In this article:
- The MBTI is a personality test that sorts people into 16 personality types.
- It’s based on the work of Carl Jung, a psychologist who proposed that our differences in processing information and judging the world were due to cognitive attitudes that he called cognitive functions.
- There are 8 cognitive functions, each of which is part of an axis pair.
MBTI cognitive functions form the basis of the four-letter type you often see in MBTI personality tests. While most popular tests rely on Thinking-Feeling, Sensing-Intuiting, and Extroverted-Introverted dichotomies, the work of Jung (on which the MBTI is based) actually goes into how type influences cognition. Or to be more reserved about the claims of typology, it is a system that attempts to help us understand and explain the processes through which we perceive the world, judge it, and interact with it.
The cognitive functions can be useful for parsing meta-cognition, that is, thinking about the way we think and why we think that way. Because of this, it can also go beyond being a “box” for classifying yourself as and become a way to identify weak spots in our watts of perceiving and interacting with the world.
Cognitive Functions in Carl Jung’s Work
Carl Jung’s work revolves around the idea of archetypes. These archetypes are concepts that try to unify relating concepts in an attempt to group them together in a way that allows us to understand them in broad strokes. It’s important to keep this in mind when approaching his work on personality. They are not so much end all and be alls of what people should be like, but a way of parsing the way people think and interact with the world in broad strokes.
Carl Jung talks about the types and the cognitive functions in his book Psychological Types where he discusses the cognitive functions as primary modes of dealing with the world. He divides people along the lines of Sensing and Intuition, Feeling and Thinking, Extraversion and Introversion.
- Thinking and Feeling describe the value assessments we make of the world and how we act on it.
- Sensing and Intuition describe what information we primarily pay attention to.
- Extraversion and Introversion describe what we orient our Thinking/Feeling and Sensing/Intuition towards. Is the basis of our assessments out in the world or within ourselves? Compared to popular ideas on introversion and extraversion, these have nothing to do with shyness as many introverted types, such as ISTJ/INTJ and INFP/ISFP, are characterized by their disregard of other people’s opinions of them.
This leaves us with the eight cognitive functions of the MBTI:
- Extraverted Intuition (NE)
- Extraverted Sensing (SE)
- Introverted Sensing (SI)
- Introverted Intuition (NI)
- Extraverted Thinking (TE)
- Extraverted Feeling (FE)
- Introverted Feeling (FI)
- Introverted Thinking (TI)
When you arrange them together as axes, the cognitive functions axis should be like this:
- Extraverted Intuition – Introverted Sensing (Ne-Si/Si-Ne)
- Extraverted Sensing – Introverted Intuition (Se-Ni/Ni-Se)
- Introverted Thinking – Extraverted Feeling (Ti-Fe/Fe-Ti)
- Introverted Feeling- Extraverted Thinking. (Fi-Te/Te-Fi)
And vice versa.
The Rational Judging Cognitive Functions
It’s a common misconception that Thinking types are more “rational” than Feeling types. In fact, both attitudes are considered rational because they are used to make sense of information that comes in through the Sensing and Intuition functions.
The Thinking functions are split between those who prefer making judgments based on what works most of the time to achieve a goal (Extraverted Thinking) and those who prefer the internal consistency of formal logic (Introverted Thinking). What works for most situations vs What makes sense to me.
With the Feeling functions, people are either conscious of and attentive to external values and collective harmony (Extraverted Feeling) or personal estimations of value and experience (Fi). What most people value vs what I value.
Because of this Extraverted Thinking and Extraverted Feeling are closer in nature to each other than they are to Introverted Thinking and Introverted respectively, and vice versa.
Extraverted Thinking makes its judgments on the value of things based on their usefulness. This includes ideas, information, and to the extent that Introverted Feeling allows, even people. Types that favor Extraverted Thinking are utilitarian, both in the positive and negative sense of the word, and entertain ideas, theories, and principles if they can see that it works well for most people in most situations most of the time.
Extraverted Feeling is the other objective judging function and it judges the value of things based on how well they harmonize with the accepted social order. It’s a lot like Extraverted Thinking which judges value based on how well things harmonize with conditions that need to be met to accomplish a goal. The Extraverted Feeling types are sensitive to other people’s views and feelings so they try to accommodate them as long as they don’t step too far out of what Extraverted Feeling acknowledges as common manners.
Introverted Feeling is wholly oriented towards the self. What does Introverted Feeling find the most valuable? What is their personal code of morals? External judgments of fact and goodness are irrelevant to them. While Introverted Feeling is as concerned with ethics and morality as Extraverted Feeling is, it cares very little for commonly accepted standards of either. Though they can feel deeply for others who identify as being “like them”, Extraverted Feeling’s social courtesies and Extraverted Thinking’s utilitarianism can rub Introverted Feeling wrong, coming off as insincere and immoral.
