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The Petals of A Rose: Cognitive Functions

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post (A Rose By Any Other Label) about what it was like to be an INFJ and briefly touched on MBTI and personality types. Of course, a rose is so much more than just “a flower”. Sure, it’s got a stem and a yellow middle and bees pollinate it and so on and so forth. But part of what makes roses beautiful is the swirling, complex pattern of their petals.
Part of what makes people beautiful is the complex natures of their personalities.

(Source)
(Source)

Recently, I picked up Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Won’t Stop Talking because 1. it’s been circulating around the internet, 2. as an introvert attempting to study psychology, I figured I should get all the information I could and 3. I’ve noticed a few mistakes and assumptions in her book that people continue quoting that are incorrect.

As promised, I will review her book. But this is not that post. This is the prequel to that post.

Stop groaning. It’s interesting, I swear. Although I promise I won’t be angry if you decide to skip this one.

I realized within the first chapter that, before I pick apart review Ms. Cain’s book, I first need to explain Carl Jung’s theory of cognitive functions (sometimes referred to simply as “Jungian functions”).

It boils down to this: if MBTI explains who you are, the cognitive functions explain why you are who you are.

Make sense? Good, moving on.
I’ll admit, from here on out this can get confusing; I’ll try to explain it as easily as I can without leaving out key details.

Like the four MBTI letters (Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/iNtuition, Feeling/Thinking, Judging/Perceiving), there are four cognitive functions per person and, logically, they are labeled dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions, depending on where they fall on the list.
(Actually, everyone has all functions, but the primary four are what we’ll be concerning ourselves with. Everything else is listed as a “shadow function” and doesn’t often come in to play.)

Let’s break it down, shall we? If you want more information, click on the links.

Intuition:

Extroverted intuition (Ne): Sees possibilities and grand schemes; in young children often looks like ADD/ADHD because, as soon as Ne thinks of something, it immediately thinks of several more things that may or may not be obviously related to a non-Ne user. Ne-dominant people are often very creative and entrepreneurial.
For example, my husband (an Ne-dominant type) and I once had a conversation about dragons that lasted for three days. It started out with, “Wouldn’t dragons be cool?” and morphed into what they looked like, if we could ride them, the different types there would be, what their purposes would be, what we would do if we could ride them, how they would move, how they would interact with humans, other animals, other dragons, and so on. With another Ni-type, the conversation would have ended at, “Yeah, dragons are cool.”
Ne-dominant types: ENTP, ENFP. (Bonus: if you know the ever-wonderful Rarasaur — and if you don’t, you’re seriously missing out — you know someone with a high Ne function. It may not be her dominant, but it’s definitely part of who she is.)

Introverted intuition (Ni): Sees patterns and details; to me, it looks like epiphanies, or “ah ha!” moments. It makes sense of the abstract, and is most often described as the “gut feeling” of intuition. If introverted sensing has an extremely high recall for exact details, Ni remembers the general feeling of what happened and how the events played out.
The best example I have of this is one I mentioned in my other post; my friend mentioned something offhandedly and it dawned upon me the way a baseball bat dawns upon a pitched ball that she was terrified of letting anyone close, especially in a romantic sense. I called her out on it and she tried denying it, but a couple of days later sent me a message saying, “You were right, and that scared me. I didn’t even know that about myself.”
Ni-dominant types: INFJ, INTJ.

Sensing:

Extroverted sensing (Se): very much in tune with the physical world; the “five senses” of the cognitive functions — see, smell, touch, hear, taste — that’s all extroverted sensing. Se-dominant types tend to be extremely active, either physically or socially, and aren’t often ones for staying at home all day.
For example, I only have Se as my inferior function, but I love food — hot, cold, spicy, sour, sweet, salty… I devour it all and frequently stuff myself (it’s a bad habit, I know). I have a better example of Se later on, too.
Se-dominant types: ESFP, ESTP.

Introverted sensing (Si): has a lot to do with memory, and comparing and contrasting experiences; Si-dominants tend to have extremely good recall. I don’t have any examples for this one — I’m not close to too many people with dominant Si.
Si-dominant types: ISTJ, ISFJ.

Thinking:

Extroverted thinking (Te): sees the logic in things, likes to have everything in order and making sense; think Spock from Star Trek if he acted, you know, like a regular human. Te-dominant types like to have their worlds in order, and tend to be very good at figuring out the steps to completing a task. As an example, I worked with a Te-dominant woman, and the thing she most often said was, “Work smarter, not harder,” as she explain how to do my job, step by step.
Te-dominant types: ENTJ, ESTJ.

