A beginner's guide to the cognitive functions in #personality theory

An Introduction to the Cognitive Functions in Myers-Briggs® Theory

Here at Psychology Junkie, I spend a LOT of time talking about the cognitive functions, and I realized just recently that I don’t have a post that really goes into each of those functions very clearly. That’s about to change as of today! There are so many misconceptions about the cognitive functions, and they can be very confusing to define especially if you’re new to type. My hope is that this article will make it super easy for you to know what each function is, how it’s different from all the others, and which ones come most naturally to you!

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Estimated reading time: 23 minutes

Before You Begin

Keep in mind that the descriptions in this article apply to the functions in their “pure” form, without the impact of the other functions someone has in their “stack”. As a result, if you have one of these functions in the auxiliary, tertiary, or inferior position the function may not hold as much of a prominent or obvious place in your life. These descriptions will feel most applicable to people who have them in a dominant or auxiliary place in their stack.

For example, the ISTJ has the following function stack:

Dominant function: Introverted Sensing (Si)
Auxiliary function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Tertiary function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Inferior Function: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)

The ISTJ will most relate to Introverted Sensing, followed by Extraverted Thinking. They may have a harder time relating to the descriptions for introverted feeling and extraverted intuition.

The Perceiving Functions

Sensing and intuition are perceiving functions. These functions determine how we take in information and which criteria we give priority. Remember, everyone uses both sensing AND intuition, you just prefer one over the other.

Sensing and intuition can each have different attitudes. You can have introverted or extraverted sensing and introverted or extraverted intuition. We’ll go into the differences between all of those functions here. Let’s start with sensing.

Introverted Sensing:

Introverted sensing (or Si for short) focuses on the inner, subjective world of personal experience and impressions. It is highly aware of details, both in the environment and inside the body. Introverted sensors are frequently comparing and contrasting past to present, noticing differences and changing patterns. They are often the first to notice when something in a room has changed or when someone’s behavior seems inconsistent. They are also highly aware of inner body sensations such as hunger, thirst, or fatigue.

Introverted sensors recall favored memories in detail, and those memories each have highly subjective meanings to them. They might look at an apple tree and remember climbing an apple tree in their childhood, the smell of their grandmother’s apple pie, or the feeling of a cool autumn breeze. They might remember the exact details of a motorcycle engine, and how the pieces feel and fit together perfectly.

“Introverted sensation apprehends the background of the physical world rather than its surface…Such a consciousness would see the becoming and passing away of things simultaneously with their momentary existence in the present, and not only that, it would also see what was before their coming and will be after their passing hence…We could say that introverted sensation transmits an image which does not so much reproduce the object as spread over it the patina of age-old subjective experience and the shimmer of events still unborn.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

Many people describe Introverted Sensing as merely a fondness for tradition and the past. As you can see from Jung’s description it is much more than that. It is very aware of the passage of time, of memories related to the concrete world, and the fleeting nature of the present moment. It notices patterns and sees how circumstances might change the experience or object. Introverted sensors are actually very planful for the future and tend to be careful about creating a secure future for themselves and their family members.

Si-users are excellent at creating effective solutions using their specialized database of experience and memories. They also learn quickly from their mistakes, rarely repeating the same error twice. They have a level of insightfulness into events and people that comes from their detailed memory and their ability to spot changes. They often pick up on behavior patterns quickly and can shock people when they describe details about them that they didn’t even know!

As far as behavior is concerned, introverted sensing types are usually reliable; they like routine and knowing what to expect. They tend to speak in a clear, sequential order and bring up important details and facts. They like trusted facts and knowing that something has been proven by the tests of time. They enjoy discussing their favorite experiences and memories and reflecting on them. Trust and reliability are very important to introverted sensing types. They hate inconsistency and wishy-washy behavior and they like knowing they can count on people to be true to their word. It takes them time to open up to others, but once they do they make very loyal friends.

