The Preferences: E–I, S–N, T–F, J–P

On this page, the term preference is defined and explained, along with detailed descriptions of the preference pairs—Extraversion–Introversion, Sensing–Intuition, Thinking–Feeling, and Judging–Perceiving.

What is a Preference?

Preference, by definition, means "what you like better." Do you prefer apples or oranges? Do you prefer to watch a movie or read a book? This definition implies that you have a choice in what you prefer.

There are no right or wrong preferences. Reading is not better than watching movies; apples are not a better fruit than oranges. Most people have the ability to do both, even if they don't like doing one or the other.

What is a Type Preference?

Personality type is what you prefer when you are using your mind or focusing your attention. People have a predisposition to develop along certain typological lines. This development is innate and natural but can be influenced by our environment.

A preference in type language really means "a natural orientation." Do you prefer Sensing or Intuition, for example? Everyone can use Sensing when gathering information, but if theory holds true, to have a preference for Sensing means you were born with a predisposition to choose to use Sensing across situations. You can choose to use Intuition, but your natural inborn preference would be for Sensing.

Does this make sense?

Here's an example. Are you left-handed or right-handed? Try this exercise:

  • Write your name with your dominant hand. What was that like for you?
  • Now, write your name again but this time use your other hand. What was that like for you?

When using their preferred hand, people say it is easy. They don't have to think about it. It feels comfortable and natural.

When using their non-preferred hand, people say it is hard. They have to concentrate and focus more. It feels uncomfortable and unnatural.

But they can use both hands. It might have felt awkward and looked a little messy, but they could use both hands and they do every day. However, most people are born with a natural preference for one hand over the other.

This is just like personality type preferences. Most people have an innate preference for one side of a preference pair, it feels natural and comfortable, but they can stretch to the opposite preference if they need to. Like using both hands, we use all the preferences every day.

Here Is the Big Insight!

What if people don't know they have an opposite preference? Then they are likely to lean into what is natural only and may miss out on the strengths offered by the other side. Remember, both sides of a preference pair are important. There are no better or worse preferences. We need them both.

Type awareness reminds us that we all have potential strengths (our natural preferences) and possible stretches (the opposite preferences). Sometimes we need to use a strength, other times a stretch, but more often than not, we need to use both.

Strengths and Stretches

There are many benefits to understanding your own preferences, including how they affect you, how they affect your style of communication, and how they are different from what other people prefer.

While all preferences are equal, each has benefits (strengths) and challenges (stretches). Knowing these personality strengths and stretches for the preferences can help you understand and appreciate how everyone contributes to a situation, a task, or the solution to a problem.

The MBTI® Preference Pairs

Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)

The first preference pair is Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I). They represent natural orientations of energy—opposite ways to direct/receive energy and focus attention.

People who prefer Extraversion feel energized by interaction in the outer world of people and things. Their attention is naturally drawn in this outward direction.

People who prefer Introversion feel energized when reflecting on concepts and ideas in their inner world. Their attention is naturally drawn in this inward direction.

Extraversion and Introversion, as terms used by Jung, explain different attitudes people use to direct their energy. These words have a meaning in Jungian psychology (typology) that is different from the way they are used in everyday language.

Extravert or Introvert: Defined

As they are popularly used, the term extravert is understood to mean sociable or outgoing, while the term introvert is understood to mean shy or withdrawn. Jung, however, originally intended the words to have an entirely different meaning.

He used the words to describe the preferred focus of one's energy on either the outer or the inner world. People who prefer Extraversion orient their energy to the outer world, while people with an Introversion preference orient their energy to the inner world. Even though they mean different things, many people still use the terms extravert and introvert when talking about type; now, you know the difference!

Extravert or Introvert: Verbs not Nouns in Typology

Everyone spends some time extraverting and introverting their focus throughout their day. Type dynamics shows us how by describing which mental processes (S–N or T–F) we extravert and introvert.

We all access both worlds (Extraversion and Introversion), but most of us will prefer and feel more comfortable with one more than the other.

One of Jung's and Myers' great contributions to the field of psychology is their observations that Extraversion and Introversion are both healthy variations in personality style.

