Thursday, July 19, 2012

If You're Going to Take a Function Test...

Lately, I've been playing around with various function tests. I had a lot of fun with it, particularly with passing the tests on and seeing how other people I knew scored. Today, I got to perusing some message boards and noticed there was a considerable amount of confusion around the functions. It wasn't always clear that people knew where the functions came from and in many cases, the information was interpreted quite rigidly. I thought it would be helpful to give some information on the functions and proffer some general advice for people that decide to use function tests to explore personality type.

1. Know what the functions are for Jung

In PT, Jung divided the types by two major sections: one was by Extraversion (the "attitude") the other by Introversion. Each section had the sub-section of the "irrational" functions (Sensing and Intuition, also called "perceiving" functions) and the "rational" functions (Thinking and Feeling, also called Judging functions). Each subsection contained descriptions of the two corresponding types. It seems clear that Jung saw a difference, for example, between Extraverted and Introverted Feeling. Most MBTI-based tests don't differentiate. However, there can be marked differences between the extraverted or introverted versions of a function. For example, most MBTI descriptors of Feeling are better suited to Extraverted Feeling than Introverted Feeling whereas most MBTI descriptors of Sensing are better suited to Introverted Sensing than Extraverted Sensing. I've read some people complain about not knowing "the point" of the functions. A lot of this stems from not having read PT, I think. MBTI theory has retained the view of the functions (as indicated by Quenk's work on the inferior function and resorting to it as a "tie breaker" when someone is having a hard time figuring out her type). So, the point of the functions? Well, they're the very building blocks on which the current system is based.

2. If you're going to stick rigidly to the Myers-Briggs interpretation of function order, there is no point in using a function test to explore your type

That said, a major shift occurred when Myers-Briggs became popular. For some time, many Jungians tended to think that the auxiliary function was in the same attitude as the dominant function. With the MBTI came the assertion that the auxiliary function was in the opposite attitude as the dominant, which then evolved into the (from what I understand, still somewhat controversial) view that third function returned to the same attitude as the dominant while the inferior was in the opposite function and attitude. Under the Myers-Briggs theory, if you're an INFJ, your order would go as follows: Introverted Intuition-Extraverted Feeling-Introverted Thinking-Extraverted Sensing. Prior to this, the order would have been: Introverted Intuition-Introverted Feeling-(possibly)Introverted Thinking-Extraverted Sensing.

Now, if you want to use the function test, there's no real point in using it to determine type if you stick strictly to the Myers-Briggs formula. You already have a test for that and (as I'll explain later in that post) expecting it to follow the MBTI pattern could result in some wonky results. On the other hand, if you want an insight into your own type development, or if you allow for the possibility that the attitudes of the second and third functions can be in either attitude and want to discover which is the case for you, it might be helpful. If you are familiar with Spoto's "aberrant types" and want to explore that, it might be useful in that regard as well.

3. Development of use is more dependent on the demands of life than innate personality structure

One interesting trend I've noticed is that a lot of people wind up developing a comfort with the function opposite the dominant but in the same attitude. For example, I've seen ENTPs develop quite a bit of Extraverted Sensing as well. Some ISTJs I've met also seem to have a fairly good grasp on Introverted Intuition. I've met INTPs who, while Extraverted Feeling remains an achilles heel, develop quite a bit of Introverted Feeling. One theory I've come up with to explain this phenomenon is that what makes the inferior function so hard is how it is opposite not just the function but the attitude as well. When one is not good at something but still needs to get through daily life (which requires use of all four functions), they compensate by developing the opposing function in the same attitude. In other words, an ENTP may find it a lifetime task to master Introverted Sensing (and may have very little desire to do so) but developing Extraverted Sensing is much easier. It's closer to their comfort zone, is not nearly as opposed, so they can handle Sensing stuff by approaching it in an Extraverted way. An INTP may have very little hope of mastering social norms (Fe), and may chomp at the bit when wrangling with the sense of inferiority that this presents but may find it easier to dig deep into one's values and find a way to access a universal ideal that creates a sense of personal meaning (Fi). On a function test, this may be reflected in higher scores, so someone with Extraverted Intuition will then have Extraverted Sensing as their second or third highest score. Since most function tests measure a person's identification of skills that they use, such adaptations will no doubt show up in the results.

4. Not everyone develops at the same pace

Beebe originally proposed a developmental range for the functions. However, not everyone has the same level of mastery as adults, so why should it have developed along such lines as children? If you take the MBTI Complete, you'll get a standard report of a few pages. At the end, there's a section on what the personality would be like if either the dominant or auxiliary function was not sufficiently developed. This implies that the type descriptions are reflective of the normal, well-adjusted personality. Still, how many people do you know that are completely well-adjusted and whose childhood experiences fully fostered healthy type development? Some people may have only really developed their dominant function to the point of neglecting their auxiliary, others may have over-developed their auxiliary if their dominant function wasn't well accepted in the home and/or school and so forth. On the MBTI, this isn't a problem, since it's measuring preference, not mastery. However, on function tests, these deficiencies may be more apparent. For example, if you're an INFP male that grew up in a heavily NT environment, then you may find that your intuition is better developed than your feeling. This is what Von Franz refers to as a "distorted type." Once you come to recognize that you are, in fact, an introverted feeling type, your feeling may develop quite rapidly, but prior to that piece of self-knowledge, it was stunted by those early childhood prohibitions. If you look at a function test, your Ne will be higher than your Fi. If interpreted too strictly, one might erroneously conclude that the person is an ENFP or some other types. It's important to remember that a function test can tell you some areas that you might want to develop, but it isn't that great as a strict formula for determining type.

5.Approach it more as a projective test and less like a medical exam

If we go to the doctor we expect there is a straightforward pattern and that if we say we have symptoms A, B and C and/or if a series of tests confirms the presence of A, B or C then we can reasonably sure that we have X. On a projective test, such as the TAT, we might look at pictures and tell a story based on that, which is then used to glean some insight into our psyche. Jung's system is a theory of the unconscious. MBTI practitioners are taught during their training to reference Jung when introducing the MBTI, as Jung's fame helps build credibility. Therefore, if you are the sort that is skeptical about any theory of the unconscious, you're better off finding some other typology, as the unconscious is deeply rooted in the MBTI's origins. For that reason, it is counterintuitive to take a function test and say "if you get this result you must be this type." Rather, approach it as a way to explore patterns from many different angles. For example: why might your Fe be so low? Do you have difficulty accessing Fe? Are you perhaps okay with it but just not very confident about it? Do you have some association (based on group identity, upbringing or negative experiences with very Fe-seeming sorts) that makes you want to disown these traits? Other approaches might be to see what sort of pattern emerges. Are your top 50% all irrational/perceiving types (e.g. all N and S)? Perhaps you need to develop your most conscious judging/rational function (F or T) more. Are your top 50% all introverted? Perhaps you need to develop more extraversion. Getting a better sense of your overall use of the functions might be a helpful starting point for exploration but shouldn't be approached in any sort of "if A then B" fashion.

In summary, the functions are a bit hard to define and pin down, due to their varying levels of development and other factors. Function tests, I believe, can be useful, but also ought not to be approached too rigidly.