The INTP thing

This is a fairly detailed post about my Myers Briggs Type Indicator (aka MBTI) type and what I’ve learned about this tool. I’m writing it as background to some posts coming up in the next couple of weeks. I know this isn’t everyone’s thing but I felt it was important to set out some of the concepts up-front.

I was introduced to the MBTI by my manager in my first government job sometime last century. I learned that I was an INTP, which, I was told, meant that I want to develop logical explanations for things that interest me. I am theoretical and abstract and am more interested in ideas than social interactions. I am, it went on, quiet, contained, flexible and adaptable, and I have an unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems. I am always analytical, often skeptical and sometimes critical. (Introduction to Type, Sixth Edition, Isabel Briggs Myers, 1998).

At the time it sounded a reasonable explanation of the way I behaved most of the time if circumstances allowed it.

I didn’t understand much more about my type other than the summaries from various publications about its characteristics. I wasn’t really that interested (so much for analytical) but I know I repeated the official test a couple more times for different workplaces and ended up with the same type. Since then, I’ve done several unofficial versions of the test and come out as several different types including ISTP, ISTJ and INFJ. They all made sense at different times but I don’t think they’re me.

By far the clearest element from every single one of these tests was my very strong preference for introversion.

Exploring introversion

Being introverted doesn’t mean that you’re shy or don’t like people, just as all extroverts aren’t the life of the party.

Being introverted means that you’re energised by your own internal world, as opposed to extroverts, who get their energy from the external world. Personality Hacker provides a slightly more nuanced explanation, which is that for introverts the world inside of themselves is the “real world”, the one that matters to them, and for extroverts the external world is the real world. (Personality Hacker, Joel Mark Witt & Antonia Dodge, 2018, page 20.)

I wasn’t that bothered with definitions, or the MBTI in general, until I started researching introversion for the university course I did in 2019-20. My workplace project was about what, if any, specific working preferences introverts had, whether our workplace catered for these adequately, and what changes we could make to improve introverts’ comfort at work. The ideal result, of course, would have been that everyone said working in an open plan office sucked and, if 50 per cent of people are introverts, concluding that this type of workplace fails to cater for 50 per cent of our staff.

I’d still argue that it doesn’t, but not because 50 per cent of people are introverts. But that’s another argument, and the open plan design was out of scope for the project anyway.

As I carried out my research, I learned that introverted people have a lot more differences than they have things in common (you don’t say) and I fell deep into a rabbit hole of introversion that led me back to the MBTI. The more I learned, the more convinced I was that the results of the first tests I’d done were accurate and that I really was an INTP.

I discovered the resources on Personality Hacker, which led me to learning about the four cognitive functions, which are the key to understanding your type. All of a sudden, MBTI became a lot more interesting to me. I no longer just had a description of my type, but I was learning how the parts that make it up work together (or not, or too much) to create the type descriptor that I’d been given. It helped me understand my particular strengths and areas I might develop, through this lens of my INTP type.

Feel free to stop reading here and skip to the end if you don’t want to follow through how it actually works. If you do, don’t blame me. I didn’t invent it.

The MBTI explanation

Perceiving and judging

Having established what the Introvert/Extrovert (I/E) scale means, we now jump the fourth letter of the MBTI, which is P (Perceiver) or J (Judger).

This dichotomy looks at how you organise your world. You’re either more organised in your inner world and more free flowing in the outer world (Perceiver) or the opposite (Judger).

People with a J preference come across as being super organised, and I know many people think this applies to me based on what they see. I know I’m very close on the P-J scale and I think I’ve adapted to be able to use the J function in a world that requires good organisational skills. But if everything were how I wanted it to be, rather than as it is and how I’ve needed to behave, I’d display more of my preferred P characteristics.

The four cognitive functions

The cognitive functions are represented by the middle two letters of your type. These are the ways that you

  • Take in (perceive) information (N or S)
  • Make decisions about (judge) that information (T or F)

Everyone does elements of all four, but people will have their preferred way of perceiving and judging information.

So, how can you take in (perceive) information?
  • You can seek information that is reliable, grounded in reality, “what is” and sense-based (S for Sensor)
  • You can understand information through pattern recognition, feeling connections and “what could be” (N for iNtuitive)

You’ll do both, but you’ll likely prefer one, even if it’s marginally. I’m very close on this scale but, in an ideal world where things are as I want them to be, I’ll lean to the N side.

How can you evaluate and use (judge) this information?

