
    • Perceiving function pairs
      • Introverted Intuition (Ni) + Extroverted Sensing (Se) Contextual
      • Extroverted Intuition (Ne) + Introverted Sensing (Si) Universal
    • Judging Function Pairs
      • Introverted Feeling (Fi) + Extroverted Thinking (Te) Contextual
      • Extroverted Feeling (Fe) + Introverted Thinking (Ti) Universal
  3. Every person’s first four function slots are comprised of one Perceiving function pair and one Judging function pair
    • Thus four possible combinations; there are four different ways to pair one Perceiving function pair with one Judging function pair
DemocraticTheocratic
Ne/Si + Fi/TeNi/Se + Fe/Ti
AtomicMonarchic
Ne/Si + Fe/TiNi/Se + Fi/Te
  1. Within a person’s first four function slots, one function pair will occupy the 1st (“Dominant”) and 4th (“Inferior”/”Primitive”) slots. The other function pair will occupy the 2nd (“Auxiliary”) and 3rd (“Tertiary”) slots
  2. Between the Dominant and Auxiliary Functions,
    • There is one extroverted and one introverted
    • There is one perceiving (N/S) and one judging (T/F)

To put everything together, here is an example of how we determine the functions of the ENFP type:

Step 1: Determine the orientation of the dominant function:

First letter tells you the orientation of the dominant function

The first letter “E” means Dominant function is Extroverted

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

(Intuition or Sensing or Thinking or Feeling)

Auxiliary

(Introverted or Extroverted) 

(Intuition or Sensing or Thinking or Feeling

because the dominant function is Extroverted, the Auxiliary function must be Introverted

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

(Intuition or Sensing or Thinking or Feeling)

Auxiliary

Introverted

(Intuition or Sensing or Thinking or Feeling

Step 2: Use the fourth letter narrows down the extroverted function

Fourth letter “P” means the Extroverted function is a Perceiving function (either N or S)

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

(Intuition or Sensing)

Auxiliary

Introverted

(Intuition or Sensing or Thinking or Feeling)

because the Extroverted function is a Perceiving function, the Introverted function must be a Judging function (T or F)

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

(Intuition or Sensing)

Auxiliary

Introverted

(Thinking or Feeling)

 Step 3: Use the second letter to decide whether the person is “Intuition” or “Sensing”

ENFP: “N” stands for Intuition rather than Sensing

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

Intuition

Auxiliary

Introverted

(Thinking or Feeling)

 Step 4:  Use the third letter to decide whether the person is “Thinking” or “Feeling”

ENFP: Letter F stands for Feeling rather than Thinking

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

Intuition

Auxiliary

Introverted

Feeling

 Step 5: Determine the tertiary function

Each function has a partner: its “opposite” within the same Judging/Perceiving category.

The Tertiary is simply the function pair of the Auxiliary

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

Intuition

Auxiliary

Introverted

Feeling

Tertiary

Extroverted

Thinking

 Step 6: Determine the inferior function

The Inferior/Primitive is simply the function pair of the Dominant

Position

Orientation

Function

Dominant

Extroverted

Intuition

Auxiliary

Introverted

Feeling

Tertiary

Extroverted

Thinking

Inferior / Primitive

Introverted

Sensing

Do you get it? Why not try to apply the same process above to determine the top four cognitive functions of your MBTI function stack? For a quick cheat sheet to look up different types’ stacks, click here.

So I hope you have had a better understanding of the other “deeper” aspect of MBTI and the commonly accepted model of the function stack in each type. This will unlock a more in-depth level of self-understanding for yourself based on your type.

The next step is to relook at your specific function stack and familiarize yourself with the definition and usage of each of these functions. Then, you can reflect on how these functions manifest in your life, then learn the theory further, and repeat. It will be a fulfilling and amazing journey of self-discovery with the aid of MBTI and Jungian functions!

References

  1. Myers, Isabel Briggs, and Peter B. Myers. Gifts differing: Understanding personality type. Consulting Psychologists Press, 1980.
  2. Beebe, John. Energies and patterns in psychological type: The reservoir of consciousness. Routledge, 2016.
  3. Jung, Carl. Psychological types. Routledge, 2016.

This was a guest article written by CS Ng. For more content from the author, check out here.

