Hey, so I wanted to kick off my first post with explaining a little bit of Cognitive theory. The Myers-Briggs personality theory is one of my favorites – for understanding people and understanding yourself. So, the way Myers-Briggs tests work is that they ask you questions related to 4 dichotomies – E or I, S or N, F or T, and P or J. According to your answers, they assign you your “best fit” type and give you a type description.
Time to throw that out the window!
Turns out the Myers-Briggs system was actually developed out of what’s called the Jungian model for cognitive functions. To make this easy – Jung observed 8 different modes of cognitive behavior that people engaged in, and observed that people engaged in some modes more often than others.
We actually use all our cognitive functions from time to time, but Myers Briggs theory can tell us which functions we actually prefer. The different functions are separated into 2 types – perceiving functions and judging functions. Perceiving functions are essentially the ways that we allow and value information from different sources. Judging functions are how we make sense of that information and make decisions accordingly.
S and N correspond to the perceiving functions, and F and T correspond to the judging functions. As we already know, sensory perceiving functions inform us about immediate details related to the world and our experiences of it. Intuitive perceiving functions inform us of the interrelatedness of concepts and allow us to read between the lines. Likewise, feeling judging functions are a perspective in which we make value judgements and determine behavior – based on how we or others may feel about individual actions. Thinking judging functions make decisions based on if a decision is logical or seems worth it.
Okay. Now onto the actual functions.
From the sensing functions, we have Si and Se.
From the intuiting, Ni and Ne.
From feeling: Fi and Fe.
From thinking: Ti and Te.
These are actually shorthand for longer names. Si stands for “Introverted Sensing.” The “Introverted” part comes from the i at the end, and the S stands for sensing. Likewise, Ne is “Extraverted Intuition” and Fi is “Introverted Feeling.”
When a cognitive function is “Introverted,” that means it primarily draws its information from or makes decisions an individual’s subjective experience. When a cognitive function is “Extraverted,” it primarily draws information and makes decisions based on outside information received from the world.
Okay! Now for the complete explanations.
Si – Introverted Sensing – is about observation of internal sensation – heart rate, hunger, etc. Additionally, it draws its information from an individual’s subjective experience of reality in the past and in the present. Essentially, one draws from memory and from what appears to be observable *to you* in the present. Two different people using Si, when looking at a crime scene, can have two very different responses.
“My grandma died in an accident like this.” or “This reminds me of death/mortality/danger.” Alright, here comes my first metaphor on the site. Think of Si like the literary technique of symbolism. When a writer uses symbolism, he uses an object, like the jester’s skull in Hamlet, to represent an ethereal concept or impression, like mortality. The skull symbolizes mortality, meaning that when an individual looks at a skull, they think of mortality. However, when two different people look at a skull, they might come away with very different impressions. One might think “Mortality,” while another might think of skeletons and walk away with a memory of Halloween. All that to say: Si is about someone’s subjective experience of an object or thing. Each person has their own subjective experience, which may differ from others’. That’s what makes it an Introverted function. Let’s contrast that with it’s opposite, Se.
Se – Extraverted Sensing – draws its information from what is objectively observable about an object. It easily perceive the surface-level solutions that more complex minds easily miss. Another metaphor: think of Se like the literary process of descriptive writing. To use the same example, the information an Se-user will take in when they look at a skull is actually the physical qualities of the object. They’ll notice its smooth yet grainy texture and the physical size of it – maybe this person had a big head! So Se, being an extraverted function, draws objective sensory detail from the outside environment. Now, we’ll contrast the sensory functions with the intuitive ones.
Ni – Introverted Intuition – is the textbook definition of “Read between the lines.” An Ni user will take sensory data and draw the most likely conclusion from what they see. An Ni user may subconsciously take in a woman’s business attire, brisk pace, and leather briefcase and immediately “know” that she’s a lawyer. This may or may not manifest itself in conscious thought. If it doesn’t, the Ni user might find herself unthinkingly asking this woman what her job in law is like and then think, “Where did that come from??” So, Ni, being an intuitive function, attempts to make sense of what is not concrete and “for sure.” And, being introverted, it makes its connections based on an individual’s logical axioms in place for how the world works – their worldview. Therefore, two Ni users might end up with two different conclusions about the same woman and be equally sure about both – “She’s a lawyer” or “She’s a businesswoman – only businesspeople carry briefcases.”
