By Tiffani Warren
What Are Cognitive Functions?
There are four functions. The two judging functions, Thinking and Feeling, allow us to make decisions and prioritize. The two perceiving function, iNtuition and Sensing, allow us to interpret the world:
- Thinking (T) deals with facts, logic, relationships between objects, and processes
- Feeling (F) deals with ethics, values, relationships between people, and human development
- iNtution (N) deals with the theoretical world: concepts, metaphors, models, and imagination
- Sensing (S) deals with the real world: what is happening or has happened, how we can make an impact on it, and how it makes an impact on us
In addition to that, there are two attitudes: each function can be either extroverted (e) or introverted (i).
So in total, there are eight function-attitudes: Te, Fe, Ne, Se, Ti, Fi, Ni, Si
Extroverted functions observe or make judgments about ‘objects’ themselves, primarily independent of their relation to other ‘objects’ over time. It is helpful to think of extroverted functions as the train of thought “object-subject-object”, where the object is ‘anything in the world’ and the subject is ‘the person thinking about it’. So when someone is using an extroverted function, they perceive or analyse something first: “What is this?” Then they observe its effect on them: “What do I think about this?” Then they return to the thing: “What can/should I do with this?”
- Extroverted Thinking (Te) analyses each logistical problem on a case-by-case basis. It is primarily concerned with getting the job done and figuring out what will work for this circumstance. Te tends to rely more on research, data, and experts in coming to conclusions.
- Extroverted Feeling (Fe) analyses each social situation on a case-by-case basis. It is primarily concerned with what has the most positive effect on people and figuring out what will work for this circumstance. Fe tends to rely more on the needs, desires, and beliefs of the affected group or individuals (including the subject) in coming to conclusions.
- Extroverted iNtution (Ne) observes and interprets all possible avenues of development springing from a given idea. It uses one concept as a reference point, and then generates as many pathways from that concept as possible, trying to find every other idea that could be related to it (and then possibly ideas that could be related to those ideas, and so on, branching out).
- Extroverted Sensing (Se) is primarily concerned with the effect the subject can have on the outside world. It notices in crisp detail what is happening around it and (in conjunction with Ni, which I will explain in a moment) interprets possible ways that the individual could alter or affect the external world in the present context.
Introverted functions, on the other hand, observe or make judgments not about the objects themselves, but rather about the effects they have on the subject – How does xyz make me feel? How does it fit into my understanding of the world? What effect does it have on me? They strive to make an internally consistent system of beliefs or ideas that are cohesive when taken as a whole. Introverted functions can be thought of as “subject-object-subject”. First, the individual asks himself “What do I think/feel/believe?” Then, it looks at something and asks, “What is this?” Finally, it says, “How can I fit this into my system of ideas, values, etc.?
- Introverted Thinking (Ti) strives to make an internally consistent logical framework through which to interpret the world. It wants to understand why things work, and generate consistent rules that explain cause-and-effect and the structure of systems. Ti tends to rely more on logic, philosophical arguments, and its own understanding of the “inherent” truth in coming to conclusions.
- Introverted Feeling (Fi) strives to make an internally consistent ethical framework through which to interpret the world. It wants to understand why particular choices are good or bad, and generate consistent rules that guide their decisions and determine the individual’s place in relation to the rest of the world. Fi tends to rely more on the subject’s conscience, sense of identity, and its own understanding of what is “inherently” good in coming to conclusions.
- Introverted iNution (Ni) seeks the “models of best fit” in interpreting the world, creating and developing general models about the world and interpreting events in conjunction with these beliefs. It wants to understand what everything really means, the implicit connection between disparate events and circumstances, as well as predictions about how things are likely to unfold and develop as time passes. Because Ni is difficult for many to understand, an example may be helpful – an Ni user may develop the belief that “a stitch in time saves nine”, and so (in conjunction with Se) seek out opportunities to solve problems before they develop into something worse. Additionally, this person may see an issue that has long gone unaddressed and predict “It’s going to fall apart,” often without knowing the exact belief that underlies this prediction, and then further strengthen this interpretation of the world when their prediction comes true.
- Introverted Sensing (Si) creates and develops beliefs about the world based on their own experiences, what it has observed to be true and consistent over time, and the effects the outside world can have on the subject. Then it(in conjunction with Ne) attempts to prepare itself to be ready to react to future developments based on its database of past experience.
