Some Thoughts on Personality Tests and Cognitive Functions
Recently, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Myers-Briggs (MBTI), Socionics, and Enneagram personality type systems. My conclusion is that these systems have far more truths than most people would assume, but they have flaws in how they are conceptually structured.
These systems assume that people can be classified into archetypes and that if you’re a certain type, your cognitive functions have to be structured in a certain way. I think that thinking about the archetypes can be useful and for many people, the structure of the cognitive functions are accurate; however, these systems fail to accurately describe growth in people.
Many of the experts will do all sorts of mental gymnastics to say that your type doesn’t change, and you’re just integrating your shadow or whatever, but that’s not what’s actually happening.
The cognitive functions:
Introverted Sensing [Si]: long term memory and sensory recall
Extroverted Sensing [Se]: short term memory and immediate sensations
Introverted Intuition [Ni]: depth first search of thoughts and ideas
Extroverted Intuition [Ne]: breadth first search of thoughts and ideas
Introverted Feeling [Fi]: internal deep feelings
Extroverted Feeling [Fe]: other people’s feelings
Introverted Thinking [Ti]: deductive reasoning and working through logic yourself
Extroverted Thinking [Te]: inductive reasoning and looking at external information
For example, just because you prefer deductive reasoning over inductive reasoning in general doesn’t mean that inductive reasoning is in your shadow. Perhaps you prefer one over the other for a particular task that you do frequently, but you actually use the other quite frequently in other tasks. Perhaps you can actually value both of them equally. They don’t have to be always in opposition.
Similarly, different situations call for depth first search vs breadth first search. Maybe you prefer to go broad when discussing intellectual interests and go deep when getting to know people, or vice versa. Also, as you get older and have surveyed more of the world, you can go from a more breadth first search approach to life to a more depth first search approach. Yet MBTI tells you that it’s impossible because your type doesn’t change. This change has nothing to do with integrating the subconscious, it’s just another conscious approach you can take for a different situation.
Se is typically paired with Ni and Si is typically paired with Ne in the cognitive stack, but that actually doesn’t make any sense to me. The type of search you’re doing shouldn’t be correlated with whether you choose to focus on long term or short term memory.
The Fi-Te and Fe-Ti dichotomy makes a bit more sense to me. If you’re feeling a lot internally, it’s hard to focus your mind rationally, so maybe you want to outsource some of your thinking to external authorities. If you’re thinking logically internally, you probably don’t focus so much on your own feelings, so you look outwards to what others are thinking. However, it’s also likely that feelers just ignore thinking completely and thinkers ignore feelings completely.
Another thing that the systems do get right is that the ordering of cognitive functions can matter. For example, the top function for ENFP is Ne and the second function is Fi, while for INFP, it’s reversed. INFPs do behave very differently from ENFPs even though this may seem like a rather minor difference. The types are not completely arbitrary, but most tests are bad, and most people misunderstand how they work.
Overall, I think understanding the tendencies towards these cognitive functions in yourself and in other people is very useful. However, these are not static types that stay the same for life, and each function is a skill that you can improve in if you make a focused effort. And when you make a focused effort to improve a specific cognitive function, then you’ll no longer conform to the stereotype of any of the personality types and you will end up with contradictory test results.
Rather than testing for your personality test, I propose something different: rate 1-5 how good you are at each function and how important you think each function is. Knowing this is far more useful than testing for your type then questioning if you’ve been mistyped. Once you understand how much you value each of the cognitive functions, any descriptions and advice for the top 3 types that you’re closest to are all probably useful to you to a degree.
Then once you have this information, you can examine the specific structure of your own unique cognitive function stacking. If you just compare your preferences for any 2 cognitive functions at a time, you’ll get more accurate information about yourself than looking at the description of any type as a whole.
This stuff is in Jungian psychology because your hero’s journey is your process of overcoming mistakes that you’ve made due to neglecting certain cognitive functions. In becoming a more complete person, you learn to use all your cognitive functions.