Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How the MBTI Really Works, Part II: The Four Dichotomies and the Cognitive Functions

To continue our overview of how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator works, we’ll examine the theory itself, what the four dichotomies mean, and what the cognitive functions mean.

Basics: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a system of personality type classification. It uses an arrangement of four preferences (abbreviated E/I, S/N, T/F, J/P) to make up one’s personality type (e.g. ENFP, ISTJ). Each type also uses a series of four cognitive functions arranged in order of strength.

So, to make up your type, you have four sets of alternatives—Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/iNtuition (abbreviated with an N to avoid confusion with Introversion), Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. Since I prefer Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging, this means my type is ISFJ. Someone who uses the opposite preferences would be an ENTP. There are sixteen possible combinations of these preferences and therefore sixteen types, which are:





We call these sets of options between preferences the four dichotomies, which means they’re an either-or decision. There is no such thing as being borderline between two preferences; either you are or you aren’t. Often people (Introverts in particular) have learned to adopt behavior associated with preferences other than their own in order to survive in society, but the MBTI is not concerned with learned behavior. It is a matter of what your natural preference is, what comes most easily to you.

Extroversion/Introversion determines one’s source of energy—being around other people or being in one’s own head.


  • Energized by people, the outer world, socialization
  • Outgoing, “people person”
  • Vocal, more talkative
  • Speak first, then think
  • Open with information, easy to get to know
  • Many friends
  • Would rather work with other people, like group activity
  • Often think aloud


  • Energized by their own thoughts and inner world, need some time alone
  • Tend to be reserved and often labeled “shy” regardless of whether they actually are
  • Quieter
  • Need time to think before communicating
  • Keep to themselves, more hesitant to share information
  • A few close friends
  • Would rather work alone or in small, trusted groups
  • Internalize ideas and spend a lot of time in their heads

Note: Society tends to be prejudiced against Introverts. I’ve heard them accusing of being everything from self-centered to antisocial to mentally ill. But there’s no shame in being an Introvert. Just because someone is more reflective and needs time alone to recharge is no indication that one hates people or has a problem. It just means one energizes differently. So, humanity in general, don’t ridicule people for being quiet. Don’t call attention to it as if it’s their own personality trait. Be polite and treat them like any other human being.

Sensing/iNtuition determines how one takes in information—concretely or abstractly.


  • The here-and-now
  • Concrete and physical
  • Facts
  • Details
  • Practical use before theory
  • Learn through doing/experience
  • Use their five senses
  • Realistic, more concerned with “what is”
  • See what is directly in front of them
  • Traditional


  • The future
  • Abstract and mental (as in, “dealing with the mind”)
  • Patterns, possibilities
  • Symbols, impressions
  • Theoretical
  • Learn through thinking or reading
  • Use their impressions and read between the lines
  • Visionary, more concerned with “what could be”
  • See the big picture, underlying meanings
  • Innovative

Note: Sensing/iNtuition has nothing to do with whether one follows the rules or not. SJs are indeed very concerned with adhering to establishing procedures, but SPs are more carefree. The real difference is a matter of experience versus innovation. Neither does iNtuition necessarily mean that one is “idealistic,” “imaginative” (vague terms), or “understands people/situations intuitively” (which could easily apply to preferences like Feeling). Also, I have observed that some iNtuitives tend to look down on Sensors as more common and less intelligent than they. Remember, all the preferences play an important role in our world, and none are more important or better than another. Sensors are not unintelligent; they just have different gifts than iNtuitives. We need representatives of both preferences to balance each other out, not compete.

Thinking/Feeling determines how one makes decisions—based on logic or values.


  • Decide based on logic
  • Objective
  • Concerned with truth
  • Rational
  • Spot inconsistencies in logic
  • Want solutions to make sense
  • Head before heart
  • Truth before tact
  • Justice before mercy
  • Impersonal
  • Can ignore the human side of problems
  • Can come across as cold and heartless


  • Decide based on values
  • Subjective
  • Concerned with harmony
  • In touch with emotions
  • Spot potentials for conflict and disharmony
  • Want solutions to be what is best for someone (self or others)
  • Heart before head
  • Tact before truth
  • Mercy before justice
  • Personal
  • Can ignore reasoning and “hard truth”
  • Can come across as over-sensitive and irrational

Note: Thinkers do have emotions, and Feelers are capable of thought. It’s a matter of what takes the higher priority to them. Also, whether or not one readily expresses feelings does not necessarily indicate whether one is a Thinker or Feeler. Feelers who also happen to be Introverts can find it hard to share their emotions. Remember, this is about decision-making.

Judging/Perceiving determines how one orders one’s outer world—with decisiveness and control or adaptability and spontaneity.


  • Planning and order
  • Organization
  • Like things settled definitely
  • Feels better when their mind is made up
  • Like to keep life under control
  • Tend to follow projects through to completion
  • Steady worker, no last-minute rushing
  • May decide before considering all information
  • Like routine and schedules
  • Tend to be more serious
  • Hard-working
  • May not always enjoy surprises
  • Responsible
  • Stand firmly by their decisions


  • Flexibility and spontaneity
  • Adapts rather than organizes
  • Like to keep options open
  • Feels better when taking in new information
  • Like to keep life relaxed
  • Prefer starting projects to finishing them
  • Work in bursts of energy fueled by nearing deadlines
  • May put off making a decision for too long
  • Prefer to be unpredictable and not plan ahead
  • Tend to be more carefree
  • Leisurely
  • Love surprises and the unexpected
  • May be irresponsible
  • Can change their mind at the last minute
Note: Being a Judger does not mean that one is judgmental any more than being a Perceiver makes one more perceptive. These are just the terms the MBTI happens to use. Having a goal and focusing a task may not necessarily make one a Judger. It all depends on how one gets there.