Introverted thinking (Ti): connects the dots between seemingly random things, creating a web of information, and is most likely to point out a flaw in the system; they’re very big on efficiency. So if a Te-dominant was mapping out the steps to solve a problem with a Ti-dominant present, the conversation might go something like this:
Te: “So here are steps one, two, three, and four, and if we do them just so, we should reach our goal by the end of the week.”
Ti: “But there’s a flaw in step three; if we do it differently, we should reach our goal with less effort and get it done in two days.”
Te: “But that’s not the plan.”
Ti: “No, but it’s better.”
Te: “Stop screwing around with step three, let’s just work on step one and see where it takes us from there.”
(I’m exaggerating slightly to make a point, but that’s about how it would go.)
Ti-dominant types: INTP, ISTP.

Feeling:

Extroverted feeling (Fe): picks up on what others are feeling in the moment; can be hypersensitive to others’ emotions, which is why Fe-dominants tend to hold a lot of empathy for others. It’s very helpful, supportive, and encouraging, but often Fe-users can feel used because they felt they bent over backwards for someone with no reciprocation. While an Fe-user may not know exactly what it is they’re feeling in the moment (example: “I’m upset but can’t put my finger on why” versus “I’m offended and hurt because my coworker made a snide remark”), they are expressive of what they feel.
For example, I once accompanied Husband (then-Boyfriend) to a funeral of his friend. I had met the man maybe twice, and hadn’t really said more than three words to him. The air in the funeral home was so heavy and charged with emotions of grief that I began sobbing uncontrollably over the loss of someone I didn’t really know. I couldn’t explain why I was so upset until after the funeral, when I was talking with then-Boyfriend about it. He pointed out how much sorrow was in the air, and I said, “Yeah, I picked up on that; I may not have known him, but so many others did, and they missed him, and it overwhelmed me.”
Fe-dominant types: ENFJ, ESFJ.

Introverted feeling (Fi): Fi users tend to be very passionate people, although they may not show it as much, because introverted feeling is not as expressive as extroverted feeling. Fi-dominants are concerned about their personal morals and beliefs, how things are related to them, and how they can be true to themselves, although sometimes they are reluctant to try new experiences. I have a couple examples of Fi.
My first example is about the introverted nature of Fi. I have a good friend who is an Fi-dominant — he’s like a brother to me. In the almost-four years I’ve known him, he’s attempted suicide (which I found out about six months later), gone on drinking binges, and has been in and out of severe depression (although he’s making progress towards getting better, which makes me very happy). Whenever I would ask about how life was treating him, I’d get a basic answer of, “It sucks, I haven’t been sleeping again,” with little to no elaboration. If such was the case with an Fe-dominant, I’d end up with a novel about how it sucks, what’s been happening, and why she/he hasn’t been sleeping.
My other example is my sister, an ISFP. She’s always been a free spirit, and very concerned with who she is at her core; this was outwardly expressed with frequently changing her actions depending on which group of friends she associated with at the time. When she was seventeen, she ran away from home because that’s what she felt she needed to do to be true to herself. Her family disagreed, but that’s just who she is.
Fi-dominant types: ISFP, INFP.

So What Does This Have To Do With MBTI?

Like I said, if MBTI is who you are, the cognitive functions are why you are who you are. Essentially, you will act a certain way and like certain people and dislike other activities and not like other people because of the cognitive functions.
For example, Fe users often dislike Te-dominant people because of the brusk nature of Te and Fi; similarly, Te and Fi users find Fe-dominant or -auxiliary users to be too sensitive and emotionally fragile.

If you know your four letters of your MBTI, it’s pretty easy to figure out your cognitive functions, because certain ones are always grouped together:
Fi and Te
Fe and Ti
Se and Ni
Si and Ne.

You will never find a Te-user with Fe, or an Ni-user with Si.

Allow me to reiterate: everyone has four (main) functions, one from each group, and they’re listed in order of dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior.

For example, let’s say you’re an ENFP, an Ne-dominant type.
– Because you’re an intuitive type, you’ll have a sensing function as one of your lower functions — in this case, Si in the inferior position.
– Because you’re a feeler type, that will come before your thinking function. (I’m still a bit unclear as to how Fi/Te is determined over Fe/Ti; for that, I usually use Wikipedia.)

Using that information, we know that an ENFP’s cognitive functions are set up as: Ne, Fi, Te, Si.

So in a nutshell, an ENFP will be very creative with what’s happening around them, concerned about how events effect their set of morals/who they are, logic and reasoning will be favored over connecting the dots, and they’ll have a strong memory for details.

As an INFJ, my functions are: Ni, Fe, Ti, Se.
My husband, an ENTP, has: Ne, Ti, Fe, Si.
An ESTJ will have: Te, Si, Ne, Fi.
ISTJ: Si, Te, Fi, Ne.

