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MBTI Cognitive Functions

Preferences aren’t the only thing that defines the 16 MBTI types. In addition to the eight preferences, each personality type engages the world through eight cognitive functions. Each Function is directed either outward toward people and surroundings (Extroverted) or inward toward a person’s thoughts (Introverted). In this article, we will dive deep into the essence of the MBTI cognitive functions, as well as the importance behind the functions stack (the order that they follow per personality type).

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What are Cognitive Functions?

Simply put, cognitive functions are modes of processing information and making decisions. Each of the 16 MBTI types has four of the eight cognitive functions, which are ordered in a specific way unique to each type. By knowing the functions that are associated with each personality type, as well as the meaning behind their order, you can paint a clearer picture of your own type, as well as anyone else’s.

The eight cognitive functions are divided into two categories: four are extroverted and four are introverted. Your personality preferences toward Introversion or Extroversion don’t solely determine the cognitive functions designated for your type, as each person has two functions of a kind. However, introverts will be more inclined to use their introverted functions, and extroverts will be more inclined to use their extroverted functions.

Beyond Extroversion and Introversion, the functions can be divided into two different groups – four are perceptive (Judging and Perceiving) and four are decision-based (Feeling and Thinking). Again, these functions aren’t necessarily connected to your type’s preferences. Even if you are an INTJ, for example, you can still have a Feeling function, but it won’t be as strongly developed (it will sit lower in the function stack). So what does this mean exactly? Well, it explains how Thinkers can feel from time to time or why Feelers sometimes commit to logical decisions. It also gives an answer for why Judgers sometimes let themselves go with the flow, or why Perceivers stick to structured plans every once in a while. Understanding the cognitive functions is crucial, because it allows us to see that each person is complex and multi-dimensional; they never rely 100% on a single function. The ways we behave and think are shaped by many factors, and our cognitive function stack is certainly a significant factor in this regard.

Before we explain what cognitive functions are all about, let’s take a look at the function stack first.

Functions Stack

The cognitive functions follow a different order of importance for the different MBTI personality types. This specific order is called the “function stack.” Although the list of functions will be different depending on personality type, all people primarily use just four functions, and each of the positions in the function stack carries a significant meaning. The stacking is as follows:

  • Dominant function
  • Auxiliary function
  • Tertiary function
  • Inferior function

Even though the dominant and auxiliary functions describe nearly 90% of your personality type, knowing about the tertiary and inferior functions is also important. In fact, understanding what the functions mean and how they work depending on their position in the stack is one of the most revelatory concepts in MBTI theory. By learning more about this concept, you will be able to pinpoint your blind spots, weaknesses, and areas that need work.

Dominant function

The dominant function is a person’s most well developed and strongest function. It usually develops when a person is around 13 years old, and it governs the way they perceive and interact with the world around them. If this function is introverted, the individual will act as an introvert, and if it’s extroverted – as an extrovert. The dominant function is the most apparent thing that people recognize in others. However, in the case of introverts, the dominant function may not be so easy to spot, as they often hide their true colors and let their auxiliary function shine instead.

You can think of your dominant function as your “hero” function; it is the one that will save you in most situations and the one you depend on the most.

Auxiliary Function

The auxiliary function is a person’s second strongest function, and it usually develops around 21 years old. Together, the dominant and the auxiliary functions are responsible for nearly 90% of anyone’s personality type. Because they are both so important, there is a tendency for these two functions to merge, which is why it can be difficult to tell which is which.

However, there are some instances in which the auxiliary function can emerge more distinctly, such as when an individual is helping others out. For example, an ENFPs auxiliary function is Introverted Feeling (Fi). When ENFPs help people, they can easily relate to their feelings and offer them adequate support.

Tertiary function

The 3rd function in the stack is called the “tertiary function.” Since it falls on the third place, it’s not as strong as the first two, so a person will never fully rely on it. However, the tertiary function can still be utilized in certain activities which can bring joy and relaxation to a person. Because this function develops in the middle of a person’s life, it can prove difficult to cultivate and become stronger. Even so, if a person is patient enough in developing their weaker functions, they will learn the precise time and place the tertiary and inferior functions should be used. The 3rd function can be very useful in distinguishing the areas in a person’s life where they are lacking, as well as areas which call for skills that don’t come naturally at first.

People have less skills connected to their tertiary function, since it normally isn’t that interesting or appealing to them. It is also a curious fact that the tertiary function’s letter doesn’t appear in a person’s type abbreviation and is the opposite of the auxiliary function. So, for example, if someone has an Intuitive auxiliary function, their tertiary function will be Sensing.