The third letter of your type expresses this and it can be primarily based on

  • Logic and impersonal factors (T for Thinking)
  • Values and feelings (F for Feeling)

Again, everyone makes decisions in both of these ways, but one will be more natural. In my case, the T is the clear winner.

Putting it all together, my type is INTP: Introverted, iNtution, Thinking, Perceiving.

Logical, rational, analytical, perfectionist, quiet, full of ideas but terrible at actually communicating them to people.

This four letter code, along with a type descriptor, is the information you get when your type is explained to you, but it’s the way the four cognitive functions (S, N , T and F) work together in the cognitive stack that I think makes the system interesting and highlights its capacity to be used as a personal growth tool.

So, if you’re still with me, let’s have a look at how that works.

The cognitive functions and the cognitive stack

Remember, the cognitive functions are the way you take in (perceive) information (N or S) and the way you make decisions about (judge) that information (T or F). They’re the middle letters of your type. One of these will have an introverted aspect and one will have an extroverted aspect, which determines whether you’re more focused on the inner or outer world when you’re using that function.

As an INTP, my iNtuition is extroverted (Ne) and my Thinking (Ti) is introverted. (See the footnote for how this works.)

  • Because I’m an introvert, my introverted function (Thinking) is my dominant function. This is the function that INTPs use most of all, and it’s about making sense of things, being logical and being right.
  • My extroverted function (iNtuition) is my auxiliary (secondary) function. This is about getting out in the world, exploring and making connections between things.

The cognitive stack is completed with the two other functions that aren’t represented in your type. They have the opposite aspect to the functions that are in your type. For me,

  • As I have Introverted Thinking (Ti), I have Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
  • As I have Extroverted iNtuition (Ne), I have Introverted Sensing (Si)

You end up with a “stack” of the four functions, which looks like this for an INTP:

  1. Introverted Thinking (Dominant function)
  2. Extroverted iNtuition (Auxiliary function)
  3. Introverted Sensing (Tertiary function)
  4. Extroverted Feeling (Inferior function)

My tertiary function is Introverted Sensing (Si, which is about routines, traditions, staying safe and being careful) and my inferior function (aka I don’t do this well) is Extroverted Feeling (Fe, which is about getting everyone’s needs met).

That’s all extremely complicated and it’s taken me a long time to understand how it works much less try to explain it. There’s a much better explanation over at Personality Hacker, where they use a model of the driver and passengers in a car to describe it.

What does it all mean for me?

Learning how the four cognitive functions interact has helped me to better understand my own strengths and identify areas for personal development.

In particular, it’s led me to understand how my Introverted Thinking and my Introverted Sensing, which, as introverted functions, I feel most comfortable using, can gang up on my Extroverted iNtuition and keep it stuck. Because going out is scary! Instead of going out into the world and getting new information using my Extroverted iNtuition, I spend way too much time introverting with my Thinking and my Sensing, sorting out and mulling over information I already have, creating schedules and plans I never stick to and feeling stuck in a rut.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember I’ve said many times I feel like I need to get out and explore more, to try new things and have new experiences to expand my world view. Knowing my type and learning about the interaction between my functions has helped me to understand a bit more about why this might be the case.

In future posts, I’m going to share some more about where this has been leading me to.


The footnote

Finding out which of your N/S and T/F functions is extroverted and which is introverted depends on the last letter of your type (the Perceiver-Judger dichotomy).

If the last letter of your type is a P:

  • Your perceiving function (S or N) is extroverted.
    • For an INTP, INFP, ENFP or ENTP it’s Extroverted iNtution (Ne).
    • For an ISTP, ISFP, ESTP or ESFP it’s Extroverted Sensing (Se).
  • You judging function, (T or F) will be introverted.
    • For an INTP, ENTP, ESTP or ISTP, it’s Introverted Thinking (Ti).
    • For an ISFP, INFP, ESFP or ENFP it’s Introverted Feeling (Fe).

If the last letter of your type is a J:

  • Your judging function (T or F) is extroverted.
    • For ISTJ, INTJ, ESTJ and ENTJ it’s Extroverted Thinking (Te).
    • For ISFJ, INFJ, ESFJ and ENFJ it’s Extroverted Feeling (Fe).
  • Your perceiving function, (S or N) will be introverted.
    • For INTJ, INFJ, ENTJ and ENFJ it’s Introverted iNtution (Ni).
    • For ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ and ESFJ it’s Introverted Sensing (Si).

Your dominant function depends on whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.

  • If you’re an introvert, your dominant function is the function that’s introverted.
  • If you’re an extrovert, your dominant function is the function that’s extroverted.


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