Psychic Energy Concepts − Learning Your Superpowers for Real Dude!

Knowing how you work and learn best is really useful knowledge. It’s even more useful if you have some way to apply this knowledge. This, and the dubious concept of psychic energy is what this article is mainly about.

Psylocke

Elizabeth Braddock (Psylocke) uses psychic energy to fight evil. But what is this “energy” really?

If you are like me, you do not enjoy reading about vague and ill-defined concepts, especially if they are presented as authoritative and “scientific”. One such area of annoyance is the use of the word “Energy” in psychology. I came across this most recently when reading about MBTI. The previous post was an introduction to MBTI and related personality typology frameworks, which are routinely used to great practical benefit in life. It was jut the first half of this article. This is the second half.

The thing is, just because personality types are useful and productive does not mean people thoroughly understand them. And in particular, I wanted a better understanding of the role of the concept of psychic energy, or what Carl Jung referred to as Libido.

The Use of the Concept of Energy in Psychology

First, let’s be clear that energy is properly a technical term in the science of physics. It has many forms, one of which is potential energy (energy locked away in the position of a mass in relation to some force field), and another is kinetic energy (energy of motion, the faster or more massive a thing the more kinetic energy it possess, quantitatively). The key thing is that energy is numerically measurable, it is quantitative. It is not a vague concept, it has real meaning.

As you can easily imagine, these definitions are not arbitrary. Potential energy can indeed be turned into kinetic energy, that’s the way the world works — I’m not kidding — this is the fundamental fact of physical reality — this interrelation between potential and kinetic energy is literally precisely what makes the universe evolve as it does. In a deep sense there is nothing else to know about the world. What makes the world an interesting and beautiful place is that physics cannot actually perfectly predict what will happen to all the potential energy stored in the positions and motions of matter — and so physics cannot give us a complete account of past and future. All it can do is give us probability measures of how energy might unfold in the future or past motions of matter in spacetime.

This is why we need to supplement physics with higher level sciences like chemistry, biology and economics and even psychology, in order to fully understand the universe and all the life it supports you cannot get by just on Sheldon Cooper’s bank of knowledge.

But clearly the pure physics definition of energy is not what psychology has in mind when studying things like behaviour and temperament in human interrelations. So what exactly does psychology want us to understand when it employs the word “energy” or at least the phrase “psychic energy”?

Energy and Libido

Although this is probably an over-simplification, I will use “Libido” as a synonym for psychic energy. But what is this by definition?

It is not really energy, since energy is … well, … energy is Energy! It’s a concept in physics, not psychology. The brain gets energy from glucose (primarily). And glucose has little directly related to libido. Although, if one lacks glucose then libido plummets no doubt, but so will all other physiological and psychological functions! So the physics concept of energy is not really much to do with psychic libido.

But there is a common intuition we all share about mental energy. You can feel exhausted from certain mental activity, even when your physiology is well fueled up on glucose and other carbohydrates and proteins and other vitamins and food and water. And even when you are short on food and water, there are other mental activities that can energise you and uplift your spirits. So since this is clearly not about physics energy, we have these intuitions about something else. This is what we mean by psychic energy or libido. It’s the mental energy you can feel you have even when you have little physical energy. It is generally fairly independent from physical biochemical energy, although, as just noted above, you always need a little bit of physical energy to function. But given you have just enough physical chemical energy to walk upright and move your muscles, then there is still something else, something that can drain or revive you mentally, and this is the elusive concept of psychic energy or libido.

In MBTI theory psychic energy, or libido, is claimed to be directed inwardly for Introverts and outwardly for Extraverts. But what is this libido really? Is it merely a fictional concept, a nevertheless functionally useful device for talking about psychology, an artifice for usefully conversing about psychology, or is it a real thing, something which can be quantified and measured?

We do Feel Lows and Highs

I’ll take it as a given that everyone knows what one means by an emotional low (or high). These are roughly speaking the mental states of low (resp. high) psychic energy. But they have nothing directly related to physical energy levels, at least not obviously. But there are connections which will be why the word “energy” has a place in psychology. My main aim is to make this precise.

The Brain Controls Hormones

Hormones are those ubiquitous proteins that drive a lot of our biochemistry, most of it is subconscious stuff, but a few hormones are well-known to affect our moods, our emotions, and so they filter up in conscious level sometimes too the point where they become noticeable conscious irritants. Women have the luck of knowing this acutely when they menstruate. But less well known is the fact that men experience similar yet not nearly so intense psychological mood swings due to the banal effect of these dumb biochemicals, and men have a daily cycle, not monthly.

The point is that psychological and conscious mental states are not purely driven and determined by thoughts and intellectual levels of consciousness. A heck of a lot of our psychological and emotional mental states are crazily influenced by levels of dumb chemical hormones in our brains. But since our brain also is responsible for adjusting levels of hormones, this sets up some equally crazy feedback loops between the ostensibly quite disparate realms of (1) psychological states and (2) neurological chemical balances, or imbalances.

