A comprehensive guide to the Cognitive Functions
If you have only studied the MBTI(Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) letters (dichotomies) till now, diving into cognitive functions would definitely be the next step. This may seem complicated at first but with experience you will be an expert. Given below is an overview of the cognitive functions and how they work, at the end of the article you can find a chart where you can find out the functions for your own type. We will talk about the axes as well and if you wish to understand a cognitive function in depth you can navigate to each of them individually.
Before we begin
Studying the cognitive functions can often be too confusing for new comers to MBTI due to the sheer amount of matter to learn in order to gain a holistic understanding and also the fact, that at the surface level reviewing all the functions and first may seem more confusing because contradictions and traits can arrive that may hinder your understanding so I would suggest after you read this, find the functions you relate to the most and read in depth about them. This post also might be comparatively longer but this was hard to avoid as I wanted to provide an overview and comprehensive guide without sacrificing any of the depth and nuance.
So what even are the cognitive functions?
The Cognitive functions are a set of 8 preferences which govern our thought patterns, how we perceive and judge information as well as the decisions we make because of them. Each function will be either extroverted or introverted, extroverted simply means they are focused outward and on external objective matter and introverted simply means that they are directed inwards towards subjective internal matter. This is not to be confused with the traditional definition of an extrovert and introvert.
The four irrational functions used for perceiving are Sensation and Intuition (either introverted or extroverted) . These are used to perceive and take in information. The four judging or rational functions are Thinking and Feeling, this is usually the primary mode on how we judge information and make actions based upon them, again this can be either introverted or extroverted.
The hierarchy of function use
Every function used by any personality type, will occupy some slots with each slot having a different amount of power and ease of use corresponding to the individual. What this means is each type will have a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary and inferior function. With the dominant being the most used and prominent, the auxiliary in succession followed by the tertiary and the inferior. It helps to think of these as passengers in a car, the dominant function will be the driver steering the car and making primary decisions and actions and basically being in absolute control of the vehicle. The auxiliary may act as a passenger with a map shouting out directions or helpful information to the driver, the guiding system of the vehicle so to say while the tertiary and Inferior functions may be children in the backseat, hard to control causing problems most of the time but can eventually become mature and controlled.
Given below is a brief description of each of the Jungian (cognitive) Functions.
Extroverted Sensing (Se)
We begin with extroverted sensing used by ESTPs and ESFPs dominantly. This is a perceiving function thus is used to take in information. At it’s core it’s concerned with experiencing life through the 5 senses and thus is primarily concerned with tangible objects. This may lead them to hold material worth in a high a regard and experience life by indulging all of their senses extensively.
This function focuses on the present moment, on “what is” and hence can be found doing tasks one after the other just to indulge in some physical stimulation. They are grounded and aware of their physical surrounding and may like to participate in sports too. Concrete reality is of utmost importance to them.
Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
Feeling in the extroverted regard is direct towards the object, the object here being the group, thus Fe is concerned with harmony of the group and interpersonal relationships, the feelings of the group and others mean a great deal to them as the name itself suggests.
They may make accommodations which inconvenience themselves in order to hold the peace in the group, they might also be concerned with societal norms and may gauge others feelings rather acutely. They may also as a result of this be too involved in people’s lives or be manipulative but can be great conversationalists and ask a lot of questions trying to get the essence of you and understand what makes you tick.
This is a judging function and is hence used to make decisions based on the state of the group and community by considering ethical values and the decision’s impact on the greater good, sometimes this resulting in making the decision which makes the most people happy rather than the one that is “right”. This function plays a dominant role in ESFJs and ENFJs, and performs in an auxiliary fashion in INFJs and ISFJs.
Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
This is once again a perceiving functions which takes in data primarily through ideas and concepts, they may suppose be talking about topic or possibility A and from this point A, everything diverges and branches to give way to other related ideas or possibilities. Whereas Se wants a sensory rich experience wanting to indulge and experience all the senses, Ne wants to satisfy all it’s random ideas and indulge in them no matter how great of an ordeal it might be, keep in mind though since this can seem chaotic they can often abandon older projects in terms of newer ones, what they seek essentially is divergent novelty.
This is primarily seen in ENFPs and ENTPs and is the auxiliary function for INFPs and INTPs. These types will often be open to potentials and possibilities and often find patterns relating to these, since this is also a perceiving function, these types like their Se counterpart may do well in situations where they have to adapt to new situations in a relatively short amount of time. These types can often be intellectual nomads jumping from one area of interest or a hobby to the next, or them the wonderment of life is filled with the search of novelty, there will always be a new path to tread. This can often manifest as a desire to become a rogue wanderer only lead by their whims.
Extroverted Thinking (Te)
Te functions dominantly in ENTJs and ENFJs, this is a judging function and can often be seen as somewhat of a practical structure to do tasks in. Since this is thinking directed outward towards the object, the goal of this function is to have tasks done in a way that’s efficient, practical and easy. They are concerned with planning and productivity, this means a great deal to them and this facet of theirs can be seen as unrelenting or insensitive.
