In a previous post I introduced my interest in personality typology. Probably the most well known personality typology framework is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a series of questions that identify a persons preferences for how they interface with the world.
The MBTI describes our preferences for:
- whether we focus our attention on the external world or the internal world,
- how we collect and process information,
- how we make decisions,
- and whether we mostly interact with the world while collecting and processing information or while we are making decisions.
The MBTI is based on the psychology work of Carl Jung, but the MBTI itself was developed by the mother daughter pair of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.
Most who have taken the MBTI are surprised at how accurately it describes their personality. There are four sets of paired preferences that result in a four letter code. They are:
- Extroversion (E) / Introversion (I)
- Intuition (N) / Sensing (S)
- Feeling (F) / Thinking (T)
- Perceiving (P) / Judging (J)
These four pairs of preferences make sixteen different combinations.
I am an INTJ personality type. INTx (INTJ & INTP) are among the rarest personality types. INTP’s make up an estimated 3.3% of the population while INTJ’s make up about 2.1% of the population. Only about 10% of the population are Intuitive Thinker (NT) types. Intuitives as a whole only make up about 1/4 of the population while Sensors make up the other 3/4. The website StatisticBrain.com has a nice breakdown of the percentage splits. The rarity of a personality type has a whole lot of implications on how we as humans make our way in the world.
If you would like to know your personality type there are free online ones or you can pay to take the MBTI online as well. I think one of the most popular free ones is at www.16personalities.com. I have also found the material at www.personalityhacker.com to be very useful. I love their podcasts.
Each of the four pairs focus on a more specific set of preferences. Keep in mind that we each have traits of all eight preferences, but we usually lean to four of them more than the others. They are each a spectrum so it is possible to be fairly equal or balanced between two different preferences or to be very weighted to one side or the other. Note that all eight preferences and all sixteen types are healthy. The MBTI doesn’t result in the identification of mentally healthy versus unhealthy people. There are also common misconceptions about each because of how the use of the terms have changed over time.
Where do you focus your attention?
Extroversion (E) / Introversion (I): The Extroversion/Introversion pair describe where a person puts their attention and as a result get their energy. Extroverts prefer to focus on their outer world of people and things while Introverts prefer to focus on their inner world of thoughts and ideas. One common misconception is that Extroverts are outgoing and friendly while Introverts are shy and unfriendly. That isn’t always the case though. For example the ability to give a presentation in a room full of people has less to do with extroversion and introversion and more to do with a person’s comfort level with the information they are presenting and their comfort level with the audience. Carl Jung’s initial definitions of extroversion and introversion were different than how most people use these terms today.
How do you collect and process information?
Intuition (N) / Sensing (S): The Intuition/Sensing pair describe whether a person focuses on information through their five senses (Sensing) such as seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting or do they focus on deriving meaning from the information through pattern recognition and an understanding of what is going on behind the scenes (Intuition). Sensors prefer to work with information that is verifiable in the outer world via their senses while Intuitives prefer to work with information that has been processed internally by their conscious and subconscious thought processes.
How do you make decisions?
Feeling (F) / Thinking (T): The Feeling/Thinking pair describe how we prefer to make decisions. Feelers prefer to make decisions based on how their decisions will make them and others feel while Thinkers prefer to make decisions based on objective data and facts. Note that Thinkers have feelings just like Feelers and Feelers aren’t less intelligent than Thinkers. When making decisions, both Thinkers and Feelers will often use elements of feeling and thinking. However, they will start their decision making process with their preferences and then test that against the other trait. For example, a Thinker may first make a decision based on the raw facts of a situation, but before they make a final decision they may still consider if others feelings about something should temper their decision.
Do you prefer to interact with the world while collecting information or while making decisions?
Perceiving (P) / Judging (J): This may be the most abstract of the preference pairs. Don’t connect Judgers with the concept of being judgmental and don’t connect Perceivers as being overly perceptive. They aren’t related.
The Perceiving/Judging pair describe when we prefer to interact with the outer world. We either prefer to interact with the world while collecting information using Intuition/Sensing (Perceivers) or while making decisions using Feeling/Thinking (Judgers). This preference determines how we appear to others. For example, since Perceivers prefer to interact while collecting information, they can appear to be indecisive and since Judgers prefer to interact while making decisions, they can appear to be very decisive. Note that how we appear to others and how we are internally can be very different. Perceivers can be decisive internally and Judgers can be very indecisive internally. The differences in appearance are due to when during the process we are interacting with the outside world.
So, an INTJ can appear to the world as very withdrawn. They are Introverted so they prefer to focus their attention internally which is where they also derive their energy. They are Judgers so they prefer to not interact with the world while collecting information using Intuition. When they do prefer to interact with the world they are making decisions using their Thinking processes. By understanding the eight preferences we can start to unlock the mysteries of why we and others act the way we do.
Going Deeper with Cognitive Functions
So, if that wasn’t complex enough, no worries. There is another deeper layer of complexity. The MBTI personality type preference pairs are really just pointers to eight brain functions called cognitive functions. We each develop four specific cognitive functions throughout our life. We have all eight, but primarily only use four of them. Our MBTI personality types point to which four cognitive functions we prefer and in what order they develop throughout our life. Understanding the cognitive functions is where the real gold is. I’ll post about cognitive functions sometime in the future.
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