The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a well-known personality “typing” system that has faced a large amount of scrutiny since its creation, and especially since its popularity has skyrocketed with the modern-day increased interest in personality typology and psychology in general.
Yet the MBTI’s roots go deeper than a simple 100-question online “test”, the results of which have been reported to fluctuate based on a variety of factors, including mood, bias, and inherent pictures of ourselves to which many of us are, often subconsciously, trying to stay faithful. This blog post is a written transcript of my recent video collaboration that I did with the Mind Journal, in which I briefly explore the Jungian roots behind the MBTI, the misconceptions around its validity, Carl Jung’s 8 cognitive function model on which it is based, and a description of each of the 16 personality types.
Most people believe that the entire MBTI system was created by Catherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, which is why, given that neither of these women was trained psychologists, it has faced a lot of criticism since. Yet the truth is that the MBTI is an extension of the 8 cognitive function theory of Carl Jung, which was expounded in his work Psychological Types: The Psychology of Individuation, published in 1921.
It is important to note that Jung’s theory is not a personality theory as such, in that it doesn’t attribute distinct behaviors to different personality types that are guaranteed because of their type. Rather, it suggests that there are 8 possible cognitive functions through which each person is perceiving and judging the world most of the time, without even knowing that they’re doing it.
Basically, the judgments that we are bringing onto certain situations, our adaptability to change and the way in which we view the world are existing predispositions based on our dominant cognitive functions, and we aren’t even aware that we’re using them, because it’s the only mode that we know.
This is why you might have one person who is really rattled and bothered by a sudden change of plans, whilst another doesn’t even bat an eyelid at the change of plans. Being rattled by a change of plans is not necessarily a vice of the first person; it’s just that their brain is wired in a certain way that places great value on internalized systems and order, whereas the other person’s brain is naturally wired to value the openness to explore possibilities. So Jung’s 8 function theory provides exact terms and explanations for these differences.
Jung wrote that there are two perceiving functions: sensing and intuition, and two judging functions: thinking and feeling.
1. The perceiving functions explain how we take in information; whether it’s through our tangible world and senses, or through the abstract world of patterns, ideas, and theoretical possibilities.
2. The judging functions explain which tool we are using to make judgments on that information that we have gathered; whether it’s through logic, protocols and environmental systems, or values, emotions, and interpersonal relationships.
Each of these functions can be further sub-categorized into one of two attitude types: either introverted or extraverted. So this means that there are 8 cognitive functions in total: Extroverted Sensing (Se), Introverted Sensing (Si), Extraverted Intuition (Ne), Introverted Intuition (Ni), Extraverted Feeling (Fe), Introverted Feeling (Fi), Extraverted Thinking (Te) and Introverted Thinking (Ti).
So each person, depending on their type, will use one perceiving function, and one judging function, in conjunction with each other, most of the time. These will be your dominant and auxiliary functions, or pilot and co-pilot functions (there are many analogies that are used within the community to describe the relationship between these functions). Catherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers took the Psychological Types theory of Carl Jung and constructed the 16 personalities “letters” as a way of making this hugely helpful theory accessible and digestible to the modern world. The letters from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, therefore, are not to be taken solely in and of themselves, but rather as a means of decoding which cognitive functions that a particular type is using most of the time.