Types That Use Introverted Sensing:
Types with dominant introverted sensing: ISFJ and ISTJ
Types with auxiliary introverted sensing: ESFJ and ESTJ
Types with tertiary introverted sensing: INFP and INTP
Types with inferior introverted sensing: ENFP and ENTP

Find out more about introverted sensing in my article, The Timeless Power of Introverted Sensing.

Extraverted Sensing

Extraverted sensing (or Se for short) is an information-gathering process that focuses on the current world in all its objective, literal reality. Se gets energy and enjoyment from directly interacting with the outside world (people, objects, nature, events). This is the cognitive function most tuned into the present moment and the only cognitive function that gathers pure, unfiltered sensory information without making associations from past or future.

Where the introverted sensor would see a tree and recall all their memories and associations with a similar tree, the extraverted sensor would see the tree in all its exquisite detail, exactly for what it is. As a result, they would notice much more detail than the other types would and they would be able to respond faster in the moment to changes and new information.

Because Se-users are so energized and so tuned in to the current experience, they tend to have fast reflexes, notice opportunities right away, and be quick on their feet. They have a realistic cleverness that keeps them ahead of the game in many areas of life.

“No other type can equal the extraverted sensation type for realism. His sense for objective facts is extraordinarily developed.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

Many people describe Extraverted Sensing in a very shallow way (“they actually use their senses!”…well, don’t we all?). But there’s more to Se than just being physically aware. According to Building Blocks of Personality Type, when Se is being used, “A level of attention is sustained that would quickly put others on “data overload””. Se-users learn extremely quickly from experience and they even have an aptitude for learning new languages. They are extremely reliable when it comes to reporting and observing objective facts and are quick to find practical solutions to problems. They have an ability to blend in, react and adapt to numerous changing environments and as a result are able to make new discoveries and be there for people in a very “present” and engaged way.

As far as behavior is concerned, extraverted sensors tend to be spontaneous, adaptable, adventurous, and highly in tune with their bodies and the environment. They are more action-oriented than most people and are usually kinesthetic, hands-on learners. They work best in a crisis where they have to respond quickly to a challenge by finding a practical solution. They tend to be optimists who have a skill for helping others learn to “stop and smell the roses” or find joy in everyday moments.

Types That Use Extraverted Sensing:
Types with dominant extraverted sensing: ESTP and ESFP
Types with auxiliary extraverted sensing: ISTP and ISFP
Types with tertiary extraverted sensing: ENTJ and ENFJ
Types with inferior extraverted sensing: INTJ and INFJ

Find out more about extraverted sensing in my article, 10 Signs That You Might Be an Extraverted Sensor.

Introverted Intuition

Introverted Intuition (or Ni for short) is an information-gathering process that focuses on the inner, subjective world of the unconscious to find connections and abstract relationships between the unconscious and the outer world. It is always searching for underlying meanings, symbols, and abstract connections. Sound confusing? Well, it is to a lot of people, and rightfully so because very few people favor this perceiving process. Only approximately 7.9% of the US population are introverted intuitive dominant or auxiliary types.

Ni is the only perceiving process that works independently of the conscious mind. It doesn’t rely on external stimulus, and in fact works better when withdrawn from external stimulation. It operates unpredictably, often through sudden “flashes” of insight or awareness into the meaning of things or a future outcome. It is always looking forward and is less concerned with the present moment unless it relates to a future outcome.

The Ni-user is always trying to discern the big picture, the “dance of the universe”, and ask itself “what else is going on here? what’s being hidden?”. When people use Introverted Intuition, unconscious images and symbols seem to play before their mind’s eye with startling accuracy and, according to Building Blocks of Personality Type, “unconscious images are as real to them as anything tangible.” A Ni-user sees the world and notices objects, but the only thing he or she cares about is what meaning, insight, or symbolism that object has released inside of them. For this reason, Ni-users can seem either very detached from the environment or very intensely focused on something random that has inspired them.

