The Problem With Cognitive Functions In 2019

by Heidi Priebe

Anyone who knows me knows I worship at the altar of Carl Jung.

Lnight in Armour, by Maria Pop of PexelsOr more specifically, his description of the eight cognitive processes that eventually led to the development of sixteen personality ‘types’ – ones you may be more familiar with as ‘Myers-Briggs types.’

For many years, the MBTI community has remained firmly divided between those who define type dichotomously – pitting the concept of intuition against sensing and thinking against feeling – versus those who prefer the more fluid Jungian approach. This approach suggests we all have elements of intuition, sensing, thinking, feeling, judging, perceiving, introversion and extroversion in our personalities – it’s simply a matter of when we use these approaches and in what order.

We call these individual elements ‘Cognitive Functions,’ and they are what most personality enthusiasts will refer to as the holy grail of typology.

Functions will tell you why an ENTP may be better at engaging a crowd than their feeling counterpart the ENFP. Why an INFP will feel things deeply and intimately, whereas an INFJ may feel detached from their emotions for long stretches of time.

Functions provide nuance and depth to each type description – an approach that dichotomies alone cannot match. There lies only one glaring issue when it comes to these functions: their original descriptions were written close to a century ago. Can we trust them to have maintained their relevancy?

It’s no secret that the online MBTI community is awash with ‘mistyped’ individuals. Ask any MBTI practitioner how many clients they’ve met who claim to be INFJs, but end up displaying the cognitive makeup of ISFJs, ISFPs or INFPs. It’s a quick way to elicit an eye roll from your average typologist.

We assume that people’s egos are getting the better of them while they’re filling out free assessments on websites like, but this may not be the only factor at play. Perhaps the true responsibility for accurate testing lies in the hands of the test-makers… who have failed to update their definition of the cognitive processes to reflect the societal conditions we’re living in, nearly a century after the original definitions were formed.

Consider the average Se-dom (What Myers & Briggs would refer to as an ESFP or ESTP personality type).

In Psychological Types (1921), Jung described the function of extroverted sensing as follows:

 ‘Se concerns itself with the facts; however, this is not for sake of logical fulfillment or completion, but for sake of receiving the highest physiological pleasure as possible. Extraverted sensation has little time for hidden meanings—most phenomena are self-explanatory to the Se psyche.’

Contrast this definition with that of Ne – or extroverted intuition, the lead function of ENFP and ENTP personalities –  which Daryl Sharp interpreted from Jung’s work to be represented as follows:

‘Extraverted intuition is the type of intuition that introspects in an extraverted and thus, objective manner—thus, the extraverted intuitive type is the ‘brainstormer’, one who introspects many possibilities for certain situations. Because of this, the extraverted intuitive is known to have quite flighty judgment and a lack of decisiveness.’

To simplify, Se explores that which already exists and Ne considers that which might come into existence in the future.

It seems to be a simple enough distinction. Until you approach an ESTP or ESFP personality in real time and ask them whether or not they consider themselves to be a brainstormer who enjoys considering different possibilities about what might come to be.

Overwhelmingly, their response tends to be ‘Oh, yes!’

Now, does this turn the ESxP into an extroverted intuitive by definition?

Not exactly. When pushed further, these types still base their arguments in fact rather than speculation. They still prefer action to drawn-out contemplation. They remain aware of and in tune with their environment in a way that evades those who lead with extroverted intuition. Put simply, they have too much Se to qualify as an Ne-dominant type. And yet many of their interests overlap.

To explain this, we must turn our attention to the social and cultural environment that both these types currently live in.

Consider the context in which ‘Psychological Types’ was originally written.

In the year 1921, the first world war was just coming to an end. Automobiles and electrical appliances were becoming widely available for the first time across developed countries. Consumerism was flourishing with inventions like television and the radio.

Brainstormers and introspectors were required to produce the concepts behind these inventions but their role was less important than those who could concretely produce them. Society valued hard-working individuals who would show up to work on time every morning and focus on the actionable tasks in front of them. In short, sensing types were of the essence.

