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Cognitive Functions: An Introduction

One of my goals as a homemaking blogger is to simplify personality typing for use as a practical growth tool. Unfortunately some aspects will always take some brainpower to understand no matter how much they are simplified. In this post I will be attempting to explain the basics of cognitive functions. (For an overview of what MBTI is all about, I recommend that you read this article: Personality Typing for Homemakers: The Basics.)

Discover your hidden functions beyond your MBTI four-letter code.

Who this Post is for

If you would like to understand how the individual parts of Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators work together as a personal growth tool, then this post is for you. You would also enjoy this post if you want to dig deeper in your understanding of a specific personality type. For those who simply want to know the basics without delving into the whys behind a particular type, this post may not be for you. Before you decide whether to continue reading, I want to show you why I think cognitive functions are so important.


Why the Four-letter Indicator isn’t Enough

MBTI Dichotomies Often Cause Confusion

The complexities of each personality type are impossible to communicate effectively through the simplified four-letter code. Because of this, many people are confused about how to properly use and identify their personality types.

One of the most popular misconceptions about Meyer’s Briggs is that you only use the part of each dichotomy spelled out in your four-letter code. For example,  some people think that an ENFP type only would use Extraversion, iNtuition and Feeling and never Introversion, Thinking and Sensing. In reality, every type does use all of the functions. The letters in your four-letter code merely indicate which functions you use when you are at your best self.

Other common misconceptions are that some people are ambiverts, change types, or are a combination of two MBTI Types. This is usually because of misinterpreting what the dichotomies in the code actually indicate. (Hint: The difference between the J and the P is not “organized vs. scatterbrained.”)  

Cognitive Functions Reveal the True Value of Personality Typing

Cognitive functions help clear up theses misconceptions by giving a more accurate picture of the inner workings of each personality type.  This helps clarify the distinctions between types. (Example: INFP vs INFJ.)   Cognitive functions move beyond the stereotypes and generalizations for each type and explain the thought processes behind certain behaviors. How well a type uses these processes changes and develops over time as each person matures and grows.

Understanding cognitive functions in this way can give you insight into how people typically act and think. This is why personality typing can improve how you meet others’ needs, work together,  and support their personal growth journey.  However, before you can benefit from cognitive functions personally, you will need to understand what they are and how they work together.


Cognitive Function Overview

The Meyers-Briggs system is made up of eight cognitive functions, shown in the chart below.

  • Each function on the left is used in tandem with the function on the right (e.g. Extraverted iNtuition and Introverted Sensing).
  • Each personality type uses only four of the cognitive functions: one pair of Perceiving functions and one pair of Judging functions (e.g. ENFP uses Extraverted iNtuition/Introverted Sensing and Extraverted Thinking/Introverted Feeling).
  • Note: Perceiving functions observe and gather information; Judging functions interpret information and make decisions.

Here is an overview of the eight cognitive functions.

Before Moving On . . .

You will want a general idea of your MBTI personality type before going any deeper into cognitive functions. Don’t worry if you are not 100% sure of your type. One of the benefits of cognitive functions is that you can see the mechanics of each type up close. That way you can get a better idea of which function combination best describes you! (Here is the link to take the FREE online test at 16 personalities.)

Did you know that there are hidden functions beyond your four-letter MBTI code?

What the Four-letter Type Really Does

Although figuring out which dichotomy you favor for each of the four letters is useful, what really differentiates the types is how the cognitive functions work together.

Below is an example of two cognitive stacks: an extraverted stack and an introverted stack.

  • The two top functions in the stack correspond with the two middle letters in the four-letter code. (The bottom two functions are hidden functions, discussed later in the post.)
  • Each function acts in either an extraverted or introverted direction. (Note that the first and last letters of each four-letter code are indicators, not functions.)


Finding Your Cognitive Functions

Each of the Percieving (iNtuition & Sensing) and Judging (Feeling & Thinking) functions can be broken down into introverted or extraverted functions (e.g. Fe or Fi). The Extraverted functions are used to relate to the outer world. The Introverted functions are used to relate to your inner world.

The four-letter type indicator is the key to finding out which functions are introverted and which are extraverted for a particular type.

  • The last letter in your four-letter type (J vs. P) indicates which function is Extraverted. (For the ENFP, iNtuition is extraverted since it is a Perceiving function. For the ISFJ, Feeling is extraverted since it is a Judging function.)

Finding Primary Cognitive Functions: ENFP & ISFJ

  • The first letter of your personality code indicates whether you prefer to introvert or extravert. The first function in your stack (your Primary function) will also act in that direction (i.e. introvert or extravert). The second, or Secondary, function will act in the opposite direction.

Hidden Functions

As you can see,  the third (Tertiary) and fourth (Inferior) functions are excluded from the four-letter code. One of the reasons these functions are  “hidden”  is because they are the weaker, less developed functions in your cognitive stack.  The Primary and Secondary functions are the most used since they are simpler and describe a personality at its best. However, all four cognitive functions in your stack can work together to help you with your personal growth journey.

Putting the Functions Together

As I mentioned earlier, your personality type’s natural order for using the cognitive functions is called a cognitive stack.How the cognitive functions work together within the cognitive stack is the topic of the next post in the Personality Typing for Homemakers series. To get you started, I included a basic infographic that shows the cognitive stacks for each personality type as well as general definitions for each cognitive function at the end of this post. 

I want to hear from YOU!

So did you learn anything new about your personality type? What more would you like to know about personality typing in general? Let me know in the comments below!

Feel free to save or pin for future reference! 

Cognitive function stacks for each Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Further Reading

Unlocking your personality type's unique gifts using cognitive functionsFinding Your Personality’s Unique Gifts Using Cognitive Stacks

High-Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types -Personality Page
Read detailed descriptions for each personality type, including how they use cognitive functions.

MBTI Resource Page -Reflective Homemaker
See what other personality typing resources I have collected for my readers.

How my MBTI Helped Me Find a Personal Growth Outlet -Reflective Homemaker
Use what you have learned so far about cognitive functions to explore personal growth outlets.


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