A more detailed explanation by him on the function stack can be found here

Cheat Sheet: Function Stack of Each MBTI Type

The 8 cognitive functions

The four extroverted functions are oriented outwards towards the external world, they are:

  • Extroverted Sensing (Se): Enjoying the finer aspects of life in food, fashion. Being physically in tune with the world
  • Extroverted Intuition (Ne): From one observation, deriving ten different ideas and possibilities
  • Extroverted Thinking (Te): Real-world practicality, results-driven, things that can be written down on a resume
  • Extroverted Feeling (Fe): Being able to “read the room”, attuned to the social atmosphere, tailoring your words to your audience

The four introverted functions are oriented inwards towards the subjective personal world

  • Introverted Sensing (Si): Seeing and remembering things as they were in the past, taking things step by step
  • Introverted Intuition (Ni): From ten observations, deriving one single theory that explains everything. Projecting the one future path that most likely will happen
  • Introverted Thinking (Ti): Logical and consistent, having various categories to ensure that everything has its own place in a water-tight system
  • Introverted Feeling (Fi): Having a clear idea of individual desires, values, tastes. Living life authentically without being affected by what the rest of the world does

Cheat sheet: Use this table for quick reference to see which functions are in each type

DominantAuxiliaryTertiaryInferior / Primitive
ISFJIntroverted Sensing (Si)Extroverted Feeling (Fe)Introverted Thinking (Ti)Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
ESFJExtroverted Feeling (Fe)Introverted Sensing (Si)Extroverted Intuition (Ne)Introverted Thinking (Ti)
INTPIntroverted Thinking (Ti)Extroverted Intuition (Ne)Introverted Sensing (Si)Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
ENTPExtroverted Intuition (Ne)Introverted Thinking (Ti)Extroverted Feeling (Fe)Introverted Sensing (Si)
ISTJIntroverted Sensing (Si)Extroverted Thinking (Te)Introverted Feeling (Fi)Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
ESTJExtroverted Thinking (Te)Introverted Sensing (Si)Extroverted Intuition (Ne)Introverted Feeling (Fi)
INFPIntroverted Feeling (Fi)Extroverted Intuition (Ne)Introverted Sensing (Si)Extroverted Thinking (Te)
ENFPExtroverted Intuition (Ne)Introverted Feeling (Fi)Extroverted Thinking (Te)Introverted Sensing (Si)
INFJIntroverted Intuition (Ni)Extroverted Feeling (Fe)Introverted Thinking (Ti)Extroverted Sensing (Se)
ENFJExtroverted Feeling (Fe)Introverted Intuition (Ni)Extroverted Sensing (Se)Introverted Thinking (Ti)
ISTPIntroverted Thinking (Ti)Extroverted Sensing (Se)Introverted Intuition (Ni)Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
ESTPExtroverted Sensing (Se)Introverted Thinking (Ti)Extroverted Feeling (Fe)Introverted Intuition (Ni)
INTJIntroverted Intuition (Ni)Extroverted Thinking (Te)Introverted Feeling (Fi)Extroverted Sensing (Se)
ENTJExtroverted Thinking (Te)Introverted Intuition (Ni)Extroverted Sensing (Se)Introverted Feeling (Fi)
ISFPIntroverted Feeling (Fi)Extroverted Sensing (Se)Introverted Intuition (Ni)Extroverted Thinking (Te)
ESFPExtroverted Sensing (Se)Introverted Feeling (Fi)Extroverted Thinking (Te)Introverted Intuition (Ni)

Are You A Thinker Or Feeler?

Can I ask if you are left-handed or right-handed? The chance is you are a right-handed person, because it is the majority of our population. How do you know that you are right-handed? It is a very obvious question almost without a need to explain. If we need to break down the reasons, there are three ways you know that your type is a right-handed: 1) The frequency of you using your right hand in a day is higher than your left and 2) Your right hand feels a lot more natural and real and 3) Your right hand will objectively be better at handling heavier objects or more complex tasks. 

That is how you should think about your opposing function of Thinking and Feeling as well. Do keep the above ideas of left and right hand in mind as we further learn about the true definition of Thinking and Feeling in Jungian psychology.

