Understanding the Complexities of Personality: What Are The 8 Cognitive Functions?

Understanding the complexities of personality can be a daunting task.

We all have our own unique personalities and it is often difficult to understand people who are different than us.

For this reason, Carl Jung attempted to simplify how we think about personality by breaking down human psychology into 8 cognitive functions according to his theory of psychological types.

In this article, we will take a look at what these eight cognitive functions are and why they matter in understanding ourselves and others around us.

introverted thinking introverted sensing

A History of the Cognitive Functions

In the 1920s, one of the most influential psychologists and philosophers in history developed a personality type system that is now used across much of North America. Carl Jung wrote Psychological Types during this time, where he detailed what would become his famous typology theory.

In an effort to study the theory of Carl Jung, Isabel Myers began developing a self-report questionnaire in order for people to find where they fit. The use of this instrument has led to almost universal understanding that there are 16 basic personality types which can be 'named' by four letter codes.

Two Groups of Cognitive Processes

It is a commonly accepted notion that people can be classified as either introverts or extraverts.

However, Jung's studies of the human psyche led him to notice more differences between two groups based on what they were doing in those worlds which he called "functions."

Today these are considered cognitive processes and understanding them could have applications for both psychology professionals and individuals looking to improve their daily lives.

personal values physical world fundamental functions

The Four Cognitive Functions

There are 4 Jungian Functions.

Sensing: This function perceives the world based on how it looks, feels, smells. It remembers things by what they look like or sound like.

iNtuition: The intuition is a function that perceives the world with wonder and possibilities. Intuitions are attracted to all sorts of abstractions - symbols, patterns in time, connections between events. They remember things through associating them with other thoughts or memories; their memory resembles a web rather than a linear list for this reason!

Thinking: The thinking cognitive function uses logic as its primary tool to understand and process information. Thinking individuals tend to be more precise in language use because they have an innate need for clarity when communicating ideas internally and externally.

Feeling: the Feeling function uses feelings as its primary tool to understand and process information. This function relies on the ability of individuals to empathize with others in order for them to make decisions that are best not just for themselves but also their environment and those around them.

The Sensing and Intuition functions are information-accessing processes (Perception), and Thinking & Feeling are Organizing-Evaluating processes (Judging).

Each of these 4 functions can be used in both an introverted and an extraverted way. (eg.: Se, Si. Ne, Ni.)

This is how we come to the eight functions.

The 8 Cognitive Functions

Diving deeper into the functions, let's start with the information-accessing, or perceiving functions.

Perceiving Functions

Extraverted Sensing (Se)

Extraverted Sensing is about going with what happens spontaneously; taking action in the present environment; not missing opportunities for change and new experiences; learning by accumulating experiences from the past.

Introverted Sensing (Si)

Introverted Sensing: Introverted sensors are the type of people who thrive when there is routine and order in their lives. They have a specific way for doing things that works well with them, so they can efficiently get tasks done without having to think too hard about it.

These introverts enjoy being responsible and reliable as opposed to outgoing or creative types because this makes them feel more secure.

Introverted sensors value caution over spontaneity because they want security above all else, even if others might find these qualities boring or uninteresting at first glance.

Extraverted Intuition (Ne)

Extraverted Intuition: Extraverted intuitives are constantly looking for possibilities and patterns. They're always brainstorming new ideas, but they often never follow through on them because there's so many other connections to explore in the world!

This means it can be hard to keep up with these creative thinkers, but that just makes their genius all the more enjoyable.

Introverted Intuition (Ni)

Introverted Intuition: The introverted intuition type has the ability to reach conclusions without any clear idea of how they got there.

They are wise, convicted and always have a plan for their lives that looks towards building or understanding complex systems in order to work toward their bigger picture.

People with this function process constantly even when it may not be obvious at first glance as an answer will come out of nowhere from time-to-time when someone is trying hard enough!

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Judging Functions

These judging functions are what we use as our organizing-evaluating processes.

Extraverted Thinking (Te)

Extraverted Thinking: Extraverted thinkers are usually more concerned with devising a way to convince their audience than they are about putting too much thought into the process of conveying those thoughts.

This can make them prone to being passionate and persuasive speakers, but also means that when faced with an argument or theory-based issue in which they don't have enough information, it's sometimes easy for them to give up on understanding how things happened so long as people agree that there was some sort of logical explanation behind what occurred.

Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Introverted Thinking: Introverted thinking is an inward-looking process that seeks to understand personal ideas using a deeply specific framework.

Introverted thinkers are constantly mining their own thoughts in order to be rational and reasonable, slowly ruling out other ideas before coming up with firm conclusions (and they’re often guarded about how they came upon those findings).

Extraverted Feeling (Fe)

Extraverted Feeling: Extroverted feeling is a personality trait marked by concern for harmony, social connection to others, and empathy.

Extraverted feelers are especially sensitive the feelings of those around them--sometimes too much so!

They're great at reading other people's emotions and understanding what they might be thinking or why they would react in certain ways.

This sensitivity can lead extroverts to avoid conflict with ease: it doesn't suit their natural predisposition as peacemakers who want everyone else to get along just fine without any hassle whatsoever!

Introverted Feeling (Fi)

Introverted Feeling: Introverted feeling is a function concerned with authenticity, individualism, and values.

Introverted feelers know what they believe in without question because of their strong sense of self-identity and the ability to identify personal experience.

They are usually outspoken activists who love helping those in need; introvertive feelings can be used for change—of oneself or others (or society).

Understanding the Cognitive Functions in the 16 Types

Each type has four functions, ordered in a stack from strongest to weakest.

Did you know that each personality type has a unique stack of four cognitive functions? They’re ordered from strongest to weakest, and the types are grouped based on this.

Now that we’re clear about the 8 cognitive functions, we can better understand how they correspond to each of the 16 personality types.

Each type has 4 functions expressed either extraverted or introverted. This is also known as the Primary Functions.

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Dominant function

The first function in the stack is called the dominant function, the strongest one you use so often, you may not even realize you are doing it.

Auxiliary function

The second function is called the auxiliary function, which assists the dominant function in conveying ideas and is also relatively strong in your personality.

Tertiary function

The third function is the tertiary function, which may be slightly under-developed, but does start to manifest in your type more prominently as you age.

Inferior function

The fourth function is your inferior function, which is challenging to access and often only comes out under stress.

Completing the Primary Functions are the Shadow Functions, which, together with the archetypes, make up the 8 Function model developed by Jungian analyst John Beebe.

Additional Resources

Jungian Cognitive Senses (a YouTube playlist by CS Joseph)

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main cognitive functions?

The four primary functions in Jungian typology are thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. They describe how we focus to acquire information from our environment--i.e., through logical reasoning (thinking), a subjective evaluation of experiences without an objective basis (feeling), sensory experience which is contrasted to thinking (sensation), and a reliance on imagery which is contrasted to feeling (intuition).

How do you order cognitive functions?

We can order them based on the Dominant function, Auxiliary function, Tertiary function and Inferior function.

A dominant cognitive function is one that takes precedence over auxiliary or inferior ones in processing information; an auxiliary function supports and complements a dominant function while an inferior function opposes it. 

What do each of the cognitive functions mean?

According to Jung, there are eight cognitive functions. These Cognitive Functions are Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling. Every individual has one of these six ways he or she processes information about the world.

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