I Know My Personality Type, But What’s a Cognitive Function?

Myers Briggs/ Jungian Typology is pretty popular.  On any given night at a cocktail party anywhere in the world, you can find a group of people discussing their 4 letters, and the strengths and weaknesses of their type.  Often times, you will hear an observation that makes all folks moderately familiar with type cringe “Our personalities are almost the same, we’re only one letter off!”

To people who are not that familiar with type, being "one letter off" may seem to have a minimal effect on personality. But this is not the case. In the Myers Briggs/ Jungian system, your personality type is influenced by the order of your cognitive functions.  The eight cognitive functions were first proposed by Carl Jung, and Isabella Myers and Katherine Briggs later used them to create the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  Here's an overview of Jung's eight cognitive functions.  These are short descriptions, but you can Google "8 cognitive functions" to find more detailed overviews.

The Eight Cognitive Functions

Jung's eight cognitive functions include:

Extraverted Thinking (Te)- We use this function to logically organize our external world, and to reach goals through productive activities. 

Introverted Thinking (Ti)- We use this function to create an internal, logical, representation of the world.  We then use this mental framework to navigate the world, and make changes to to this mental framework as we learn new things. 

Extraverted Feeling (Fe)- Extraverted Feeling is the function that causes us to show concern for other people. It causes us to show warmth and create intimacy with others. 

Introverted Feeling (Fi)- Introverted Feeling deals with our own internal emotional states and value system. It involves self discovery and acting based on our own beliefs and morals. 

Extraverted Intuition (Ne)- We use this function to explore the external world and notice possibilities. This function allows us to see the world from multiple perspectives, and allows us to explore the inter-connectivity between all things. 

Introverted Intuition (Ni)- This is the function that gives us hunches and gut feelings about things. It allows us to intuitively understand the true essence of people and situations, and enables us to use this understanding to create an internal framework of how the world works. 

Extraverted Sensing (Se)- Extraverted Sensing is the function that allows us to explore the external world using our five senses. It orients us to the present moment, and gives us an understanding of the world though experiencing it directly through sensory perception. 

Introverted Sensing (Si)- Introverted Sensing is the function that allow us to create an internal storehouse of data based on past experiences. As we experience new information, we compare it to information in our storehouse to make predictions about the world around us. 

Your Cognitive Functions

Each of us use all eight cognitive functions at different points of our lives. However, we all have a preference for certain functions, meaning that we use a few functions disproportionately more than others.    Your dominant function is the one you develop first and use the most.   Your auxiliary function is the one you develop second and use to support your dominant function.  You develop your tertiary function third, and often gain access to it in early adulthood. Here's an article that gives you an approximate timeline for the development of these functions. Your inferior function is the one you prefer to use fourth most, and while accessible, has minimal influence on your personality. Here are the order of preferences for each type. 


 Determining the Order of Your Cognitive Functions Manually


Here's how to determine order of preferences without having to refer to a graph. Please note this may seem a little complicated at first, but makes more sense by practicing. Use these steps to determine the order of preferences for your type first, and then practice determining the order of preferences for other types. 

1. Determining Your Extraverted Function-  First look at the last letter of your code. This letter determines your extraverted function.   If you prefer J (Judging) your extraverted function will be the letter in the third slot (T or F) of your code.  If you prefer P (Perceiving), your extraverted function will be the letter in the second slot of your code (S or N). If you prefer J (Judging), your extraverted function will be the letter in your third slot (T or F).   So for an ENFP, the extraverted function would be Intuition (Ne) due to the ENFP's preference for P. In contrast, for an ISTJ the extraverted function would be Thinking (Te) because of their preference for J.  

2. Determining Your Introverted Function- Again look at the letter in your fourth slot. If you have a P preference, then your introverted function will be the letter in the third slot (T or F).  If you have a J preference, your introverted function will be the letter in the second slot (S or N). So, our ENFP's introverted function would be Feeling (Fi), and our ISTJ's introverted function would be Sensing (Si).   

3. Determining Your Dominant & Auxiliary Functions- To determine your dominant function, look at the first letter in your personality code (E or I).  If you have an E preference, then your dominant function is your extroverted function (the one you determined in  Step 1). This would make your auxiliary function your introverted function (the one you determined in Step 2).  If your first letter is I, then your dominant function would be your introverted function (the one you determined in Step 2) and your auxiliary function would be your extraverted function (the one you determined in Step 1).  So for our ENFP, his dominant function would be Extraverted Intuition (Ne) and his auxiliary function would be Introverted Feeling (Fi). Our ISTJ's dominant function would be Introverted Sensing (Si) and his secondary function would be Extraverted Thinking (Te). 

4. Determining Your Tertiary Function- Your tertiary is the opposite of your auxiliary function. So for our ENFP his tertiary function is Extraverted Thinking (Te) which is the opposite of his auxiliary function Introverted Feeling (Fe). For our ISTJ, his tertiary function is Introverted Feeling (Fi) which is the opposite of his auxiliary function Extraverted Thinking (Te).   

5. Determining Your Inferior Function- Your inferior function is the opposite of your dominant function.  This is the reason it holds minimal influence because its opposite, the dominant function, cancels it out.   So the inferior function of our ENFP would be Introverted Sensing (Si) which is the opposite of his dominant function Extraverted Intuition (Ne).  The inferior function for our ISTJ would be Extraverted Intuition (Ne), which is the opposite of his dominant function, Introverted Sensing (Si).  

So our ENFP's order of preferences would be:  Dominant: Ne | Auxiliary: Fi | Tertiary: Te | Inferior: Si

Our ISTJ's order of preferences would be: Dominant: Si | Auxiliary: Te  | Tertiary: Fi | Inferior: Ne. 

***Did you notice how ENFP and ISTJ's functions are in reverse order?This is because they are exact opposite types.   


 Now, next time you are at a cocktail party and type comes up, you can wow everyone with your knowledge of cognitive functions. And if a few people in your group happen to have personality types that are "one letter off", make sure you explain to them that type is much more complicated than that.