The Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator is a system meant to measure and typify how people perceive the world and make decisions. While major flaws have long been apparent, it is not entirely without merit and nevertheless a popular method for categorizing people, as it is simple and broadly understood. It is related to the Big Five Personality Traits and HEXACO system.
The categories originated from Carl Jung's theory about two pairs of cognitive functions:
- The rational, judging functions: Thinking and Feeling
- The irrational, perceiving functions: Sensing and Intuition
Mother-and-daughter team Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers expanded Jung's typing into the personality indicators used today. Corporations have used it in the belief that it will help to figure out what their employees are best suited for. Whether or not that is a good idea doesn't matter to us. What it is and how it is used in storytelling goes like this:
The four letters are composed of eight cognitive functions:
Extroverted (or objective) perceiving functions:
- Ne (extroverted intuition) processes information through the abstract outer world. People who use Ne as their dominant function (ENTPs and ENFPs) like to brainstorm and jump from one idea to another with seemingly no connection. They often focus on "what could be," and appreciate the absurd or unpredictable. They notice opportunities, are open to new ideas and dislike being boxed into a system. They tend to come across as having an optimistic, spirited attitude.
- Se (extroverted sensing) focuses on the "physical" outer world. People who use Se as their dominant function (ESTPs and ESFPs) live in the present moment, always taking things through their five senses. They see things how they are, not the hidden meanings or "what ifs" behind them. They dislike planning things out, preferring to be spontaneous instead, are often direct or even forceful in communication, and are excellent at thinking on their feet.
Introverted (or subjective) perceiving functions:
- Ni (introverted intuition) gathers information which percolates through the mind until it resurfaces in the form of holistic concepts or even visions. People who use Ni as their dominant function (INTJs and INFJs) are future-oriented, guiding themselves forward by giving symbolic meaning to their interests. They are generally quiet, highly cerebral, and value their idealistic mental constructs over the real world.
- Si (introverted sensing) gathers and methodically stores sensory information. People who use Si as their dominant function (ISTJs and ISFJs) prefer a "compare and contrast" method by which they filter details in the world around them through their previous lived experiences. They are grounded and practical people who tend towards nostalgia and have a strong appreciation for the smaller joys in life.
Extroverted (or objective) judging functions:
- Te (extroverted thinking) focuses on externally-derived logic when making decisions. People who use Te as their dominant function (ENTJs and ESTJs) are generally strong believers in citing sources and data, often living by the mantra "trust the facts." They are oriented towards rules, and structure and systematization, and are good at figuring out the most effective way to solve problems. As a result, they are generally efficient and make good leaders.
- Fe (extroverted feeling) focuses on the feelings and harmony around them when making decisions. People who use Fe as their dominant function (ENFJs and ESFJs) are emotionally expressive, nurturing and upbeat. They know how to get others on their side and excel in "reading the room." They are strongly relationship-oriented, tend to have many friends, and value a good understanding of social rules and proper etiquette.
Introverted (or subjective) judging functions:
- Ti (introverted thinking) focuses on internal, subjective logic when making decisions. People who use Ti as their dominant function (INTPs and ISTPs) tend to be technical and precise, always questioning whether things make sense to them. They create systems in their minds in order to figure out how things work, and are typically good at tinkering and troubleshooting. However, they are detached and wary of the emotional concerns of others.
- Fi (introverted feeling) focuses on internal subjective values when making decisions. People who use Fi as their dominant function (INFPs and ISFPs) are authentically themselves, and believe that everyone else should have the opportunity to be so as well without judgment. They are strong defenders of the right to individual expression, and dislike systems they see as inhibiting it. They tend to respond negatively to competitive or overly hierarchical environments.
Notice that the S/N scale and the T/F scale are linked: S/N determines how you get information, and T/F determines how you process it. Interestingly, men are more likely than women to be thinkers and vice versa.
Now, the complicated part is where we combine all four main scales together into one of sixteen types. Each person primarily uses one introverted function and one extroverted function. They also primarily use one T/F function and one S/N function. The "J" letter comes when the T/F function is extroverted, while the "P" letter comes when the N/S letters are extroverted.
Finally, whichever function you use more out of the two, the second part of it will be the I/E of your whole type. For example, if you use Ne more than Fi, then your personality type will be ENFP.
The following are short descriptions of all 16 types.
David M. Keirsey took Myers's work, and, inspired by one of her observations, made his own adaptation, in which the 16 types are organized into four main groups: Guardians (∞S∞J), Artisans (∞S∞P), Rationals (∞N∞T), and Idealists (∞N∞F); unlike Jung, Myers and Briggs, Keirsey eschewed functions altogether. note
- SJ Guardians are "social people" who hunger after stability; these desire to be buttresses of society. Their top skill set is in organization or "logistics" as the writer calls it. Their relational lives to anyone close to them tend to be of an overseeing, protective nature. Typical Guardians might be The Patriarch, Apron Matron, etc. Many Badass Bureaucrats are Guardians, though it is also a profession fit for Artisans, especially when they combine it with being The Scrounger. Most violently protective and jealous lovers (and their up to eleven cousin Yandere) tend to fall within this category.
