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Cognitive Functions Explained In Simple Terms

By
Founder
CareerPlanner.com Inc.
Ni Ne Si Se Ti Te Fi Fe Overview

 

This article describes your 8 cognitive functions, as well as what introversion and extraversion are. These concepts form the basis for understanding and using Personality Type.

 

The Brain and Your Personality Type

The brain takes in information for us (perceiving) and then it helps us make decisions (judging).

These are the 2 most basic, fundamental functions of the the brain, besides keeping us alive by telling us to eat and breathe.

There are 4 totally different ways of perceiving and 4 totally different ways of judging.

Together these are called the 8 cognitive functions.

The differences in how we all perceive and judge accounts for the basic differences in personality. To a large extent, differences in perceiving and judging is why we are all so different.

Personality type theory actually comes from an understanding of these 8 functions. Your 4 letter personality type is actually a code which will tell you which functions you are strongest in and which functions are probably weak and which will cause you all sorts of problems.

Unfortunately, you can not be good at using all 8 of these functions.

You will probably be very good with 2 of these cognitive functions and they will account for your strengths. 2 functions will be weak and will indicate what your blind spots might be.

And, just to make things interesting, 4 of the 8 functions will be in the unconscious and out of your control. These "shadow functions" will usually pop up to cause you trouble when you are stressed.

 

Why Bother Learning This and Who Cares?

Understanding a bit about cognitive functions and personality type will give you a framework for understanding yourself and other people.

So if you want better relationships at home or at work, personality type will give you a method for understanding people and for adjusting your approach with people, especially the difficult people in your life.

It takes some practice. But once you understand the basics of personality type, and you see a person behaving in a certain way, the system will tell you why they behave that way and what you might do about it.

The best way to learn about personality type is to start with the cognitive functions, described below.

 

But First Lets Look at Introversion and Extraversion

Introversion and extraversion are known as "attitudes" and they affect the functions.

Almost everyone has heard the term "extravert" and "introvert."

Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychoanalyst was the first to define these terms.

Extraverts are those people who talk a bit more, talk a bit louder, talk a bit faster and seem to enjoy having more people around and having more action in their lives.

The definition of an extravert is someone who gets energized by having more activity in the real world. More people, more events, more sounds, more sights etc.

Introverts are those people who are more energized by being in their heads, with their own thoughts, ideas, dreams, visions etc.

Introverts prefer quiet. They talk less. They talk more slowly, unless they are talking about their favorite subjects in which case they can look like extraverts.

There are two worlds we all live in. The world inside of our mind which is where introverts prefer to spend most of their time, and the world external to our minds. That would be the real, physical world full of action, people, and events. It's the external world where extraverts prefer to spend most of their time.

There is a scientific reason for extraversion and introversion, and it's a bit surprising. Researchers have found that due to brain chemistry, introverts normally have a higher level of neuro chemical stimulation going on in their brains. Thus, they are normally over stimulated and they try to tone things down.

Extraverts have less neuro chemical stimulation going on in parts of their brains, thus they seek out more stimulation from the external world.

The key to remember is that when you think of the term "extraverted" think of what is going on in the real world, around you, and in the present. It's always in the present moment.

When you think of "introverted" think of what is going on inside one's mind, and this activity can involve the past, present and future.

An extreme example of a person who prefers extraversion is someone who loves to go to live sporting events like baseball games or football games, or rock concerts. I'm not talking about the person who goes once a year. I'm talking about the person who has season tickets and tries to get to as many games as possible. They are energized by the crowds, the game, the event as a whole. Then after the event, they probably want even more excitement. They will want to continue to hang out with their friends.

There are still introverts in the crowd, but, after all of that external stimulation, they will want to go home and recharge in a quiet environment.

Introverts still want and need people, it's just that they like for their people interactions to be a little less noisy, less crowded and less chaotic. They prefer being with one or two close friends rather than larger groups. The reason is that they are neuro chemically more sensitive.

