Understanding the Jungian cognitive functions is key to Myers-Briggs typing. Unfortunately, it can also be very confusing. Basically, the four letters in a Myers-Briggs type tells you what kind of mental processes you use most effectively in making judgements and decisions (Thinking or Feeling) and in perceiving the world (Intuition or Sensing). It also tells you whether you are more oriented to the outer world or inner world (Extrovert or Introvert).
Everyone has and uses four functions (out of a possible eight). Your primary function is the one you’re most comfortable with and use most effectively. It’s supported by your secondary function, which acts as a sort of co-pilot. The third and fourth functions are less developed, and while we have access to them they are not often used effectively. You can look up your type’s cognitive functions on a variety of websites, including PersonalityJunkie.
For this first post, we’ll focus on the perceiving or learning processes (there will be a part two next week for the decision-making processes). Everyone has an introverted or extroverted form of Sensing and Intuition in their function stack. We use one or the other most effectively when learning new things and interacting with new ideas. Most Myers-Briggs enthusiasts still refer to these functions by their full names or abbreviations, but I think the Personality Hacker labels are easier to use when first learning about cognitive functions so I’ll include those as well.
Sensing types are primarily concerned with what exists in concrete, observable reality. They focus on either the past or the present, and would rather work with something tangible than something theoretical. They can enjoy life in the moment and appreciate sense-impressions like good food and attractive surroundings.
Memory/Introverted Sensing (Si)
Personality Hacker says “that people use this process to learn new information based on their memories.” Isabel Meyer said a person using Introverted Sensing “sees things highly colored by the subjective factor,” and develops an inner self that may appear eccentric because of their unique way to seeing the world. However you phrase it, the Memory process is concerned with collecting sensory information and taking the time to check it for reliability and see how it fits in with their other ideas.
This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ISFJs, ISTJs, ESFJs, and ESTJs. The introverts use it as their primary function; the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.
Sensation/Extroverted Sensing (Se)
The difference between the introverted Memory process and the extroverted Sensation process is that Se types process their sensory impressions externally. They want to experience and interact with something when they encounter it, rather than after-the-fact. People who use Sensation as their primary or secondary process have a reputation as adrenaline junkies.
This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ESTPs, ESFPs, ISTPs, and ISFPs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions; the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.
Intuitive types are primarily concerned with what could be. They focus on patterns and future possibilities, and would rather deal with theory and potential than something that’s already here. They are imaginative, original, and value achievement and inspiration.
Perspectives/Introverted Intuition (Ni)
When focused inward as the Perspectives process, an intuitive type is concerned with deep insights and understanding patterns that form inside their mind. Perspectives types are extremely creative, and analyze external data as well as internal thoughts and feelings to come to an understanding about how their minds work. We then use our self-insight to interpret life and promote understanding (as Isabel Myers puts it).
This is the perceiving process used most effectively by INFJs, INTJs, ENFJs, and ENTJs. The introverts use it as their primary functions; the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.
Exploration/Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
Extroverted Intuition is also concerned with ideas, possibilities and a desire to understand, but it’s focus outward. Often, these types will perform experiments just to see what will happen. Personality Hacker calls this process Exploration because “the best pattern recognition system for the outer world is to mess with everything that can be messed with, and to explore, explore, explore.”
This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ENTPs, ENFPs, INTPs, and INFPs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions; the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.
4 thoughts on “Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Learning Processes”
Si can be just as detached from reality as Ni, because it’s entirely invested in personal mythologies through imagination. Like Ni, it transposes over the world what it wishes to see, but it also falls into a pattern of seeking comfort from routine.
Si is probably the function I feel like I understand the least, so thanks for the extra insight into how that works. You ISFJs are much more mysterious and complicated than we often give you credit for, and that’s pretty awesome 🙂
I feel the same way about Ni, although … being close friends with an extremely Ni-heavy INTJ has helped me get a vague sense of it as a function.
Si is difficult to explain because it’s different in every person who uses it — a cognitive process entirely shaped by that individual’s framework of reality. In a sense, it’s mythological — we like feeling as though we are connected to eternal things, to long-lasting things, to the history of the world and the undefined future. We have a perception of reality shaped through whatever we’ve fed our Si (stories, experience, etc) and if reality doesn’t fit our Si perception, we tend to have trouble adjusting.
I’m afraid Si-doms tragically have a reputation for being too literal and not having much imagination, but that’s untrue — Ne provides us with a wealth of ideas and dreams, and we frequently go there — as novelists, and as people. It makes us restless. We yearn for stability while being pulled toward a desire for newness, and reluctant to settle on things. Unlike Ni users, we can’t choose just one particular truth — we see too many options and have no way to filter through them.
Some of the stereotypes are correct — we are very much a family-oriented type, because … families are eternal. Our blood connects us to our ancestors, to ancient times, so we are loyal to our families. And, we are reluctant to embrace big changes quickly (we can adapt, usually, but we need time to process it) because … the future is unknown. We can’t just pick one desired path in life. Inferior Ne niggles at us, wanting us to always have many options, while at the same time being overwhelmed by them.
Not sure that enlightens you at all, but … Si is vague and personal and abstract, just like Ni. Unlike Ni, it’s not specific or futuristic.
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Thanks so much Charity. I’ve been musing over this for the past couple days. The idea that Si is entirely shaped by the individual’s framework of reality is helping me make sense of why my dad is so much like, and yet unlike, other ISFJs I know.
It’s also helping me understand one of my characters who I think is an ISTJ. Maybe I can finally write past the first chapter in his book now 🙂
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