So psychic energy is fairly mundane. It’s not the SciFi power that enables people control of physical objects via thought waves. It’s just the effect of hormones on physiology. You feel “low in psychic energy” because your brain is causing your body to feel physically fatigued because the hormones are lowering your metabolic rates and such-like. This is the biochemical–neurological–psychological feedback loop. Biology does not respect human categorical levels of description though. And the causality can work in reverse. Low psychological esteem can cause the brain to enter loops of subconscious activity which cause our organs and cells to emit the hormones that lower metabolic rates, and thus can make you feel physically exhausted.

You could have high glucose levels and yet still feel exhausted because your metabolism in general is being told to shut down by your brain. And then an hour later with no more food intact you could feel great because someone or something has shifted your brain states into a positive affective condition causing the metabolically enhancing hormones to surge. Your brain does not just monitor blood glucose. It is a powerful entity. It can adjust hormones based upon other complex high-level cognitive states that have no simple biochemical correlates, and rather are correlated best with things we routinely refer to as psychological states.

Low Psychic Energy is Not Always Low Physical Energy

Low Psychic Energy can cause feelings of low physical energy because our brains do not directly perceive low glucose or low metabolic activity as tiredness. Our conscious perception of tiredness is complex mix of low level physiological states and certain neurological patterns of activity in our brains and high level conscious thoughts.

That’s right! Even a sad thought can make you feel tired and “low in energy”. But this is psychic energy, not necessarily physiological or biochemical energy. It’s worth remembering this the next time you feel tired or exhausted. You might want to reflect upon it and think carefully about the true cause. Is it real lowness in glycogen or other physiological chemical energy levels, or is it mostly psychological, or is it a cause in the intermediate level of neurology and hormone imbalances which can be easily corrected with some happier thoughts and some caffeine?

Treating ailments effectively is mainly about figuring out the most proximate and deepest underlying causes and treating these.

The trouble with treating psychic low energy levels, or low libido, is the complex mix of factors, which range all over the field from chemicals up to conscious thoughts. But if you at least try to treat one of the symptoms, because of the complexity of the causal chains, it will probably have a beneficial short-term relieving effect no matter what level you decide to treat. Have a Vitamin B does, a coffee & and cake, a brief but intense exercise, a hot shower, and maybe take a pause to watch an inspiring TED Talk for instance. It may not cure chronic depression, but I bet it will lighten your mood temporarily and give you a positive little burst of psychic energy.

So a Definition of Psychic Energy?

Yes, I think I have one. Psychic energy is not one thing, it is a complex of high level emotional states found only at the psychological level of human thought, mixed with objective neurological patterns in the brain, mixed with dumb biochemical hormonal levels and even raw chemical energy levels in blood glucose and glycogen. But the main referent for the phrase psychic energy or libido is the psychology level of exhaustion/sadness or alertness/happiness that is associated with the aforementioned complex of factors.

Because psychic energy has no single cause it cannot be easily quantified, and there would exist many different methods of plausible semi-quantification of the notion of psychic energy level in an individual. If you wish to do psychology science then choose a metric for measuring psychic energy, define it well and unambiguously, keep it as objective as possible (i.e.., do not make it too dependent upon patient reported “feelings”), and state your particular definition clearly so it is at least reproducible.

Used wisely I think the notion of psychic energy can be very powerful. I can conceive of practical uses in at least the following areas:

  • Daily motivation and humane employee productivity enhancement.
  • Sports performance enhancement.
  • Health professions, complimenting traditional treatment of symptoms of exhaustion.
  • General life satisfaction enhancement and career counselling and relationship psychology.
  • Academic study for the further advancement in understanding of clinical positive psychology.
  • Creativity enhancement in the arts and sciences.

And that’s just a beginning.

Psychic Energy and MBTI

The original reason I wrote this article was to better understand how the word energy can be used and interpreted within the framework of Myers–Briggs Personality Typology.

Here is the key paragraph which is repeated in many of the MBTI practitioner references and MBTI theory sources:

“People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion “expend” energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.”

So how can one understand this paragraph in the light of the discussion of psychic energy?

To “draw one’s psychic energy from action” means that positive emotional states which correlate with certain neurological firing patterns in the brain get stimulated by physical activity and conversation and engagement with others for Extravert type personalities. And I would hypothesize that the same neural states and regions of the brain are fired up in Introverts by the opposite sort of activities, namely solitude, peace and quiet time for inwardly directed reflection.

By a positive emotional state one would presumably mean brain states that are correlated with subjectively reported feelings of happiness and objectively measured increases in skilled performance such as efficiently solving basic puzzles and other basic standard psychometric metrics of positive affectations.

To “expend one’s psychic energy” means that negative emotional states which correlate with certain neurological firing patterns in the brain get stimulated by solitude and excessive quiet and lack of engagement and conversation with others for Extravert type personalities. And I would hypothesize that the same negatively correlated neural states and regions of the brain are fired up in Introverts by the opposite sort of activities, namely solitude, peace and quiet time for inwardly directed reflection.