If you are a visual learner, you can also follow this video below:

The definitions

Carl Jung

Besides Introversion and Extroversion, Thinking and Feeling are the second dimension in analytical psychology (the third dimension is Intuition versus Sensing). These concepts were first introduced in the early 20th century by Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961), a famous Swiss psychiatrist who developed the idea of Psychological Types, the precursor to the extremely popular Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test and framework.

My philosophy for Our Human Minds have always been to adhere as much as possible to the original understanding and work of Carl Jung to help readers understand accurately the cognitive functions. It is a longer path, but trust me, it is more rewarding and surer way to achieve more accurate self-understanding than purely taking the online test and read the descriptions of the 16 MBTI personalities!

Unlike left and right hand, Thinking and Feeling preferences in analytical psychology are more distinct, serving very different purposes. Your two hands do not oppose each other, but Thinking and Feeling do by definition. Hence, being aware of them and knowing how to develop your weaker function and learn to make them synchronize holds the potential for not only more productivity but also psychological maturity and wholeness.

The definition of  “Thinking” and “Feeling” in Jungian psychology are easily confused with the more layman definitions that we use in our daily languages. They should not be confused with logic versus emotion. You need to understand them in a more fundamental way, that they are evaluative & rational processes to judge incoming information, whether something is right or wrong, good and bad…

Thinking and Feeling aim to clearly distinguish between the two distinct preferences for decision-making: impersonal versus personal/interpersonal respectively. The easiest way to visualize this difference is in the common stereotype between men versus women in our society. Men are known to prefer to “solve problems” and break down problems “logically” while on the other hand, women simply want to be listened to, to be empathized and understood. 

Thinkers (both men and women) prefer to solve problems objectively

While this is a stereotype, indeed, some of the surveys  have shown that there is a slight preference (55%) among men for Thinking and a strong preference (75%) of women who have a Feeling preference. How much of this is the surveyed individuals’ true preferences and how much is a result of social expectation & conditioning, is for another debate. However, I would like to add that based on this survey, thinking that all men are or have to be super logical or women have to be relationship-oriented is a gross simplification and unfair treatment to both sexes.

To break it down further, thinking manifests itself as preference for using objective and measurable frameworks for clear-cut decision making. It is about using objective criteria, conceptual frameworks, pros and cons, structures, logical systems… People with Thinking preference value and take pride in being efficient, precise, goal and task-oriented. Something is good if it is placed in the right category, gives better measurable results, more efficient etc.

On the other hand, Feeling places stronger emphasis on human’s welfare, values and preferences. As an introverted function, it’s about knowing a strong moral sense of right and wrong, of feeling an urge to help the less fortunate, to be humanitarian, to overcome unfairness and restore equality. Extroverted version is about about maintaining a harmonious atmosphere (when hosting a house party for example), making sure common pleasantries and “civilized” etiquettes are adhered to, while making sure everyone has a good time.

ThinkingFeeling
DefinitionImpersonal evaluationInterpersonal and value-based decision-making
Related conceptsobjective criteria, pros and cons, measurable results, conceptual frameworks, logical systemsvalues, morality, harmony, personal preferences, gut feels of right and wrong

Quick Exercise : What is your true preference based on the above definition?
You might need to think about when you are younger or in a more comfortable place at home without any stress of work or “have to” pressure. Social expectation and work stresses might force us to over-compensate to the point of losing sight of who we truly are, like Feeling men are often expected to appear logical and tough, or your jobs have required you to develop your weaker function, even if in your younger years you are the opposite.

Develop Thinking

This section is more relevant for Feeler who has a natural strength in making decisions based on personal values or harmony, but as a result, devoting less consciousness energy in using systemic/impersonal perspectives. We will look at concrete steps that you can take to gradually build up confidence in using the skills and become more holistic in decision making.

Playing a big part of your ego, Feeling – the preference for using value and personal-preference based approach, is part of your identity. The cause that you care about, friends and family, the social connection and status that represent your deepest conviction and meaning of life, are valid. As much as it’s important to acknowledge the other side of the equation, in the end, Thinking should serve in a supporting role and not to dominate your preference for  personal values or interpersonal harmony.

Just like this two-people bike, you should let your dominant function to take the lead and guide the other function, not the other way round!

The development of your weaker functions and achieving wholeness is a life-long quest, so the instruction below serves as a general direction and examples of the kind of steps you can take to develop Thinking.

