Myers-Briggs personality types: an introduction

Since I talk a lot about my Myers-Briggs type, I want to explain more about it for people who aren’t familiar with Myers-Briggs. Learning about Myers-Briggs helped me gain self-knowledge and become happier with myself; it helped me decide on my goals and what kind of person I want to become; and it helps me understand other people and navigate relationships. It’s hard to find concise information about MBTI in one place, so I decided to write up a summary of what I consider to be the most important basics, as well as some interesting facts on the prevalence of different types.

The basics:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of many different ways of categorizing personalities. According to the MBTI, anyone’s personality can be described using four dimensions:

How you get energy: Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)

E’s are energized by action and spending time with others. I’s are energized by quiet time and reflection.

What kind of information you value: Sensing (S) or Intuition (N) [These are the “perceiving functions”]

S’s spend most of their time thinking or talking about things that can be perceived with the five senses: observable facts, events, people, places, etc. N’s spend most of their time focusing on things that can’t be perceived with the five senses: concepts, ideas, relationships, meanings, etc.

How you make decisions: Feeling (F) or Thinking (T) [These are the “judging functions”]

T’s make decisions based on logic, weighing all options impartially and methodically. F’s make decisions based on empathy and values, with primary concern for the feelings of everyone involved.

How you organize and interact with the outside world: Judging (J) or Perception (P)

In dealing with the outside world, P’s primarily use their S or N function to remain open to new information. J’s primarily use their T or F function to organize information and make decision. P’s prefer to remain flexible, spontaneous, and are able to adapt quickly to new information, while J’s prefer advance planning, structure, and organization.

There are 16 possible personality types, each denoted by a four-letter combination with one letter selected from each of the four dichotomies. Every person fits into one specific type. It can be hard to determine your type because each dimension is a continuum and many people fall somewhere in the middle, but within each dichotomy, there is always one choice that is a better fit.

This page links to descriptions of all 16 personality types. Keep in mind that type descriptions vary widely in accuracy depending on what they choose to emphasize.

Cognitive functions:

The middle two dimensions—Sensing or Intuition, and Feeling or Thinking—are known as the cognitive functions. Each function is either extraverted or introverted, and one of the two functions is always dominant. Your extraverted function is the function you use most when dealing with the outer world; your introverted function is the one you use most when dealing with your inner world.

If you are a J, your judging function (T or F) is extraverted, while your perceiving function (S or N) is introverted. If you are a P, your perceiving function (S or N) is extraverted and your judging function is introverted. The introverted function is dominant for introverts and the extraverted function is dominant for extroverts. The non-dominant function is known as the auxiliary function. (Each personality type also has a hierarchy of lesser-used functions below the auxiliary function.)

As an INTP, my extraverted function is Intuition (Ne; the lowercase ‘e’ denotes that the N function is extraverted); in dealing with the outside world, my main function is to gather information about things that can’t be seen, by making inferences and connections. My introverted function is Thinking (Ti); my mind’s inner workings are dominated by logical and precise thinking that works to categorize and understand ideas. Ti is my dominant function, because I spend more time in my inner world than the outer world.

This site contains detailed descriptions of all the cognitive functions. There are 8 possible cognitive functions, and they are used in a different order of preference by each Myers-Briggs type.

Keirsey Temperaments:

The 16 Myers-Briggs types can be broadly categorized into 4 groups (known as Keirsey temperaments), each of which share 2 traits in common: SJ, SP, NT, and NF. The four types within each group are much more similar to each other than they are to other types, due to the interaction of the paired traits. It is a very useful way to broadly categorize types, and once you become familiar with the four temperaments, it’s pretty easy to identify anyone’s temperament to help you better understand them.

This page links to descriptions of the 4 temperaments.

Differences among the four dimensions:

Among the four dichotomies of type, the most fundamental one is S versus N; this single dimension makes the biggest difference. The differences between introverts and extroverts, or thinkers and feelers, may seem big, but those traits don’t have nearly as much effect on the ability of people of different types to understand each other and get along. S’s and N’s on the other hand speak completely different languages and live in completely different worlds. S’s live in the world of things; N’s live in the world of ideas. S’s talk about what they perceive with their senses; N’s talk about everything but.

S’s far outnumber N’s, making up about 70% of the general population. The other three dichotomies have approximate even distribution. There are slightly more F’s than T’s and slightly more J’s than P’s (about 10% more), and about equal numbers of E’s and I’s. There are also some interesting gender distributions. The majority of women are F’s, while the majority of men are T’s. Men are slightly more likely to be N’s than women. Among women, the most common types by far are ISFJ and ESFJ, and the least common are INTP and INTJ. Among men, the most common are ISTJ and ESTJ, and the least common are INFJ and ENFJ.

I hope this information is helpful and inspires you to learn more about your Myers-Briggs type. In future posts I’ll write about how I discovered my type, how it has influenced me, and how it helped me meet my husband.

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