The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Everything You Need to Know

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INFP, ESTJ, ISTJ, ENFP—people who know exactly what these four-letter acronyms mean have probably taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or what is known as the MBTI, for short), a popular personality test that is meant to help people understand more about themselves and the people around them. It’s so popular that approximately two million people complete the assessment every year.

Despite its widespread popularity, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has been met with criticism. It takes inspiration from Carl Jung’s typological personality, which has long been discarded by psychological science, and the psychological types rely on binaries (for example, introversion versus extraversion), which Jung himself has admitted were limiting for the many facets of the human personality. The assessment has come under further scrutiny because its creators didn't have formal training in psychology, but what’s more troubling is that the MBTI has a discriminatory-riddled past, which was revealed in Merve Emre’s book The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing.

Its creators—Katharine Cook Myers and Isabel Myers-Briggs—not only took inspiration from Jung in creating the assessment but also eugenist William Grant Hague’s 1914 book The Eugenics Marriage: A Personal Guide to the New Science of Better Living and Better Babies, putting into question whether the MBTI offered an objective assessment or if it was influenced by their own prejudiced views. Although, there is no conclusive evidence that the MBTI is discriminatory in itself. With this in mind, you might want to reconsider whether the MBTI is an assessment that is as reliable and accurate as the company proclaims.

If anything, the MBTI—much like any other personality test, from the Big Five to the Enneagram to love languages—taps into a human desire to understand who you are and how you co-exist in the world. If this is something you too desire, you might be better off using scientific- and research-backed systems to evaluate your personality.

What is the MBTI or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? 

If you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, it’s a personality test that has been around for over 75 years. It was invented by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs-Myers as a system to explain differences in the way people think, feel, and behave. Based on the theory of “psychological types” proposed by psychologist Carl Jung, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was first published in 1962, and psychologist David Keirsey helped popularize and expand upon the framework with his 1978 book Please Understand Me. Today, millions of people have taken the test to understand the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types and learn their own.

How results are interpreted in the MBTI system

The MBTI test consists of over 90 questions, which categorize people into personality types based on four binaries, namely:

Introversion or extraversion

  • Introversion (I): You are usually overwhelmed after socializing at length and probably maintain a few close friends rather than a large social circle.
  • Extraversion (E): You are energized in the company of others, and you’re usually listless after long periods of alone time.

Intuitive or sensing

  • Intuitive (N): You’re an abstract thinker who focuses on the large picture. You love to play with ideas and theories and like to talk about possibilities and potential.
  • Sensing (S): You focus on the present moment. You take information at face value and like concrete facts and information that’s immediately useful.

Thinking or feeling

  • Thinking (T): You are rational and make your choices using logic and reason after considering the issue from an objective viewpoint.
  • Feeling (F): You are relational, and you make choices based on emotion and concern for others. You view problems from a subjective viewpoint and consider how it might impact others involved.

Judging or perceiving

  • Judging (J): You operate best when you tie up loose ends. You’d rather make a decision or create a plan than fly by the seat of your pants.
  • Perceiving (P): You operate best when you leave your options open and would rather see how things play out than make a decision before you have all the necessary information.

What are the 16 MBTI personality types?

Based on a person’s results, these can indicate one of 16 Myers-Briggs personality types:

ISTJ: The disciplined and honest worker who can always be counted upon

They are known for their incredible attention to detail and are always willing to step up when a job needs to get done with a “do the right thing” attitude.

ISFJ: The reserved romantic who is a pillar of support for her friends and family

An excellent listener and cheerleader, they love to watch others achieve their dreams as much as they chase their own. They prefer to work behind the scenes with and for others.

ESFJ: The cheerful social butterfly who is the first to step up and help out

Typically at the center of their social circle, they never fail to step in so others feel cared for and events get handled.

ESTJ: The motivated and focused boss, always able to get the job done

They have the unique ability to see the most efficient way to get a project to the finish line and naturally earn the respect of peers thanks to a winning combination of tenacity, competence, and compassion.

ESFP: The lively and fun-loving entertainer, always down for a laugh and a good time

A pro at thinking on their feet, ESFPs are amazing in a crisis—especially ones that deal with emotions or require an empathetic spirit.

ESTP: The smooth and perceptive risk-taker, always searching for the next big thrill

The type most likely to declare, “I’ll try anything once,” ESTPs live for an adrenaline rush. They excel in situations where they have to analyze what’s going on around them because nothing can ruffle their feathers.

