When I was first studying up on MBTI theory, I shared it with a friend to get some feedback on an idea of my own. Since then she has written a few blog posts about it herself. This post is probably the clearest explanation of cognitive functions I’ve read yet, and Hattie has given me permission to re-post it here. You should check out Hattie’s blog, The Leaves That Are Green, to read about MBTI, fashion, photography, history, craft ideas, and small-town Southern life. Her writing never fails to give me something to think about and makes me smile. So without further ado, I share with you an understandable explanation of cognitive functions:
The Myers-Briggs Part II: Cognitive Functions
Each MB type is made from four functions – one of which is the dominant function. The dominant function, in a nutshell, is simply the strongest aspect of your personality. If someone were to hand you a pencil and ask you to quickly take a note, you’d reach for that pencil with either your right or left hand. You’d pick the one which felt natural to you. It’s the same way with dominant functions – there’s one that you feel most comfortable using, you rely on it by default, and it is the major governing force in your personality. It’s so basic, like the way you hold a pen, laugh, or even breathe, that you probably don’t realize you’re using it most of the time.
There are eight functions according to Jung: extroverted intuition, introverted intuition, extroverted sensing, introverted sensing, extroverted feeling, introverted feeling, extroverted thinking, and introverted thinking.
One of those is your dominant function, but it doesn’t stop there. After the dominant comes your auxiliary function. It’s your second strongest personality preference and helps in assisting and balancing the dominant function. The tertiary function is next in line – this function can be a handicap early in life, but as you grow into a psychologically healthy individual, it should develop into a helpful and eye-opening asset. Last but not least is the inferior function. This function is likely your biggest weakness; it’s your Achilles’ heel, the Sauron to your Frodo, the rain to your parade. You get my drift. It is mostly unconscious and often the cause much misunderstanding and stress in your life.
So, how does this work when we put it all together? Let’s use my little brother as an example – he’s an ESFP according to the MBTI. His dominant function in extroverted sensing (Se as it’s abbreviated). Se focuses on the experiences and sensations of the immediate, physical world. With an acute awareness of the present surroundings, it brings relevant facts and details to the forefront and may lead to spontaneous action. This is what comes naturally to him, it always has and always will – it’s the primary filter through which he sees and interacts with the world.
His auxiliary function – the second strongest aspect to his personality – is introverted feeling (Fi). Fi filters information based on interpretations of worth, forming judgments according to criteria that are often intangible. Fi constantly balances an internal set of values such as harmony and authenticity. Attuned to subtle distinctions, Fi innately senses what is true and what is false in a situation.
Next to last is the tertiary function: extraverted thinking (Te). Te organizes and schedules ideas and the environment to ensure the efficient, productive pursuit of objectives. Te seeks logical explanations for actions, events, and conclusions, looking for faulty reasoning and lapses in sequence. Since my brother is only 12, this isn’t a strong part of his personality… yet. As he grows, however, this extraverted thinking should mature and become a handy tool in life.
Lastly is his inferior function: the introverted intuition or Ni. Attracted to symbolic actions or devices, Ni synthesizes seeming paradoxes to create the previously unimagined. These realizations come with a certainty that demands action to fulfill a new vision of the future, solutions that may include complex systems or universal truths. And that’s his Achilles’ heel (I could go into in depth examples of why, but for simplicity’s sake, just know that those things which pertain to Ni are very uncomfortable and almost foreign to him).
Hopefully this has been at least a somewhat clear introduction to functions. For more information, a Google search of Jungian cognitive functions should give a year’s worth of reading!