They are usually skilled at managing and delegating tasks and do well in roles of leadership where they can take command as after all this is a judging function. If they see no tangible result to a task, to them that tasks becomes essentially meaningless. Since this is a thinking function, they are prone to evaluate tasks based on data and empirical evidence as well as causes and effects. It is focused on objective systems, is direct, impersonal and to the point. They want to understand logically and optimize all world systems and make them more rational, impersonal and controlled as they believe this paves the way for the future and is in their opinion the way things and procedures should be done in and they can be meticulous about this too.
Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Introverted Feeling is nothing but a subjective awareness of one’s own emotions as the name itself subjects, this is used dominantly by INFPs and ISFPs and is the secondary function of ESFPs and ENFPs.
This function is concerned by its internal and emotional states of affairs and these can be very intense for the person using it, they may feel a plethora of intense emotions and may try to figure out these, their tastes and opinions are formed by these internal emotional judgements thus forming a sort of strong moral compass, strong not in the sense that it’s positive but rather a firmly held opinion.
Though their internal world may be extremely intense, they can seem aloof externally when engaging with others due to the fact that all their emotions and values are internal, and if they can’t express these it will be tragic because to them these have very high priority and value. Thus Fi-doms are very much attracted to means of expression in the arts like writing, poetry, music or art.
Since Ti and Fi are both judging systems, they are similar in the sense that they help build an internal world view, the first governed by logic, the latter by emotions and values.
Again ISFPs may be less expressive verbally than INFP, due to the difference in the auxiliary function.
Introverted Thinking (Ti)
This is the thinking function which is introverted in nature hence directed inwards. This function is used dominantly by the INTPs and ISTPs, meaning they have a high preference for this function. The role of this function essentially is to have a subjective internal system of classification which primary operates on logic. Hence IxTPs (ISTPs and INTPs) tend to look at things logically, they breakdown concepts in order to comprehend them and fit them in their so called internal classification system, if something does not make logical sense to them they will discard it, which is why you may see these types be precise with word choices and getting annoyed when someone says “but that’s my truth” because it simply does not make sense to them.
These types are intellectually curious and seek to break down the world and understand it by filtering it through their internal logic thus making judgements that appear right to them and thus are largely uninfluenced by others opinions. This may cause Ti-doms to be extremely independent and since this train of internal logic is largely subjective it may fail to link up with objective reality often, this is seen predominantly in INTPs as ISTPs have Se as their second function to balance Ti.
Note: ISTPs may use Ti differently than INTPs due to their second function being different, while ISTPs seek to understand the world practically, INTPs do so theoretically. ENTPs and ESTPs have Ti as their auxiliary function and hence may be quite similar.
Introverted Intuition (Ni)
This may be a somewhat difficult function to describe due to it’s abstract nature, Erik Thor describes it as existential intelligence and that may be a good starting point to understand it. If Se is concerned with tangible objects in the real world then Ni would be concerned with the intangible concepts tied to those said things. This is why these two always work in an axis, they complement each other.
Ni is the dominant function of INFJs and INTJs and the auxiliary function of ENFJs and ENTJs. This function is irrational and thus occupied with their internal subjective concepts and ideas, this may be why Ni users may be interested in abstract topics and may be out of touch with reality.
This can also be seen as a pattern recognizing function which connects ideas from A to B without any logical approach (hence termed as irrational). This is also a perceiving function so people using this function will always be absorbing and observing, not what is there but what exists between the lines. This may lead to them being passive and indecisive.
This function is much more convergent than Ne, whereas Ne starts at a single point A and branches off and diverges, Ni starts at different points and converges, thus arriving to one answer. This can happen often unconsciously and seem like an epiphany, this contrast is also why the gaze of Ni will be more focused towards it’s interests. Whereas Ne strives for novelty and variety, Ni looks for depth.
Introverted Sensing (Si)
This too is a perceiving function and is employed dominantly by ISTJs and ISFJs, This function can be thought of as data storage in it’s most rudimentary form. This function is also vastly misunderstood thus I’ll contrast it with a few other functions to give you a better idea of what the role this function plays.
This function is largely concerned with what is known and already established, traditions and pre-existing norms may be naturally adhered to by types with Si high in their stack. They may talk extensively about their past and recount their experiences in vivid detail.
To understand why we must realize that Si is a perceiving and irrational function directed inwards, hence towards the subject, thus it can be understood in the same regard as Ni. While Ni focuses on subjective, converging ideas and is focused on the unknown and the future, Si is concerned with the subjective experience and information they have previously encountered, they have better access to this past information and their decisions are largely influenced by this. Thus Si will be concerned with details and the specifics and the already established data, whereas Ni will hold a high regard for the abstract, the general and the unknown patterns seeking to be found.
Another aspect of Si is since it’s a sensory function focused inwards, it can acutely manifest as being aware of bodily sensations, this may manifest as suddenly taking note of how your body feels during an experience rather than focusing on the experience itself or more commonly easily identifying when a cold is oncoming.