Flash forward fifteen years. The first programmable computer gets built by a German fellow named Konrad Zuse.  It takes another forty-five to fifty-five years before the home computer becomes a staple for the average individual living in a developed country. This development catapults us into the third industrial revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution. Personal electronic devices such as Internet-equipped cell phones and personal computers are now widespread.

In the year 2019, we’re entering the fourth industrial revolution. This is characterized not just by the existence of advanced technologies, but by the deeply integrated role they play in our lives. For the average citizen, there is no longer an option to be disconnected.

As stated in the World Development Report of 2019, ‘Technology is changing the skills that employers seek. Workers need to be better at complex problem-solving, teamwork and adaptability.’

At a first glance, these skills seem to be aligned with the Jungian definition of extroverted intuition. A flexible and adaptable approach, paired with the ability to solve complex problems screams Ne. However, let’s temporarily return to the definition of extroverted sensing:

‘Se concerns itself with the facts; however, this is not for sake of logical fulfillment or completion, but for sake of receiving the highest physiological pleasure as possible. Extraverted sensation has little time for hidden meanings—most phenomena are self-explanatory to the Se psyche.’

In a society that prides itself on innovation, technological advancement and creative problem-solving, how might one achieve the ‘highest physiological pleasure as possible’? Likely by mastering the skills that are now most actionable in the workplace and reaping the benefits of the corresponding success (Cue the supercut of tech company CEOs spending their weekends floating on yachts in the Caribbean).

Most type enthusiasts understand extroverted sensing as a ‘present-focused’ function that lives in the here and now. But in the year 2019, the future is happening now. Therefore, the line between extroverted intuition (which enjoys analyzing the future for analyzation’s sake) and extroverted sensing (which enjoys analyzing its way to a creative, actionable end goal) become more intertwined than they’ve ever been before. We can no longer consider solely what a given type is placing its attention on but why and in what form.

In short, the definitions need updating.

Consider your average home computer. Three people can buy three identical desktops, with the exact same operating systems. Out of the box, they’ll function identically. Until you begin loading on programs.

The software you load onto your computer alters what you see on the screen. The same concept applies to our minds and corresponding behavior. A present-focused individual running ‘1921 cultural software’ may have been practical, industrious and wholly unconcerned with entertaining theory.

A present-focused individual running ‘2019 cultural software’ must turn his or her attention toward the world of technology, innovation and creative problem-solving in order to remain present. After all, this is the present environment that surrounds them.

Of course, Se and Ne are not the only functions worth considering. What might Si – the function we associate with upholding societal values – look like in a world where the workforce is shifting rapidly every five to ten years? How might introverted intuition predict a future ripe with unpredictable technological advancements?

The cognitive functions were once identifiable not just by their operative mechanisms but by their expression – a factor that has shifted rapidly between 1921 and 2019.

Does this mean that identifying type is no longer possible in the present age? Surely not.

A well-trained practitioner who is conscious of the operative differences between Se, Ne, Ni, Si – and of course our decision-making functions (Fi, Fe, Ti, Te) – will be able to parse apart type regardless of environment or circumstance.

The challenge lies in rewriting the identifying characteristics of these functions to reflect the fact that the theory has not only survived a century of environmental change – it has thrived throughout it. And with a little tweaking, Jungian typology may be capable of helping us understand our differences in this age more than ever before.

About Heidi Priebe

Heidi PriebeHeidi (ENFP) is a personality psychology author. She is best known for her typology-focused writing, including her books, ‘The ENFP Survival Guide‘ ‘The INFP Survival Guide’ and ‘How You’ll Do Everything Based On Your Personality Type.’ She maintains healthy intellectual side affairs with The Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics.

Heidi is speaking at our conference #BAPT2019, see the programme here.

[Photo by Maria Pop of]
Scroll to Top