“The introverted intuitive moves from image to image, chasing after every possibility in the teeming womb of the unconscious.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

When you’re trying to detect introverted intuition in another person you’ll usually notice that they use a lot of theoretical language when the speak. They often have difficulty explaining their insights because their perceptions aren’t coming from the concrete world but from the unconscious; a place where perception and language don’t always match up. They often use very little concrete data when they speak and can actually get quite frustrated trying to explain themselves. They often have an easier time using metaphor, or abstract or symbolic art to communicate their meaning.

When completing a project or task, the Ni-user always wants to do it in a new, innovative way. They tend to despise the “tried and true” technique and favor experimenting with a new method rather than trying an established one. They enjoy complexity, and to others they can seem to make things needlessly complex. They see everything as being connected and having many layers, and they take the time to look at things from numerous perspectives and vantage points. This tendency can make them seem slow to reply to questions. You might be talking for ten minutes and the Ni-user is still analyzing what you said at minute 3 or 4.

Introverted intuitives tend to play devil’s advocate and be individualistic in their perceptions. Their visions into what is going on beneath the surface are often uncannily accurate. Their knack for strategic planning and seeing possible outcomes without being restricted by time, place, or concrete data, allows them to see profound insights that are simultaneously mysterious and transformational.

Types That Use Introverted Intuition:
Types with dominant introverted intuition: INTJ and INFJ
Types with auxiliary introverted intuition: ENTJ and ENFJ
Types with tertiary introverted intuition: ISTP and ISFP
Types with inferior introverted intuition: ESTP and ESFP

Find out more about introverted intuition in my article, 10 Signs That You Might Be an Introverted Intuitive.

Extraverted Intuition

Extraverted Intuition (or Ne for short) is an information-gathering process that focuses on finding theoretical connections, relationships, and possibilities. It is stimulated by objects, people, and events in the environment and wants to generate real-world possibilities. The Ne-user easily grasps how everything can be transformed and views everything in the context of its associations with everything else. “Everything is connected and anything is possible” to the extraverted intuitive.

The Ne-user is almost always focused on the future and the “big picture”. This makes them inspiring to many people who can get stuck in the problems of day-to-day life. Unlike the introverted intuitive, who’s visions are often more internalized, the extraverted intuitive can often enthusiastically and effortlessly express their new ideas and possibilities.  In fact, they often love brainstorming and jumping from idea to idea with other people, finding more and more possibilities and inspirations the longer they talk. They are often seen as quick of mind because of how they make connections so rapidly.

“(Extraverted) Intuition tries to apprehend the widest range of possibilities, since only through envisioning possibilities is intuition fully satisfied.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

Extraverted intuitives are known for having an entrepreneurial spirit; they aren’t interested in following a pre-ordained template for success and they are highly independent. They are excellent at evaluating potential, enlisting enthusiastic people to their team, and taking risks. They see mistakes as learning opportunities and would rather risk failure than face a routine or “safe” existence. Speaking of change, Ne-users enjoy change and are able to function very well in atmospheres of confusion where a new option or possibility needs to be found in the midst of chaos. Like Se-users, Ne-users are adaptable and spontaneous; but while the Se-user is more in tune with the concrete world and and physical realities, the Ne-user is more in tune with the abstract world and theoretical possibilities.

The Ne-user is a visionary theorist who wants to change the world, realize potential, and get others to join them in their pursuits. They perceive everything on a global scale and find connection threads spread between everyone and everything. Their insight gives them an ability to show people new perspectives and teach in inspiring and creative ways.

Types That Use Extraverted Intuition:
Types with dominant extraverted intuition: ENTP and ENFP
Types with auxiliary extraverted intuition: INTP and INFP
Types with tertiary extraverted intuition: ESTJ and ESFJ
Types with inferior extraverted intuition: ISTJ and ISFJ

Find out more about extraverted intuition in my article, 10  Signs That You Might Be an Extraverted Intuitive.

