The Cognitive Functions
You have a unique personality and your personality is the result of many complex factors. First, we can talk about your behavioural style, and whether you tend to act more introverted or extroverted. Secondly, we can talk about your cognitive style. Your cognition reflects how you think and your deeper values and intentions. Most of the time, our behaviour, and our actions, are synchronous to our cognition.
The more we think about something, the more our behaviour changes and the more we tend to act in a certain way. Our cognitive functions help us learn and process information. The more time you spend visualizing concepts and theories and imagining complex worlds and ideas in your head, the more introverted, and the more intuitive, your behaviour becomes. And it goes the other way around too. If you choose to prioritize more alone time, and detach from your environment more, you will find that your imagination starts to become more strong.
The more you develop a cognitive function, the more talent you start to develop in a specific form of intelligence. A person who engages a lot in extroverted activities, and who is very attuned to their personal feelings and values, will tend to have a more relational, community oriented, and humanistic style. We can say that they are strong in Interpersonal intelligence, or people intelligence!
The Sixteen Intelligences
Below are a list of the sixteen intelligences and their corresponding functions. Most people tend to have one dominant function or intelligence, but can find themselves good in a range of different functions.
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To find out your strongest cognitive function, take the test.
Developing the cognitive functions
Any person can develop any function or ability, and the more you practice, the better you will get. Developing a function takes time and effort. But even setting aside 15 minutes a day to practice a function can bring considerable benefits over time.
People who are very skilled at a function tend to experience using it as innately rewarding and satisfying. The better we get at a function, the more enjoyment we get from using it. The more we avoid using a cognitive function, the more we tend to experience it as stressful or exhaustive.
To test how good you are at a cognitive function, set challenges and quests for yourself that will require the use of this skill, and track your mood and enjoyment over time. If you find that you struggle with a specific cognitive function.
Challenging the Cognitive Functions Hierarchy
In the late 20th century, thinkers like John Beebe and Alan Broadsword drove forward what we know today as the cognitive function hierarchy. The cognitive function hierarchy suggests that your skills are innate, and that you are born with a certain sest of skills or abilities, and that we can predict how good you will be at a task by knowing your personality type. These models are highly outdated, and go against what we know today in modern psychology.
We know today that while people are usually born with certain genetic predispositions, and often start to develop a preference early in life, people can, with practice and time, develop or learn to improve at a specific function. We also know that your upbringing and mindset plays a huge role in how you perform. The problem with these models of development are that they assume that development is the same for every person of a similar personality type, and that we can arrange functions hierarchically, in a predictable fashion. But that is simply not the case. People can develop in a wide range of ways, beyond just 16 personality types, and personality types are just a simplified generalization that allows us to track certain groups of behaviour together. Ultimately, every person has their own unique set of cognitive preferences.
There is not a single cognitive function test that has been able to validate Beebe’s and Broadswords models. While many tests have attempted to test and score you across a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, inferior, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th cognitive function, there is no consistent data or statistics to suggest that this model actually works. Most people on cognitive function tests get unique results, suggesting function preferences can take many forms.
Adding Nuance To The Cognitive Function Theory
The MBTI and the Big Five track personality across not just whether a person is Introverted or Extroverted, but also their level of organization, discipline, Judging or Conscientiousness. This allows us to further nuance our understanding of a person’s talents or abilities, by studying how Conscientious people think and make decisions, compared to people with low Conscientiousness or a Perceiving preference.
Because of this, I work with Judging and Perceiving cognitive functions. These functions allow me to track additional cognitive traits and abilities, outside the established Jungian theories. This has been found to be very helpful for people who are more ambiverted or lack a strong preference on Introversion and Extroversion, but have a strong preference in terms of Judging or Perceiving. It also allows me to help clarify differences in how an INFP might think differently compared to, say, an INFJ, helping people type themselves more accurately and consistently.
The MBTI has been moving in a similar direction to my own, and modern journals group and study people based on their thinking styles, career preferences, motivations, and values, and whether they have a Judging or Perceiving preference. This has added increased value to the MBTI theory, and is one reason why the MBTI is a more popular theory than the old classic Jungian function theory.
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