MBTI: Profiles of Cognitive Functions
Introverted Intuition: INTJ and INFJ Types
Like the other Perceiving functions, Ni draws our attention to immediate sensory phenomena. However, Ni is more cerebral than the other three. It prompts an interest in perception itself--the process of recognizing and interpreting what we take in.
Whatever types we happen to be, we use all four means of Perception in one way or another. For example, if we were spending a day at the beach:
- Se would prompt us to go with our sense impressions as they occurred: to lie in the sun, play in the surf, listen to the gulls piping overhead.
Si would move us to stabilize our sense impressions by integrating them with facts we knew to be consistent. We might bring our favorite book, a snorkel and flippers, a bag of snacks, extra towels because someone will probably forget one, and a watch to make sure we beat the traffic home.
- Ne would move us to unify our sense impressions with their larger context, thereby creating new options for meaning and response. For example, as we lie on our blanket in the sun, perhaps we hear music in the distance. Someone passing by mentions a great restaurant in town. Suddenly we're thinking: Hey, there must be an amusement park nearby. If it's on the way to town, we can check out the rides before we look for the restaurant that passerby was talking about. In fact, maybe the guy knows about other places we should consider. Where did he go?
- Ni would prompt us to liberate our sense impressions from their larger context, thereby creating new options for perception itself. For example, we might find ourselves wondering why people feel so strongly about getting a good tan. We remember reading somewhere that before the Industrial Revolution, being tan marked one as a manual laborer, because it suggested work out of doors. After the Industrial Revolution, it was pale skin that suggested manual labor, because it indicated work in a poorly lit factory. Such correlations aren't relevant today, but a good tan is still considered attractive. Why is that? We consider raising the question as a topic of conversation, but we're pretty sure our friends will think we're observing a situation instead of enjoying it.
Because we usually associate Intuition with "feelings" and hunches, the conceptual nature of Ni may be difficult to appreciate. Like its Extraverted counterpart, Ni is a Perceiving function, but it's also a left-brain function. The left brain won't focus on many things at once. It depends on words and signs to make outward experience predictable and orderly.
This is most clear in the areas governed by Te and Fe, the left-brain Judgment functions. ETJs and EFJs, whose Judgment skills are dominant, wield language like a knife, separating meaningful sense impressions from all the nameless experiential stuff that surrounds it. Such types may be hard pressed to grant the reality of impressions that can't be explained or talked about.
The left-brain Perceiving functions are different. Si and Ni make us aware of all our sensory impressions, notwithstanding prevailing categories of knowledge. In consequence, ISJs and INJs tend to have interests and priorities that strike others as unpredictable or esoteric.
On the other hand, as left-brain types, ISJs and INJs also need conceptual control over their outer world. For this reason, both types have a strong investment in the structure of public information. ISJs are concerned with making the structure secure, whereas INJs are interested in changing or improving it.
For example, at a recent board meeting, an ISTJ accountant told the group that he enjoyed recording the organization's income and expenditures, but he didn't want to be involved with the money itself--counting it, bringing it to the bank, and so forth. This is a classic Si approach. Material reality is just so much raw experience. It has to be controlled with a stable mental framework.
Ni moves us in the opposite direction. It tells us that changing our frame of mind can change the world. For example, a recent article advises the parents of a fussy or demanding baby not to describe the infant as difficult but to recognize that such children have vivid, strong, and rich personalities. This is how Ni works. The material facts remain the same, but we organize them in a new conceptual pattern that changes their meaning and gives us new options for behavior.
Ni versus Ne
Because Ne types also see life in terms of new perspectives, it's important to recognize the difference between ENPs and INJs. Motivated by functions that implicate opposite sides of the brain, these types are mirror images of each other.
Ne types are right-brain types who deal with their sense impressions by unifying them into larger outward patterns. An ENP physician, for example, may realize, with sudden insight, that several unexplained symptoms are actually part of a single disease. As an Extraverted type, the physician has no doubt that the disease syndrome really exists. The pattern was always there, waiting for someone to discover it. What's important now is telling others about the discovery--getting people to see that the new model offers more options than the old.
Ni types don't think this way. For INJs, patterns aren't "out there" in the world, waiting to be discovered. They're part of us--the way we make sense of the riot of information and energy impinging on our systems. A disease syndrome is a useful construct, but that's all it is--an aggregate of observations attached to a label, telling us what to see and how to deal with it.
Given their real-life consequences, mental constructs don't strike INJs as imaginary or irrelevant. They're merely arbitrary, derived from a particular view of life. For this reason, they can trap us into holding that view--say, that physicians are in the business of cure rather than prevention--without being aware of its effects.
Ni in Practice
Most types rely on Ni to contend with ambiguities of meaning and perception--that is, to see that a situation can be acknowledged in more than one way. We may use it, for example, to acknowledge the possibility of both scientific and religious positions on life after death, or to deal with incompatible experiences of self and solidarity at work, at home, and among friends.
It may seem peculiar, therefore, to depend on this function for one's primary understanding of reality. If INJs are seeing things from many (sometimes conflicting) perspectives, on what basis would they ever take action?
It should be emphasized that INJs are very much like ENPs in this respect. Where Ne types see many behavioral options, INJs acknowledge many conceptual standpoints. They experience no need