By a negative emotional state one would presumably mean the opposite of the positive affective brain states and their correlations.

If I could conduct an fMRI study on volunteers I would hypothesise brain scans correlated with subjective and objective reports of psychic energy (happiness or sadness) as depicted crudely in the following cartoon.

Extravert vs Introvert brain scans

Schematic hypothetical fMRI scans of two people having the same experiences, one an Extravert, the other an Introvert.

And I’d expect the reverse sort of data when the same volunteers are subjected to peaceful isolating stimuli for extended periods. I’m not sure, but maybe someone has already conducted such research? I can at least have some theoretical fun with this.

A Spot of Amateur Neurology

The prototype experiment then might yield data that looks a bit like the following schematic:

Stimulus functional doimance model.

This is a general hypothesis I’d call the stimulus functional dominance model. It’s saying that maybe the same functional areas of the brain “light up” in the two different people but in inverted activity ways because the same external stimuli are being given, but the emotional patterns of neural activity in this model are opposite.  What makes the Extrovert psychologically happy is what makes the Introvert psychologically sad, and conversely − in this model.

Or maybe the hypothesis should be that the dominant brain regions will be those that are responding to the stimuli, in which case the maps might instead look like this model:Response functional doimance model.

I’d call this the the response functional dominance model.  It’s saying that different regions “light up” because of the way the different personalities process the external stimuli, but the neurological correlates of emotional states are similar when subjectively reported.

What would be your guess?

Mine would be neither of these models should be dominant because we are dealing with a mix of stimulus and response. So I’d expect the fMRI maps to look quite different. They’d be a mixture of both models. But the stimulus aspects would be similar, not necessarily inverted in the activity of the regions, since stimulus is stimulus, it’ll light up the same areas in both brains. It’s only the response that should differ.

But then, Introverts process stimulus differently according to MBTI theory, so once more the fMRI maps could be weirder than a simple overlapping of social stimulus + exhaustion functional dominance in Introverts and social stimulus + happiness functional dominance in Extraverts, and conversely for the prolonged solitude stimulus.

This is all just some theoretical fun you understand.  Please don’t take it as a neuro–psychology science lesson!

Hormone Level Correlations

I’d go further of course and speculate about the correlations in hormones between Extraverts and Introverts.  Suppose we ask how adrenalin (the excitement hormone) and serotonin and norepinephrin (happiness hormones) change over time is response to either intense social stimulus or the opposite stimulus os prolonged solitary environment?

What would you hypothesise?  Go on!    Go ahead and giver it some thought

Here are two guesses about how hormone levels might fluctuate.    The first cartoon is for prolonged social stimulus.

 brains_extraverts_vs_introverts_hypothesis_hormones_social

Here I’m imaging studying two people at exactly the same party or in the laboratory stimulus environment, or whatever. Preferrably both together in real time. The only difference in the charts is supposed to be the two individuals.

The second cartoon is my guess for prolonged solitude.

https://oneoverepsilon.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/brains_extraverts_vs_introverts_hypothesis_hormones_solitary.png

Obviously the trends might not last.  Even Introverts can get bored with themselves. And even Extraverts can get overloaded with social stimulants.

This is just speculation again.  But imagine some actual data and the fun you could have telling psychological level stories about the data.  Could be a really interesting PhD topic huh?    Say you saw the above data, you might observe that some social stimulus spiked adrenaline in both the Extravert and the Introvert, but the spike is greater in the Introvert and leads to a decline in the pleasure hormones. They getoverstimulated too easily. The extravert has more tolerance and gets the buzz of adrenal excitement, but not the overdose whihc might lead to decline in pleasure.

If anyone knows of prior research on these topics then please write a comment.

These speculations touch only on the one dimension of MBTI, the E/I dimension.  So I expect a lot more interesting science could be done to test MBTI theory against neurology and other biophysical data which correlate with reported mood and other psychological states.

* * *

In summary, the Psychic Energy referred to by MBTI theory is not strongly linked to biophysical energy. It is rather the complex of factors which, at a very low and marginal level do include chemical energy levels but also, more importantly are the factors associated with positive affective states in our brains, which correlate with subjective feelings of happiness and well-being independently of physically measurable biochemical energy indicators.

Knowing Your Superpowers

Yeah, well knowing your personality type is not a superpower, but it can be a bit like having one. When you know yourself better you will be able to actively avoid shit which brings you down,  and moreover, if you’re an Introvert you will know not to listen to lame friends who advocate extreme social interaction to perk you up, and if you are an extravert you will be able to cheerfully dismiss a concerned friend who advocate spending some decompression time alone, because you really know what you might need is some good company.

