One question you might have after learning about Myers-Briggs® types and taking a few tests is how to tell two similar types apart. Maybe the online tests you took gave you a couple different results. Or maybe you started reading about the types and discovered more than one sounds a lot like you.
If you’re trying to decide whether you’re more of an INTP or an INFP type, I hope this article will help. Just looking at the letters in these personality types, we might think the only difference between them is that one is a thinking type and one a feeling type. This is only party true. When we dive deeper into the cognitive functions that describe the mental processes each Myers-Briggs® type uses, it become easier to see the differences and similarities between these two types more clearly.
If you’re not familiar with cognitive functions, you can check out my post “The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs® Functions Ever” and Susan Storm’s post “The Cognitive Functions – What Are They?” for a good overview of how that works. INFJs and INFPs might look similar at first, but they use completely different functions, as shown in this graphic:
The way these cognitive functions work together makes INFPs and INTPs similar in some ways and very different in others. They might seem near-identical in some ways, but they lead with very different functions and that makes them much less similar than you might think.
Each leads with a different judging function
The “P” in a Myers-Briggs® type means that they extrovert their perceiving function (either Sensing or Intuition). For an introverted P type, since their favorite function is introverted, that means they lead with a Judging function (either Thinking or Feeling). INTPs lead with Introverted Thinking, and INFPs with Introverted Feeling. Because their favorite mental processes are Judging functions, both INTPs and INFPs like having things and beliefs settled and decided even more than they like experiencing life as it happens.
- If you’re an INTP, you’ll typically find that your Thinking side is the one that is most comfortable. Making sense of things, typically using impersonal criteria, and noticing inconsistencies comes naturally to you. In most cases, the primary question in your mind when evaluating a decision is some variation of, “Does this make sense?” (Personality Hacker, p. 69). You’re driven by facts more than people, and you like to make sense of those facts for yourself instead of having someone else tell you what they mean.
- If you’re an INFP, you’ll typically find that your Feeling side is the one that is most comfortable. Relying on subjective, abstract feelings and ideas comes naturally to you and you place a high value on living authentically. In most cases, the primary question in your mind when evaluating a decision is some variation of, “Does this feel right to me?” (Personality Hacker, p. 71). You’re driven by your personal convictions more than anything else, and it’s difficult for other people to sway you once you know what you believe.
Your co-pilot intuition
Even though INTPs and INFPs lead with a judging function, others may see them as more open and spontaneous due to their extroverted perceiving function. These types both have the same extroverted function for their co-pilot. Using Extroverted Intuition to interact with the outer world means that INTPs and INFPs can look surprisingly similar to an outside observer. However, the influence of their dominant Thinking or Feeling has a strong influence on how they express their co-pilot function.
Whether you’re an INFP or an INTP, your Intuitive side helps you understand the outer world. You probably notice it most when you’re learning and processing information because it helps you experiment and explore to discover how things connect and what is possible. It’s not your most comfortable process, but you can get really good at using Extroverted Intuition if you take the time to grow and develop it.
- An INTP will use their Extroverted Intuition in a way that makes sense to their Introverted Thinking. They’re likely to focus their outer-world exploration on theoretical systems, deducing logical possibilities, and forming models to explain their observations (Personality Type by Lenore Thomson, p.311). Think of someone like Sherlock Holmes or Alice from Alice in Wonderland.
- An INFP will use their Extroverted Intuition in a way that aligns with their Introverted Feeling. They’re likely to focus their outer-world exploration on putting their ideals into action, interpreting the potentials of their beliefs, and figuring out what their values mean in a larger context (Personality Type p.397-8). Think of someone like Luke Skywalker or Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
What happens in the loop
Our co-pilot process is not oriented the same way as our primary process (i.e. it’s extroverted for introverts and introverted for extroverts). Because we tend to be more comfortable with processes that work in our preferred world we often bypass our co-pilot process and try to use our tertiary process instead. This is called a “loop.”
For both INFPs and INTPs, the tertiary process is Introverted Sensing. Being in a “loop” often involves focusing on past experiences and become hyper-attentive to real-world details. You may also want verifiable, sensory facts but struggle to process them. Spending too much time in the loop can lead to trouble processing past mistakes and difficulty moving into the future. There are plenty of similarities in how this works for INTPs and INFPs, but it also shows up differently for each type because of how it interacts with their primary function.
- For an INTP this function will “loop” with your Introverted Thinking, making your Thinking side “complicated and speculative, less and less related to reality as it actually exists.” You may become more critical of others, especially of their expectations for you (Personality Type, p. 315). You might have an even harder time than usual turning your ideas into reality since you’re not using your extroverted side as much.
- For an INFP this function will “loop” with your Introverted Feeling, making it more focused on things as they are rather than as they could be (since you’re by-passing your more adventurous and experiment-minded intuitive side). Since you’re not using your extroverted side, you might start to just let life happen to you or fall into a habit of constantly seeking rather than sticking with some definite goal or task (Personality Type, p. 400, 402).
How you are under stress
When people are trying to find their best-fit personality type, they often focus on figuring out which cognitive function they favor. But the functions that we’re less comfortable with can also give us clues as to what personality type we are. The inferior function (the lowest on a four-function stack) typically shows up when we’re stressed. You might also use it to take a break and relax, and it often shows up in our favorite hobbies.
- If you’re an INTP, stress can bring out your inferior Extroverted Feeling. When stressed-out, you can become hypersensitive to relationships and much more emotional than usual. You might respond to this by trying to swing the other direction and emphasize logic to an extreme. You could also use this function in a healthy way, and you might find that you enjoy activities that tap into your Feeling side (such as mentoring someone or joining an organized social group).
- If you’re an INFP, stress can bring out your inferior Extroverted Thinking. When stressed-out, you can become more aggressive with your criticism and be very hard on yourself and others who you might see as incompetent. Stress might prompt you to take action before clearly thinking things through. You can also use this function in a healthy way, and you might find that you enjoy activities that require analytical reasoning (like puzzle games or working with data).
Before we wrap this up …
As a final note, I want to point out that there is plenty of room for individual variation within a type. Myers-Briggs® types simply describe how your mind works. It doesn’t tell you everything about yourself. You’ll often find elements of yourself in several type descriptions. Similarly, not every description for a specific type will fit you exactly. You’re looking for your “best fit” personality type rather than one that’s exactly perfect.
I’ve linked the books mentioned in this article below if you’d like to purchase a copy for yourself. Please note that these are affiliate links which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.
- Personality Hacker: Harness the Power of Your Personality Type to Transform Your Work, Relationships, and Life by Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge
- Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual: A Practical Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others Through Typology by Lenore Thomson
Featured image credit: Robin Higgins via Pixabay