The Judging Functions

The judging functions are what we use when we make decisions. More specifically, the judging functions are introverted thinking, extraverted thinking, introverted feeling, and extraverted feeling.

There are certain things that both thinking types share (they both value objective logic, and they tend to use impersonal analysis when making a decision). There are certain things that both feeling types share (they both make decisions by assessing values and personal impact, and they both value empathy and harmony).

Remember, everyone uses both thinking and feeling, but you will automatically give priority to one over the other and thus one will be more natural to you.

Introverted Thinking

Introverted Thinking (or Ti for short) is a decision-making process that uses subjective principles and logical truths to create original systems, categories, and frameworks. Ti is extremely focused on accuracy, internal precision, and thorough logical evaluation.

The Ti-user has a grid-like system of categories in their mind that they are constantly expanding on and revising. Whenever they get new information they add it to that framework or revise their entire framework to make room for new data. They only accept truths they have analyzed and evaluated and held up to intense scrutiny. Like a camera that keeps zooming in and refining its focus, the introverted thinker goes through cycles of thinking, each time getting more precise, more accurate, and in the end finding the most precise category to fit that data into.

One of the major differences between the introverted thinker and the extraverted thinker is what they do with objective logic. The introverted thinker applies objective logic to a highly subjective internal framework and set of principles. The extraverted thinker applies objective logic to the outer world; to policies, operational guidelines, and the environment. The introverted thinker seeks precision and order internally, where the extraverted thinker seeks order and efficiency externally. The introverted thinker cares more about meeting an internal set of standards and competing with him/herself, and the extraverted thinker is more focused on meeting an external standard and competing with others. This can show up in Te-users caring more about grades and performances on tests, whereas Ti-users only care about those things if they’re competing to prove something to themselves.  Introverted thinkers are also less likely to “talk out” their logic when they make a decision. Their process is more internalized and private.

“He (the introverted thinker) will follow his ideas like the extravert, but in the reverse direction: inwards and not outwards. Intensity is his aim, not extensity.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

Introverted thinkers believe strongly in fairness and truth. They don’t want anything sugarcoated or any personal bias to get in their way. When they make decisions they try to stay impersonal so that they can avoid playing favorites, getting emotionally involved, or making a decision that might not be fair or logical. They can seem critical to other types because they are more likely to critique first and forget to praise. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about the people involved in a decision.

Ti users are excellent at thorough analysis; they are energized by analyzing challenging problems or technical puzzles. They are skilled troubleshooters and are keenly aware of logical inconsistencies and loopholes. When they speak, they use their words sparingly, getting to the core issue or concept and using as precise language as possible.

Types That Use Introverted Thinking:
Types with dominant introverted thinking: ISTP and INTP
Types with auxiliary introverted thinking: ESTP and ENTP
Types with tertiary introverted thinking: ISFJ and INFJ
Types with inferior introverted thinking: ESFJ and ENFJ

Find out more about introverted thinking in my article, 10 Signs That You Might Be an Introverted Thinker.

Extraverted Thinking

Extraverted Thinking (or Te for short) is a decision-making process that focuses on using logical binary judgments to organize, evaluate, and assign information in the outer world. Te seeks to structure the outer world and sort everything into its proper place using logical systems and rules. Te may seem detached from people, but it actually uses objective logic and structure to take care of people and make life more efficient for everyone.

Te-users like to have systems that explain how things interact and relate, such as the law of physics. They like externalizing their thought processes; either through speaking, creating outlines, or using diagrams to show what they are thinking. They try to be as clear as possible in their standards and try to create systems that have a broad scope so they can be applied to as many situations as possible.