That’s just the beginning of using the science of psychology to discover your superpowers.  As a further next step I’d recommend taking the Signature Strengths Test over at www.sas.upenn.edu/authentichappiness/

It’s fun, but note that it’s not much more than fun unless you do the reading and take action to turn your known strengths into use for your benefit. This is one of the key messages emerging from the  comparatively recent and young field of positive psychology:  focus on enhancing your strengths, because this positive focus leads to greater happiness in general than focusing on correcting your weaknesses.  Leave your weaknesses aside, they will improve automatically if you just focus on enhancing your strengths.  Why?  (You might well ask.)  No one really knows, but my guess is that enhancing your strengths is just more fun than toiling on trying to overcome your weaknesses.  It’s a version of the old adage: “find work or an occupation that you enjoy, then your job and career will be your pleasure and not your misery.”

Psychic power to you all!

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Answers to Other Questions

Just answering my own questions here.

  • Is Psychology a Science? — Yes, it is now. See the TED Talk by Martin Seligman: The New Era of Positive Psychology.
  • Why do thinking and feeling have to be thought of as rational, and sensing and intuition as the irrational? — in the previous post I wrote that they do not need to be taken this way. The thinking of some people can appear quite irrational to others at times. And how people use intuition or sensation can appear quite understandable. How you perceive someone’s modes of behaviour can depend not only on their personality type but on your own type as well. What I think Jung meant was merely that Thinking & Feeling can be understood more generally as rational than Sensing & Intuition. Why? Because in Jungian typology Thinking & Feeling lead to outward decisions, whereas Sensing & Intuition yield internal mental changes which are not public.
  • Do Extraverts and Introverts have the same neurological active regions when stimulted by their different dominant prefered activities? — That is, do outward directed activities (talking with others, being bubbly and sociable) for Extravets fire about the same pleasure centeres in their brains as does inward thought and peaceful quiet excite in the brains of Introverts? And equally, do the activities which dampen Extravert emotions (solitude, isolation, excessive peace and quiet) fire the same neurological patterns and regions as in the brains of Introverts who are placed in loud buzzy social environments with forced excess engagements with others? I do not know of any research which answers this set of questions. So consider it an open topic, maybe you will be the researcher who first publishes an answer backed up by data.

*        *        *

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Energy and Personality − Psychology Metrology

My most golden friend alerted me to the fact that the Myers-Briggs Personality types are still widely used in Human Resources (HR) professions. She also works in HR, and so, being a truly golden friend, I had to read up on this stuff. It was quite fascinating, even for a hard edge scientist.

Among many highlights I discovered were the following:

  • Extroversion (outward focus, not necessarily always gregarious) is a dominant western cultural paradigm in the workplaces and schools and many other institutions, and in many areas of life we, as a society need to bring this pendulum back towards nurturing and appreciating introversion.
  • Children at school need more time to do silent individual work. Group work has been over-rated and over-emphasised in recent decades, to the detriment of deep thinking. Extroverts also particularly benefit from learning how to work alone for long periods.
  • Susan Cain’s TED talk: Susan Cain: The Power of introverts.
  • Teams function best with a broad range of personality types. This point is obvious, but worth keeping in mind.
  • Myers–Briggs (MBTI) psychology sucks for predicting human behaviour or diagnosing individual quirks and coaching individuals, but is terrific for organizational psychology and team building.
  • Introversion is more helpfully interpreted as a preference for inwardly focused behaviour and attitude, not as shyness. Shyness is what happens to anyone who is fearful of social interactions, which is not just a problem for introverts.
  • The word Energy is often used outside of physics in very strange ways, but most people seem to be comfortable with these common outside uses, but I had to find out more, and that’s what this article is mainly about.

Here’s a recommendation up front: if you are really interested in psychology, but do not consider yourself an expert, then please find time to watch the TED Talk by Martin Seligman: The New Era of Positive Psychology

Also before I get to the main point of this post (which is the curious use of the physics concept of energy in the field of psychology) I need to explain a little of the psychology background. By the way, if you are a thinker and writer please send a reply to tell me whether you think psychology is a science or not? If not, then what is it? An art? A fantasy discipline with merely coincidental correlations with the real world of cognitive science? Or just a very young and immature science?

Basic Myers–Briggs Ideas

Myers and Briggs adapted Carl Jung’s proto-theory of personality typology and turned it into a tool that could be used in human resource management, and in a fairly humane way I might add. It does not reduce people to numbers, but it does help to semi-quantitatively assess the dynamics within teams of co-workers. And before you ask, yes, the misspelling “extravert” to follow is deliberate, it may help people to remember this is not the strict dictionary use of the word. In Myers–Briggs lexicon “extraversion” is a preferential outward turning attitude to the external world. However this is quite close to the common understanding of the word “extroversion”. Both Introversion and Extraversion refer to the preference for turning of the libido (one’s so-called psychic energy — a term which needs some careful definition in my view.

The four pairwise classifications for a 24=16 element matrix of raw types are,

  • Extravert | Introvert (E/I) — for preferential attitude to the world.
  • Sensing | iNtuitive (S/N) — (the twfor one’s preferential way of perceiving collating knowledge and mental input input.
  • Thinking | Feeling (T/F) — for the way one prefers to contemplate and make decisions.
  • Judging | Perceiving (J/P) — for the way one prefers to relate to the outside world.

