Brain-Based Descriptions of the 8 Jungian Types

Who are you really? That is, how do you operate? And what is your best route to up your level in life? A century ago, the famous Swiss psychiatrist Dr. C.G. Jung described eight ways people function. Like right versus left handedness, we develop preferences—our gifts. Here you can read about the Eight Cognitive Processes.

By Dario Nardi, published on November 29, 2020. The article is based on the blue “Brain Basics” foldout by Radiance House.

In his seminal work, Psychological Types, Dr. C.G. Jung described 2 attitudes (Extraverting and Introverting) and 4 “mental functions”: Sensing, Intuiting, Thinking, and Feeling. Together, they give what he called 8 “Types”. Today, we can use more appropriate terms like functional patterns or cognitive processes. Notice the terms are verbs. This is a process model, not a trait model.

Since Jung, people have offered many variant definitions and created assessments, most of which are peculiar to the creator, speculative, and not research based. In my own work since 2006, I have correlated the Jungian processes to biases and patterns in neocortical (brain) activity using EEG technology. Subjects complete a 1-hour protocol of 20 diverse tasks (meditating, math, memory, etc) while monitored by EEG. And of course, I do my best to confirm each person's best-fit personality profile using common definitions.

Here is an overview of the neocortex and definitions of the 8 cognitive processes.

Brain Basics

Your brain consists of many small modules linked in networks. Each module is a neural circuit that helps you do a task. Some tasks are concrete, such as recognizing faces, hearing voice tone, and moving a hand. Other tasks are abstract, such as evaluating ethics, adjusting to others’ feedback, and mentally rehearsing a future action. There are easily five-dozen modules just in the neocortex, which is the brain’s outermost, thick layer and seat of consciousness.

The big figure below is a bird’s eye view of the neocortex. It highlights key modules. We each prefer some modules over others. We differ by the tasks we enjoy and how well we do them. You might take a moment to explore the big figure to identify aspects of yourself.

We enjoy different competencies. For each of us, modules activate with a different degree of stimulus, competence, motivation, and energy level. If we look at the average brain activity of two people over an hour, you may see that their favorite modules are similar, near opposites, or somewhere in between!

When different, those people’s personality profile, behaviors, and self-experience differ greatly too. In fact, we can dig deeper to look at underlying brain networks (using computer-aided analysis of EEG data), and confirm which biases are longterm rather than a result of just a 1-hour protocol.

In addition to favorite brain regions and networks, there are whole-brain patterns. For example, the brain can get into a state of “flow” where all modules are in synch. Or it might show a chaotic brainstorm. There are more patterns, and we human beings are pretty diverse. Situations may prompt everyone’s brain differently.

Take a moment to reflect: When do you get into your “zone”? What is it like when you are at your most creative and productive?

To meet our needs, the brain’s elements work in concert. As an analogy, if a module is a musical instrument, then the brain is a symphony orchestra that affords complex performances. Research suggests eight ways the brain (specifically, the neocortex) works in concert. These eight are highly effective and sustainable, though we necessarily come to rely on some more than others. You will find descriptions of these 8 below.

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Mød Dario Nardi på Testkonferencen 2021

Glæd dig til at møde den verdenskendte foredragsholder og forfatter Dario Nardi, der er ph.d., forsker og ekspert i neurovidenskab og personlighed. Dairo Nardis forskning er unik, da han videnskabeligt har kunnet påvise en signifikant sammenhæng mellem hjerneaktivitet og Jungs typer. Han kan om nogen kunnet påvise, at Jungs teori om typer har lige så stor relevans i 2021 som i 1921.

Dario Nardi er keynote på Testkonferencen 2021, der afholdes 8. december. Læs mere om programmet og tilmeld dig her.

Four Executive Styles

Before we get into details about all 8 cognitive processes, let’s break things down more simply into 4 executive styles.

Two Processing Circuits

To start, there are 2 circuits in the brain to process incoming stimuli. One circuit is faster. It sends sensory data directly to the front of the brain, our executive centers, to quickly act on the data. This is a more extroverted style. A second circuit is slower. It sends sensory data to the back of the brain, to link with memory and information processing centers, to compare, contemplate, and collate the data before moving it on to the executives. This is a more introverted style.

There are other ways extroverts and introverts differ, such as high versus low "gain": Given a certain environment, an extrovert may easily find it too quiet and want to “dial up” the stimuli, whereas an introvert may easily find it too noisy and want to “dial down” the stimuli. Suffice to say, everyone uses both fast and slow circuits, and Jung himself described each person has having 2 functions in awareness, one for extraverting and a second for introverting, to make a well-rounded adult.

Two Executive Centers

Now, we have 2 main executive centers: a “goal-focused” left pre-frontal cortex and an “open-ended” right pre-frontal cortex. Different activities light up these regions. For example, when you make a decision, craft an explanation, or focus to shut out distractions, the left goal-focused executive gets active. Or, when you engage in brainstorming, monitor a process, or reflect on yourself, the right open-ended executive gets active.

Very nicely, these two executives correlate well to Jung’s functions. Jung described Thinking and Feeling as “rational” or “judging” functions, which definitionally fit well with our left goal-focused executive. And Jung described Sensing and Intuiting (aka “iNtuiting”) as “a-rational” or “perceiving” functions that definitionally fit well with our right open-ended executive. In his framework, Jung viewed balanced adults as having both kinds of functions, just as all people use both their left and right pre-frontal cortex, and their left and right hands, but invariably with some bias for one over the other.

