Need help understanding cognitive function stacking? You know cognitive functions are the underpinning of MBTI types, of course, but have you ever wondered how to make sense out of Te, Si, Ne, Fi and all that? More to the point, how are you ever going to memorize the function stacks of every single type?
Easy! Let’s look at each part in detail.
(This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase through any of the provided links, idionity.com will get a small portion of this sale. This does not cost you anything extra and helps to support site costs. For more information, view my disclosure page.)
What the cognitive function stacks look like
There are eight cognitive functions in total: four judging (thinking and feeling) and four perceiving (intuition and sensing). Each MBTI type has a stacking of cognitive functions, and while some disagree as to their order, the commonly accepted order looks like this:
Si (dominant function)
Te (auxiliary function)
Fi (tertiary function)
Ne (inferior function)
There are still four other functions to draw from, and different authors like to give them certain archetypal roles they might play in our personality. However, it isn’t necessary to go into that at the moment. What I want to do is break down the cognitive functions so you can understand how the system works.
An MBTI type looks like this: ISTJ. That means the person has a preference for introversion, sensing, thinking, and judging. So how does that show up in the cognitive functions?
First things first: the attitude of a cognitive function is whether the function is an inward facing one or an outward facing one. For an introvert (one whose type starts with I), their dominant function will always be an introverted one, and for an extrovert (one whose type starts with E) their dominant function will always be an extroverted one. That is the attitude for both the dominant and the tertiary function, whereas the opposite attitude (extroversion for introverts, introversion for extroverts) will be seen in the auxiliary function and the inferior function.
What that means is that, for each type, their preferred and most used function will be one which shares their preferred attitude: introversion or extroversion, the first letter in their four letter type. The challenging aspects of growth for that person will be shown in the auxiliary and inferior functions, which are the opposite attitude the person prefers. So here we see introversion and extroversion expressed as the attitude of each given function in the stack.
What about the last letters of the type, J and P?
J is for judging, which means that functions dealing with judging (thinking and feeling functions) are referred to as Ji (introverted judging: Ti and Fi) and Je (extroverted judging: Fe and Te). P is for perceiving, which means that functions dealing with perceiving (sensing and intuition functions) are referred to as Pi (introverted perceiving: Ni and Si) and Pe (extroverted perceiving: Ne and Se). All types have both perceiving and judging functions. So each type is going to have a function stack that looks something like this:
Je, Pi, Pe, Ji
Ji, Pe, Pi, Je
Pe, Ji, Je, Pi
Pi, Je, Ji, Pe
If you recognize this formula, you can easily remember the cognitive function stack for all sixteen types! (Hint: four types share each of the above four configurations.)
Remember that each cognitive function has an opposing attitude (I or E), and that each perceiving or judging function is followed by its opposite. For someone who leads with Te or Fe (ExTJs or ExFJs), their auxiliary function will always be an introverted perceiving function, and their inferior function will always be an introverted judging function (opposite the one they lead with). That means their tertiary function will be opposite from their auxiliary. So, in an ESFJ, we get this:
Fe (extroverted feeling)
Si (introverted sensing)
Ne (extroverted intuition)
Ti (introverted thinking)
By now, you can see that each and every type possesses both feeling and thinking, sensing and intuition. It’s simply a matter of preference in terms of how strong these aspects are shown in the personality. Above, the ESFJ has the strongest command of extroverted feeling but a weaker command of introverted thinking, which relies on skills the person may not have developed as readily. But the potential is still there. And again: if the type led with a judging function, their inferior function will also be a judging function, albeit of the opposite attitude. If the type led with a perceiving function, their inferior function will also be the perceiving function of the opposite attitude.
And there it is! Easy, right? Knowing this allows you to virtually memorize the function stacks of all sixteen types because you have an easy formula that applies to every type. By the way, if you’re wondering about what happens to the remaining four functions in the cognitive function stack, take a look here:
ISTJ: Si, Te, Fi, Ne, Se, Ti, Fe, Ni
The fifth function is also a sensing function, like the first, but of the opposite attitude. The next three functions follow the same pattern of being the opposite attitude but same type of function (introverted thinking instead of extroverted thinking, extroverted feeling instead of introverted feeling, etc.). The ISTJ ends with the eighth function being the perceiving function type opposite to their dominant, but with the same attitude: introverted intuition instead of introverted sensing. Again, this pattern applies to all types.
Why do introverted Js lead with a perceiving function and introverted Ps lead with a judging function?
Ah. Probably one of the more confusing elements of cognitive functions! With extroverts, it’s easy:
The last letter of the four letter type tells you whether the extrovert’s dominate function is perceiving or judging, and it will be an extroverted one (Ne, Se, Te, or Fe). If the extrovert is a judger, they will lead with either extroverted thinking or extroverted feeling. If the extrovert is a perceiver, they will lead with either extroverted sensing or extroverted intuition.
But what about ol’ introverts? Why does INTP lead with a judging function while ISFJ leads with a perceiving function? What happened there?
We know that INTPs use Ne (Hint: NP) and that ISFJs use Fe (Hint: FJ). But if they led with these functions, they would be extroverts! The order gets reversed with introverts, meaning that their first extroverted function is actually their auxiliary function. With extroverts, you see their dominate function loud and clear and it matches their last letter: J or P. But in introverts, their dominate function will be the opposite type from their last letter, and their auxiliary function will reflect their J or P.
INTPs aren’t using both Ni and Ne as their dominant and auxiliary function, so even though Ni is a perceiving function and INTPs are perceiving types, they utilize Ne (an extroverted function) leaving their judging function, Ti, to occupy the dominate spot in their function stack. And so it is with all introverts.
Quick cheat: Extroverts lead with a perceiving or judging function depending on whether their last letter ends in P or J. Introverts lead with the opposite type of function from their last letter.
How do we see the cognitive functions manifest?
Our dominant function is one that we use right out the gate, and as we age we reach for different tools in our personality that allow us to handle aspects of life we encounter in more effective ways. Your dominant function is innate, but your auxiliary function will take some time to grow into. It is the opposite attitude to the one you prefer (again, extroverted if you’re an introvert and introverted if you’re an extrovert). Your tertiary function is another one that you grow into over time, as this utilizes skills you may not have bothered to develop earlier in life.
This leads us to the inferior function, which is both the opposite attitude and the opposite aspect of either judging or perceiving, depending on which of the two the type leads with. For instance, if one is an INTJ, central features of their personality focus on Ni and Te, leaving little development of feeling and sensing functions until they grow to realize these functions are necessary to navigate life. The INTJ’s inferior function is both extroverted and sensing (extroverted sensing) which means it will take quite a bit of development for them to master. But developing these skills is vital, because it is what enables one to become well-rounded and effective in life.
So there you go, the basic structure of cognitive functions is much easier to understand than you thought!
Now, I have to point out that while I find the cognitive function stack theory to be incredibly useful in making sense of behavior, it is still a framework. The model itself is debated both in terms of neuro-function (whether it can be proven cognitive functions refer to localized brain activity) and how the actual stacking looks in real life. Keep in mind that frameworks are useful for organizing ideas and may not always map out to the real world as neatly. Still, though, understanding the cognitive functions is key to understanding the structure of MBTI types.
Need more? Check out Personality Type by Lenore Thomson to really get some in depth detail on each of the cognitive functions.
As always, I’m here to help, so if you have any questions comment below!