Toward a Better Understanding of MBTI’s Thinking and Feeling

If we’re gonna talk about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), then we ought to be sure we’re clear on what each preference means.  And there’s one that’s misrepresented more often than not—not because it’s hard to understand, but because of cultural baggage.  This is the TF preference, which pits “Thinkers” (T) against “Feelers” (F).

Now, I’m an INFJ—a Feeler.  But while my preference for intuition is strong, my TF preference is muted.  Feeling judgment is surely my default, but it’s easy for me to switch to thinking because I see the value of and therefore actually enjoy using thinking.  It probably also has something to do with the fact that people’s scores often seem to even out in adulthood because they’re developing their tertiary and inferior functions.

The point is that, while I don’t claim to be equally adept at both, I’ve come to sincerely value both types of judgment.  So it’s not because of a Feeler’s impulse for tact over frankness that I’m stating the following: the way we tend to talk about feeling judgment sells this valuable skill short.  In an effort to both acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of Fs and to rationally parse the proper application of both forms of judgment (see what I did there?), I’d like to offer a reworded take on what the TF preference actually means.

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Defining F and T

It’s often said that Ts use “logic” and Fs use “how they feel” as the basis for decisions.  I’m guessing it was a bemused T who came up with this description.

So block from your mind everything you’ve heard about Fs and Ts for a moment, and try these two complementary definitions on for size:

Feeling judgments tend to focus on the impact on people, while thinking judgments are anchored to some non-human end (e.g., rules, data, profit margins, or some other impersonal goal).

When we use feeling judgment, we’re being subjective (i.e., considering an individual human’s viewpoint); when we use thinking judgment, we’re being objective (i.e., looking at impersonal reality as separate from human experience).

Of course, we all use feeling judgment and thinking judgment in our day-to-day lives.  But we’re generally more comfortable with one or the other, and when faced with decisions that involve aspects of both, we tend to default to our preferred process.

Now, there are some NTs who will try to claim that they’re the “smartest” type.  Logic, after all, is the ultimate tool of Smart People, right?  But if thinking judgment isn’t actually best defined as “logical,” and if we all use both thinking and feeling, then logical types will want to rethink this claim.  Indeed, a high level of skill with subjectivity is a manifestation of intelligence.  After all, virtually everyone resents being treated as an object, Ts included.  So when the problem you’re trying to solve involves people, thinking judgment is usually not the right tool.

Think of the work of a diplomat.  Understanding (not to mention solving) a people-centered problem requires an ability to grasp complexity just as much as any problem we might find in the world of STEM.  Human perspectives are messy, nuanced, and constantly shifting!  So we can apply our thinking judgment to reach the objective conclusion that Nobel Peace Prize winners, who are the archetypal heroes of feeling judgment (though there surely Ts in the lot, just as Fs can excel in the sciences) are as intelligent as their peers who win other forms of Nobels.

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Moreover, being an F doesn’t mean that you’re “emotional”—and being a T doesn’t mean you’re not.  A friend of mine with a T preference once said that pregnancy hormones had turned her into an F because she was having mood swings.  But the fact is, even without hormone fluctuations, thinking types who have not developed their feeling judgment can be moody or volatile precisely because they lack skill in using person-centered judgment or communicating their subjective perspectives.  In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers relates the example of the ESTJs, whose dominant function is extraverted thinking, who have never developed their feeling judgment.  The result?  They “may even acutely embarrass them at times by unexpected explosions of temper which consciously they would never ‘think’ of committing” (87).  (Of course, thinking types are perfectly capable of developing their feeling judgment if they see value in it, so it’s not fair to call them emotional, either.)  In short, the TF preference is about how you judge and decide things, not about being emotionally grounded or moody.

When Feeling is the Quickest Route

I spoke above about expressing appreciation for Fs and rationally parsing applicability of both forms of judgment.  In this case, my selection of this topic as worthy of a blog post was fueled by my extraverted feeling (“Oh, no!  People’s subjective experiences are being misunderstood!”), but I’m using mainly introverted thinking as a tool to address this (“That means we need clearer descriptions of what T and F mean.”)

Without using feeling judgment at some point, however, you may end up with a system that seems like it should be rational, but actually has horrible consequences in the human sphere.  Have you read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal?  In this 18th century satirical classic, Swift proposes that the poor just sell their one-year-olds to rich people as food.  It would, after all, help reduce the population of the poor and miserable, and provide a benefit to their parents!