Te-users are excellent planners. They like to have a plan for every possible scenario, and they create contingency plans for everything so that they always feel prepared. When it comes to making decisions, they try to make everything as “black and white” as possible. They tend to dislike mulling over problems for a long time or dwelling in “gray” areas. They are very decisive and ambiguity and paradoxes hold them back from making a decision which frustrates. them. They are stimulated by task completion, so they want to do something quickly with the facts and data they have on hand. They especially enjoy the use of checklists because the mere act of crossing something off a list makes them feel good.

“This type will, by definition, be a man whose constant endeavor…is to make all his activities dependent on intellectual conclusions, which in the last resort are always oriented by objective data, whether these be external facts or generally accepted ideas. This type of man elevates objective reality, or an objectively oriented intellectual formula, into the ruling principle not only for himself but for his whole environment.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

Extraverted thinkers are often involved in creating laws, guidelines, and/or rules, and this is one of the areas in which they differ from introverted thinkers. Introverted thinkers care mainly for inner control of themselves, and are less likely to pay attention to established rules or creating rules for other people. The extraverted thinker likes creating a structure and set of rules to deploy outwardly.

Te-users are usually very concerned with fairness and justice. They believe in equality and taking care of people by giving them optimized plans and easily-usable outlines. They are often misunderstood as being bossy or judgmental. Because Te tends to think critically and see flaws and errors that need correcting, the Te-user can run the risk of telling everyone how to improve and manage their lives without realizing their advice is undesired in certain cases. Te-users can also run the risk of jumping to conclusions too quickly, particularly ETJs who value decisiveness and tend to rush to make a decision. It can be helpful for them to consider their auxiliary process (either sensing or intuition) to look at the data more carefully or the perspectives involved before forming a conclusion.

Overall, Te-users are highly goal-oriented, logical, and productive. They are excellent at giving others a starting place for their work and outlining effective courses of action. They are usually honest, fair, and reasonable people who value hard work and loyalty.

Types That Use Extraverted Thinking:
Types with dominant extraverted thinking: ESTJ and ENTJ
Types with auxiliary extraverted thinking: ISTJ and INTJ
Types with tertiary extraverted thinking: ESFP and ENFP
Types with inferior extraverted thinking: ISFP and INFP

Find out more about extraverted thinking in my article, 10 Signs That You Might Be an Extraverted Thinker.

Introverted Feeling

Introverted Feeling (or Fi for short) is a decision-making function that focuses on the internal, subjective world of values and personal ethics. Fi seeks individuality, authenticity, and personal meaning. It wants to act and make choices that promote inner harmony and tranquility. It holds non-negotiable core values and while it’s open-minded to other people’s lifestyles and choices, it won’t tolerate violation of its own core values and beliefs.

Fi is the most subjective of all the decision-making functions. It is focused on individual truths, individual ethics, and individual tastes and preferences. The Fi-user is determined not to be influenced by the values or beliefs of the “collective” or culture. They want to be authentic and individual and aren’t afraid to fight against social norms that they feel are oppressive or unjust. They often know instinctively when something goes against their morals and will get a “gut” feeling when they are entertaining an idea that violates their values. It can be hard for them to discuss their feelings and beliefs openly. Because their values are so personal and private they can struggle to find the words that clearly demonstrate them in a concrete way. As such, Fi-users are often drawn to artwork or music that demonstrates their passions and values in an artistic way.

“As they are mainly guided by their subjective feelings, their true motives generally remain hidden. Their outward demeanor is harmonious, inconspicuous, giving an impression of pleasing repose, or of sympathetic response, with no desire to affect others, to impress, influence, or change them in any way.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

As Carl Jung says above, introverted feeling types aren’t driven to change others or make them conform to their beliefs. They have a serene, sincere, “live and let live” mentality and feel that everyone is entitled to their own values. The exception to this rule is when it comes to their core beliefs. Fi-users can be staunch supporters of a cause or value that they feel strongly about (e.g. animal rights, refugee rights, etc,.). They are often drawn to underdogs and championing people who they feel are oppressed or marginalized. Their cause will vary from individual to individual, however.

