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Empirical evidence for the hierarchy of preferences: Applications for practitioners and researchers

By Mina Barimany

Carl Jung understood the significance of paradox, and those who have read his original work know that this ‘tension between opposites’ pervades much of his writing and theory.  It seems fitting then, that in order to move the theory forward, one might need to go backwards first.

Thus, the context for the current study: most empirical research available on Type to date has focused on the assessments and tools that have evolved from Jung’s original Psychological Type theory.  Of the many aspects of the original Type theory that have yet to be explored with empirical research, this study focused on the hierarchy of preferences.  The hierarchy of preferences is an integral part of the theory because Type classification is based entirely on the order of preferred functions.

Understanding the natural patterns that govern the order of preferences is the key to accurate Type classification, and accurate classification means a more accurate application of the theory.

Latent class analysis was applied to the eight ranked function-attitude scores of 5,247 participants who took the Majors Personality Type Indicator™ and Majors Personality Type Elements™ assessments.  The superior, auxiliary, and tertiary preferences of the latent classes were examined so that the nature of the relationships amongst the three preferences could be observed.

Three distinct but related themes emerged from the data:

  1. First, that the superior/auxiliary preferences were consistently opposite in process (one rational and one irrational function), but not consistently in attitude.  This meant that combinations of the superior and auxiliary preferences—such as extraverted thinking (Te) with extraverted sensing (Se); or introverted sensing (Si) with introverted feeling (Fi)—were common findings.
  2. Second, not only did the superior/auxiliary/tertiary preferences exhibit complementary relationships to one another, the tertiary function was never antagonistic to the auxiliary or superior preference.
  3. Finally, the superior and inferior functions were antagonistic to one another in 46 of the 47 classes that resulted from the analysis—a truly remarkable finding.  The outcomes support Jung’s theory, but also present evidence that challenges our current conceptions of Psychological Type based on other popular Type theories.

The resulting profiles support the hypothesis that there may be more than 8 or 16 Types.  This holds larger implications for the theoretical formulation of the Type theory as well as the classification and assessment of Psychological Type, but what does this mean for the Type practitioner?

Among other things, these results suggest that Type practitioners might benefit from adopting a more flexible perspective on Type dynamics, by recognizing that psychological preferences can manifest in ways outside the prescriptive norms in which the field has come to think of them.

For example, introverted thinking (Ti; superior) can be complemented by extraverted intuition (Ne; auxiliary) and introverted intuition (Ni; tertiary)(See figure 1).

This study proposes a “tricycle model” of Type development as a moniker for this arrangement of preferences.  Conceptualized as a tricycle that has one leading dominant wheel and two supporting back wheels, the individual uses a primary superior function and two supporting functions, rather than just one.  This arrangement adds a higher degree of stability to the system of consciously developed functions and thus more balance to the psyche in general.

Barimany_New Data for type

Figure 1. An example of the tricycle profile found in the data

The two most common tricycle profiles found in the data were the following:

  1. A superior function with an auxiliary and tertiary in the introverted and extraverted attitudes of the opposing process to the superior, such as extraverted sensation (Se;; superior) with extraverted feeling (Fe; auxiliary) and introverted feeling (Fi; tertiary)
  2. A superior function with an auxiliary in the opposing process but the same attitude as the superior with a tertiary of the same process, the same function, but the opposite attitude, such as extraverted sensation (Se; superior) with extraverted feeling (Fe; auxiliary) and introverted sensation (Si; tertiary)

It should be noted that this study sought specifically to distinguish the tertiary as the third-most-developed and consciously accessible function.  There is a larger conversation to be had about the terminology of the tertiary function — there is a lack of clarity concerning whether it is the function that develops after the auxiliary has differentiated or is wholly something else.

These findings suggest that Type practitioners might benefit from shifting to a broader and more nuanced understanding of how to help their clients develop their mental functions and achieve psychological harmony.  Rather than working off of the four-function model as it is currently understood, it may be more effective to focus on helping the client develop a strong working alliance between their superior and auxiliary functions (or, the functions that are differentiated and consciously accessible to them).

Despite the limitations of the study, the results seem to suggest that the current understanding of Type development be revised such that it can be applied more effectively on the ground-level with individual clients (please see full dissertation for a comprehensive discussion of limitations).

A second study was recently run with a similar protocol.  Containing 5,000 participants, it was added to the original data set for the purpose of comparing the results from the larger data set to the smaller one.

New developments that resulted from this study will be presented at the 2018 BAPT Annual Conference in Milton Keynes.

About the author

Mina BarimanyMina Barimany (INTJ) is a psychotherapist, counselor educator, and researcher from Washington, DC. Originally trained as a family therapist, she completed a doctorate in counselor education from George Washington University, where she is the Assistant Training Director of the counseling center and researches the development and application of Psychological Type theory.

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