The Judging/Perception distinction reuses the functional categories T/F (judging/decision modes) and the S/N (perception/gathering), and relates them to how people show outward directed character and inward directed character. They do this using notions of dominance and auxiliary functions. It works like this: the J or P indicates their dominant function for extraverts, and for introverts the J or P indicates their auxiliary function.  It goes like this: E**J →implies dominance is the preferred deciding function (T or F); while E**P→implies dominance is the preferred perceiving function (S or N). I**J→implies their auxiliary function is their preferred deciding function (T or F); while I**P→;implies their auxiliary function is their preferred perceiving function (S or N).

The auxiliary function is then the one (for the person in question) that is not their dominant.

Then the direction (outward or inward) of dominant and auxiliary behaviours are inferred from whether a person is Extroverted or Introverted.

Do you get it? We all have to outwardly deal with our external interests and sometimes also our internal interests as well. For example, internally you dream of winning a sports event say, and outwardly you deal with your dream by training. The J and P distinctions help analyse how a person typically handles whatever has to be outwardly directed, and how people handle inward directed attention.

An E**J type means a person will preferentially use their preferred decision mode for external relations and so their preferred perceiving mode for internal relations. Thus, for example, an ENTJ type would be extroverted thinker (denoted eT) and introverted intuition (denoted by iN). So, for example, they would most likely act extroverted in thinking about winning their sort event, but they would introverted about gaining intuitions about how they will fair, perhaps. While an ESFP would be dominant for Sensing so would be an extroverted senser (denoted eS) and an introverted feeling person (denoted by iF), so they might have a strong sensorial input for how they will win the sports event, but introvert their feelings for making decisions about training, perhaps. In summary, P/J point to dominant functions for Extroverts.

Since dominance is outward for extraverts and inward for introverts, this P/J factor is easiest to remember in that it always points to the outward-looking function for both introverts and extraverts, because ‘outward’ is auxiliary (italicised in my denotations) for introverts and dominant (bold in my denotations) for extraverts.

So what about Introvert examples? Well, an INTP would be auxiliary in iNtuitive function because the P designator points to their auxiliary function as being their preferred perception mode, and so they would be dominant in thinking function, so they would be an inwardly introverted thinker (my symbol for this is iT — the bold font indicate this is dominant); and they would have an outwardly extraverted iNtuitive (denoted eN for their auxiliary mode). So they’d be closed off and shy about how they think about how their training decisions are being made or progressing, but extraverted and open in gathering intuitions about their sports training progress, perhaps.

An INFJ would be auxiliary (so extraverted) in Feeling (denoted eF), and dominant (so introverted) iNtuitive (denoted In).

An ENFJ would be dominant (so extraverted) in Feeling (denoted eF), and auxiliary (so introverted) iNtuitive (denoted iN).

Notice the difference with ENFJ and INFJ. The outward and inward directed functioning is the same, but the dominant attitudes are reversed in order. So an INFJ is preferentially adopting an (iN) mode, while the ENFJ type is preferentially adopting (eF) modes. But both personality types have these same pairs of proclivities for outward and inward directed modes of thinking and doing.

There are more examples we could enumerate, but just one more for now, consider an ISTJ: they would be outwardly extraverted thinking (eT)(since their auxiliary function is in their judging mode which is ‘thinking’ for them), and they would be inwardly introverted sensing (iS) (since this is their dominant which is their perceiving function of ‘sensing’. In summary: P/J point to auxiliary functions for Introverts.

Got it? This is not rocket science for sure. None of it is supposed to enable us to predict human behaviour, it’s all just guiding framework sort of analysis. It helps in planning and in building teams of people who work well together both in empathetic ways (cooperation) and in complimentary ways (cooptition=’competition with a purpose for mutual benefit’). And this MBTI analysis helps organisers avoid inadvertently building bad relations like disorganization (lack of connectivity, lack of united purpose or cohesion) and discord (disunity, distrust and competition with mutual harm).

The Wikipedia entry spells this out in terms of how people show the world their preferred modes. And interestingly this couples in the Extraversion Introversion dimension:

Myers and Briggs added another dimension to Jung’s typological model by identifying that people also have a preference for using either the judging function (thinking or feeling) or their perceiving function (sensing or intuition) when relating to the outside world (extraversion).

Myers and Briggs held that types with a preference for judging show the world their preferred decision function (thinking or feeling). So **TJ types tend to appear to the world as logical, and **FJ types as empathetic. According to Myers, judging types like to “have matters settled”.

Those types who prefer perception show the world their preferred perceiving function (sensing or intuition). So *S*P types tend to appear to the world as concrete and *N*P types as abstract. According to Myers, perceptive types prefer to “keep decisions open”.

For extraverts, the J or P indicates their dominant function; for introverts, the J or P indicates their auxiliary function. Introverts tend to show their dominant function outwardly only in matters “important to their inner worlds”.

For example:

Because the ENTJ type is extraverted, the J indicates that the dominant function is the preferred judging function (extraverted thinking). The ENTJ type introverts the auxiliary perceiving function (introverted intuition). The tertiary function is sensing and the inferior function is introverted feeling.