It is feeling that swiftly rejects this argument.  Those strong Ts who do try to devise “rational” arguments to refute the likes of Swift’s modest proposal are generally trying to translate an impulse that stemmed from their feeling judgment—which they do not trust—into a language they understand better.  Their efforts do, however, reveal how sometimes T and F are merely different routes to the same decision.

Ultimately, knowing when to use thinking judgment and when to use feeling might be the key to wisdom, which thinkers and feelers both surely value.  Such wisdom would be intelligence used intelligently, with a sophistication gained from experience.

Dear Ts, if you feel that this post gave your subjective experiences short shrift, I hope you’ll stay tuned.  In an upcoming post, we’ll explore some challenges that arise from misapplication or excess of feeling judgment.

If you liked this post, perhaps you’d like to share it on Facebook or Twitter!

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17 thoughts on “Toward a Better Understanding of MBTI’s Thinking and Feeling

  1. I wonder if labels are not a turn-off these days. These clever initialisms are helpful, I suppose, to psychologists to produce quick classifications of basic behavior — as a starting point for understanding an individual. But beyond that? They’re just labels. And I think people are shying away from being cookie-cuttered into pigeon holes.

    With every aspect of human behavior falling along a continuum, applying monikers to chunks of that sliding scale may not resonate with many folks, myself included.

    Such a discussion may be enhanced were Briggs-Meyers to be used as a mention only in support of some factor you discovered on your own and thought about – abstractly or concretely.

    This:

    When we use feeling judgment, we’re being subjective (i.e., considering an individual human’s viewpoint); when we use thinking judgment, we’re being objective (i.e., looking at impersonal reality as separate from human experience).

    Is your lead. The whole T and F thing, is just noise to me. But one might use the T&F concept to point out that when one fails to advance our understanding, the expanded awareness of the other could help combat biases we hold and don’t even know it.

    How your independence coming along?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve made a similar comment about both labels and what you termed psycho-speak before. I’m always glad to hear takes from a different perspective, but I don’t share this one.

      It’s true that labels are are a turn off to many. With that in mind (as demonstrated by the existence of my last post), I made a conscious decision to talk about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator because (in addition to my genuine interest in it!) I think others who find it interesting will also enjoy some of the other topics I discuss, which may be new to them. I’m pleased as punch with how this has workd so far, as I’ve gotten a nice group of new followers who blog about the MBTI and are, it seems, seeing this post recommended to them in their WordPress feeds. 🙂 (My type, the INFJ, is well represented among them, unsurprisingly. So as a bonus, now I get to read their blogs, too!) As for your point about a continuum, I agree! (I essentially if not expressly tried to indicate as much in the post….)

      It’s not my intent, of course, for this to be a blog focused solely on the MBTI; as you know, I like weaving disparate topics together. And I do remember your earlier kind comment about wanting to hear what my thoughts are as opposed to describing someone else, which meant a lot. On those notes, I do have some posts coming up in which I use MBTI categories to parse some real-world issues. Perhaps you’ll enjoy those more; if not, though, I won’t be offended if you yawn your way past them. 😉

      Re: independence, quite well, thank you! Slow but steady. I’ve picked my big priority projects out of a list that was too long, which was a challenge. Now comes the even bigger challenge of completing them….

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for writing this. If I’d not left the organisation I mentioned before (after witnessing some horrible bullying within the facebook group, and realising that it was mostly sanctioned behaviour because ‘Our members just are that way’) I would definitely be sharing your article with them.

    As an aside – I somehow unsubscribed from your blog, but have followed again. Confusing when I came to check out your new post and it wasn’t in my reader. Might need to be more careful how I use my new laptop’s touchscreen.

    The T/F balance reminds me of my diet relatively high in chicken. Due to my neuro. condition and medication, I require a high protein diet to keep my system stable. I also have many food issues and can only eat about 10 different individual foods nowadays. Eating meat is the objective solution for my protein requirements. However, I simultaneously _believe_ that each time I eat chicken, I’m directly contributing to the death of a creature with feelings, a soul (yes), and a right to live free.