 

The Perceiving Functions

The 4 ways to take in information are:

Remember, when you hear the word "extraverted" that means what happens external to your mind. This means what happens in the real physical world. Also remember it takes place in the present moment, real time.

When you hear the word "introverted" that means what goes on inside your mind. That would be your thoughts, feelings, ideas, concepts, theories, and memories. These transcend time. They can be about the past, present, or future.

Extraverted Sensing is what happens when you pay attention to what your 5 senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, seeing) are telling you about the real world. It's a real time process that is happening now.

So if you pay attention to a sound coming from a bird just outside your door, that's your brain using it's extraverted sensing function to pay attention to the sound.

Introverted Sensing is when you remember the sound of a bird that you heard last week. Because you are paying attention to the memory of it in your mind, rather than the real live event.

Extraverted Intuiting is when you see several possible futures. It's when you do rapid fire brainstorm. It's when you see connections and patterns between people and events.

Introverted Intuiting is when you get insights that seem to come from nowhere. It's when you have those "aha" moments.

 

The Judging Functions

There are the 4 basic ways we make decisions. These are your judging functions:

Extraverted Thinking is making decisions about the external world using objective facts.

Extraverted Feeling is making decisions based on a value system that is concerned with the well being of people. These values are more global and cultural than personal.

Introverted Thinking is making decisions based on data, categories, and theories inside your mind.

Introverted Feeling is about making decisions based on your personal values and being concerned more with how things impact you personally than how the group is impacted.

Understanding the Order of Your 8 Functions

Although we all have 8 functions, our ability to use them is different for each of the 16 personality types

There are two ways to list your 8 functions, by order of strength as measured by a cognitive function assessment, or by using what is known as the John Beebe1 Model or Hierarchy.

John Beebe is one of the foremost Jungian Analysts in the world today and he has taken Jung's personality type to the next level.

Each cognitive function behaves different depending on which position / role it falls into in the Beebe Hierarchy.

If you want to learn more, Bob McApline of Type-Resources offers excellent classes and webinars on this subject. I completed his 16 week class on functions and archetypes in June 2016. Great stuff. I will probably take the class again. It's just 2 hours every Wednesday.

The Introverts

Role
ISTJ
ISFJ
INFJ
INTJ
ISTP
INTP
ISFP
INFP
1
Dominant / Hero
Si
Si
Ni
Ni
Ti
Ti
Fi
Fi
2
Auxiliary / Good Parent
Te
Fe
Fe
Te
Se
Ne
Se
Ne
3
Relief / Eternal Child
Fi
Ti
Ti
Fi
Ni
Si
Ni
Si
4
Aspirational / Soul / Spirit
Ne
Ne
Se
Se
Fe
Fe
Te
Te
5
Opposing
Se
Se
Ne
Ne
Te
Te
Fe
Fe
6
Critical Parent
Ti
Fi
Fi
Ti
Si
Ni
Si
Ni
7
Trickster
Fe
Te
Te
Fe
Ne
Se
Ne
Se
8
Devilish / Transformative
Ni
Ni
Si
Si
Fi
Fi
Ti
Ti

The Extraverts

Role
ESTP
ESFP
ENFP
ENTP
ESTJ
ENTJ
ESFJ
ENFJ
1
Dominant / Hero
Se
Se
Ne
Ne
Te
Te
Fe
Fe
2
Auxiliary / Good Parent
Ti
Fi
Fi
Ti
Si
Ni
Si
Ni
3
Relief / Eternal Child
Fe
Te
Te
Fe
Ne
Se
Ne
Se
4
Aspirational / Soul / Spirit
Ni
Ni
Si
Si
Fi
Fi
Ti
Ti
5
Opposing
Si
Si
Ni
Ni
Ti
Ti
Fi
Fi
6
Critical Parent
Te
Fe
Fe
Te
Se
Ne
Se
Ne
7
Trickster
Fi
Ti
Ti
Fi
Ni
Si
Ni
Si
8
Devilish / Transformative
Ne
Ne
Se
Se
Fe
Fe
Te
Te

 

Understanding the Roles (Archetypes)

We all play different roles in life. Sometimes father, mother, child, brother, sister, teacher, student. Your functions have 8 different roles to play.

