In this post I want to provide an overview of the 8 cognitive functions first theorized by Carl Jung in his book, Psychological Types. These functions form the back-bone of the MBTI and the lesser known, Objective Personality System.
Before we foray into our topic, I’d like to get this out of the way. I’m not an MBTI expert. I’m not a psychology expert. In all my years of schooling, I’ve never even taken a psychology class. My story is simple. I heard about the MBTI, found the first test on Google (16personalities), and felt it resonated with me enough to look more into it.
What follows is a personal interpretation of Jung’s cognitive theory. Much of my knowledge has been drawn from web articles, videos on YouTube, personal experience, and discussions with friends. Not what most people would consider “scientific”. So, what I’m trying to say is… don’t use this in your school papers, kids.
So first thing things first! What’s a cognitive function anyway? Functions are the means by which we process information. Jung theorized that there are eight functions and that the order in which a person chooses to use those functions impacts their personal psychological type. The MBTI is based on these psychological types. But we aren’t talking about the types today! Instead the focus is on the functions and the eight delicious flavors they come in.
mmm TASTY FUNCTIONS
When we first lick a function for flavor, we want to decipher whether that function is judging or perceiving. By that I mean, does the function perceive data or judge data? Now, don’t let your perceptions lay judgment on my Binocular and Gavel friends.
Once we know that a function is perceiving or judging, we want to know the way in which it performs this process. There is more than one way to make a meatball spicy, and much like a meatball, there is more than one way to perceive or judge data. Personally, I prefer sriracha.
You have to perceive it to believe it
We as humans (do I have any non-human readers? if so, please get in touch) perceive via our 5 senses. These senses pull in lots of data (I say lots because it is more PC than, a shit ton). Perceiving functions are how we go about processing the data we perceive. Sensing and Intuition functions are perceiving functions. They interpret the data from our senses and differ in the way they accomplish this goal. Sensing is more detail and physical world oriented, while Intuition is more abstract and big picture oriented.
Think, “your favorite movie” vs “your favorite quote from that movie“.
“I can’t help it if I have a heavy
flow and a wide set vagina.”
– A quote from Mean Girls
A sensing perceiver has a greater awareness of the details in the present moment, and must therefore build to the larger picture. They are likely to opt for an immediate practical solution for the present situation, occasionally overlooking opportunities for a more indirect solution. Conversely, an intuitive perceiver has a more limited awareness of the details in the present moment, freeing them up to instead focus on how the present moment relates to the larger picture. They are likely to opt for an innovative theoretical solution to a problem, occasionally overlooking opportunities to apply simple practical solutions.
Think it, Feel it, Judge it
Feeling and Thinking are judging functions. This is how we place judgments on the data we pull in from our perceiving functions. Feeling deals more with emotional interests and human interaction, while Thinking focuses on rational logical decision making. A feeling judger leans toward the decision that benefits human emotion, potentially overlooking the logical fallacies in favor of appealing to values. While the thinking judger leans toward the decision their logic has determined to be the best, despite the emotional impact their decision may bring, choosing to forgo the human value in favor of logical consistency.
Our first taste of functions
So we’ve discussed four different flavors of
ice cream functions. Let’s give them nicknames! Everybody loves a good nickname.
- Sensing – S
- Intuition – N
- Feeling – F
- Thinking – T
I know what you are thinking… these nicknames are awesome! Or maybe you were a bit disappointed? Well if that’s the case, then I’ll just let you know they weren’t actually my idea… I just wanted you to get familiar with the shorthand that the internet community has become accustomed to! So if you want someone to blame, blame the internet. I hear she wears clogs.
So we’ve discovered four flavors of functions, S (sensing), N (intuition), F (feeling), and T (thinking). We need four more to complete our gastric coma and achieve function nirvana. However, I’m sorry to say these won’t be brand new flavors you are getting. Just like the lazy ice cream companies we are actually going to look to our previous flavors for
a cop out recipe inspiration. I mean seriously, how different are Mint Chocolate Chip and Mint Oreo? Just because you add a ™ to the end of one doesn’t make it any fancier.
A functional remix
Alright so the flavors aren’t totally, new. Let’s call them remixes. That will make them more exciting right? Everybody loves a good remix! We’ll take our old functions and apply a new concept to them. That concept is Extroversion and Introversion, maybe you’ve heard of it? In personality terms, many people are familiar with the idea of Extroversion vs Introversion in a rather opaque caveman sense. Yeah, you with there with dinosaur bone, PAY ATTENTION! On the walls of the caves, the Introverts are the shy, nerdy bookworms and the Extroverts are the enthusiastic socialites who push the nerds into lockers, I mean caves. But if you will step out of the cave with me for a moment you might discover that, surprisingly, there is more to it than that!