Ne – Extraverted Intuition – is a bit of a tricky one. Being an Ne user myself, I would describe it as “indulging in possibilities.” While Ni users interpret Se data to form a most likely scenario unconsciously, Ne users arrive at a “most likely scenario” based on consciously envisioning several and choosing the most probable one. Essentially, using Ne several times to come up with new possible interpretations. In other terms, Ne is a brainstorming function. Ne is an inventor’s function – “What things can I create with the limited materials I have here?” Sometimes, Ne can just manifest itself in silliness – “Wouldn’t it be funny if that guy over there just slipped and fell in the middle of the museum?” or “What if aliens ruled the earth?” Ne is envisioning possibilities and imagining scenarios.
Okay, on to the judging functions!
Fi – Introverted Feeling – interprets information already gathered to make a decision based on alignment with one’s core values and “true self.” Fi-users spend a large portion of their early years developing their personal moral systems, weighing values over others to see which is valued more. Additionally, Fi users are obsessed with the question “Who am I?” An Fi-user seeks to develop a clear identity and set of values and then live and make their decisions according to it. As an Fi-dominant person, one example I can give from my childhood developing this function was playing choice-based video games like the Telltale series, in order to confront which value I valued over another. A video game might force me to make a choice – will I save someone’s life but endanger the lives of everyone else in the group? Making this decision means prioritizing your values of the individual and the collective, refining your value system. Another example of me developing Fi was being obsessed with personality quizzes and systems in high school – I was constantly asking myself the question “Who am I, and what are my strengths and weaknesses?” After developing an identity, I now make decisions based on which option is most aligned with my ideal self.
Fe – Extraverted Feeling – concerns itself with the feelings, preferences, and morale of the group at large, including oneself. However, unlike the Fi user, who makes decisions primarily based on how they will feel about them afterwards, the Fe user makes decisions based on the greater good of the group. Therefore, Fe users are more likely to sacrifice the things they they prefer or want in order to choose the best thing for everyone involved. As an Fi user, I honestly admire the perspective of Fe. I’m in awe with an individual’s first thought being “What do others want?” instead of “What do I want?” But, that’s the constant refrain of the Fe user. Fe users are also tuned into social atmospheres, being able to intuitively understand how people are feeling. If someone strikes you as an innately nurturing person, there’s a decent chance you’re looking at an Fe user.
Ti – Introverted Thinking – is concerned with how logical a decision is, according to one’s inward system of logic, and the axioms that make it up. For example, one central axiom to a Ti user is the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction essentially says “If A and B contradict each other, they can’t both be true.” The dress can’t be blue AND white at the same time. Neither can the recording be both “Laurel” and “Yanny.” This is only one such axiom that a Ti user likely integrates into their system at a young age. Another axiom is from economic theory – the concept of a sunk cost. A sunk cost is a cost that you’ve paid in the past that you can’t get back, and which shouldn’t affect your decisions in the present. For example, if you spent $20 to watch a movie, but the movie SUCKS, economic theory says that you should leave and do something more enjoyable instead. Although a feeler may be tempted to think the $20 spent justifies staying at the movie theater, a Ti user will say “This doesn’t make any sense to stay. I will get more enjoyment out of my next best option, sleeping. The $20 is a sunk cost.” As a Ti user develops, they integrate more and more axioms into their mental framework, forming a subjective, logical view about how the world works. They then cross-reference their options with this framework to see if the option lines up and “makes sense.” They then choose the option that makes the most sense. Ti users are prone to rebuilding systems from scratch – if there is a preexisting system, Ti users will be likely to question orthodoxy to determine if it is true or as efficient as it could be.
Te – Extraverted Thinking – makes its decisions and value judgments based on quantifiable measurements. Te is why the Sharks on Shark Tank always ask for statistics on the companies they evaluate – they see quantifiable metrics as the best way to determine the value of the company and therefore to make their decisions. A Te user may simply choose a career based on which offers the highest paycheck or the best benefits. The mental question going through a Te user’s head is “Which option will get me the best results?” as opposed to the Ti question: “Is this logical?” For decisions that don’t involve easily gathered statistics, Te users will make use of another economic theory called “Utility Value.” Utility Value is the subjective value of something to you, and you alone. For example, your utility value of having a scoop of ice cream may be 100, but another’s may be 50, another’s might be 0, and yet another’s may be negative. (They’re on a diet, don’t ask about it.) Te users will then devise rough measurement systems to measure value of unquantifiable things, and then make decisions based on that. “This option will get me 20 happiness points, but this other one gives me 10. I know which one I’m picking.” Te is a very fast and efficient function, making decisions quickly based on which option nets the best results.
I’m sorry if I seemed a little biased towards the cognitive functions I have, haha. (INFP: Fi – Ne – Si – Te). But this gives me the opportunity to talk about the last aspect about cognitive functions: your preferences for which ones you trust and rely on most.