Function 1) Hero / Heroine Role

Your strongest function will be in the hero / heroine role. This is how you "save the day." This is your dominant cognitive function.

When life calls on you to save the day, you will call on, and depend on your dominant function.

If you look at your life, at a time that you made the most progress, or you did something really significant, where you had to work hard at it, but you succeeded, it was your hero function doing the heavy lifting and saving the day for you.

Function 2) Auxiliary / Supportive / Parent Role

This is your second strongest function. It supports your Hero function. It's helpful to think that together the first two functions account for ~ 90% of your personality.

It's called the "Parent" function because it's used in a helping, positive, supportive way.

According to John Beebe, the Jungian Analyst who expanded Carl Jung's work of the 8 function model, when you reach out to help someone, it's your second function that you start with.

Function 3) Tertiary / Relief Role / Eternal Child

Whichever function falls into the 3rd position, the "Relief Role," will be the one that is almost always weak and troublesome.

It does not develop until mid life. Because of this it gets very little exercise and very little practice. Thus if you are called to use this function in your teens or mid twenties, you will fall flat on your face.

You won't be able to count on this function as you do your top two functions.

Psychologists suggest that you should get to know your tertiary function in a relaxed, playful, recreational, stress free manner. Thus it's called the "Relief" function.

Function 4) Inferior / Aspirational Role

Whichever function falls into the 4th position, will also be weak for you but it holds something special as the name "Aspirational" indicates.

Whichever function falls here, describes what you aspire to.

Yes, early on in life, using your 4th function is a source of weakness, maybe failure, maybe even shame. You probably can not perform the skills and tasks that are normally associated with this function.

But you will find great satisfaction and maybe even breakthroughs, from periodically trying to exercise this function.

In particular, the 4th function is considered the doorway to the unconscious. It's through using this function in a low pressure, low stress, friendly way that you can tap into the unconscious and all the energy and creativity that is stored there.

So make sure you keeping trying to use your 4th function. It will help you become all you can be.

Function 5) Opposing Role

Your 5th function is used mainly as a defense. It's how you might become stubborn, uncooperative, unfriendly, rude, or obstructive.

So look at the fifth function for your 4 letter type. See what it is all about, and ask yourself if that is not how you become defensive, stubborn etc.

Function 6) Critical Parent Role

We all have experienced a critical parent in our lives. It's when a parent tells you that you are doing something wrong or you are doing something poorly.

The critical parent is a voice in your head that will cause you to criticize yourself and others.

Whichever function falls into this position will determine the flavor of your self criticism.

Function 7) The Trickster Role

Which ever function falls into the 7th position will cause you grief throughout your life.

The role of the trickster is to deceive and distort what you experience, or think you experience.

Mike Shur the Assessment Specialist and personality type expert describes the 7th function as walking through the fun house at a carnival. This is the room full of mirrors that stretch you and distort you, making you taller and thinner than you really are.

You will most often experience the 7th function when you are stressed or under pressure, or overly tired. You can not trust your perceptions or judgments when your 7th function is in charge.

You will see things and believe things that are not real. You will put yourself or others in a double bind situation, which forces people to lose.

People describe it as being in the grip of their 7th function.

Function 8) Demonic / Transformative Role

Which ever function falls into the 8th position describes how you are when you are the most destructive. Thus the term "Demonic Role."

The 8th function can also be transformative, propelling you to greater personal growth and maturity.

But most often, when a situation calls for you to use your 8th function, it's not going to be pretty.

