Understanding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” – Mark Twain

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based upon the ideas of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), who wrote that “what appears to be random behavior is actually the result of differences in the way people prefer to use their mental capacities.”  Jung noticed that people have a tendency to either “take in information” (which he called perceiving) or “organize information and come to conclusions” (which he called judging).  Jung observed that some people tend to perceive more, while others tend to judge more.  This was the beginning of the concept of preferences that grew into the theory of psychological type.

The MBTI was created as a way to make use of Jung’s theory of psychological type in an accessible and practical way.  The underlying idea behind the theory is that a great deal of the behavior that seems to be random is actually very orderly and consistent, and is the result of the differences between the ways that individuals prefer to use their judgment and perception.

Four Dichotomies of Personality

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion
  • Sensing vs. Intuition
  • Thinking vs. Feeling
  • Judging vs. Perceiving


Involves deriving your energy from involvement in external activities and interactions with people. Extraverted individuals may experience excitement and a sense of being energized when in a social setting. Some typical statements that an extraverted individual might identify with:

  • “I feel invigorated from my time being around other people.”
  • “I feel comfortable working in groups of people and enjoy it.”
  • “Sometimes I jump into new activities without thinking them over.”


Involves deriving your energy from time spent alone, contemplating ideas, memories, feelings, or images internally.  There is often a preference for time spent alone or with small groups.  Introverted individuals generally prefer to take time alone to reflect on ideas or events before taking action and may experience liking the “idea” of something better than the “real thing.”  Common statements that introverted individuals may identify with:

  • “Others may describe me as ‘reserved’ or ‘reflective.'”
  • “I’m comfortable being by myself and use this time to recharge.”
  • “Sometimes I spend too much time reflecting and do not take action quickly enough.”


Involves attention to physical reality and concern with what is real, present, and actual.  There is often an orientation towards facts and details.  Sensing individuals value the practical use of things and learn best when they see how to use things.  There is great value placed on experience over words or abstract knowledge.  Some common sensing statements include:

  • “I’m a practical person who tends to be concerned with the bottom line.”
  • “I prefer to start with the facts/details and then form the big picture.”
  • “Sometimes I pay attention to facts/details so much that I miss out on new possibilities.”


Involves paying attention to impressions or the meaning of patterns.  There is often a preference for thinking a problem through than having hands-on experience.  People scoring high on intuition enjoy working with abstract theories and symbols, even if they aren’t used practically.  Events tend to be remembered as “impressions” rather than through facts or details.  Common statements associated with intuition:

  • “I like to solve problems by leaping between different possibilities and ideas.”
  • “Sometimes I think so much about possibilities that I neglect to make them a reality.”
  • “I tend to remember events through what I read ‘between the lines.'”


Involves a preference for finding the basic truth or principle to be applied to a decision, regardless of whatever the specific situation is.  There is a tendency to enjoy analyzing the pros and cons of situations and to be both consistent and logical in the decision-making process.  These individuals tend to be more impersonal when making decisions and are less likely to be swayed by emotion or personal involvement.  Some typical statements that someone scoring high in thinking might say:

  • “I pride myself on making decisions with my head and being both fair and consistent.”
  • “I look for logical explanations and inconsistencies.”
  • “I can be seen as overly task-oriented, uncaring, or indifferent.”


Involves a general concern for values and making decisions based on multiple points of view.  There is a general preference for actions that will establish or maintain harmony.  People scoring high in feeling may identify with:

  • “I make decisions with my heart and strive to be compassionate.”
  • “I can be experienced by others as idealistic.”
  • “I am interested in harmony and may feel nervous when it is missing/threatened.”


Involves a preference for a planned, regimented, and orderly way of life.  There is a desire to have things settled and organized and a tendency to feel more comfortable after decisions have been made.  This preference applies to the outer world, meaning internally, a judging person may be quite flexible and open to new experiences.  This category is not be to confused with “judgmental,” which has a negative connotation.  Someone scoring high in judging may identify with these statements:

  • “I like to get my work done before playing.”
  • “I prefer to have things decided.”
  • “I appear to be task-oriented, goal-driven, and organized.”