Inferior function

The 4th function in the stack is called the “inferior function.” This name isn’t a coincidence, since this function represents a very weak area for people. Even so, it can still hold potential for personal growth, if the individual is willing to put in time and effort. Some people say that this function acts as a gateway to the subconscious, from which people derive most of their energy. The inferior function of ENFPs, for example, is Introverted Sensing (Si). Therefore, by doing Si activities, ENFPs will feel more relaxed and will be able to access the ideas and energy stored in their unconscious minds. Si activities could include coming up with a routine and sticking to it, reminiscing about the past, and being systematic in taking action.

The inferior function often emerges without any conscious effort and tries to overcome a person’s stronger cognitive functions. It can surface if the individual is under stress, when the functions that they usually rely on are exhausted. Normally, when the inferior function shows up, the person might be thinking to themselves “What has gotten into me?” Because of that, it’s easy for this function to manifest in a negative and uncontrollable way. However, keep in mind that the inferior function also offers a lot of potential for growth and self-development.

Now that we got the stack out of the way and you know what it’s all about, let’s dive deeper into the functions themselves.

Extroverted

By definition, extroverts are people who draw their energy from ongoing activity in the outside world. They are always craving more experiences: more people, more sounds, more colors, more events, etc. These are people who are comfortable with talking; they don’t mind the attention of others and often look at ease no matter what their environment is like.

Extroverted Feeling Function (Fe)

Extroverted Feeling is the ability to relate and the desire to connect with others with warmth and consideration. It draws others out and responds to expressed or unexpressed needs. People with the Extroverted Feeling function (Fe for short) prioritize bringing people together, caring for them, and maintaining harmony. Interpersonal values, as well as cultural values, are also very important to people who use Fe. They are skilled at reading others’ emotions and interpreting them correctly. And, their empathy is so strong that they can absorb the feelings of others to the point of losing their own in the process. Given their chatty and social nature, people with the Fe function avoid conflict with ease, although they can navigate it smoothly as well.

Compared to Fi (Introverted Feeling), Fe is more focused on expressing feelings outwardly. Fe users are more concerned with the people outside of themselves, whereas Fi people focus more on what is happening within them and with their own values and beliefs.

Personality Types with Extroverted Feeling

The ESFJ and ENFJ personality types have Extroverted Feeling as their Primary Function. INFJs and ISFJs have Fe as their Auxiliary Function.

ESFJ – The “Caregiver”

Caregivers are friendly and nurturing. They seek to preserve tradition and observe rules. They are deeply caring and want to be liked. Their supportive nature is one of the hallmarks of being a Caregiver. They are caring (hence their name) and generous. Caregivers have a desire to please and help others.

ENFJ – The “Guide”

The Guide is driven by their desire to help others reach their fullest potential. They are affectionate, charismatic and deeply caring. Also known as the Mentor, they feel called to enrich the world with their altruistic contributions. They are often called upon to help others in times of need.

Extroverted Intuition Function (Ne)

The Extroverted Intuition function (Ne for short) helps a person notice patterns or abstract connections in the world that may not be obvious to others. Ne individuals are entranced by endless possibilities, which often translates into an avalanche of ideas or keeps them in a constant state of brainstorming. Even though it may seem like they don’t really “have a point” since their ideas are blasting one after the other, Ne people offer plenty of valuable creativity that can be picked up by a careful listener. It is common for people that are dominant in this function to talk about all of the things they want to do – however, seeing them follow through on these ideas is a rare occurrence. People with Extroverted Intuition are more concerned with discovering the best possible idea than actually executing it.

Compared to Ni (Introverted Intuition), Ne is more expansive and divergent in nature. It compels its user to explore all the outside options and possibilities the world has to offer. Because of this divergence, Ne people may appear distractible and quirky to the others around them.

Personality Types with Extroverted Intuition

The ENTP and ENFP personality types have Extroverted Intuition as their Primary Function. INFPs and INTPs have Ne as their Auxiliary Function.

ENTP – The “Debater”

The Debater is innovative, flexible, and inventive. They see endless possibilities and are enthusiastic about the ideas they generate. Intellectually quick and skilled at what they do, they thrive when they can find solutions to technical problems. They are gifted at coming up with new and efficient approaches.

ENFP – The “Optimist”

The Optimist is enthusiastic and expressive – both a dreamer and a charismatic leader. They can be spontaneous and wild, possessing a great zest for life. Also known as The Advocate, they are driven by their values, and they strive to champion the causes they believe in. The Optimist is resourceful, visionary, and creative.