 

Your Strengths, Weaknesses and Blind Spots

The strongest function is called your dominant function and it usually is well developed by age 13.

The second strongest function is called your auxiliary / supportive function. It supports your dominant function. It usually develops by age 21.

Together your dominant and auxiliary function probably describe 90% of your personality type, on a good day. So you almost don't need to know about the other 6 functions.

Except that knowing those other 6 functions will show you where you are the weakest, where you have blind spots, and where you will experience the most personal growth as an adult.

Your 3rd function is known as your tertiary function. It's never going to be all that strong that you can depend on it, but you will probably find that activities that use your 3rd function will be very relaxing and recreational for you.

Your 4th function is called your inferior function for a reason. It's a weak area for you. However, it also represents the area for maximum personal growth.

The 4th function is said to be the doorway to your unconscious. The unconscious is actually where all of our energy comes from. It is full of new potential. So for growth you want to open the door and let some of it come out. Activities that involve your 4th function will open the door.

Lets look at an INTJ for example. Their 8 functions are listed below in what is known as the Beebe Model, after John Beebe, noted Jungian Analyst.

 

  Role
INTJ
1 Dominant (Hero / Heroine)
Ni
2 Auxiliary (Supporting, Good Parent)
Te
3 Tertiary (Relief, Eternal Child)
Fi
4 Inferior (Aspirational, Soul/Spirit)
Se
5 Opposing
Ne
6 Critical Parent
Ti
7 Deceiving / Trickster
Fe
8 Demonic / Angelic
Si

 

Dominant Function (Role = Hero)

For the INTJ, the dominant function is Ni.

A person's dominant function is their strongest and most well developed.

When the dominant function for a person is introverted, that person behaves as an introvert. Conversely, when a person's dominant function is Extraverted, they behave as an extravert.

Please note that for introverts, their auxiliary function is much more visible and easily recognized by themselves and by others. This is because their dominant function is introverted and hidden from the outside world.

When you first meet an introvert, what you are seeing is their 2nd function, because they will hold back showing your their dominant function until they trust you. Thus its harder to get to know introverts.

For this reason, when introverts take an 8 function assessment, the scores for their auxiliary function might come out higher than the scores for their dominant function.

Whichever function is your dominant is also known as your "hero" function because for you personally, this is the function that saves the day. This is the function you know you can depend on.

Your dominant function is fairly well developed by age 13 - 16. In fact for most people it will be the only function developed at this early age

 

Auxiliary Function (Role = Support, Good Parent)

Your auxiliary function is you second strongest function.

Your auxiliary function develops by age ~ 21.

The dominant and auxiliary work together and support each other, and they account for ~90% of a person's personality type at age 21.

The dominant and auxiliary functions meld together and it's difficult to tell them apart.

For the INTJ, the auxiliary function is Extraverted Thinking (Te).

When you reach out to help people, you do it first with the auxiliary function and then the tertiary function.

So look at times you try to help people. You are most likely using your second function. So when an INTJ tries to help people, what first comes out is the Te, which might look like help in organizing the real world, making sense of the world, scheduling, planning, setting goals and other aspects of Te.

 

Tertiary Function (Role = Relief, Eternal Child)

The 3rd function develops in mid life but will never be as strong and the first 2 functions. For most people, the tertiary function will always be weak. It's something you can not depend on.

In mid life it does add it's characteristics to the dominant and auxiliary.

For INTJs the 3rd function is Introverted Feeling (Fi).

For the INTJ, the Fi helps them empathize with others. INTJs can be cold and distant until Fi develops. Then they might become more sensitive to other's feelings. The INTJ might even want to spend time helping people, either by coaching, or volunteer work. Something that was unthinkable in the INTJs early life.

When you reach out to help someone, you first offer the help of your auxiliary function and then you bring in the tertiary function, which as we pointed out may not be all that well developed and dependable.

