What follows is another of our featured “Ask Elaine” posts:
Should we be rethinking the definition of introvert and extravert? In any official or most non-official MTBI test I come out as an introvert, and certainly fit all the usual descriptions (I need time by myself to recharge; prefer small groups of friends; etc.), but when I read about cognitive functions and take some of the (unofficial) online tests that are out there, I truly believe my dominant function is extroverted intuition. Aren’t we really measuring “sensing” functions when we define introvert or extrovert and doesn’t that miss a whole other element of those who need external feedback of ideas but not necessarily physical (or even in person) stimulation? (My official MTBI test came out as INTP (with the T being very slight); but the test on this site says I’m an ENTP which I actually think is more accurate.
Hello Lisa and thank you for your question – a truly relevant one, as I’ve seen this very issue confound a lot of people in their quest to accurately identify their type. If I may, it seems that there are really two questions, or points of contention, here; one, whether the current definitions of Introvert and Extravert aptly describe these preferences, and two, whether the tests being used to measure them are doing so accurately.
To understand the origins of Introversion and Extraversion, I’m going to take us on a very brief history lesson that covers the evolution of typology since its conception by Carl Jung nearly a century ago. In his groundbreaking work on type theory, Psychological Types, Jung explained the qualities of Introversion and Extraversion as attitudes primarily concerning energy, or libido, as it relates to the subject or object. When an individual divests energy from the object and directs it toward the subject, the attitude of the function is said to be Introverted (e.g., Introverted Intuition). Conversely, when energy is directed toward the object and away from the subject, the attitude is one of Extraversion (e.g., Extraverted Intuition). Worth noting is that the “object” was not specifically defined by Jung (and neither was the “subject”). This is due to the fact that “subject” and “object” will differ depending on the function being used. So while attributes of Introversion and Extraversion can be described generally in their own right, Jung’s primary concern was the role of Introversion and Extraversion in determining the attitude / direction of the functions.
Jung, Myers-Briggs, Introvert & Extravert
Enter Myers and Briggs; they are credited with the mass popularization of typology following the creation of a standardized test aiming to pinpoint an individual’s four-letter type. The Myers-Briggs approach seeks to determine the preferences (E vs. I, S vs. N, F vs. T, and P vs. J) separately, and then bundles the strongest preferences of each dichotomy into a comprehensive four-letter type (INFP, ENFP, etc.) The main problem with this approach, however, is that it divorces the Introverted or Extraverted attitude from its Perceiving or Judging partner and attempts to make E or I stand on its own legs, effectively ignoring the function pairs altogether. I believe that Myers and Briggs shot themselves in the foot with this one; if they were going to break apart the functions into preferences they needed to be sure they could find an accurate way of measuring Introversion and Extraversion generally.
Unfortunately, I believe, they missed the mark. As you rightly note, the Extraverted attitude as Myers-Briggs tests for it appears to favor the Sensing preference, and I would say it also tends to favor Feeling and Judging on the whole. Many of the questions put a great deal of emphasis on how much time one enjoys socializing (an Fe past-time), or thrill-seeking (an Se past-time); this can accidentally exclude Ne and Te dominants. For those preferring Ne, as you say, exploring possibilities or ideas need not necessarily occur within a social context. Plenty of Ne dominants enjoy research and reading (tasks that are often done alone) which feeds Ne’s desire to seek out new ideas or theories. When we consider Jung’s original definition of Extraversion, Ne’s propensity for seeking information from without makes perfect sense as energy is directed away from the subject toward the external information (the “object”) being gathered.
Further confounding matters is the importance of the interplay between Extraversion and Introversion through the functional stack. According to the stack, we experience growth and development of Extraversion and Introversion in alternating turn not just once, but twice (e.g. Fi, Ne, Si, Te). There is a constant conversation or dialogue between Extraversion and Introversion, at times making it a challenge to discern which it dominant. Most people manage to develop a decent balance if they are able to bring the auxiliary function into full fruition, as most do. When one attitude is extremely developed over another, it begins to move into the realm of neuroticism, according to Jung. For most people, however, this is not the case. Because of this, knowing which attitude is dominant, particularly if the auxiliary function has been well developed, can be incredibly tricky.
It may be considerably clear by now that I believe that a better alternative to testing the preferences (E vs. I, etc.) is testing for the functions / function pairs. Using this approach has helped clear a lot of confusion, not just for folks with E or I uncertainty, but also for those unsure of J-P preferences. This approach has also increased in popularity somewhat in recent years and experts in the field have begun developing type tests that shift the focus from the preferences to the functions, a wise move in my opinion. Even still, the results are not always accurate.
Now may be as good a time as any to admit that I am very reluctant to put much of my trust in personality tests alone. In my many years of studying typology I have seen tests fail to accurately type people many times over. And the unfortunate result of this is the number of folks denouncing typology as a bunch of nonsense, rather than questioning whether the failure is on the part of the test, not on type theory generally. The problem is that a personality test is only as good as the questions it asks. If the questions don’t actually get at the answers its seeking, the test can be considered a failure.
A more accurate personality assessment, I believe, is accomplished through multiple avenues that corroborate the same answer; test-taking is one of them. I am also a very strong proponent of counseling and assessment with a skilled typologist – a psychologist well-trained in this particular area who can take a more “informal” approach (this is how Jung operated). Finally, doing independent research and study on the various types may help you “identify” with one type more strongly than another (I say exercise caution with regard to this approach particularly if you are an Extravert, as making a subjective evaluation of your type as an Extravert can prove trickier than it might for Introverts. ). The risk of inferior function bias is present for all types as well, making it a challenge for any type to accurately assess oneself.
Summarily, I do agree, Lisa, that there is a wealth of misleading information about Extraversion and Introversion that has partly been caused by testing for the preference instead of the function. Thank you so much for your question.
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