The 8 Jungian Cognitive Functions: Overview & Career Implications

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A Glance into the History of the 8 Jungian Functions

Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist, proposed his model of the eight (8) functions in his work, Psychological Types (1921). He divided the functions into two groups, extraverted (tethered in the external world) and introverted (unfolded in the inner world).

Jung’s work would later be built upon by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs, who created a personality model we know today as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®).

The Myers-Briggs approach used scales for Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling based on Jung’s work and then added a fourth dimension of their own, Judging-Perceiving.

The result is 4 different scales on which a person will be assigned one of two possible values. Thus there are 16 combinations (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16).

Each of the 16 personality types have four cognitive functions in alternating directions (i.e. introverted then extraverted, or vice versa), which can be thought of as four “puzzle pieces” in a particular type. External factors such as upbringing and stress can alter the way each function manifests.

The four (4) personality scales as proposed by Briggs and Myers:

  1. Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I) → Gaining energy by interacting with other people or alone
  2. Sensing (S) – Intuition (I) → Collecting information through the senses or imagination
  3. Thinking (T) – Feeling (F) → Making decisions through logic or emotions
  4. Judging (J) – Perceiving (P) → Organizing time by using schedules or without them; result- or process-oriented

As mentioned, the first three above are based on Jung’s work with the fourth added by Myers-Briggs. According to Jung, the “cognitive functions” are the two scales of Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling. These are the ways in which humans process information and think about the world.

Then, each function can be expressed both in an extraverted manner or an introverted manner. As such, Jung didn’t really view people as cut-and-dried “extraverts” and “introverts” but rather was more focused on the extraverted or introverted expression of each of the four cognitive functions.

Jungian Four (4) Cognitive Functions Stack:

Jung’s cognitive function “stack” describes the priority or order in which a person uses their cognitive functions, with Primary being the most natural and commonly used and the Inferior being the least-commonly used.

  1. Primary → Most natural (and comfortable) function; the internal “mother tongue”
  2. Auxiliary → Supporting function, usually connected with creation and job choice
  3. Tertiary → Function where individual often takes action steps to improve upon
  4. Inferior → Activates under extreme stress, generally avoided out of self-protection

Descriptions of the Eight (8) Cognitive Functions

Now let’s discuss the eight cognitive functions originally outlined by Jung. His theory proposed that for each of the 4 functions (Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) each person would generally either extravert (display outwardly or externally) or introvert (consider inwardly or internally) that function.

As you read below, consider each function and its expression. Are you more Se or Si? Does Te or Ti come more naturally for you?