ISTP: The chill and capable rebel with a tendency to fly solo

ISTPs fly under the radar—and that’s exactly the way they like it. They like to make independent decisions based on their personal interests and allow others the space and freedom to do the same.

ISFP: The quiet, sensitive artist with a big heart and the desire to roam free

As an independent and sensitive soul, ISFPs often express themselves in non-obvious, artistic ways. Deep wells of emotion lie at the heart of everything they do and create, and they always put their relationships first.

ENFP: The passionate, friendly motivator who wants to see others reach their potential

Of all the types, ENFPs are the most in want of company. They absolutely love people, and their drive in life is typically to entertain, motivate, and support those around them.

INFP: The deep, mysterious dreamer with a heart for humanity and charity

INFPs are idealists who want to see the good in others first, and they’re also extremely passionate about their morals and beliefs and are likely to pursue work with a cause or deep meaning at its center.

INFJ: The wise and brilliant instructor, always there to lend an ear

INFJs are one of the more complex and reserved of all the Myers-Briggs personality types. They have an incredible ability to sense when someone is off—and they have a calm, trustworthy demeanor that puts others at ease.

ENFJ: The charismatic and driven empath who just wants to love and be loved

If there’s one type that can charm just about anyone, it’s the ENFJ. Typically pulled-together and articulate, they’re quick-witted, passionate, and can usually be found holding court at social events.

INTJ: The mysterious, insightful visionary, always working on a plan or two

INTJs have a well-deserved reputation for being smart, hard-working, and dedicated. A logical thinker, they’ll consider all the variables of a complex problem and come up with a few possible solutions.

INTP: The deep and philosophical intellectual with a need for understanding

INTPs are the “why” people. They don’t just want to create systems that work but also to identify the underlying principles. They like to learn about new theories, so they’re often on the cutting edge of ideas.

ENTJ: The charismatic and creative leader with a vision for change

ENTJs tackle any problem by diving right into it, using logic and analysis to feel their way toward the best conclusion—and they rarely second-guess themselves.

ENTP: The bright and excitable inventor with the drive to test ideas and theories

Charming, quick-witted, and engaging, people are drawn to ENTPs. They love to generate discussion and will sometimes play devil’s advocate during debates—not to incite arguments but to test wild ideas.

What are the MBTI cognitive functions?

Psychologist Carl Jung also talked a lot about the cognitive functions, which Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers utilized in the MBTI system we use today. There are eight functions in total, which are supposedly critical in understanding how a person operates in the world.

1. Extroverted sensing (Se)

Extroverted sensing is using taste, touch, smell, sound, movement and sight to easily absorb information in the physical world. As strongly observant, these people pick up on details other people do not notice, and some even have a photographic memory. They love excitement, spontaneity, new experiences, and material goods.

Dominant extroverted sensors are ESTPs and ESFPs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for this function are ISTPs and ISFPs.

2. Introverted sensing (Si)

Introverted sensing is understanding the world through past precedent and experience. People who are introverted sensors thrive using routine, tradition, organization, and rules. They are often very attuned to their bodies and have specific ways of doing things that work for them in order to get the job done. They are responsible, reliable, and cautious.

Dominant introverted sensors are ISTJs and ISFJs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for this function are ESTJs and ESFJs.

3. Extroverted thinking (Te)

Extroverted thinking is outwardly conveying thoughts using logic, reason, and analysis. Extroverted thinkers are clear and concise, direct, and unmoved by emotional appeals. They are often strong orators and writers who have thoughtful, well-researched arguments and theories. Extroverted thinkers like to convince people of their thoughts and implement new ideas.

Dominant extroverted thinkers are ENTJs and ESTJs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for this function are INTJs and ISTJs.

4. Introverted thinking (Ti)

Introverted thinking is a function that seeks to understand personal ideas using a deeply specified framework. Introverted thinkers are constantly mining their own thoughts in an attempt to be rational and reasonable, slowly ruling out other ideas before coming to their own firm conclusions (and they're often guarded about how they got to these conclusions).

Dominant introverted thinkers are INTPs and ISTPs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for the function are ENTPs and ESTPs.