Once we have escaped the cave, we can instead consider the concept of Extroversion vs Introversion in terms of Objective vs Subjective. Extroverted functions move outward from the individual toward the objective world. The objective world is a shared space where people come together to reach a level of understanding with one another. To accomplish this the objective world must remain static and free from any one person’s distortions. In the objective world, 2+2 = 4 because that is what everyone has agreed that it equals. If someone says that 2+2 = 5, we tell them they need to get in line with the objective way of thinking. Introverted functions instead move inward toward the individual’s subjective world. The subjective world is highly personalized to the individual and can be distorted by the views of that individual when left unchecked. In the subjective world, 2+2 can equal shoe if that makes sense to the individual. They might have some hoops to jump through to then take that way of thinking and share it with the objective world who is unlikely to accept their footwear based conclusion. Introverted functions also are what largely contribute to one’s sense of self, because these processes are so personal. “It was I who formed this shoe based arithmetic. I am the creator and this is person to me.” – Some introvert… probably
Notice I didn’t mention anything about one function being more inherently shy than another. The truth is, that shyness is instead a result of our comfortability with the objective world vs the subjective world. A dominant user of an Extroverted function for example will be fluent in the ways of the external world and thus more readily aware of the external world. This does not necessarily imply their ability to communicate within it. A dominant user of an Introverted function would instead find greater comfort in the exploration of their subjective world.
Which path do you choose?
A dominant Introverted user is not doomed forever to the subjective realm, however. For we all have both Introverted and Extroverted functions of both Judging and Perceiving flavors. We use these functions in combination to perform the tasks necessary to live in both objective and subjective worlds simultaneously. Much like Link uses that Magic Mirror to move between the Light and the Dark worlds in a Link to the Past!
One could also think of the Introverted functions in terms of their focus on depth, while the Extroverted functions focus on breadth. Introverted functions explore the deep and complex internalized workings of the individual’s subjective world. Because of the depth of Introverted Functions, the processes are much slower to form, but more rooted and complex. Extroverted functions seek to explore the broad and varied aspects of the shared objective world. The urgency to explore the breadth of this world encourages Extroverted functions to move at a faster pace than their Introverted counterparts, responding quickly to their environment.
An Introvert might explore the way in which a slightly different flavor of ice cream impacts their subjective world (hence Mint Oreo’s existence). Whereas the Extrovert seeks to experience the Nickel-Berry Crunch’s of the world because they’ve never experienced an ice cream that tastes like money before. It tastes like luxury to me.
The final funct-down
So a function can be either Extroverted or Introverted. This means that when we take our previous four functions and make them Introverted or Extroverted, we get… 2… 4… 6… 8 functions! We did it! Go give your grandma (or someone else’s) a hug! While you are doing that, I’ll just jot down some more nicknames.
- Introverted Sensing – Si
- Extroverted Sensing – Se
- Introverted Intuition – Ni
- Extroverted Intuition – Ne
- Introverted Feeling – Fi
- Extroverted Feeling – Fe
- Introverted Thinking – Ti
- Extroverted Thinking – Te
S, N, F, and T were the
flavors functions you were already familiar with. The ‘i’ or ‘e’ now denote whether that function is Introverted or Extroverted. This change is significant. More significant than Mint Oreo, trust me on that one. To see this change in action lets look at a few function comparisons examples.
Sensors R Us
I described Sensing in contrast with Intuition above as a function concerned with the immediate details of reality. When Sensing is Extroverted, the focus is on objective concerns of that reality. Se is therefore concerned with the immediate truth of it’s immediate environment. A user Se seeks to immerse fully in the objective realities of the situation and experience what life has to offer. They are in tuned with the moment to moment sensations. An Extroverted Sensor will look to take action in the external world, wanting to experience the breadth of life and discover where they fit within it. They are truly those who believe, actions are louder than words. Ever been hula hoop skiing? An Se user has.
An Introverted Sensor however, subjectively views the details of their reality by relating it to the depth of their internal world. Si is highly detail oriented and develops a sequential personal ordering of the sensory details. While an Extroverted Sensor is constantly seeking novel experiences to feed their desire for breadth of experience, the Introverted Sensor may partake in activities on a more routine basis, continually finding joy (or displeasure) in discovering some minor nuance within their personal sensory sequences. The Si user says, “Hula hoop skiing seems dangerous, it doesn’t align with my known experiences. I’ll just watch someone do it on TV”.
I feel your energy
When we look at a judging function we must look at its direction to truly understand the way it encourages us to behave. Thus an Introverted Feeler will be more interested in the depth of their subjective emotions regarding a situation, while an Extroverted Feeler will often place the broad needs of the group as the highest priority. The Extroverted Feeler will also be more interested in external standards and practices, while the Introverted Feeler will be more individualistic.
Extroverts gain energy from external communication and introverts gain energy from alone time. This leads to that stereotypical view I pandered to above about Extroverts being the popular socialites and Introverts being bookworms. But again, there is more to it than that! Extroverts generally gain energy from external communication because when communicating externally, they have opportunities to engage in their dominant and preferred function process. Introverts gain energy from engaging in more subjective function processes and thus prefer activities in which they can comfortably engage in them. We’ll discuss more about the full function stack in future posts.
One final thing before you go! I’d recommend avoiding sites that don’t discuss the functions at all and instead opt for a focus on the more behavioral aspects of the MBTI. The most powerful aspects of typology are what can be learned about the way your mind processes information. With this comes a greater understanding of our strengths and weaknesses leading us toward a better self.
Be sure to check out our other articles in the Foundations Section including our OPS Starter Kit which helps introduce you to how the Objective Personality System expands on the idea presented here into a model that allows for up to 512 unique personality types!