How Do People Use Cognitive Functions?
All people use all eight cognitive function-attitudes at one point or another, but we have a preference for four of them. Introverted and extroverted functions come in pairs, so you will have one introverted and one extroverted judging function, and the same is true for perceiving functions. This is because the whole “subject-object-subject” thing is kind of a white lie – in truth, there is no “start” and “end” in how we judge and perceive, but rather a constant feedback loop between the outside world and our inner selves – the extroverted functions provide us access to the outside world, and the introverted functions provide us access to ourselves.
Here are the function pairs and how they work:
- Te + Fi = analyzes each material problem in the world on a case-by-case basis, tries to figure out what will “work” in a system, decides what is acceptable and unacceptable to do based on internally consistent ethical values and self-identity. (“What is happening in this (impersonal) system? What is the “right” thing to do? What do I know about ‘the real world’? Who am I in all this?”)
- Fe + Ti = analyzes each interpersonal problem in the world on a case-by-case basis, tries to figure out what will have the best effect on others, decides what is true and false based on internally consistent logical analysis (“What is happening in this (interpersonal) relationship/group? How does everything fit together? What do I know about human society? How can I discover the truth?”)
- Ne + Si = perceives multiple possible ideas and developments, learns from past experience, develops strategies and methods to prepare for the future (“What is possible? How would that affect me? How could I respond? What results can I expect from that?”)
- Se + Ni = perceives the external world, sees avenues for the individual to affect and change it, develops beliefs and predictions based on models and metaphors (“What is really going on? What does it mean? What can I accomplish? How can I do that?”)
How the types are labelled
Recall that T and F are judging (J) functions, and N and S are perceiving (P) functions. Your main function stack will look like either:
J P P J
This represents a “judging” dominant. Their dominant (first) function is either T or F, and their inferior (fourth) function will be the other – so a T-dominant is an F-inferior, and vice versa. In their second and third positions, they have one of each perceiving function.
P J J P
This represents a “perceiving” dominant – their dominant function is either N or S, and their inferior function will be the other – so an N-dominant is an S-inferior, and vice versa. In their second and third positions, they have one of each judging function.
Remember that one function in each pair must be extroverted, and one must be introverted. So if I’m an Ne-dominant, what is my inferior function? It must be Si – the opposite perceiving function, with the opposite function attitude (extroverted or introverted).
Additionally, no two adjacent functions can have the same function attitude. So if my dominant function is extroverted, my second must be introverted, and then my third must be extroverted. So an Ne-dom could be Ne-Ti-Fe-Si, or it could be Ne-Fi-Te-Si, but never Ne-Te or Ne-Fe.
Important note: MBTI and socionics are two separate branches of Jungian typology, and they label the types similarly but with one important difference! On this subreddit, we almost exclusively use the MBTI labelling system. However, I will also explain the socionics labelling system, so that you can read articles from socionics authors and interpret them correctly.
- In MBTI, all four letters are capitalized: ESFP. INTJ. ISFJ.
- The middle two letters in a type name will tell you what a person’s top judging and perceiving function are. So for example, an ISTP has S (Sensing) and T (Thinking) in their top two slots.
- The last letter tells you which function is extroverted. P means the perceiving function is extroverted; J means the judging function is extroverted. So for an ISTP, the perceiving function – S – must be extroverted: Se. Since the perceiving function is extroverted, the judging function – T – must be introverted: Ti. So we know the top two functions are Se and Ti, but which one is dominant?
- Finally, the first letter in a type’s name tells you which function comes first. An E means the extroverted function comes first. An I means the introverted function comes first. So for our ISTP, the introverted function – Ti – must come first. So we know they are Ti-Se. This makes them a judging-dominant. Then we can just fill in the rest. After Se, they’ll need the other perceiving function in the opposite attitude – Ni. And then their inferior function will be the other judging function in the opposite attitude – Fe. So their final function stack is Ti-Se-Ni-Fe. Notice that this follows the JPPJ model, that each function pair (J functions and P functions) is composed of opposite function attitudes (one i, one e), and that adjacent functions also have opposite function attitudes.
So, let’s use me for an example now – cover the answers and try it out. I’m an ENFJ. What are my top judging and perceiving functions? Which function is extroverted? Which function comes first? From there, what is my full function stack?
The answer is: Fe-Ni-Se-Ti.