Because the INTJ type is introverted, however, the J instead indicates that the auxiliary function is the preferred judging function (extraverted thinking). The INTJ type introverts the dominant perceiving function (introverted intuition). The tertiary function is feeling and the inferior function is extraverted sensing.

The Wikipidia entry summarises this nicely:

“The preferences for extraversion and introversion are often called attitudes. Briggs and Myers recognized that each of the cognitive functions can operate in the external world of behavior, action, people, and things (“extraverted attitude”) or the internal world of ideas and reflection (“introverted attitude”). The MBTI assessment sorts for an overall preference for one or the other.

People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion “expend” energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.

The extravert’s flow is directed outward toward people and objects, and the introvert’s is directed inward toward concepts and ideas.”

There is also a way to fit all four functions into a personality, using tertiary and inferior classes. For most practioners the tertiary function is oriented in the same direction same as the dominant function, but of course ‘tertiary’ means the partner of the auxiliary function for both E and I individuals.

Thus, Using the INTP type as an example, we start from ‘I’ which mean the ‘P’ indicates an auxiliary perceiving function, thus auxiliary=N for this type. The remaining orientations would be as follows:

  • Dominant introverted Thinking
  • Auxiliary extraverted iNtuition
  • Tertiary introverted Sensing
  • Inferior extraverted Feeling

The tertiary function is Sensing here since it partners iNtuition. How about a rare INFJ type? They’d have:

  • Dominant introverted iNtuition
  • Auxiliary extraverted Feeling
  • Tertiary introverted Thinking
  • Inferior extraverted sensing

The tertiary function is Sensing here since it partners iNtuition.

One more example, for an ESFP:

  • Dominant extraverted Sensing
  • Auxiliary introverted Feeling
  • Tertiary extraverted Thinking
  • Inferior introverted iNtuition

The tertiary function is Thinking since it is the partner to Feeling.

Relations Between Jung’s Work and Myers–Briggs

Jung original had the two broad attitudes (Extroversion and Introversion) and coupled these with the four functions (Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling). He thought of the pair of functions (Sensing & Intuition) as the two irrational or perception types or the main ways people collect information. And he thought of the pair (Thinking & Feeling) as two main rational or decision-making types of ways people process the information to make decisions or judgements. Myers and Briggs adapted all of this and made the Judging/Perception (or Rational/Irrational) layer a separate category to be assessed.

They could then tell when a person favoured Ep or Ej (irrational or rational type of extravert) and whether they favoured Ip or Ij (irrational or rational type of introvert) .

Already I have an issue with this, which is why do sensing and intuition need to be thought of as irrational? And for that matter why do thinking and feeling have to be thought of as rational? Well, they don’t! But I will come back to this later.

The key thing with MBPT is to interpret the type of a person not as a hard and fast fixed type, since there are more than sixteen types of character in the whole of humanity I think you will agree). But rather to think of people, as having certain grouped primary preferences for worldly attitude, contemplation or collation of input, and contemplative preference for the rational collation of information and in the way they make decisions.

It is the primary preferences that the Myers–Briggs matrix seeks to capture. It does not aim for personal psychological depth of analysis, but rather more humbly seeks to assess group dynamics and interactions between people in a very general context. So it is used by organisational psychologists more than by personal psychologists. Indeed, it would be kind of stupid for a personal psychologist to ever bother to use MBTI, unless for some reason their patient had some problems directly associated with their work environment which MBTI theory might be able to help analyse.

Note that Myers–Briggs typology seems redundant since

  • Sensing — collation–gathering mode is Irrational+Perception.
  • iNtuition — collation–gathering mode is Irrational+Perception.
  • Thinking — contemplation+decision mode is
  • Feeling — contemplation+decision mode is

By the way, I am equal parts INFJ and INTJ. Every time I run through the indicator tests I score equally (often dead tied) on the T/F category, but very clearly and unambiguously on the other three dimensions. So this frustrates my friend or other psychologists, because I cannot be dropped into their Matrix as a single point. But I figure there have to be plenty of people who similarly cover more than one square in the MBPT matrix.

This is all fine so far, we’ve just laid out the framework. But how is it used? What are the normal roles of these dominant and subordinate functions?

Life Guidance

Before I write much more I want to emphasise that I am not a critic of MBTI organizational psychology. In fact I would endorse it’s use. For the one reason alone in that it can aid all sorts of people to learn how to work more harmoniously by showing them when to cooperate and when it is better to work alone. But there are many other reasons to appreciate MBTI theory, which I do not intend to elaborate upon here, it is up to readers to take away more from their own wider reading.

People are normally familiar and comfortable with their main type. What is tricky and interesting is how people can change and grow, and this often means paying more attention to your tertiary function.