- SP Artisans are "utilitarian people" who prefer to live one day at a time. They may spontaneously pursue activities that offer fun or pleasure. Artisan characters might be a Blood Knight (ESTP/ESFP), Cold Sniper (ISTP), Gadgeteer Genius (ISTP), or Glory Seeker (ESTP/ESFP), and express themselves with their prowess. Or they might express themselves with their looks and be The Fashionista (ISFP/ESFP) or a Chivalrous Pervert (ESTP/ESFP). Their top skill is "tactics" or handling things for the moment. They focus on the "short-term" while Rationals focus on the "long-term."
- NT Rationals are "psychological people" and hunger after knowledge as something to possess (like a Technician) rather than as something to play with (like a Performer) as in the Artisans' case. A Rational is likely to be a Badass Bookworm (ENTP/INTP), The Chessmaster (INTJ/ENTJ), The Spock (INTJ/INTP) or a Guile Hero (ENTP/ENTJ). Their top skill is "strategy" or planning. While an Artisan knows how to do things, a Rational knows why do them.
- NF Idealists are "spiritual people" who hunger after "something higher", even those who are not sure themselves what their "something higher" is. In any case, almost always guaranteed to be The Fettered and prefer Honor Before Reason. Idealist characters might be a Knight in Shining Armor, a Good Shepherd, The Heart, or a Messianic Archetype. If an Idealist is not The Chosen One, he or she will act like it anyway. The Idealist skill set is "diplomatic"; they are good at inspiring people.
Note that MBTI is often confused for having "four letter" systems, such as "J' and "P". These systems are inaccurate and simply function on stereotypes. However, these systems are ones people take first, as they are easier to understand. As a resut, MBTI as a whole gets criticized by these letters, even though the actual process is much different.
While the MBTI can be an useful tool on understanding various people and how they tend to act, the greatest problem with MBTI is the weak prognosis value. MBTI can tell fairly reliably on how people select their careers. It cannot tell how well they succeed on their careers. For example, an ENTJ is likely to become a leader or manager, but MBTI will not tell whether or not he will be a successful one or a failure.
For fun, check out the info provided by The Other Wiki, learn more information and take a test to determine your temperament here, here and here, and see Examples of Myers-Briggs Personalities in Stories.
- ISTJs (Examiners/Inspectors) are orderly, dependable, practical and dutiful above all. They prefer working with facts and can be conservative in their loyalty to traditions. Tend to resemble The Stoic in fiction, and can become an Obstructive Bureaucrat or even a Knight Templar at their worst, while in comedies they tend to be The Comically Serious. In group situations, they're usually the Only Sane Man or the skeptical Agent Scully. When portrayed positively, the ISTJ is generally a Lawful Good heroic disciplinarian. ISTJs make up an estimated 8-14% of the population.
- ESTJs (Executives/Supervisors) are very practical and make good administrators, with a good eye for detail and a flair for setting up logical systems. They sometimes overlook the feelings of others, though. You'll often see them in the role of Da Chief or The Captain, and they may have Control Freak tendencies. When portrayed positively, they're instead generally the Reasonable Authority Figure. ESTJs make up an estimated 8-13% of the population.
- ISFJs (Nurturers/Protectors) are loyal, orderly and sensitive. They can be very shy around people they don't know, but are the sort of person who will always remember your birthday, and are never accidentally offensive. Bad moods tend to come from Anger Born of Worry. Tend to be The Caretaker or a Good Parent when in Fictionland. When female, they're typically the Girl Next Door or the Betty in a Betty and Veronica pair. Anyways, expect the ISFJ to be a Nice Guy. ISFJs make up an estimated 7-14% of the population, and thus are the most common of the sixteen types.
- ESFJs (Caregivers/Providers) value security and enjoy making others feel well-cared-for. They are loyal to the belief system of their environment (as opposed to an internal one) and can be outspoken when others fall out of line. Tend to fall somewhere between Manic Pixie Dream Girl and The Caretaker in their portrayals. They're stereotypically seen in the role of the standard sitcom mother, with associated tropes such as Team Mom (shared with ISFJ), Mama Bear and My Beloved Smother. Expect male characters of this type to shed Manly Tears (and, of course, to be a Nice Guy). ESFJs make up an estimated 9-13% of the population.
- ISTPs (Mechanics/Crafters) are drawn toward using tools of any type—artistic (musical instruments), technological (computers), or martial (weapons). Although they are introverts, they tend to be authoritative in their interactions with others and can be forceful. They focus on accomplishing tasks efficiently and skillfully. To master the tool of their interest, Crafters require a certain degree of seclusion in which to practice. The result is often a virtuosity that other types find difficult to match. A typical ISTP character might be a Cold Sniper, a Combat Pragmatist, a Gadgeteer Genius, an Omnidisciplinary Scientist, or a Science Hero. ISTPs make up an estimated 4-6% of the population.