Extroverted Sensing Function (Se)

Extroverted Sensing lends a keen awareness of what can be seen, smelled, touched, heard, and tasted. This cognitive function is deeply rooted in the real world and can be characterized as a real-time process, happening right here and now. Imagine you hear strange noises from another room. When your body tenses and your mind becomes preoccupied with identifying the sound and paying close attention to it, this is your brain in Extroverted Sensing mode. This function is energized by experience, and it grants users the ability to live “in the moment.” People dominant in Se are driven by their instincts, and they are likely to seek thrilling experiences to satisfy the appetite of their senses. Se also makes its user very observant to their environment, especially when it is to their liking.

Personality Types with Extroverted Sensing

The ESTP and ESFP personality types have Extroverted Sensing as their Primary Function. ISTPs and ISFPs have Se as their Auxiliary Function.

ESTP – The “Daredevil”

The Daredevil lives in the “here and now.” Their strength lies in their ability to persuade others and get things done. They are enthusiastic and lively, but they also think on their feet and thrive in crisis situations. The rush of risk-taking situations is very appealing to this personality type, also known as the Persuader. They are straightforward and realistic, and they can take criticism well.

ESFP – The “Entertainer”

The Entertainer is fun-loving and outgoing. They love being the center of attention, often seeking an audience to listen to their stories and adventures. They are people-oriented and dislike being alone; but, they rarely have to face solitude, since their harmonious and lively nature makes them popular and very likeable. They enjoy action, new experiences, and a life filled with excitement.

Extroverted Thinking Function (Te)

Extroverted Thinking is the ability to see the logical consequences of actions. It follows sequence and organization. People who actively use this function are clear and concise in their thoughts; they approach problems directly and are unmoved by emotions. It’s not unusual for such people to become gifted orators or writers, as they are able to deliver well-argumented and thoughtful work. Te people like to discuss their ideas with others, doing their best to convince people to accept their logic.

Te is more fact-oriented than Ti (Introverted Thinking). Te individuals see the world as black-and-white, rather than nuanced in gray. This is why, compared to Ti users, Te users often provide clearer definitions and more measurable goals. Introverted Thinkers lack this confidence and are busy questioning any underlying assumptions that they may pick up on. On the other hand, Extroverted Thinkers are dedicated to moving forward with their ideas and to improving their plans, definitions, and procedures. In many ways, Extroverted Thinkers thrive in the modern world with its strict laws and bureaucratic conventions to be followed.

Personality Types with Extroverted Thinking

The ESTJ and ENTJ personality types have Extroverted Thinking as their Primary Function. INTJs and ISTJs have Te as their Auxiliary Function.

ESTJ – The “Administrator”

The Overseer is responsible and hardworking, and they deeply value tradition and loyalty. As quintessential leaders, they provide structure and high standards for their followers. When making decisions, they rely on logic and facts. Committed and predictable, The Overseer is nothing if not efficient, thriving on routine and stability.

ENTJ – The “General”

The General, as one might guess from their nickname, is a natural and decisive leader, thanks to their goal-oriented and self-confident nature. Since they thrive on achievement, The General makes a point of being analytical, efficient, and hardworking. They live in the world of ideas and have a great ability to debate.

Introverted

By definition, introverts are people who derive energy from their inner world, considering their own thoughts, ideas, and dreams. They prefer quiet environments and are happier when they don’t have to interact too much with the outside world. Most of the time they seem very shy and reserved, unless they are talking about something they particularly love, in which case they can appear extroverted.

Introverted Feeling Function (Fi)

Introverted Feeling is the ability to see through others and know what they are really like, as if the Fi user had an internal radar. This function also puts strong emphasis on the personal feelings and values of its user. Unlike Fe users, who often turn to others for emotional fortitude and support, Fi users are much more private about their experiences. They like to deal with them independently, away from the eyes of the world. Introverted Feeling often compels a person to help those in need – whether it be people, animals, or children. People with Fi like to be in service to the world, especially to those who need it most. They are also very dedicated to working through their own worldview, which helps them better understand themselves and make decisions. Most of the time, Fi users feel they don’t have much control over others, trusting instead in their abilities to regulate their own inner world, perception, and experiences. As Fi establishes such a strong sense of self, when an Introverted Feeler identifies a person with similar values, they will desire a connection.

Personality Types with Introverted Feeling

The ISFP and INFP personality types have Introverted Feeling as their Primary Function. ENFPs and ESFPs have Fi as their Auxiliary Function.

ISFP – The “Adventurer”

The Adventurer lives in the present and yearns for freedom. They are artistic, aesthetically inclined, and sensitive. They are happiest when they are being creative and expressing themselves, hence why they are also sometimes nicknamed the Artist. Although The Adventurer may be private, they are also loyal, cooperative, and warm.

INFP – The “Mediator”

The Mediator, also sometimes known as The Dreamer, is idealistic and deeply sensitive. They are characterized by their loyal and gentle nature. Beneath their easygoing disposition runs a fixed passion for the causes they believe in and the people they selflessly care for.

