Sherlock Holmes and The Trouble With Typing Fictional Characters

Discussions about Sherlock Holmes’ Myers-Briggs® type can get pretty heated in the online community. He’s either an INTJ or INTP and whichever side you come down on (if you care about this sort of thing) is worth passionately defending. I’ve weighed-in on this myself in a blog post arguing that Sherlock as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Sherlock BBC series, Robert Downy Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes movies, and even the Basil of Bakerstreet version from Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective are all INTPs.

I do think that’s the best-fit type for all three of those versions, but they aren’t the only portrayals of Sherlock Holmes. We ought not forget, for example, the original character in the stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve been reading and re-reading several of those for my Classics Club book list and Sherlock doesn’t seem very much like an INTP in those stories. In fact, the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that he’s a Thinking personality type.

Typing People Who Aren’t Real

Sherlock Holmes and The Trouble With Typing Fictional Characters |
image courtesy of The Sherlock Holmes Museum

That brings us to the second part of this post’s title: the trouble with typing fictional characters. Though I love looking at fictional characters’ personality types, there are limits to how accurately you can type them. It gets especially tricky in the case of someone like Sherlock Holmes or Batman because so many writers and actors have been involved in portraying this character over quite a long period of time. There’s bound to be some inconsistencies in how each creative sees the character they’re working with. Plus, I doubt very many of them think about the character’s Myers-Briggs® type and how they can keep it consistent in every portrayal.

Going back to Sherlock Holmes as our example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sometimes writes him in a way that looks like ISTJ, sometimes more like one of the NTJ types, and sometimes with traits of a TP type. He also calls Dr. Watson by two different first names (John is used three times, James once), so I think it’s safe to say Doyle wasn’t all that concerned with consistency. In any case, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were written about 30 years before Jung published Psychological Types, so we know he wasn’t relying on those theories when writing the character.

So Why Type Fiction?

Since it’s difficult to type fictional characters with a high degree of accuracy, why do it? For one thing, it’s fun. It’s one of the ways to turn an interest in Myers-Briggs® into an entertaining pastime as well as a useful hobby.

Typing fictional characters can also sharpen our skills typing real people. It gives us a chance to study how characters react and puzzle out which psychological functions they’re using based on what they say and how they act. In addition, well-written characters provide familiar examples of the different types to use in every-day conversation. If someone asks me what an ENTP or ISFJ, for example, looks like in real-life then Tony Stark and Samwise Gamgee are there to help clarify things.

Do you enjoy trying to figure out fictional characters’ personality types? Tell us about your favorite characters and what you think their types are in the comments!

Ficitonal MBTI – Sherlock Holmes (INTP)

In the world of fictional typology, Sherlock Holmes is typically cited either as the perfect example of an INTP or as a notoriously difficult charter to type. Some writers say this difficulty is because the character displays aspects of several different types (including INTJ and ISTP) due to the writers’ ignorance of Myers-Briggs theory.

While this may be partly true, I think we can pin-down a single best-fit type for most portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in film and television (I’m not covering the original stories in this post). Rather than showing several different personality types, the different portrayals of Sherlock Holmes show how much variation there can be within a single personality type.Ficitonal MBTI - Sherlock Holmes (INTP) |

INTP Traits

The personality type that fits most film and movie portrayals of Sherlock best is INTP. The function stack for this type is this:

  1. Introverted Thinking (Ti)
  2. Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
  3. Introverted Sensing (Si)
  4. Extroverted Feeling (Fe)

This means that Sherlock first approaches the world with a judging attitude that is focused inward and relies on impersonal analysis. Ti prefers to internalize observations and work with abstract ideas. It “values facts chiefly as illustrative proofs of the idea,” and rejects things that seem irrelevant (Myers, Gifts Differing, p.78). This would explain why BBC’s Sherlock didn’t bother to remember that the earth goes around the sun. Read more

The INFJ Stare

Last week, I noticed that one of the Google searches that led to my blog was “INFJ stare.” My reaction was, “We have a stare?” I immediately posted the question to Facebook and performed a Google search of my own. One of my friends sent me this image of the dreaded “INFJ Death Stare:”

INFJ death stare

Apparently, only non-INFJs consider this a “stare of death.” We INFJs don’t really think about it much at all until someone points it out. But other types do notice. In one forum I found, an ISTP asked, “What’s going on in your head when you do it? Why do INFJ girls stare at me after every other thing I say? It makes me feel like I’m creeping them out or something, but they continue to talk to me regardless how creepy I may/may not be.”

What’s Going On Behind The Stare

Among INFJs, the consensus is that we don’t meant to give you a death stare. It’s simply our default thinking expression. The INFJs who know that they stare actually spend quite a bit of time trying not to creep people out with it. We’re awkward enough as it is without having to worry about people asking why we’re giving them the death stare.

This isn’t the same thing as “resting bitch face.” People don’t generally describe the INFJ death stare as being rude or angry. It’s just hard for other people to read. And once I’d read several comments along those line, I realized I do indeed have an INFJ stare. I just didn’t realize it at first because the people who’ve asked me about it generally describe it as “spacing out.”


Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock stareEven though there’s a “J” in INFJ, we’re a Perception-Dominant type Introverted intuition is a perceiving function, and that’s what we lead with (click here for more information about Myers-Briggs® Functions).

According to an analysis on, eyes are the “most prevailing part” of a perception-dominant type’s faces. The typical INFJ will maintain a very steady focus on people or objects for long stretches of time, and when we shift our gaze to something new our whole head turns to look. Of the infamous stare, this writer says, “The eyes fall into a dream-like state and stare off into the distance. The eyes will appear to be looking through the object of it’s focus, rather than being fixated on it.”

One of the results that I found while looking up INFJ stares was an extensive two-part analysis of why Benedict Cumberbatch might be an INFJ. That’s where I found this gif. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of his, but this was a little over-the-top-obsessed even for me.  I did, however, find it an amusing read. It also demonstrates that INFJ eyes are apparently interesting enough that some people will spend hours of time analyzing them.

Dealing With the Death Stare

The INFJ Stare |
Photo credit: luxstorm via Pixabay

While listening to a church service this past weekend, I realized I was making an effort to soften my eyes and smile a little instead of just staring at the speaker. I hadn’t really thought about before, but I have been trying to teach myself a more open and welcoming “default expression.” My sister once described this as my “interview face.” I suppose even though I hadn’t been thinking that I had a “death stare,” I still realized it made people uncomfortable and was trying to change it.

If you’re an INFJ, you’re probably already trying not to make people uncomfortable with you’re staring (which also makes it more effective when you want to give someone a death stare, since they won’t have seen it before).

If you’re talking to an INFJ and we do start staring off into the distance or through you, try not to be offended by it. We really don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. At least, not usually 😉


Featured image credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

If you’d like to know more about the INFJ personality type, check out my book The INFJ Handbook. I just updated it with a ton of new information and resources. You can purchase it in ebook or paperback by clicking this link.