Links for further information on the dichotomies:

Beyond the four preferences, types have another, deeper layer, cognitive functions, in which the preferences come together and interact with each other.

These eight possible functions are as follows:

Extroverted Sensing (Se): Taking in sensory information, “here and now” mentality, taking immediate action, interacting with one’s immediate environment, living in the moment, thrill-seeking.

Introverted Sensing (Si): Recalling past experiences, maintaining traditions, storing detailed information, linking and comparing what one knows to situations in the present, following established customs and procedures, valuing stability and the tried-and-true.

Extroverted iNtuition (Ne): Exploring possibilities, developing multiple ideas and trying as many as possible, innovating, being creative, initiating concepts for projects, looking for new options, picking up on hidden meanings and interpreting them, brainstorming and strategizing from here-and-now.

Introverted iNtuition (Ni): Connecting seemingly unrelated ideas, system-building, strategizing toward one definite outcome, reading between the lines, using insight, expressing through symbols/analogies, long-term planning, expecting outcomes not based on external data, having a vision for the future and a plan to get there.

Extroverted Thinking (Te): Making sure procedures are efficient, less concerned with precision than clarity, finding practical/pragmatic solutions, aiming for achievement and success, using external data to prove a point, planning and organizing to achieve a definite goal, using orderly logic in clear steps.

Introverted Thinking (Ti): Developing personal understanding of information, less concerned with whether something works and more concerned with how something works, analyzing, aiming for precision, examining for inconsistency, categorizing, figuring out how and why something functions, checking for adherence to a model/principle.

Extroverted Feeling (Fe): Focusing on group values/emotions, being influenced by the emotional atmosphere, basing decisions on societal norms/others’ feelings, seeking connection and harmony with others, “people pleasing,” anticipating others’ needs/wants and seeking what is best for them, using tact.

Introverted Feeling (Fi): Focusing on personal/individual values, experiencing intense emotions which are not directly expressed and may be concealed, expressing feelings indirectly, understanding and defining personal feelings/values and likes and dislikes, determining what is worthy of being valued and stood up for, balancing peace and conflict, striving for consistency of values.

Each type has four functions, one each of either of the Sensing, iNtuition, Thinking, and Feeling pairs. The first function is dominant, the second auxiliary, the third tertiary, and the fourth inferior.

Dominant: What one is best at, the default setting, what is easiest and most natural for one to use, and what one automatically falls back on.

Auxiliary: Assists and balances the dominant function, used when one helps or mentors someone.

Tertiary: The area where one seeks guidance and accepts help, where one is either childish or childlike, where one is vulnerable, but can be a source of relief, a means of unwinding, or how one expresses creativity.

Inferior: The area one is at one’s weakest in and least comfortable using, something one might aspire to but not be able to use well, can emerge in times of great stress as a negative version of itself.

The functions for each of the types are as follows.

ENFP: Ne, Fi, Te, Si

INFP: Fi, Ne, Si, Te

ENFJ: Fe, Ni, Se, Ti

INFJ: Ni, Fe, Ti, Se

ESTJ: Te, Si, Ne, Fi

ISTJ: Si, Te, Fi, Ne

ESFJ: Fe, Si, Ne, Ti

ISFJ: Si, Fe, Ti, Ne

ENTP: Ne, Ti, Fe, Si

INTP: Ti, Ne, Si, Fe

ENTJ: Te, Ni, Se, Fi

INTJ: Ni, Te, Fi, Se

ESTP: Se, Ti, Fe, Ni

ISTP: Ti, Se, Ni, Fe

ESFP: Se, Fi, Te, Ni

ISFP: Fi, Se, Ni, Te

To determine the functions in one’s type:

  • Extroverted types have an Extroverted dominant function, and Introverted types have an Introverted dominant function.
  • Extroverted types have an Introverted auxiliary function, and Introverted types have an Extroverted auxiliary function.
  • If the dominant function is Sensing or iNtuition, the auxiliary will be Thinking or Feeling, and vice versa.
  • The tertiary function is the opposite of the auxiliary.
  • The inferior function is the opposite of the dominant.
  • If Si or Ni is the dominant or auxiliary function, the type uses Judging.
  • If Te or Fe is the dominant or auxiliary function, the type uses Judging.
  • If Se or Ne is the dominant or auxiliary function, the type uses Perceiving.
  • If Ti or Fi is the dominant or auxiliary function, the type uses Perceiving.
Or you could just use the handy list above and not bother with all this. If it sounds extremely complicated, don’t panic. You don’t need to memorize this. As you become more familiar with the functions, these patterns become easier to remember.

Links for further information on the functions:

If any of this is all confusing or unclear, please, please ask questions. I would be glad to clarify anything.

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