Involves a preference for a spontaneous and flexible way of living.  These people prefer to understand and adapt to the world, as opposed to organize it.  Other people tend to see these individuals as receptive and open to new experiences.  The term “perceiving” here refers to a preference for taking in information, not “perceptive” in the sense of have quick/accurate perceptions about people or events.  Those scoring high in perceiving may identify with the following statements:

  • “I prefer to keep things loose/casual.  I’m not concerned with making a ‘plan.'”
  • “I am energized/stimulated by an approaching deadline.”
  • “Sometimes I stay open to new information so long that I miss out on making a decision when it is needed.”

The combination of these different “preferences” creates a total of 16 different personality types.  While the shorthand MBTI (e.g., ESTJ, INFP, ENFP, etc.) is a way of understanding the interaction between your four mental functions, it is also important to understand type dynamics.

Your preference (e.g., Extraverted vs. Introverted) is the one that has that greatest influence on you.  It is termed your dominant function. This simply means that it is your “go-to” function, or the one that you trust the most/like to use the most.

Your next strongest preference is called your auxiliary function; it provides balance and support to the dominant function.  We don’t “always” operate from our dominant function; sometimes we prefer to do things in a different way, depending on the circumstances.

The third strongest function is the tertiary function. This function is less interesting to most people, since fewer personal skills are associated with it; it does not appear in your actual “type.”  It is simply the opposite of your auxiliary function.

We all experience movement between different functions throughout life; this is called lifelong type development.  Jung saw these functions as basically unconscious and undeveloped in infants.  Functions emerge and develop as we grow into adults.

The MBTI website explains that “as you develop your type, the way you see the world and the way you behave tends to change and broaden.  Comfort with your dominant and auxiliary functions forms the basis for much of your self-esteem.”

As you read through the descriptions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’s eight different functions (E/I, S/N, T/F, & J/P), what preferences did you most closely identify with?  Most of us are not “completely” one way or the other – we move in and out of ways of being in the world dependent upon our circumstances.  However, there are basic underlying preferences and tendencies that form one’s personality.  I look forward to discussing the details of the 16 specific Myers-Briggs personality types in a future post.

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If you are interested in taking the official MBTI personality assessment, you may take it at MBTI Complete for $59.95.  For an unofficial version of the Jung Typology Test, you may take it for free at HumanMetrics.

The Myers & Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.myersbriggs.org/

Featured image: Nightfall by lrargerich / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Beth Carls on July 8, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Laura, great article! I’m curious how you’ve seen “indicators” like the Myers-Briggs creating both positive and negative outcomes.

    On the positive side, in my experience, when working in groups it’s always good to know peoples’ preferences so the team can be more productive.

    On the negative side, in my experience, many people use these kinds of tests to stereotype someone. Once stereotyped, in that person’s mind, you’re forever type-cast. That’s not good for either person – it’s limiting, just like any stereotype.

    I really like what Allen Fahden has developed and written about in his book “Is Half The World Crazy?” Allen program groups people into Creators, Advancers, Refiners and Executors. Most people are a combination of two groups. The focus is about working within your strengths – not trying to fix your weaknesses. His work with Fortune 100 companies has boosted productivity 300 – 800%. http://www.strongsuit.org/fahden.htm

    • Laura on July 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Beth – I’m glad you enjoyed this article about Understanding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I can certainly see those pros and cons of using a personality assessment tool like the MBTI in the workplace. It seems like it has to potential to be both helpful and limiting. I imagine that its usefulness has much to do with the way in which the MBTI is used and interpreted. Thank you for letting me know about Allen Fahden’s system of understanding personality. That sounds fascinating – I will definitely check it out!

      Thanks for the comment, Beth!

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