Throughout most of its history, personality type has been viewed in terms of its four functions (Sensation, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling) and its four attitudes (Extraversion, Introversion, Perception, and Judgment). Although the relationships and interactions between these aspects of personality have been embedded in the model from the very beginning, most of the focus has been on the nature of the functions and attitudes themselves. This has given many people the mistaken impression that personality type is a rather rigid and static system for “classifying” people. In the past few decades, however, some type theorists and practitioners have turned their attention to understanding the nature of the functions as they are actually used, oriented toward Extraversion or Introversion. Since each individual’s preferred mode of perceiving and judging must have either and external or internal orientation—and cannot focus in both “directions” at the same time—then it is only when we understand how our mental functions are engaged in their preferred introverted or extraverted attitude, that we can actually work with people’s dynamic, active “function-attitudes” (aka “mental processes”).
The eight function-attitudes are the basic units of personality. They are what we engage to accomplish a task; and they are the naturally preferred “habits of mind” which we identify when we discover our true type. Although it is certainly still useful to think in terms of Sensation, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, Extraversion, Introversion, Perception, and Judgment; these are really just theoretical constructs. The actual mental processes—the living psychological modes of activity—taking place can only be described in terms of the function-attitudes: Extraverted Sensing, Introverted Sensing, Extraverted Intuiting, Introverted Intuiting, Extraverted Thinking, Introverted Thinking Extraverted Feeling, and Introverted Feeling. This insight gives us a much more sophisticated and accurate understanding of personality.
An important aspect of the function-attitude model is the “hierarchy” of innate function-attitude preference. It is based on two observations: first, that each of us, regardless of our type preference, can potentially engage any of the eight mental processes even though we habitually use only a few. Second, that there is a hierarchy of preference which includes all eight of these function-attitudes. This hierarchy is different for each type and it describes how comfortable or uncomfortable, easy or difficult, and energizing or draining it is for us to use any given function-attitude, depending on its position in the sequence. For a person with an ESFP type preference, for example, Extraverted Sensing is the dominant, most easily accessible, most energizing, and most likely to be highly developed and conscious process, while Extraverted Intuiting is the least. The full sequence of preference for ESFP is:
- Extraverted Sensing (Se) —a perception focus that captures the breadth and detail of the present environment through the five senses.
- Introverted Feeling (Fi) —a decision-making mode that reflects a focus on internal harmony and deep, personal values.
- Extraverted Thinking (Te) —an approach to decision-making based on organizing the external world according to logical analysis and accepted criteria to attain order and clarity.
- Introverted Intuiting (Ni) —perception that combines “real world” and unconscious information to reveal abstract patterns and hidden meaning.
- Introverted Sensing (Si) —personalized sensory experience through internal comparison to memories.
- Extraverted Feeling (Fe) —judgment that seeks harmony in the environment through shared, people-oriented values.
- Introverted Thinking (Ti) —precise and personal logical analysis within a subjective framework.
- Extraverted Intuiting (Ne) —perception that generates practical options and possibilities by connecting info-bits to see the big picture.
To learn more about the eight function-attitudes, we recommend reading Building Blocks of Personality Type, Haas and Hunziker (2006).