Development of your tertiary function tends to come later in life (about midlife) after you have grown and feel comfortable with the dominant and auxiliary. As you grow and develop, you learn that there is a time and place to use your third and fourth (inferior) functions. The tertiary function can guide you toward areas of your life you have avoided, or expand your skills into areas that require skills you did not earlier in life feel comfortable using. This is useful for so-called ‘up-skilling’ (a euphemism used by some employers for “get better or you’re fired”) and for becoming in general a more useful person, more varied and adaptive and flexible. For example, a Thinking type with tertiary Intuition may begin taking literature or creative writing courses. A Thinking type with tertiary Sensing may begin doing carpentry or weaving or gardening.

The inferior function is naturally the least well developed mode for most people. From Wikipedia: “The inferior function is often considered to be more associated with the unconscious, being most evident in situations such as high stress (sometimes referred to as being in the grip of the inferior function).”

OK, so you can probably see where I am coming from: what is this use of the concept of energy? Does it bear any relation to my beloved subject of physics? Or should psychology devise it’s own new and original lexicon using concrete and unambiguous definitions?

Cognitive Learning Styles

This is the application which most appealed to me. I found it all quite intuitively obvious in applications for teachers and students. Here is Wikipedia again:

  • E/I The first continuum reflects what generically energizes a person. Extraverted types learn best by talking and interacting with others. By interacting with the physical world, extraverts can process and make sense of new information. Introverted types prefer quiet reflection and privacy. Information processing occurs for introverts as they explore ideas and concepts internally.
  • S/N The second continuum reflects what a person focuses their attentions on. Sensing types enjoy a learning environment in which the material is presented in a detailed and sequential manner. Sensing types often attend to what is occurring in the present, and can move to the abstract after they have established a concrete experience. Intuitive types prefer a learning atmosphere in which an emphasis is placed on meaning and associations. Insight is valued higher than careful observation, and pattern recognition occurs naturally for Intuitive types.
  • T/F The third continuum reflects the person’s decision preferences. Thinking types desire objective truth and logical principles and are natural at deductive reasoning. Feeling types place an emphasis on issues and causes that can be personalized while they consider other people’s motives.
  • J/P The fourth continuum reflects how the person regards complexity. Judging types will thrive when information is organized and structured, and they will be motivated to complete assignments to gain closure. Perceiving types will flourish in a flexible learning environment in which they are stimulated by new and exciting ideas.

For a nice talk about research on cognitive learning styles and MBTI see Jane Kise at TEDx: Neuroscience, Jungian Type and Mathematics: Insights into Student Struggles.

The cool thing about MBTI is how easy it is to get students to self-assess their type. It is pretty easy for a competent teacher to create lesson resources to suit all styles. They can take good quality generic lessons and tweak them in usually just a couple of ways for adaptation to the different learning styles.

Alternatives to MBTI: FFM and HEXACO

The favoured alternative, often considered to be more comprehensive than MBTI is the so-called Five Factor Model (FFM) or the Big Five:

Wikipedia: “A summary of the factors of the Big Five and their constituent traits, such that they form the acronym OCEAN:”

  • Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called “intellect” rather than openness to experience.
  • Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
  • Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
  • Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”.

These are OK, but when I first looked at them they seemed a bit too overlapped. But apparently most studies show they are not overlapped. Maybe the published research is biased by a lack of published negative results?

My favourite personality type model is the six-dimensional HEXCO model, each factor in which has polar extremes, so is expected to be centrally distributed across large groups of people, not bimodal:

  • Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous
  • Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable
  • Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved
  • Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric
  • Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded
  • Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional

Those are the descriptions of the types. And here’s how the six HEXACO factors are analysed in questionaires, through four subsidiary facets each:

  • Honesty-Humility (H): Sincerity, Fairness, Greed Avoidance, Modesty
  • Emotionality (E): Fearfulness, Anxiety, Dependence, Sentimentality
  • Extraversion (X): Social Self-Esteem, Social Boldness, Sociability, Liveliness
  • Agreeableness (A): Forgivingness, Gentleness, Flexibility, Patience
  • Conscientiousness (C): Organization, Diligence, Perfectionism, Prudence
  • Openness to Experience (O): Aesthetic Appreciation, Inquisitiveness, Creativity, Unconventionality

It’s pretty easy to guess why I like this model — it has a dimension of spirituality lacing in MBTI and FFM, that of Humility/Honesty, and I believe this is incredibly important in human life, and although not in vogue in cognitive sciences, I think honesty and humility are the most important factors in creating a more peaceful world.

It probably doesn’t matter which framework one uses, FFM, HEXACO, or MBTI, since to a degree they capture the same insights about human personality and human interrelations. In fact, I suspect they’d work across extraterrestrial boundaries!! It has been argued by strong promoters of FFM that MBTI is not as powerful, but this is not real true. A typical FFM assessment and a MBTI assessment capture the same sort of information. What differs in the approaches is ease of use and ease of fitness to the purpose of the analysis.

So, for example: the Big Five (FFM) are quite good for future occupation success predictions and career and academic guidance. The MBTI are quite good for organizational management and team building. Yet both frameworks are also useful in the others role. The HEXACO model has a unique position of personality psychology frameworks because it is based upon analysis of lexical structure in languages, across many cultures, so HEXACO has good claims to being very universal (always a highly desirable attribute for a general theory).