Is it starting to come together now?
(If not, don’t worry — it took me several months of immersing myself in the world of cognitive functions before I started to get it.)

But I’ve Met A [Insert Type] That Acted Like [Insert Other Type]. Why?

I’m not going to delve too much into this, since it essentially boils down to nature versus nurture.
In some cases, a shadow function can develop very strongly because of the environment the person is in. For me personally, my Fi and Te are fairly well developed because I was the only Fe/Ti user in a family of Te/Fi users. My brother is the only extrovert in our immediate family, so he’s learned how to cope with being by himself for short periods of time.
In men who are feeling-types, it is common for them to have a well developed thinking function, because in most Western societies, an emotional man is considered weak or strange, so they had to adapt and act like a thinking-type.

Of course, sometimes certain types — when in a very healthy or very unhealthy state of mind — will begin to act like other types. In some cases, an emotionally-healthy INFP will act like an emotionally-healthy ESFJ. Similarly, a mentally-unhealthy INFJ may start to act like an ISTP.

So if you know someone who is a/an [type A] but is acting like a/an [type B], there are a couple of factors to be taken into consideration.

So Why Are You Writing About This?

Ah, here we are at the heart of the matter…

In the beginning of Susan Cain’s book, she mentions that an extrovert is more likely to find themselves recharging by hurtling down a mountain slope on a pair of skiis, whereas an introvert will mostly likely curl up with a book after a long week, because introverts don’t care to be overwhelmed with external stimulation. I wanted to use this as an example for the review, but realized that if I launched into an explanation of why that was incorrect, you may or may not have any idea of what I was trying to say.

My dad is an introvert — an INTJ, in fact. He’s a reader; most of my family is.
However, he was also on the Olympic B-team for downhill skiing back in the day. After a car accident a few years ago that nearly killed him, his doctors said he might be able to walk, but he would never ski again. He was running at the gym a month later, and he hit the slopes the next winter, racing down the double-black-diamond runs like it was nobody’s business. His knee gives him problems still, and sometimes becomes stiff after a long day on the mountain, but it doesn’t stop him because the thrill of skiing is greater than the pain in his leg.
Is my dad the exception to the rule of introverts? It’s possible.
But if we look at the INTJ’s cognitive functions, we know that it’s ordered as: Ni, Te, Fi, Se. Because of the Se, my dad likes to have external stimuli, and he recharges and feels refreshed after an afternoon of skiing.

As an INFJ, I also have Se as my inferior function. Yes, I like my books, and yes, I like to be alone. But nothing recharges me quite like hiking along a quiet trail in the mountains (my whole family loves the mountains — it’s home to us). A couple of years ago, I used to take my lunch and hike up a hill behind my school and eat lunch while looking out over the valley, and there was nothing better I could have done with my time. I’d go to my next class content and at peace.

The difference between an introvert going skiing and an extravert going skiing comes down to one thing: whether or not the person is alone.

An introvert will probably go skiing alone.
An extravert will drag a few friends with them.

So Susan Cain may have been correct in saying that an introvert with little to no Se in their functions would have probably curled up with a good book instead of gone racing down a mountain.
But all introverts? Nope, not all of us.

In order to explain any and/or all of that, I first I had to launch into the lecture about cognitive functions, and which types have which functions.

Are You Sure You Didn’t Make This All Up?

Relatively certain, yes, because it seems a few other people agree with me:

TypeLogic
PersonalityGrowth
PersonalityPage

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That’s a wrap! I know this wasn’t the best of posts to read, but thank you for powering through it, and I hope you learned something new about yourself! If you have any information that you think I left out, or if I got something wrong, please please PLEASE let me know!

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12 thoughts on “The Petals of A Rose: Cognitive Functions

  1. I am an INFP and have been in the mental health field for 25+ years. I agree with you: it is not the activity that that one chooses, it is how the activity is undertaken. One can be alone anywhere, and therefore be recharged anywhere! Great explanation!

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  2. I love the depth of this. It shows how many things go into who we are. I also really enjoyed the summary. See, I’m recharged by a book– but that’s a nature-vs-nurture thing, since I was raised to read a book in a fully-immersive way. In other words, I’m talking to the characters in the book but resting my body. Instant extrovert recharge!

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      1. Oh, you’re an ENFP?
        I’m glad you enjoyed it — and thank you for featuring it on Facebook! 😀
        In terms of what else can be taken into account for personalities, enneagrams can also play a role, although there seems to be some debate over whether they are psychological or a spiritual aspect. But it’s still fascinating! 😉

        Like

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