Each person, according to Cognitive Theory, possesses four preferred cognitive functions. The first is called the Dominant function: Fi for me. The second is called the Auxilary function: Ne for me. The third is the Tertiary function (Si) and the fourth is the Inferior function (Te).
Your preference for and therefore ability to use these cognitive functions is determined by the order they fall within your stack. I am most proficient in Fi, less so in Ne, can use Si in small amounts, and occasionally have trouble using Te. However, a growth-minded individual’s final goal should be “Individuation,” developing relative proficiency in all four functions. Additionally, the order in which these functions develop is according to their order as well: the average person develops their dominant function from childhood to adolescence, the auxiliary from adolescence to young adulthood, the tertiary from young adulthood to adulthood, and the inferior from age 35 onwards. However, no matter how much you develop each function, there’s always ways to improve. As a 20-year old young adult, I still have a lot of room to develop my Fi and my Ne, which I’m already pretty proficient at using.
Also, your function stack and function development alternates between developing introverted and extraverted functions. If your dominant function is introverted, you’re an introvert. If your dominant function is extraverted, you’re an extravert. However, introverts can’t live their whole lives inside their own worlds and extraverts need to slow down and ponder things from time to time. Therefore, our function development alternates between introversion and extroversion. (Fi – Ne – Si – Te). Fi users need to have their values and morals shaped by other people’s perspectives rather than relying on their own individual experience, so Ne kicks in to prevent Fi from being too “in the clouds.” The introverts develop the auxiliary functions that help them connect with the world, and the extraverts develop the auxiliary functions that help them connect with their inner selves.
Okay, now for the last important thing about type theory: how it shapes your identity. People tend to form their identities around their dominant function, as they see its input as most valuable. For example, dominant feelers often exalt compassion and devalue “numbers-based decision making,” and form their identities around that. Dominant thinkers may highly prize the value of logic, and see emotion-based decision making as an enigma, the “other.” Dominant sensors may value their groundedness, and dominant intuitives may value their ability to connect the dots.
Since one’s identity is primarily constructed around their dominant function, the very things their dominant function is repulsed by forms their “shadow,” or repressed self. I, as a Fi-dominant, can repress my Te function because I see its judgments as too harsh and sterile. Likewise, a Ti dominant can repress their Fe function because they see feelings as getting in the way of logic. People actually constantly repress the input of their inferior function because they see it as contradicting their very identity. In order to individuate, people need to warm up to their inferior function.
One method that helps is seeing each function as a perspective for viewing the world. An Se user will see the most obvious solution that others might not, a Ti user is logical, an Ne user has the ability to form mental connections and generate possibilities.
There is value in every cognitive function. Each is a unique perspective on seeing the world and making decisions.
Not only that, but, when people repress their inferior function, it tends to come out in unhealthy ways, so they may see that and further demonize the inferior function due to their experience. Actually, it turns out – there are healthy ways in which you can harness your inferior function to serve your dominant one. You just gotta go on a little self-development journey.
In order to be less intimidated by the inferior function, one must traverse their previous three functions to form a “bridge” to the inferior function. By the time you develop 3 functions, you’ve gained a lot of balance. Your different functions actually temper each other. Introverted functions temper extraverted functions, and perceiving functions temper judging functions, and vice versa. You’re gonna feel more safe to explore your inferior function.
So, in summary, the goal is individuation, the proficient use of all four cognitive functions. Each person has 4 preferred functions, which alternate between introversion and extraversion and perceiving and judging. In the following posts, we’ll be getting further into cognitive theory and also how to know which cognitive functions you have from your four letter code (like INFP). The short answer is Google it! ;P
Also, for more insight on Myers-Briggs and Cognitive functions, I highly recommend:
4 thoughts on “Myers Briggs – Intro to Cognitive Functions”
It’s lonely at the top …… being an INTJ!
Hi, welcome to the blog! I feel the same way sometimes – INFPs are 4% of the population, but we’re grossly underrepresented in parties and most social situations, haha.
Cool that you’re an INTJ! I highly respect your Ni-Te ability to be able to predict what needs to be done by when, and to come up with action steps to achieve that. (My dad’s an INTJ)
Imo, I have a little bit of Ni jealousy. Ne is just such a powerful perceiving function because it generates tons of new ideas and always welcomes new information. It’s hard for me to form a resolution on anything and stick to it for awhile, since I always am gathering new information that causes me to redefine things, haha.
Easier to have Te or Fe as powerful judging functions so you can stay resolute.
But yeah, welcome to the blog, I hope you like it here!
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My daughter’s an INTJ too, we both are organisational psychologists working on big picture stuff ….. 😂
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