Let’s briefly address socionics labelling:
- In socionics, the last letter is written lowercase. So ENFp, or ISTj.
- The middle letters still represent your top two functions.
- This time, however, the last letter represents which function is dominant. So an ENFp is a perceiving – N – dominant, and an ISTj is a judging – T – dominant.
- The first letter of the type tells you whether the dominant function is introverted or extroverted. So an ENFp is Ne, and ISTj is Ti.
- In practice, what this means is that MBTI and socionics use the same letters for extroverted types. An ESTJ is an ESTj, an ESFP is an ESFp. However, the last letter will flip for introverted types. An ISFP is an ISFj in socionics, an INTJ is an INTp in socionics.
The fun part: determining your type
There are so many ways to determine your type!
- Do any of the functions leap out at you? For example, “I’m definitely a T” or “I’m definitely an S”? You have to be careful with this way, though – INFPs and INFJs sometimes come across as T types at first glance, for example.
- Perhaps you identify with a specific function-attitude or function pair. “I definitely know I’m Se-Ni, not Ne-Si.” This doesn’t necessarily tell you where the functions fall in your stack, but they can narrow down the possible choices.
- There are other ways to group types. For example, temperament: ExxJs tend to be somewhat bossy and feel a drive to be productive, IxxJs tend to be more passive but also feel the push to get things done, ExxPs tend to seem full of energy and need to keep moving, and IxxPs are little sloths that are mostly happy to lay around all day and need a push to get moving. ExxJs tend to feel more comfortable talking, and IxxJs feel more comfortable listening. ExxPs and IxxPs can often go either way.
- You can also group by quadra, which are groups that share all the same functions. So “alphas” all have Fe/Ti and Ne/Si, just in different orders – that means xNTPs and xSFJs. They tend to be more lighthearted, imaginative, and “child-like”. “Betas” all have Fe/Ti and Se/Ni – xNFJs and xSTPs. They tend to be intense, moody, and “teenager-like”. “Deltas” all have Te/Fi and Ne/Si – xNFPs and xSTJs. They tend to be impersonal, productive, and “adult-like”. Finally, “gammas” all have Te/Fi and Se/Ni – xNTJs and xSFPs. They tend to be serious, realistic, and “elder-like”. These are massive overgeneralizations btw, but with a kernel of truth.
- Finally, over time, you can get “vibes” for certain types. You’ll develop a sense of “what ESFPs are like”, “what INFJs are like”, and so on. Watch YouTube videos and read books or blog posts written by people of specific types to develop your intuition in these areas.
- Be careful not to rely too much, though, on descriptions or stereotypes. People of all types can act in any way they want. We are humans and we have free will. Despite common myth, xSxJs can be rebellious, xNTxs can be irrational, and so on. The question is, why are they acting that way? What thought process brought them to that interpretation, decision, or action? Find the cognitive process, and you can identify the functions that were used.
- Learn more about how people express functions in each position in their stack – valued positions 1-4, as well as unvalued “shadow” positions 5-8. This is a whole big rabbit hole I don’t have the energy to get into today, but it’s an avenue to start looking down. Make sure you generally understand each function individually before you start trying to understand how they act in each position, though. I personally find the work of John Beebe and socionics researchers to be particularly helpful in this arena, though others will disagree with me on that. Here is a nice long article be Beebe. Click through here for some basic socionics descriptions, and here for some more advanced and dense stuff. Keep in mind that socionics also orders the functions differently than MBTI/Beebe do, which is a whole nother pain in the ass. You can find type descriptions and term breakdowns in this wonderful “translation” here – just click on the type you’re interested in.
One final note: Like everything academic and theoretical, there are multiple viewpoints and perspectives about typology, and reasonable people can disagree! The perspective I’ve posted above is mine alone, based on my understanding of the material I’ve encountered. Even those who agree with me most may have minor quibbles in how I’ve phrased things; others may call me a total hack with no right to breathe the word “typology” based on how incorrect and misinformed they think I am. I trust you, dear reader, to take my explanation as merely one of many, and to seek out your own answers and understanding. There is years of material about the subject, just waiting to be explored. Perhaps in time you will develop a fresh perspective or new theory that will make critics’ heads spin! Or maybe you’ll just come to understand your friends, family, and yourself better, and learn to see the world through another’s eyes. Regardless, I wish you a safe and pleasant journey going forward, and we are all here to answer any questions you may have along the way. :)