5. Extroverted intuition (Ne)

Extroverted intuition often means noticing patterns, symbols, and connections in the world that others may not see. Extroverted intuitives live for possibility, often expressing themselves through a tumble of ideas or constant external brainstorming. They may talk about many things they want to do but not ultimately follow through. For them, it’s all part of the process to get to the best idea.

Dominant extroverted intuitives are ENTPs and ENFPs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for the function are INFPs and INTPs.

6. Introverted intuition (Ni)

Introverted intuition can be described as “knowing without knowing how,” as well as “thinking without thinking.” It’s the most mystical of all the MBTI functions. People with this function tend to reach conclusions without having a clear idea as to how they got there. They are wise, convicted, and always have a plan to work toward a bigger picture and seek to build and understand complex systems. Introverted intuitives are always processing in the background and regularly have “a-ha!” realizations when answers simply come out of nowhere.

Dominant introverted intuitives are INTJs and INFJs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for this function are ENFJs and ENTJs.

7. Extroverted feeling (Fe)

Extroverted feeling is concerned with harmony, bringing people together, and caring. Extroverted feelers are great at reading the emotions of others; they are big empathizers, absorbing the feelings of others around them to the point that they sometimes cannot tell which feelings are their own. They easily squash and step around conflicts, and they are typically very social.

Dominant extroverted feelers are ENFJs and ESFJs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for the function are INFJs and ISFJs.

8. Introverted feeling (Fi)

Introverted feeling is a function concerned with authenticity, individualism, and values. Introverted feelers know what they believe, have a strong sense of self, and can easily identify their personal experience of emotion. They are often outspoken activists and love to help those in need. They don’t have stronger feelings than others who utilize this function, but they do have more mastery over them and can put them toward change—of self, of others, of society.

Dominant introverted feelers are INFPs and ISFPs. Those who also have a strong affiliation for the function are ENFPs and ESFPs.

Understanding the MBTI Cognitive Functions as the 16 personality types

Each of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types corresponds to four of the eight MBTI cognitive functions, which are typically organized in stack from strongest to weakest—namely, the dominant function, auxiliary function, tertiary function, and inferior function.

Dominant function

The first function in the stack is called the dominant function, the strongest one you use so often you may not even realize you are doing it.

Auxiliary function

The second function is called the auxiliary function, which assists the dominant function in conveying ideas and is also relatively strong in your personality.

Tertiary function

The third function is the tertiary function, which may be slightly under-developed, but does start to manifest in your type more prominently as you age.

Inferior function

The fourth function is your inferior function, which is challenging to access and often only comes out under stress.

According to the MBTI system, the cognitive functions of each personality type are as follows:

  • ISTJ:  Si > Te > Fi > Ne
  • ISFJ: Si > Fe > Ti > Ne
  • ESFJ:  Fe > Si > Ne > Ti
  • ESTJ: Te > Si > Ne > Fi
  • ESFP: Se > Fi > Te > Ni
  • ESTP: Se > Ti > Fe > Ni
  • ISTP: Ti > Se > Ni > Fe
  • ISFP: Fi > Se > Ni > Te
  • ENFP: Ne > Fi > Te > Si
  • INFP: Fi > Ne > Si > Te
  • INFJ:  Ni > Fe > Ti > Se
  • ENFJ: Fe > Ni > Se > Ti
  • INTJ: Ni > Te > Fi > Se
  • INTP: Ti > Ne > Si > Fe
  • ENTJ: Te > Ni > Se > Fi
  • ENTP: Ne > Ti > Fe > Si

What makes the MBTI different from other personality assessment

What makes MBTI different from other personality assessments is that it uses a framework that categorizes people based on four binaries, resulting in 16 personality types—each with its own unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses. This offers a simple overview of one’s personality, and is in large part, what makes this assessment so popular.

Frequently asked questions

What does MBTI stand for?

MBTI is an acronym that stands for the Myers-Briggs Test Indicator.

What is the MBTI?

The MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Test Indicator, is a popular personality assessment invented by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers-Briggs.

What are the MBTI cognitive functions?

Within the MBTI systems are cognitive functions that are critical to understanding how a person operates in the world. There are a total of eight functions, including extroverted and introverted sensing, thinking, intuition, and feeling. Each of the 16 MBTI personality types has four of these functions, which vary in terms of strength according to their corresponding personality.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Bailey, Richard P et al. “The Prevalence of Pseudoscientific Ideas and Neuromyths Among Sports Coaches.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 9 641. 2 May. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00641

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