For the INTJ, the Introverted Feeling (Fi) will be called upon along with the Extraverted Thinking (Te).

 

The Inferior Function (Role = Aspirational, Soul/Spirit)

The 4th function is called "Inferior" because it is. It's never going to be something you can fully depend on, yet it does have a positive influence.

It's also called the Aspirational role, because it represents an area for personal growth. It's an area you hope to become better at.

The 4th function is also considered to be the doorway to the unconscious, which is full of energy and potential. Thus by accessing your 4th function you can tap into the energy, creatively of your unconscious.

For INTJs, the inferior function is Extraverted Sensing (Se).

Doing Se type activities will help the INTJ relax and access the energy and ideas in their unconscious.

Se type activities would be hiking, jogging, riding a bicycle, photographing nature, cooking, oil painting, playing a musical instrument. All things where the 5 senses are used.

When doing Extraverted Sensing activities, in a low stress, zero pressure way, the INTJ can open up a connection to the unconscious.

The 4th function will never be that strong. The INTJ would not want to have to depend on the Extraverted Sensing to earn a living. Like the 3rd function, it's more for relaxation, recreation, and self growth..

 

Functions 5 Through 8

The last 4 functions are in the unconscious.

This means you have no control over them. They are weak and undeveloped from lack of use.

When you need one of them, they usually let you down or cause trouble for you.

Please understand that looking at functions 5 through 8 is considered fairly advanced, and you don't need to go that far to get a lot out of personality type. Many people who encounter personality type don't even bother with these Shadow functions.

 

5th Function - The Opposing Function

Whichever function falls into the 5th position is one where you will become stubborn about. For the INTJ example, the 5th function is Extraverted Intuiting. For the INTJ, they might resist doing Ne activities. If they do it, they might not enjoy it.

Ne activities would include exploring the seemingly random connections between things, brain storming for hours, talking about a wide range of possibilities for the future.

 

6th Function - The Critical Parent (Witch / Senex)

The 6th function is the one where you will become overly critical of yourself and others. Also, it's going to be something you are weak at. It will require a lot of extra energy to perform this function.

For the INTJ, the 6th function is Introverted Thinking (Ti). Introverted Thinking activities are things like accurately categorizing ideas and concepts, detailed analysis, using complex theories in a detailed precise way, recalling the proper terminology or name for something, creating new terminology, new categories, new theories.

 

7th Function - The Deceiver / Trickster

The 7th function is also very weak. But it has a special feature in that when you do need to use this function, it's going to distort everything you see and think.

So for the INTJ, their 7th function is Extraverted Feeling (Fe) which has to do with connecting with groups of people, reading people, understanding people's emotions and hidden agendas.

Most INTJs will tell you that they are relationship challenged. They are not good at reading people. They have a tough time connecting with people. Their relationships can get highly distorted and confused.

 

8th Function - Devilish and Destructive

The 8th cognitive function is the Devil and the Destroyer. Whatever function falls into this position for you will not only be something so weak that you can't count on it, but that it will cause you to do things you will regret later.

For the INTJ, their 8th function is Introverted Sensing (Si). Si activities that the INTJ will probably have trouble with are: accurately recalling events from the past, recalling details like faces, names, dates, and numbers. Handling and working with details will also be hard.

 

References

Cognitive functions is the work of Carl Gustav Jung. However a number of people have expanded on his work and made it more accessible to the average person:

(Note: John Beebe has done more for cognitive function theory than anyone else since 1990. Most of the current theory comes from John.)

John Beebe MD, a Jungian analyst. Energies and Patterns in Psychological Type: The reservoir of consciousness

1John Beebe MD, a Jungian analyst. "Type and Archetype." An article.
Part 1 , Part 2

Leona Haas and Mark Hunziker, "Building Blocks of Personality Type" goes through each function in great detail.

Linda V. Berens, Ph.D. "Dynamics of Personality Type, Understanding and Applying Jung's Cognitive Processes."