Remember that the basic definition of Thinking is the use of impersonal systems, framework and measurable results and data. Hence, you can:

  1. Learn from someone close to you who is strong in Thinking like your family members or colleagues. Talk to them more or reflect on the time you guys spend time together. Learn about how they conduct themselves differently, understand why they do it and see if you can learn and integrate some of their techniques or philosophy.
  2. Develop interests in activities that require strong impersonal reasoning and decision making such as chess, finance, computer games…
  3. Integrate productivity tools such as planner, calendar, deadlines and KPIs clearly for both personal work and managing others.
  4. Take courses, read books, watch videos… on productivity, time and project management.
  5. Learn to say No. It’s very natural for Feeler to go with the flow and say yes to keep harmony. Saying No doesn’t mean being harsh or rude if you can explain yourself clearly. It doesn’t have to be black and white either, you can also negotiate what you’d like to do and what you cannot do or you feel is not fair. It’s hard at first, but it’s an essential skill that will go a long way!

Knowing other ways to develop your Thinking side that can help other readers? Feel free to comment below!

Develop Feeling

This is more relevant to Thinking dominant type. Again, it’s important that you acknowledge and embrace your identity as a Thinker and develop Feeling as a support for a more holistic decision making process. Your Thinking function should still be in the driver seat!

  1. Find friends, family or colleagues who you know well and you are fairly certain they are stronger in Feeling. Get to know them more and reflect on how they conduct things differently and see whether you can integrate some of their physiology and methods to your daily life.
  2. Engage in reflective activities like meditation, arts, writing… to reflect on your values and what’s important to you. Remember, it’s a gradual process that requires patience and regular practices.
  3. Engage in social activities and roles that you have to interact more with people. Recognise some of your biases and see it from a more positive light when it comes to social relationships. 
  4. Immerse yourself in nature, away from distraction of work and technology, to hear and embrace your inner voices, values and feelings.

Are you a Thinker that has other ways that work? Feel free to share below.

I hope you now have a clearer understanding of the distinction between these rational dimensions of Thinking versus Feeling. In reality, these two preferences never exist as standalone in a healthy person’s psyche but work in tandem. But since they are mutually exclusive/cancelling out, it’s natural to prioritize and put your conscious energy into one while “send to exile” the other, giving little conscious energy to nourish and maintain it.

If possible, you should learn further about how Introversion and Extroversion are combined with Thinking and Feeling to give rise to 4 distinct Cognitive Processes/Functions: Introverted Thinking, Extroverted Thinking, Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Feeling. This breakdown will bring in a whole new level of depth and opportunities for self-understanding and development. Good luck!

References

Type Fundamentals Guide @mbti-notes

Psychological types by CG. Jung

Perceiving Cognitive Processes: Intuition & Sensing

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and framework have popularized the concepts of extroversion, introversions and the cognitive processes that you probably have heard of: Thinking vs Feeling, Intuition vs Sensing. However, these concepts were first introduced in the early 20th century by Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961), a famous Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology.

Understand the fundamentals of these processes is crucial for any further learning and reading of MBTI-related theories and Jungian psychology. At the very least, you will be able to decipher the various functions that make up your personality type and how they interact together to form your unique cognitive patterns.

So let’s dive in to the first pairs of two opposite processes: Intuition and Sensing! If you prefer to watch instead of reading, below is a detailed video explanation I have made on the same topic:

The Definitions

This dichotomy is how we perceive and make sense of information, either in a dominantly concrete or abstract manner.

Concrete information is tangible sensory information, something that you can feel, see, taste, hear. With regards to time, it’s also related to what is here and now, what’s currently going on in society and most immediate environment. Jung termed this process of accessing concrete information: sensing and those with this preference are called sensors

Abstract information is intangible conceptual information, such as reading between the lines, metaphors, meaning behind things, future possibilities … The person likes to think far ahead, using past data to foresee future outcomes and behaviors. The process of using abstract perception is termed Intuition and the people who prefer it over sensing are called intuitives.

We both can use sensing and intuition at will, we have preference to prioritize one over the other. Our preferred side is more dominant, natural, and more developed like the left and right hand. Sensors are generally better at noticing and remembering details of a discussion while intuitives often only remember the key points or vibe. 