    I can’t wait for lab produced meat to become widely available to the public.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why thank you, Ro. I’m so glad you found it valuable!

      Your example about eating chicken is a great example of the down side of an purely objective solution, even though that’s sometimes all we can manage.

      I did see somewhere recently (I can’t remember where) some special about how close we are to having lab-produced meat (based on plants but supposedly tasting very much like meat). Of course, it’s more expensive….

      (And I didn’t even notice that you had unsubscribed, so don’t worry that I had been puzzled or offended over here. 😉 And any of the rest of you who might be wanting to unsubscribe can evidently do it without my knowing!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t really care about the taste of my food any longer – it’s more a simple fuel issue (well, aside from the sardines the dietician told me I need to eat for calcium. Oh the awful, awful taste…). I’ll be researching that type of lab-produced meat so thanks for the heads up Jessie. Price is definitely going to be an issue – at least initially.

        As for the unsubscription, I’ve noticed that I use my touchscreen to scroll the page in the same place as the wordpress ‘Follow’/’Unfollow’ pop-up button (bottom right hand corner) so that’s my best guess as to how I unsubbed. I’ll have to be more careful about that in future — and maybe WordPress will need to rethink the placement of their pop-up as the pop(ulace) up(takes) touchscreen laptops!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I really appreciate this and I agree: there needs to be a healthy or level of both in any individual. I’m an INTP myself, and, upon realizing that I tend to focus more on reckoning Reality I ought to develop my personal skills more since others are worth knowing more then mere metaphysics. My metaphysics infact demands it of me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Welcome and thanks for the comment, Keith! We’ve all got to work to strike a balance. In my case, though I started with praise of feeling, I won’t feel like I’m properly balanced until I do a post about the virtues of thinking judgment.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This post was very helpful for framing the Thinking and Feeling components in a way that makes them easy to understand, so thank you for that. I’ve always considered myself a strong T, and I suspect that that will continue to be the case. However, I think that going through various personal moral crises has made me keenly aware of the value of compassion for others, that most F of sentiments.

    In addition, I think that my study of Buddhism has made my views more person-centered. Buddhism teaches that the material world is ultimately insubstantial, and encourages us to focus on our own mind and the emotions that arise in it. In addition, compassion for others is a core tenet of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maqroll, thanks for this insightful comment! I completely agree that compassion is the most F of sentiments, and it doesn’t surprise me that even as someone with a T preference, you’ve come to appreciate it as you’ve grown–just as Fs start realizing that they can’t decide everything based on compassion and other subjective factors.

      That’s very cool to hear that Buddhism had that effect. From my novice level understanding, it doesn’t surprise me. I seem to recall–yep, just found it when I grabbed the book off the shelf!–that in Turning the Mind Into an Ally, author Sakyong Mipham talks about bodhichitta, and that turning the focus of your meditation from yourself to others is central to developing it.

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      1. Real compassion requires both F and T due to the way empathy works (this allows people with this disease where they cannot feel pain to feel compassion when they see someone express pain).

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        1. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that compassion requires both F and T, though this basically comes down to a quibble over semantics, and what we mean by F and T. And that’s really just a path to a more important conversation, and I think in that sense, we agree. All people really do use both F and T, and as I said in the post, some people just are more comfortable using one route (rather than the other, which might be shorter but less comfortable for them) to get to the same destination.

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  5. “When we use feeling judgment, we’re being subjective (i.e., considering an individual human’s viewpoint); when we use thinking judgment, we’re being objective (i.e., looking at impersonal reality as separate from human experience).”

    The only way to be objective about the expériences we are living is to use both feeling and thinking at the same time.
    Thinking judgement requires all and completetely accurate data, which is almost never the case. Any approximation may lead to very far and distinct conclusion (a property of chaotic systems, to which our intuition is fully adapted).
    That’s why our two hemispheres keeps trying to refute each other in order to detect some inconsistancies.
    That’s why a paranoiac, who avoid listening to his intuitive/sensitive hemisphere, may have a perfect reasoning that leads him to delusional conclusions.

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    1. MBTI Feeling or thinking judgement depends on, when your two hemispheres disagree (cognitive dissonance), the one you focus on and the one you cut out from your conscience to avoid feeling the dissonance.
      During a positive disintegration, you face the dissonance instead of running away and try to solve it by according the two of them.

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