Introverted Intuition Function (Ni)

Introverted Intuition is the ability to grasp a sense of underlying patterns or plans. With Introverted Intuition, a person can easily process information that would usually be hard to understand and dissect. Unlike Extroverted Intuition, which seeks a number of different solutions and possibilities, Ni users are more focused in their efforts, which allows them to come up with a singular, more synthesized solution. Because of this precision, people with dominant Ni are often confident in their abilities to succeed, as they have proven their problem-solving and leadership skills.

Introverted Intuition works deep below surface level, which is why it can often appear almost magical to the outside world. It’s not unusual for people dominant in Ni to have very concise hunches, and their gut feelings almost never fail them. Their powers, however, are anything but otherworldly. In order to form conclusions, Introverted Intuition uses information from the other cognitive functions as pieces to solve a puzzle. Extroverted Sensing comes particularly handy to Ni users in these cases.

Personality Types with Introverted Intuition

The INTJ and INFJ personality types have Introverted Intuition as their Primary Function. ENFJs and ENTJs have Ni as their Auxiliary Function.

INTJ – The “Mastermind”

The Mastermind is private, independent and self-confident. They strive for perfection and achievement, but they are also flexible, always formulating contingency plans. They are gifted strategists, and their analytical, conceptual, and objective minds allow them to see the reasons behind the ideas they investigate.

INFJ – The “Sage”

The Sage, also known as The Confidant, is complex, deep and intensely private. Their life’s mission is to develop and guide others. Personal growth drives The Sage, and anything short of that pursuit is meaningless to them. They are passionate and devoted to the causes they believe in, and they live their life with a great sense of purpose.

Introverted Sensing Function (Si)

Introverted Sensing is the ability to link present experiences to past experiences in the search for a connection. Unlike people dominant in Se, Si users don’t seek experiences just for the thrill of them, and they aren’t willing to indulge in risky behaviour. Instead, people ruled by Si opt for a quiet and – more importantly – predictable lifestyle. They rely on what they’ve learned in their past and seek ways to incorporate it in their present. Because of this dependence on the past, sometimes they become overly attached to past procedures and behavioral norms, which is why they can appear conservative to the outside observer. Si demands that the individual finds a way that works for them to get the job done and doesn’t let them stray away from it. One could even surmise that the saying “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” could very well have been invented by a Si-led individual. All of these characteristics naturally make Si-dominant people very responsible, reliable, and cautious.

Personality Types with Introverted Sensing

The ISTJ and ISFJ personality types have Introverted Sensing as their Primary Function. ESTJs and ESFJs have Si as their Auxiliary Function.

ISTJ – The “Archivist”

The Archivist has a keen sense of right and wrong. They are responsible, dependable and loyal. As gifted administrators, they value thoroughness, integrity, and honesty. They are practical and believe that work comes before play. Also known as The Examiner, The Archivist is always prepared with a plan.

ISFJ – The “Defender”

Defenders are kind, loyal and considerate. They strive to serve and protect others sacrificially, and they serve behind the scenes without seeking recognition. Defenders like routine and have excellent follow-through skills. They possess rich inner lives and are private and quietly friendly.

Introverted Thinking Function (Ti)

Introverted Thinking is the ability to identify inconsistencies, to understand how things work, and to solve problems. Because of the introverted nature of this function, its users aren’t always open to sharing their judgment with the world. Instead, Ti provides them with a concrete inner structure that lets them maintain a strong sense of control. It is a function that evaluates ideas from a very critical standpoint and allows few ideas to turn into reality. Because of this broad skepticism, it can be difficult to find positivity in the ways of a Ti person. Through Ti, a user is able to dig deep into the essence of their thoughts and accurately trace their origins, ultimately concluding if they are coming from a logical and rational place. Ti users are slower than Te users when it comes to rushing into a situation, since Introverted Thinking demands they extract as much data as possible.

Personality Types with Introverted Thinking

The ISTP and INTP personality types have Introverted Thinking as their Primary Function. ESTPs and ENTPs have Ti as their Auxiliary Function.

ISTP – The “Tinkerer”

The Tinkerer is adventurous and independent. They are fearless and thrive in challenging environments. They are gifted problem solvers, and their mechanical and technical nature enables them to operate many kinds of tools and instruments. They are proud of their relatively effortless ability to acquire many skills. They seek freedom and are typically unemotional.

INTP – The “Logician”

The Logician is an easygoing yet private personality. Enjoying both the logical and the theoretical, the Logician relishes the opportunity to analyze complex problems and figure out how things work. They do not like rigid rules and often do not abide by them; after all, they are independent intellectuals.