- ESTPs (Conquerors/Promoters) are very good at convincing others to do things their way. Having said that, they developed this skill because they are the best at improvising towards a desired result, and enjoy sharing their experiences in life with friends. Can often be a Competition Freak or a Boisterous Bruiser. Male examples are often The Casanova or The Rock Star, while women of this type are Action Girls or the Veronica half of a Betty and Veronica pair. ESTPs make up an estimated 4-10% of the population.
- ISFPs (Peacemakers/Composers) live in the moment and are easy-going, preferring a "live and let live" approach. They don't like confrontations and sometimes keep their mouths shut for that reason. They can be anything in portrayals, to the point where they frequently get the role of The Everyman or the Lead You Can Relate To. They can be prone to Dogged Nice Guy tendencies. ISFPs make up an estimated 5-9% of the population.
- ESFPs (Ambassadors/Performers) live in the moment, learn by doing, and enjoy promoting harmony and fun. This is a team player, but only if the person isn't bored. They also enjoy their creature comforts. They can be anywhere between The Casanova and Good Bad Girl in current portrayals. You'll also frequently see them as the Comedic Hero or the Large Ham. ESFPs make up an estimated 4-11% of the population.
- INTJs (Analysts/Masterminds) are pragmatic and logical, and are not scared to tell others (or themselves) when they're being stupid. They emphasize efficiency, making them simultaneously loners and excellent leaders. Many Spocks and Byronic Heroes (as well as The Chessmaster or The Strategist, especially in fiction) fall into this category. They'll often be the ones working on taking a level in kindness, while female examples may be the Defrosting Ice Queen. INTJs make up an estimated 2-4% of the population.
- ENTJs (Commanders/Fieldmarshals) enjoy making plans and carrying them out. Fact-driven and picky, but charismatic nonetheless. Excellent leaders, but likely to leave emotions out of their plans, then fly into a rage when things don't go their way. A common type for villains: warlords on various scales, Corrupt Corporate Executives, Evil Overlords with a note of The Chessmaster, likely to leave a surprise behind when they're beaten. Good examples will be a Reasonable Authority Figure or A Father to His Men, but hardly ever The Hero. ENTJs make up an estimated 2-5% of the population.
- INTPs (Logicians/Architects) are loners with a love of information and a knack for logic and knowledge. This can lead to Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, but also the opposite, as INTPs are best at describing complex ideas simply. Frequently The Spock, The Professor, Absent-Minded Professor, and sometimes Mad Scientist fall into this category. The NP portion of their personality, however, gives them a creative and chaotic streak that contrasts with their outward mannerisms and gives them their "architect" title. Woe to the foe who mistakes their love of complexity for the INTJ's rigid planning or their eclectic set of mastered skills for the ISTP's narrow focus, only to find themselves on the wrong side of Xanatos Speed Chess or Suddenly Always Knew That. INTPs make up an estimated 2-5% of the population.
- ENTPs (Originators/Inventors) are clever and analytical, often with quick wits and a quicker tongue. They are very good at thinking outside the box, but can also be, like ENFPs, easily bored. Frequently The Trickster. A common type among The Chessmaster. They often enjoy sarcastic or offensive jokes and trolling, with less mature examples becoming the Equal-Opportunity Offender. ENTPs make up an estimated 2-5% of the population.
- INFJs (Confidants/Counselors) are private, preferring one-on-one friendships to crowds, and often quiet about their own feelings. They are known for their ability to read people, though they generally operate behind the scenes. Tend to be the Psychologist Teacher or The Shrink. In fantasy, they're often Seers or oracles. INFJs make up an estimated 1-3% of the population, the lowest of any of the sixteen types.
- ENFJs (Social Workers/Teachers) are good at making a lot of friends and facilitate community-building without even thinking about it; they act as a counter-balance to almost all social situations. See The Ace, and rarely the broken one in fiction, or the Prince Charming. Frequently the protagonist at the center of A Protagonist Shall Lead Them. ENFJs make up an estimated 2-5% of the population.
- INFPs (Mediators/Healers) are absolute idealists: they have values inside them which they really, really want to live by. This makes them good at encouraging other people's growth, but also easily offended when their values are violated. See Jeanne d'Archétype or even Incorruptible Pure Pureness (although the tropes could apply to other MBTI types as well). The All-Loving Hero is quite frequently an INFP taken up to eleven. In children's fiction, they're almost inevitably a Friend to All Living Things, while adult-oriented works may see them as The McCoy. INFPs make up an estimated 4-5% of the population.
- ENFPs (Inspirers/Champions) like to change things for the better, and have contagious enthusiasm, but no patience for crossing I's and dotting T's. They are good at anticipating the needs of others, but they also crave attention and recognition. They (like ENTPs) get bored easily. Often shown as a Ditzy Genius or Drama Queen or in light works, although darker works may depict them as the manipulator to the ENTP's The Chessmaster. Female examples tend to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl while males are often Keets. May surprise people by becoming the Determinator if given a cause/person to champion that they truly feel for or believe in. ENFPs make up an estimated 6-8% of the population.