 Intuition dominantSensing dominant
How an intuitive and sensor notice a book in bookshop differently (in order
of what the person see first)
Essence of what’s it about
Relevance to me
Seem a bit worn out
Eww one corner is torn off!
The cover design is corny
What is it about?
Example of how an intuitive and sensing person would notice an object differently

According to statistical studies, Sensors significantly outnumber Intuitives in the general population.(70-75% of the population are sensors). It is a big advantage if you are aware of the sensing-intuitive difference because this dichotomy is often a common source of misunderstanding in work and personal relationships.

Sensors look for concrete facts and details and take things as they are and work with them. Intuitives look for abstract patterns and connections because they prefer to deal with the potential of objects, believing that reality can be different or changed, with a hopeful lens for the future. Sensors are more realistic and grounded while intuitives are more idealistic.

When Sensors intuit for too long, they feel impatient with too much theory and abstract thoughts. Meanwhile, intuitives can easily be put off by feeling forced to explain or sequence “every little detail” and would rather get back to entertaining new or interesting possibilities to restore equilibrium to their personality.

Evolutionary and social roles

Many would think that Intuition – the ability for more abstract thinking should exist only in humans or modern humans but the truth is both Intuition and Sensing exist in animals too. A lot of animals are known for their gut feeling or ability to memorise patterns (like salmon or birds that migrate thousands of miles to the places they are born). Of course, abstract thinking is more pronounced in humans because we have developed tools like languages and the concept of time, which significantly boosts our capacity for abstract thinking.

Any MBTI types are capable of both, as mentioned above. The average humans, regardless of types, are capable of comprehending and using way more abstraction than any other species on planet earth. I suspect that the part of Intuition and Sensing in our brains are pretty distinctive and mutually exclusive. However, why don’t we all evolve to become abstract thinkers? 

Because both ways of thinking are important to get any society or any project to function. It is a matter of spectrum. For example, Einstein came up with the E=MC2 formula, which is an example of highly abstract work! But society don’t just exist out of a formula! We need to further “concretize” the abstraction into practical and applicable tasks – the realm of Sensing. We further apply it to build space craft, atomic bomb… then we need people who like to take specific instruction on how to make that part of the space craft, what color is the craft, what materials is it made of… down to the smallest details!

What does it mean for you?

I hope the overview above gives you a more accurate and objective view of the two primary modes of information perception in the population. Keep it in mind when you interact next with other people and see if you can tell if they are sensors or intuitives. Two people of the same types will have an easier time communicating while you should be a bit more mindful of people who do not share the same preference. In essence, intuitive people love abstract and somewhat theoretical discussion while sensing-dominant people want to know the details and concrete steps.

No preference is better than the others. We have our respective social roles and strengths and weaknesses. In particular, if you are an intuitive, you might be the minority but with great potential for big-pictured thoughts and acquisition of abstract and innovative information. If you ever feel misunderstood or broken in some ways cause you are not in tune or don’t care about the latest social trends or norms, it’s ok. There are other people like you and there are exciting discovery ahead when things start to make sense and you will finally discover your true identity and purpose, even if it takes slightly longer than usual.

Introversion vs Extroversion: The True Jungian Perspective

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.

While his predecessor, Sigmund Feud, explored the personal unconscious, Carl Jung studied and developed the unconscious further to show the collective unconscious, which represents a form of the unconscious common to mankind as a whole. Carl Jung was the first to distinguish the two major attitudes or orientations of personality – extroversion and introversion. He also identified four basic cognitive functions (thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting).

To continue, you can read the article or watch the video version instead:

What is Extroversion and Introversion in Carl Jung’s original work?

This dimension has to do with where we naturally direct our energy and recharge as well as our first order of importance: the inner world vs the outer world:

  • Inner world is made up of thoughts, ideas, memories or so-called the subjective experience that is unique and aware of only by the individual
  • Outer world is made of people and experiences outside of one’s self, or the “objects”

Extraverts have a stronger relationship with the objects of the outer world because they feel a stronger cognitive need for frequent interaction with the world. To Extraverts, what’s going on outside is more important than what’s happening inside. Overall, they are more “action-oriented”.

