Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Basics of Type Theory

Rather than trying to draw a picture of each personality's characteristics (which would be an endless job, since each person truly is unique), type theory looks at how our brains work. Quite simply, we take in data (through our senses) and make a decision about what to do with that data. That's it. Our day is an endless stream of noticing stuff and deciding what to do with it.

This morning I became aware I was awake and noticed a beeping sound. I decided to turn off the alarm clock. Seeing the time, I decided I needed to get out of bed. I noticed the cold air and decided to put on sweatpants. You get the picture. Each moment we are doing one of these two processes: taking in information or making a decision.

What's fun about humans is that we have different ways of doing these cognitive processes. Two ways of gathering data, and two methods of decision making. We are all capable of using all of the processes (and we choose which to use in any given situation), but we all prefer one way of gathering data and one method of decision making. These cognitive preferences are hard-wired, just like physical dominance (as in right-handed or left-handed.)

Methods of gathering data:
Sensing (S)-- preferring to pay attention to information that comes from the outside, data that we gather through our 5 senses, tangibles, reality. Noticing "what is".

Intuiting (N)-- preferring to pay attention to information that comes from inside us, such as gut feelings, seeing possibilities, connections, patterns, or noticing "what could be".

Methods of decision making:
Thinking (T)-- making a decision based on logic, reasoning, a set of principles or objective criteria.

Feeling (F)-- making a decision based on feelings, values, what is important.

The "type code" is comprised of four letters. The second letter reflects our method of gathering data (either S or N). The third letter denotes our decision making preference (either T or F). To complete the type code we identify two "attitudes" which describe how we get energy and how we prefer to live our life. The first letter of the code reflects our preferred energy source and the fourth letter is our lifestyle attitude.

Energizing attitude:
Introverting (I)-- gets energy from within. Stimulated by ideas, emotions, and impressions. Usually needs alone time to recharge. Interactions with others tend to drain energy. Prefer to process and think alone, then will share results and conclusions.

Extraverting (E)-- gets energy from outside the self. Stimulated by people, activities, and things. Likes to be involved, gets restless when alone too long. Tend to think out loud, often doing their best thinking when brainstorming with others.

Lifestyle attitude:
Judging (J)-- prefers planning, structure, and order. Is more comfortable after a decision is made.

Perceiving (P)-- prefers spontaneity and being flexible. Is more comfortable when options are kept open.

Type Dynamics
Now here's the less understood part of type theory. The four letters interact with each other. So an ISFP isn't simply an introverted version of an ESFP. The attitudes (first and last letter of the code) tell us which cognitive process is our dominant.

I'll break this down using my own code, INFJ. The lifestyle attitude (J or P) tells us which cognitive function (data gathering or decision making) we project externally (what others see.) So, J's extravert their preferred decision making process (Thinking or Feeling), P's extravert their data gathering process (Sensing or iNtuiting). As a J, my decision making process (F) is extraverted. Which means my data gathering process (N) is introverted. So, Fe and Ni are my preferred processes. To determine which is dominant, we turn to my energizing attitude. I'm an I, so the introverted function is my dominant (Ni) and Fe is my "auxiliary function." Intraverting types don't show their dominant process to the outer world. Extraverting types display their dominant function (which explains why they feel so comfortable when interacting with others.)

So, we now know that Ni and Fe are my preferred ways of gathering information and making decisions. But we all use all four functions (S, N, T, and F). So can we determine my relative skill in using the others? Yes-- the fourth or "inferior function" is always the opposite of the dominant. So my fourth is extraverted Sensing (Se), leaving the third position to be T. There is disagreement in the attitude of the third function, but I tend to agree with the idea that it takes the attitude of the dominant. Therefore, my process hierarchy is Ni, Fe, Ti, Se.