Personality typing is a tool with many uses. It's especially notable for it's helpful guidance with careers, relationships, personal growth and self-development. Learning and applying the theories of personality type can be a powerful and rewarding experience, if it is used as a tool for discovery, rather than as a method for putting people into boxes, or as an excuse for bad behavior. Labels are of great use in helping us to understand people, situations and ideas, but we must safeguard against our tendency to turn them into hard limits.
Which modern day theory do we use here at PersonalityPage? If you're reading this, you probably know that multiple tools have been developed to determine an individual's personality, each one claiming superiority in one aspect or another. Most of these tools have some value—some more than others. At PersonalityPage, we focus on the sixteen personality types that were derived from the work of Carl G. Jung, and the later work of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Jung was the originator of the sixteen personality type theory—the most popular system of typology used in the world today. The concepts behind his system reach across many levels of human existence. The application can be simple, and sometimes flawed, but the theory is complex and all-encompassing.
Jung referred to his ideas as a theory of Psychological Type, which he developed originally as a personal tool to help him understand his patients, and therefore be a better therapist, and also to differentiate his work from that of Freud and Adler. He kept copious notes and records of his patients throughout his career, and from 1913-1918 he became intensely preoccupied with forming a cogent theory of personality. His book, Psychological Types, was published in German in 1921, and the English version The Psychology of Individuation was published in 1923. Many and various reprintings and updated versions have been published in all major languages since that time.
Jung's copious notes and observations of his patients compelled him to form the idea that there were two basic kinds of "functions" that "psyche" (the mind) uses while a person goes about their lives, one being the process of taking in information from the external world, and the other being a function to make decisions—to sort through the information and assign value to it. He labeled these "information gathering" and "decision making" functions. He believed that while everyone needs to gather information and make decisions, individuals are inclined to be better at either one or the other, and spend more time performing the function that comes more naturally to them. In other words, some people are naturally decisive, while others want to stay open to as much information as possible.
Breaking it down further, he discerned two different styles of taking in information, which he coined Sensing and Intuition, and two different styles of making decisions, Thinking and Feeling, comprising the four basic psychological functions of personality. He noticed that most people showed a marked slant toward one or the other style of taking in information and making decisions. So while everyone uses all four personality functions to some degree, individuals are primarily either Thinking OR Feeling, and primarily either Sensing OR Intuiting.
Jung had one more key observation that defined Psychological Type theory—the Extraversion/Introversion qualifier. He used this qualifier to describe the "attitude," or "direction of energy," of the four functions. Within a personality, the origin of a thought can come from the external world, via an extraverted function (a term that is deliberately distinct from extroverted,) or it can come from within, via an introverted function. He believed that an individual's preference to an extraverted or introverted attitude is a strong, obvious choice of the psyche, and has such an impact on the whole personality that it deserves a place of prominence in the overall description of personality.
Accordingly, Jung defined eight functions that are the build blocks for each personality:
Jung believed the dominant function was so important to a personality that he named the personality types after them, and defined these eight types:
In Jung's typology, each psychological type has access to the four personality functions and nearly always uses them in either an extraverted or introverted direction. Because he defined the four functions very differently with extraverted vs introverted qualifiers (i.e. the extraverted sensing function is quite different from introverted sensing,) this means each type uses only four of the eight functions. For example, an Extraverted Intuitive would use extraverted intuition, introverted thinking, introverted feeling, and introverted sensing. They would have little or no access to extraverted thinking, extraverted feeling, extraverted sensing or introverted intuition. Jung thought the the "attitude" of the dominant function was reserved strictly for that function. In other words, if the dominant function is extraverted, the remaining three functions are always introverted, and if the dominant function is introverted, the three auxilliary functions are extraverted. He believed the dominant function of the personality was so important that it ruled the personality entirely, and all other functions were subservient, "auxilliary" functions. Jung did make some distinction between the auxilliary functions—the secondary function is the primary assistant to the dominant function, and the fourth, least-developed function is called the shadow function, as he believed it has a special ability to cause trouble for us.
Some of Jung's thoughts and beliefs about the dominant and auxilliary functions and their attitudes have been challenged in modern times, with some folks contending that individuals can use all eight functions with varying degrees of success. Notably, the MBTI system swaps the attitude of the tertiary function, and this is generally considered correct.
Jung's eight personality types have evolved into sixteen types through the work of Isabel Briggs Myers, and to a lesser degree, her mother Katharine Briggs. Jung's definitions of the eight functions, distinct from the eight personality types, have not changed at all, and are still considered to be incredibly insightful and accurate.
Katharine Briggs adopted Jung's theories of Psychological Type and lived with them daily, teaching them to her family. Katharine's daughter, Isabel, was enthralled with the theory, and eventually the two of them created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI©), a self-scoring personality assessment. Isabel wrote the book "Gifts Differing," which expounded upon Jung's work, and asserted the importance of the secondary function and its attitude in the overall makeup of a personality: Judging vs Perceiving, which explicates the previously implicit information that those who prefer to gather information are Perceiving, while those who prefer making decisions are Judging. She also contended that the attitude of the tertiary function matches the attitude of the dominant function.
The accepted theory today is that every individual has a primary mode of operation within four categories:
Within each of these categories, we "prefer" to be either:
We all naturally use one mode of operation within each category more easily and more frequently than we use the other mode of operation. So, we are said to "prefer" one function over the other. The combination of our four preferences defines our personality type. Although everybody functions across the entire spectrum of the preferences, each individual has a natural preference which leans in one direction or the other within the four categories.
Our flow of energy defines how we receive the essential part of our stimulation. Do we receive it from within ourselves (via an Introverted function) or from external sources (via an Extraverted function)? Is our dominant function focused externally or internally?
The topic of how we take in information deals with our preferred method of perceiving the world and absorbing information. Do we trust our five senses (Sensing) to take in information, or do we rely on our instincts (iNtuiting)?
The third type of preference, how we prefer to make decisions, refers to whether we are prone to decide things based on logic and objective consideration (Thinking), or based on human value systems (Feeling).
The fourth preference is concerned with how we deal with the external world on a day-to-day basis. Are we organized and purposeful, and more comfortable with scheduled, structured environments (Judging), or are we flexible and diverse, and more comfortable with open, casual environments (Perceiving)?
From a theoretical perspective, we know that if our highest extraverted function is a decision making function, we prefer Judging. If our highest extraverted function is an information gathering function, we prefer Perceiving. For extraverts, our highest extraverted function is always the dominant function, whereas for introverts, our secondary/auxilliary function will always be the highest extraverted function.
Modern type theory recognizes sixteen distinct personality types, formed from the possible combinations of the four preferences, and contends that our innate preferences cause us to fall into one personality type or another.
Can we change our personality type? Yes and no. We cannot change the way we were born, but we can rise above our weaknesses, and we can learn to use the personality functions that aren't natural for us. Jung called this process individuation.
Knowing our own personality type can help us predict how we are likely to deal with different situations that life presents, in which situations we are most likely to be comfortable and succeed naturally, and which situations might present a challenge to us. Knowing others' personality types can help us understand how other people think, and thus improve our communication with them and our opinion and tolerance of them.
What types of tasks are we most suited to perform? Where are we naturally most happy?
How can we best understand an employee's natural capabilities—where will they be most productive and find the most satisfaction?
How can we improve our awareness of another individual's personality type, and therefore increase our understanding of their reactions to situations, and know how to best communicate with them on a level which they will easily understand?
How can we develop different teaching methods to effectively educate different types of people?
How can we foster psychological health in growing children?
How can we help individuals understand themselves better, and become better able to deal with the ups and downs of life?