Introverts have a stronger relationship with the inner world because they feel a stronger cognitive need to connect with their inner subjective experiences. To introverts, what’s happening inside is more important than outside. They are characterised for being more “reflective”.

I would like to clarify an important distinction between “trait” theory versus “type” theory. Jungian psychology is about type. Many free online MBTI tests give you results in percentage such as 70% Introvert, 30% Extrovert etc. However, this does not mean you are a different type 30% of the time. Being 90% or 51% introverted still means you have an introverted outlook in life. This kind of test fails to show that Jungian theory is a “type” theory, which mean you are either introvert or extrovert, and not a “trait” theory where you can exist in a continuum like the Big 5.

A good metaphor for extroversion vs introversion is land vs water. You can naturally be comfortable in both, but to an extrovert, the outer world is like the shore and the inner world is like water. They can certainly enjoy staying in water but where do they eventually get respite from? The shore. Vice versa for introverts, the inner world is like the shore and the outer world of objects is the water!

Neurologically, Extraverts and Introverts have different  pathways in the brain for processing information. Extraverts use a shorter pathway and are much faster at processing incoming information from the world. Therefore, they have a higher tolerance for stimulation and tend to actively seek out stimulating experiences. 

Introverts’ pathways are much longer as the information is processed and filtered internally. They are easier to suffer from “information overload” given the same amount of external stimuli. Hence they prefer a slower “reflective” pace and tend to avoid situations that might overwhelm them. This difference is noticeable in babies as young as 4-months old!

According to statistical studies, Extraverts and Introverts are roughly evenly split in the general population, with a few studies finding a slightly greater number of Extraverts.

Still not sure where you fall in this dichotomy? Read how to know if you are an introvert or extrovert to find out more!

References:

https://mbti-notes.tumblr.com/

Overview of MBTI Dimensions: Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging

If you do not know or remember your Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) results, you can take one of the many free tests available such as 16personalities.com or http://www.truity.com/test/ or http://www.humanmetrics.com

Your result is a personality type with a corresponding 4-letter combo such as INFP (The Mediator) or ENTJ (The Commander). The 4 letters come from 4 dichotomies: Introversion (I)-Extroversion (E), Intuition (N) – Sensing (S), Thinking (T) – Feeling (F), and Perceiving (P) – Judging (J).

What do these letter and dichotomies mean? Those free online tests often come with a general description of your type and functions. You can read them on your own. Below is my own brief but somewhat more advanced description of the functions in these 4 dichotomies that might be worth learning.

1. Introversion vs Extroversion

introvert-or-extrovert

An extroverted behavior is one where objective (environmental) data contributes more weight than subjective input in decision making. If extroverted behaviors become habitual, then such individual is considered an extroverted type. Conversely, if a person spends more energy staying detached from objective data to listen to their own mind, he or she is considered introverted.

A very important point put forth by Jung is that introversion and extroversion are not mere deliberate choices that can be easily changed.  They are more likely to be assigned by birth randomly in the population, representing two distinct yet balancing survival strategies in organisms. An organism can be greedy and aggressively grab food and mate around to maximize successful reproduction. While another is more selective to conserve energy, strike only when absolutely necessary. Basically, introverts prefer to conserve energy while extrovers expand.

Projecting the above strategies further into humans, Jung further points out that extroverts are more likely to adjust their behaviors faster to objective data and immediate surroundings. They are more driven by short-term immediate gains, be it business opportunities or valuable things. Their morals are heavily dictated by the prevailing demand from the society at the moment.

Extroverted behaviors may allow for quick adjustments and gains to a change in environment, but can be at odds with the universal trends or laws. This is where the introverts step in to gain advantage. They listen deeper within themselves and abide by the more universal, but often misunderstood rules coded in their genes and minds since birth.

Can one really change his attitude from introvert to extrovert and vice versa? According to Jung, it could happen, but with significant resulted psychological strains and disorders. For example, a kid having to suppress his natural attitude due to unfavorable parental influence will develop neuroticism  when grow up, which can only be remedied by allowing his natural tendency to redevelop.

Another essential model to keep in mind as proposed by Jung is the insidious influence of the unconscious to the other functions which received less conscious energy from the subject.  He emphasized the importance of the unconscious in balancing the conscious, which is most evident in the case of dreams. Dreams often have prophetic qualities in response to anything done excessive in a person’s waking moments.