Characteristics of Extraversion and Introversion

As you read through the following descriptions, although you may see yourself a little on both sides, think about what seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you. Which do you prefer?

People who prefer Extraversion (E) tend to:

  • Focus on the outside world
  • Gain energy by interacting with people
  • Take action quickly
  • Communicate through talking; process ideas outwardly
  • Act before thinking it through
  • Readily take initiative
  • Have many broad interests

Keywords: open, expressive, action-oriented, gregarious, active, enthusiastic

People who prefer Introversion (I) tend to:

  • Focus on their inside world
  • Gain energy by reflecting on concepts, ideas, experiences, and memories
  • Take time for reflection
  • Communicate through writing; process ideas inwardly
  • Think things through before acting
  • Take initiative when it is important to them
  • Focus on a few interests in-depth

Keywords: private, quiet, contemplative, intimate, reflective, contained

Our preference for Extraversion or Introversion impacts:

  • how we recharge at the end of a day
  • our approach to meetings
  • the work environment we like
  • when we get started on a task
  • our interests and hobbies

Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)

The second preference pair is Sensing (S) and Intuition (N). They represent the perceiving mental processes for taking in information—opposite ways to see things.

People who prefer Sensing pay more attention to information that is concrete and tangible. They focus on what is, by paying attention to specific details and facts. They rely on perception through their five senses (trust experience).

People who prefer Intuition pay more attention to the patterns and possibilities in the information they receive. They focus on what could be, by looking at the big picture and making connections between the facts. They use their five senses, too, but rely on perception through insights and hunches (trust inspiration).

Everyone spends some time using the Sensing and Intuition preferences throughout their day. Most of us tend to rely on and trust one more than the other, however, there is value in using both. Myers believed that by taking in information through Sensing and Intuition, our "perceptions would be clearer."

Characteristics of Sensing and Intuition

As you read through the following descriptions, although you may see yourself a little on both sides, think about what seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you—the information you trust. Which do you prefer?

People who prefer Sensing (S) tend to:

  • Focus on facts and specifics
  • Remember details that are important to them
  • Take a realistic approach to life
  • Focus on the here and now, present/past realities
  • Like step-by-step instructions and information presented sequentially
  • Understand ideas through practical applications
  • Trust experience

Keywords: concrete, realistic, present, practical, experiential, traditional

People who prefer Intuition (N) tend to:

  • Seek out new ideas
  • Look at the big picture
  • Take an imaginative approach to life
  • Focus on future possibilities, patterns and meanings
  • Like an overall framework, work it out themselves
  • Focus on concepts, not practical applications
  • Trust inspiration

Keywords: abstract, imaginative, future, conceptual, theoretical, original

Our preference for Sensing or Intuition impacts:

  • how we see things
  • what kind of instructions we like
  • our approach to learning something new
  • the information we need before making a purchase
  • our reaction to change

Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)

The third preference pair is Thinking (T) and Feeling (F). They represent the judging mental processes for coming to conclusions—opposite ways to decide.

People who prefer Thinking put more weight on objective principles and impersonal facts when decision-making. They focus on logic and analysis.

People who prefer Feeling put more weight on personal concerns and the people involved when decision making. They focus on values and relationships.

Thinking or Feeling: Defined

Like the previous preference pairs, Jung used everyday words that mean something different in the context of typology. Remember, this preference pair relates to decision-making. People who prefer Feeling use values-based decision-making (focus on people), whereas people who prefer Thinking use logic-based decision-making (focus on systems).

It has nothing to do with the everyday definitions of feeling (emotion) and thinking (intellect), nor do these terms indicate that people are judgmental. People who prefer Thinking can feel and people who prefer Feeling can think. We all use the Thinking and Feeling preferences when deciding, but where we start from and the process we tend to follow often reflects our overall preference.

We tend to lean on the preferences we are most comfortable with, however, there is value in using both. Myers believed that by coming to conclusions using Thinking and Feeling, our "judgments would be sounder".

Characteristics of Thinking and Feeling

As you read through the following descriptions, continue to focus on the characteristics as they pertain to personality. Knowing you likely use both preferences, think about what seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you when making decisions. Which do you prefer?