MBTI is also a great tool for analysing learning styles, which a deep and practical knowledge of how to assess and use is extremely helpful for teachers and any leaders in education. There is an excellent short TEDx talk by Jane Kise about MBTI types and learning styles in primary school mathematics classrooms. Jane Kise at TEDx: Neuroscience, Jungian Type and Mathematics: Insights into Student Struggles.

Critiques of MBTI and FFM

These are the two personality frameworks used in professional psychology I suspect. So it is useful to know a bit about their weaknesses.

  • MBTI was supposes to discern Types, so logically the pairs should show bimodal distributions in statistics for a large population. But they do not! They are centrally distributed, so most people are on the borders between the categories E-I, S-N, F-T, P-J. This is very strange a a serious flaw in the whole framework of MBTI. Amazingly though it appears not to seriously affect the efficacy of MBTI analysis for team building. Perhaps because team work is more cooperative than competitive, so extremes of personality are not the important thing, but rather what are important are compliments of skill and talent.
  • FFM is purely empirical, it has no underlying theoretical support. But this does not forbid a theory behind FFM from being developed a posteriori by future researchers.
  • There are statistical irregularities in both models — for example, the lack of expected bimodality in MBTI, and lack of orthogonality.
  • Reliability: many people can be re-tested weeks after an MBTI test and find they are now a different Type!

Lack of orthogonality is interesting. Orthogonality is a measure of independence of factors. If they are not fully orthogonal then this means there is some residual degree of overlap and correlation between them, so it means a more efficient set of factors could be found in principle. A hypothetical set of factors that better and more clearly distinguishes personalities. Perhaps no one knows the names for a maximally orthogonal set of personality types perhaps such names do not even exist yet in English language.

The figure here shows a set of MBTI scores for 10 people. Each single individual is colour coded. You can see that most people have scores clustered near the centre, which suggests, at least for this data, the MBTI statistics are not bimodal, but rather more central.

MBTI scortes tend to cluster centrally

Here the person who yielded the red data points is INTJ. The person who yielded the yellow data points is *SFP, they are borderline for E/I and would need to be retested or self-assessed perhaps to decide on an Extrovesion or Introversion preferred attitude.

A scatter plot of scores for a larger group of 100 people might look like this next chart, which shows a clear central type of distribution.

MBTI scores for N=100 people.

Reliability of MBTI, or consistency, is not a big deal for me, I like the idea that people are not fixed! It does imply that MBTI lacks a sharp enough, or orthogonal enough, set of categories. But then where would you draw the line? Surely any good theory of personality types has to allow for the theoretical possibility that people can change with time. But what is a reasonable time frame for change of Type? Six weeks, a year, a decade? It’s hard to say. The answer has to be determined by a better model of personality type, so that we can trust the model to tell us how much a person has changed, and for this trust one needs a model that is consistent and reliable over short time frames of days and weeks, given the circumstances of a person’s life have not changed too radically in between tests.

So I think in future MBTI will be revised. It is not a completed framework. It has to be evolved to better fit with it’s intended purposes. The same is probably true of FFM and HEXACO.

As you can easily imagine from their respective definitions, the FFM nd HEXACO models reproduce very similar analytical results and characterisations of people, especially when FFM is supplemented with a Humility/Honesty Factor to become six-dimensional. So the theory behind HEXACO is a good candidate for theoretical support for FFM.

The Use of the Concept of Energy in Psychology

First, let’s be clear that energy is properly a technical term in the science of physics. It has many forms, one of which is potential energy (energy locked away in the position of a mass in relation to some force field), and another is kinetic energy (energy of motion, the faster or more massive a thing the more kinetic energy it possess, quantitatively). The key thing is that energy is numerically measurable, it is quantitative. It is not a vague concept, it has real meaning.

As you can easily imagine, these definitions are not arbitrary. Potential energy can indeed be turned into kinetic energy, that’s the way the world works — I’m not kidding — this is the fundamental fact of physical reality — this interrelation between potential and kinetic energy is literally, precisely, what makes the universe evolve as it does. In a deep sense there is nothing else to know about the world.

What makes the world an interesting and beautiful place is that physics cannot actually perfectly predict what will happen to all the potential energy stored in the positions and motions of matter — and so physics cannot give us a complete account of past and future. All it can do is give us probability measures of how energy might unfold in the future or past motions of matter in spacetime.

This is why we need to supplement physics with higher level sciences like chemistry, biology and economics and even psychology, in order to fully understand the universe and all the life it supports you cannot get by just on Sheldon Cooper’s bank of knowledge.

But clearly the pure physics definition of energy is not what psychology has in mind when studying things like behaviour and temperament in human interrelations. So what exactly does psychology want us to understand when it employs the word “energy” or at least the phrase “psychic energy”?

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OK, sorry folks, I had to split this article in two. This is the introduction to the background frameworks in personality type psychology. The next post will take a closer look at the concept of energy in psychology.

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