Much like Introverted Feeling, Introverted Thinking likes to make sense of the world based on an internal frame of logic. The goal is consistency, not usefulness which is why Introverted Thinking types like to poke holes in principles that attempt to explain ideas in broad strokes.
The Irrational Perceiving Cognitive Functions
How do you like to take in your info? If it’s the world of ideas, we may prefer exploring the realm of abstract possibility (Extraverted Intuition) or the impressions/ideas of the world and our expectations of what is likely to be (Introverted Intuition). If it’s the world of concrete reality, do we prefer paying attention to the physical world as it is, without expectations of possibility and likelihood (Extraverted Sensing) or do we prefer gathering details from our experiences and forming our personalized impressions of them (Introverted Sensing)?
Starting off with the one that’s personally easiest for me, we have Introverted Intuition. Introverted Intuition is often described in almost mystical terms. This isn’t really because Introverted Intuitives have psychic powers, but because Introverted Intuition is characterized by “thinking without thinking”. It has a natural instinct for synthesizing ideas and phenomena as well as projecting what is “likeliest” to happen in the future – even if INXJs can’t explain why they think so. It can be eerily accurate, hit or miss, and most importantly, rigid about its assumptions.
Extraverted Sensing is a cognitive function focused on the here and now. We all make use of our five senses, but as Introverted Intuition is wholly oriented towards what will be Extraverted Sensing is wholly oriented towards what is.
Think of mindfulness training except it’s built into your brain.
Types that favor this mode of thinking are very comfortable with unpredictability, new experiences, are very flexible in the ways they respond to the world, and are able to stay calm even in the most physically dire situations.
Introverted Sensing is oriented to personal experiences of the world. If Extraverted Sensing is here and now and Introverted Intuition is expectations of the future, then Introverted Sensing is expectations of now and the future based on past personal experience. While subjective, these are based on things that happened to the Introverted Sensor. It can be rigid like its Intuitive counterpart, but that’s because the experiences Introverted Sensing bases its assumptions on are things they know have worked before and really happened, it makes sense to them.
If Extraverted Sensing is open to the unexpected events of the world and comfortable with it, Extraverted Intuition is the same except with ideas. They exist in the world of possibilities as opposed to Introverted Intuition’s likelihood. They like to look at ideas and things through multiple perspectives – even if none of those perspectives is the one they truly “believe” in.
If you’re confused by other descriptions of Extraverted Intuition as “seeking out connections” between things and Introverted Intuition as “identifying patterns” in ideas, here’s a quick difference:
Extraverted Intuition extrapolates from a singular idea or situation. It broadens perspective hence the whole “seeking connections” thing. Introverted Intuition breaks ideas down to their most common denominator/”essence”, braiding together even the most seemingly disparate ideas which is why people say it “identifies patterns”.
How to Find Out Your MBTI Cognitive Functions
Each of the 16 MBTI personality types based on Carl Jung’s theory has their preferred to least preferred functions. Types that share Judging cognitive functions in their dominant and auxiliary (the first and second positions) tend to act and respond to the world in similar ways.
Because of this, it’s not uncommon for them to share values and judgments of the world, even if types that have the same dominant function have a closer perspective. For example, ENFP and ENTP may share their way of looking at the world because they have the same dominant cognitive functions, but they are likely to draw conclusions that are closer to the ones made by INFP and INTP respectively.
These types favor Extraverted Thinking. Those that have it as their dominant function are EXTJ while those who have it as their second function are IXTJ.
- INTJ: Ni > Te > Fi > Se
- ISTJ: Si > Te > Fi > Ne
- ESTJ: Te > Si > Ne > Fi
- ENTJ: Te > Ni > Se > Fi
These types favor Extraverted Feeling. Those that have it as their dominant function are EXFJ while those who have it as their second function are IXFJ.
- INFJ: Ni > Fe > Ti > Se
- ENFJ: Fe > Ni > Se > Ti
- ISFJ: Si > Fe > Ti > Ne
- ESFJ: Fe > Si > Ne > Ti
These types favor Introverted Thinking. Those that have it as their dominant function are EXTP while those who have it as their second function are IXTP.
These types favor Introverted Feeling. Those that have it as their dominant function are EXFP while those who have it as their second function are IXFP.
- INFP: Fi > Ne > Si > Te
- ENFP: Ne > Fi > Te > Si
- ESFP: Se > Fi > Te > Ni
- ISFP: Fi > Se > Ni > Te
That’s on understanding your type. If you want to find out what your type is, you can check out our guide on taking the Sakinorva MBTI test.