People who prefer Thinking (T) tend to:

  • Use logical analysis when reasoning—system oriented
  • Take an objective approach to problem-solving
  • Have a critical "eye" (can be "tough-minded")
  • Consider the pros and cons in a situation
  • Scan for what is wrong, so they can fix it
  • Be task focused
  • Rely on impersonal criteria when deciding

Keywords: logical, reasonable, questioning, objective, critical, tough-minded

People who prefer Feeling (F) tend to:

  • Apply personal and social values—people oriented
  • Take an empathetic approach to problem-solving
  • Offer praise (may appear "tender-hearted")
  • Seek harmony, consider everyone's viewpoints
  • Scan for what is right, so they can support it
  • Be relationship focused
  • Take personal circumstances into consideration

Keywords: empathetic, compassionate, accommodating, subjective, accepting, tender-hearted

Our preference for Thinking or Feeling impacts:

  • our process for making decisions—what we consider first, second, etc.
  • our helping style
  • how we provide feedback to people
  • our approach for dealing with different viewpoints
  • how we like to be recognized or appreciated

Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

The fourth MBTI® preference pair is Judging (J) and Perceiving (P). They describe how you like to approach the outside world, your outer life, and what behaviors others tend to see—opposite orientations to the outer world.

In other words, this preference pair describes how you "extravert" focus or energy because "extraverting" means engaging with people, events, and situations in the outside world. Whether you prefer Extraversion or Introversion, everyone extraverts aspects of their personality some of the time, either through making decisions (Judging mental processes) or gathering information (Perceiving mental processes).

We all "introvert" some of the time, too, regardless of our overall preference for Extraversion or Introversion. You may have already guessed that you introvert the process that you don't extravert! And you would be right! Let's learn more about the J-P preference pair and how we approach life.

How We Approach Life

People who prefer Judging like a more structured and organized lifestyle. They like to control their environment by making plans or at least knowing what the plans are when others make them. Interaction with the outside world is through their decision-making (judging) mental process of Thinking or Feeling. Making decisions, coming to closure, and then moving on is important to people with a Judging preference.

People who prefer Perceiving like a more flexible and open-ended lifestyle. Rather than control their environment, they want to experience it through exploring options. Interaction with the outside world is through their information gathering (perceiving) mental process of Sensing or Intuition. Staying open to new information, last minute options, and being adaptable is important to people with a Perceiving preference.

Everyone takes in information and makes decisions. However, when it comes to dealing with the outer world, people who prefer Judging tend to focus on making decisions because they like things decided. People who prefer Perceiving tend to focus on taking in information because they like exploring options.

Everyone spends some time each day taking in information (Perceiving) and deciding (Judging) as part of day-to-day living. Most of us tend to find comfort with and lean on one more than the other when approaching the outside world.

Characteristics of Judging and Perceiving

As you read through the following descriptions, think about what seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you. Which do you prefer?

People who prefer Judging (J) tend to:

  • Like making and sticking to plans
  • Want closure
  • Make and follow schedules
  • Like organization and structure
  • Work in a methodical manner
  • Want to control life
  • Do their best to avoid last-minute stress

Keywords: systematic, planful, early starting, closure, scheduled, methodical

People who prefer Perceiving (P) tend to:

  • Be flexible
  • Keep options open
  • Go with the flow
  • Like spontaneity
  • Adapt to emerging information
  • Want to experience life
  • Get energized and do their best work at the last-minute

Keywords: casual, open-ended, pressure-prompted, options, spontaneous, emergent

Our preference for Judging or Perceiving impacts:

  • How we approach complex tasks
  • When we come to closure
  • How we handle deadlines
  • How we view work and play
  • Planning for events

The preference that best describes you from each pair represents your potential strengths. Since we use all the preferences every day, it is important to note that at times you will be called upon to use the opposite preferences—these may be more challenging to access, which is why they are referred to as a personality stretch. Knowing your personality strengths and stretches helps you to better understand yourself and others and provides opportunities for personal growth and development. But these preferences do not work in isolation from one another; when combined, they form the 16 MBTI personality types and offer a deeper insight of personality through type dynamics and development.