When the Fi user approaches a situation, they ask themselves what the situational value or worth of different projects, actions, commitments, and decisions are. They are always examining their choices to see if they match their inner beliefs and intentions for their lives. They like to have time to examine choices carefully before making a decision. They are often skilled at getting to the heart of an issue and striving for peace, honesty, and balance in a world that is often conflict-ridden and insincere.

Fi-users are skilled at providing ethical insights to communities, groups and organizations. They are non-judgmental and emotionally supportive to others. They are also known for their excellent listening skills.

Types That Use Introverted Feeling:
Types with dominant introverted feeling: ISFP and INFP
Types with auxiliary introverted feeling: ESFP and ENFP
Types with tertiary introverted feeling: ISTJ and INTJ
Types with inferior introverted feeling: ESTJ and ENTJ

Find out more about introverted feeling in my article, How You Use Introverted Feeling Based On Its Location in  Your Function Stack.

Extraverted Feeling

Extraverted Feeling (Fe) is a decision-making function that focuses on making choices or taking action to create harmony in the environment. It takes into account cultural value systems, social standards, and the effects every decision has on other people. It is actively concerned for the welfare of others, to the extent that the Fe-user will put their own needs and desires last in order to create harmony for people outside themselves. Outer harmony for others equals inner harmony for the Fe user in many cases.

Fe-users are primarily motivated to understand the needs, desires, and values of other people. Healthy extraverted feeling is generous, sincere, and extremely empathetic. Unhealthy extraverted feeling can be manipulative or phony in an attempt to control the environment.

Extraverted feeling focuses on the impact every decision will have on “the group” or surrounding people. As a result, Fe-users can tend to overlook their own personal needs and desires to take care of others. According to Building Blocks of Personality Type, “They often have a very hard time focusing on taking care of themselves. It is common for their own physical needs to be neglected until a personal health crisis demands their attention.”

“For anyone who has known feeling only as something subjective, the nature of extraverted feeling will be difficult to grasp, because it has detached itself as much as possible from the subjective factor and subordinated itself entirely to the influence of the object.”
– Carl Jung, Psychological Types

Fe-users are very aware of what is appropriate behavior. They usually have good manners and do whatever they can to make sure people feel comfortable in their presence. They are so oriented towards other people’s emotions and needs that they tend to “take on” their discomfort or pain. They will go out of their way to make sure other people aren’t embarrassed or hurt. They will may make fun of themselves or use self-deprecating humor to try to diffuse embarrassment for another individual. They also are more likely to speak up for other people than for themselves.  They can be crusaders for social causes and they are often the ones who feel they need to speak up for “the group” (be it family/work community/church) when they feel that something is threatening the family or someone is being mistreated. They will rarely do this if they are the only one encountering a problem, however. It often takes the needs of the “other” for them to stand up and speak out.

Extraverted feelers are always asking themselves whether they “should” or “shouldn’t” do something, and they often seek to confirm their choices and values by talking to other people they trust or respect. Overall, Fe-users are talented at taking care of other people, maintaining harmony, and noticing and bringing out other people’s gifts and strengths.

Types That Use Extraverted Feeling:
Types with dominant extraverted feeling: ESFJ and ENFJ
Types with auxiliary extraverted feeling: ISFJ and INFJ
Types with tertiary extraverted feeling: ESTP and ENTP
Types with inferior extraverted feeling: ISTP and INTP

Find out more about extraverted feeling in my article, How Do YOU Use Extraverted Feeling?

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you have any thoughts or experiences with these functions? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Building Blocks of Personality Type: A Guide to Discovering the Hidden Secrets of the Personality Type Code

Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 6) (Bollingen Series XX)

Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to the Personality Type Code

What are the cognitive functions in personality theory? Find out! #MBTI #INFJ #INTJ #INFP #INTP
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