According to Jung, no function will be entirely eliminated, it can only be greatly distorted. The suppressed functions become merged with unconscious content and become bizarre in character, though one of great importance to the overall psychological well-being.

Illustration of the functional stack of ENTJ type

 2. Thinking vs Feeling

photo of two women lying on grass

At the most basic level, thinking and feeling point to 2 contrasting approaches of survival for human beings as rational yet social creatures. On one hand, one may prefer collaboration and building relationships as a survival strategy. On the other hand, some choose a more independent approach with the aim of accumulating resources for oneself and devise plans to better compete with others. Of course anyone would need some mixture of these 2 strategies to navigate human’s complex social structures.

At individual level, thinking and feeling are somewhat more visible  and easier to understand than the other dichotomies, especially in the case of extroverts. I find Socionic offered more detailed and interesting description to contrast this dichotomy (Note that they are often referred to as logic versus ethic in socionic, which I find less misleading than the term thinking and feeling): https://www.the16types.info/vbulletin/content.php/429

By Socionic models, thinking individuals are more energized by changes in the “logical world”, which are rules, systems, logical criteria and measurable results. They pay more attention to the demand of the material worlds, and are more black-and-white in terms of statement of facts being correct or incorrect etc. Feeling individuals, on the other hand, are often more expressive and energized by the “ethical world”, which ranges from overall momentary atmosphere to deeply held individual values.

3. Intuition vs Sensing

intuition-versus-sensing

Intuition and sensing are often harder to understand and very often mis-typed in my experience. People would often prefer to be viewed as intuitive than sensing-dominant. Because if thinking is considered a more advanced function which develops later in human’s evolution, the same thing can be said about intuition. Another term for intuition is abstraction, the ability to perceive beyond immediate sensory data to see the hidden patterns and concepts. Intuitive people are big-picture oriented and energized more by abstract parameters such as timing, potential, expectations, meaning etc. 

The rest of the animal kingdom is mostly unable to perform any intuitive task. Everything to them is immediate sensory input and responses. They live in the moment with no concept of time, let alone higher abstract thoughts such as the meaning of life.

Sensor is the term often used to refer to individuals dominant in sensing perception. They are often quicker in noticing surrounding movements and superficial impression: aesthetic beauty, vibe, concrete results and actions. They are often more attuned with pop culture and have highly-discriminated aesthetic tastes, making for great athletes, cooks, singers and artists. They prefer quick and concrete results and action, with little patience for theories or abstract discussions.

With that being said, there are pros and cons in being intuitive or sensing dominant. Intuitive people are stereotyped as being absent-minded professors, bland in taste and impractical. Meanwhile, sensors often have a bad reputation, especially on personality forums, as shallow, conformist, superficial, impulsive and lacking in foresight. Sensors may be the majority in the general population, but they are probably too bored to discuss personality theories online, thus being the minority here.

4. Judging vs Perceiving

This last dichotomy is probably the biggest pain point for many MBTI and Jungian purists. Judging and Perceiving are actually NOT psychological functions. They simply point out how your other two dichotomies, thinking-feeling and intuitive-sensing, orientate. If you are a P, your Dominant Extraverted function is an Perceiving function. Similarly, if you are J, your Dominant Extraverted function is a Judging function.

This is extremely confusing, I know. Perceiving functions are Intuitive or Sensing, while Rational functions refer to either Thinking or Feeling. I will have to explain the difference another time, but in short, jugding functions prioritize the perception of the objects, result or expectations of results while perceiving ones are process-oriented. If you are an INFP, your dominant extraverted function is Extraverted Intuition as compared to an INFJ who possesses a Judging extraverted function of Extraverted Feeling. 

Even though they are important, (INFJ and INFP actually have no function in common), beginners of MBTI should be more comfortable to regard the J and P letter as functions denoting abstract concepts of Being Organized versus Being Impulsive. 

It is important to remember to take them at face value, especially in the case of introverts, because they only denote the outward behaviours. An INFP is actually a Judger at heart because their dominant function is Introverted Feeling, a judging function. They would prefer to start the day with a goal and plan in mind, while an INFJ would actually go with the flow despite their outward quality of being more organized.

Jung, C. G. (2017). Psychological types. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.