Now we can bring together Extraverting-Introverting and Left-Right pre-frontal bias to get 4 executive styles:

Expedite Decision-making: Proactively meet goals. Often look sure and confident. Organize and fix to get positive results soon. (More goal-focused, more extraverting.)

Refine Decision-making: Clarify what’s universal, true or worthwhile. Often look quietly receptive. Trust their own judgments. (More goal-focused, more introverting.)

Energize the Process: Seek out stimuli. Often look random, emergent, and enthusiastic. Attend to the here and now. (More open-ended, more extraverting.)

Monitor the Process: Reflect on data and perceptions. Often look focused and preoccupied. Attend to reference points. (More open-ended, more introverting.)

You might take a moment to consider which style is more like you, and more like a spouse, colleague, or boss. Remember these are about habitual biases, not boxes, so feel free RANK the styles 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rather than pick one.

Eight Cognitive Processes

We can get more detailed. People’s brains tend to differ in two more ways: people versus thing preference, and abstract versus concrete preference. These are not absolute, simply biases.

For example, there is a module that aids us in identifying stuff in our environment. Some people invest more in identifying lots of people’s faces and emotional expressions, whereas other people invest more in identifying makes and models of cars, computers, or other objects. Of course, everyone does both. But like handedness, where we use both hands, there is bias and have a preferred hand that plays a lead role in many activities like writing.

For as a second example, there is a module that is home to lots of “mirror neurons”. This module tends to get active when we do something concrete like observe and mimic a person’s actions, perhaps to learn a skill. It also can get active when we get abstract and imagine if we were another creature in a galaxy far far away. Everyone can do both, but we have biases that are likely due to a combination of genetic tendency and habits from culture and physical environment.

There are many other examples. We don’t need to go into them here. Suffice to say, there is evidence to support the kinds of variations and biases that Jung observed among people.

Without further ado, let’s look at the 8 processes. As you explore, keep in mind you likely have preferred one or two from an early age, and may now be reasonably proficient with 3 or 4, or possibly as many as 5 or 6 as an adult, at least enough to keep up in society, in relationships, and on the job.

I have numbered the processes for convenient reference. They do not actually come in any particular order! Each comes with a name like “Active Adapting” and a broad cognitive process such as “Immersing in the present context”. Finally, each comes with a code such as “Se” (meaning extroverted Sensing) that links to Jung’s framework in Psychological Types.

1. Active Adapting(“Se”): Immerse in the present context.

Act quickly and smoothly to handle whatever comes up in the moment. Excited by motion, action, and nature. Adept at physical multitasking with a video game-like mind primed for action. Often in touch with body sensations. Trust your senses and gut instincts. Bored when sitting with a mental/rote task. Good memory for relevant details. Tend to be relaxed, varying things a little and scanning the environment, until an urgent situation or exciting option pops up. Then you quickly get “in the zone” and use your whole mind to handle whatever is happening. Tend to test limits and take risks for big rewards. May be impatient to finish.

2. Cautious Protecting(“Si”): Stabilize with a predictable standard.

Review and practice to specialize and meet group needs. Constant practice “burns in” how-to knowledge and helps build your storehouse. Specialization helps you reliably fill roles and tasks. Improve when following a role-model or example. Easily track where you are in a task. Often review the past and can relive events as if you are there again. Carefully compare a situation to the customary ways you’ve come to rely. In touch with body sensations. Strong memory for kinship and details. Rely on repetition. Check what’s familiar, comforting, and useful. Tend to stabilize a situation and invest for future security. May over-rely on authority for guidance.

3. Timely Building(“Te”): Measure and construct for progress.

Make decisions objectively based on measures and the evidence before you. Focus on word content, figures, clock units, and visual data. Find that “facts speak for themselves”. Tend to check whether things are functioning properly. Can usually provide convincing, decisive explanations. Value time, and highly efficient at managing resources. Tend to utilize mental resources only when extra thinking is truly demanded. Otherwise, use what’s at hand for a “good enough” result that works. Easily compartmentalize problems. Like to apply procedures to control events and achieve goals. May display high confidence even when wrong.

4. Skillful Sleuthing(“Ti”): Gain leverage using a framework.

Study a situation from different angles and fit it to a theory, framework, or principle. This often involves reasoning multiple ways to objectively and accurately analyze problems. Rely on complex/subtle logical reasoning. Adept at deductive thinking, defining and categorizing, weighing odds and risks, and/or naming and navigating. Notice points to apply leverage and subtle influence. Value consistency of thought. Can shut out the senses and “go deep” to think, and separate body from mind to become objective when arguing or analyzing. Tend to backtrack to clarify thoughts and withhold deciding in favor of thorough examination. May quickly stop listening.

5. Friendly Hosting(“Fe”): Nurture trust in giving relationships.

Evaluate and communicate values to build trust and enhance relationships. Like to promote social / interpersonal cohesion. Attend keenly to how others judge you. Quickly adjust your behavior for social harmony. Often rely on a favorite way to reason, with an emphasis on words. Prefer to stay positive, supportive, and optimistic. Empathically respond to others’ needs and feelings, and may take on others’ needs as your own. Need respect and trust. Easily embarrassed. Like using adjectives to convey values. Enjoy hosting. May hold back the true degree of your emotional response about morals/ethics, regarding talk as more effective. May try too hard to please.

6. Quiet Crusading(“Fi”): Stay true to who you really are.

Listen with your whole self to locate and support what’s important. Often evaluate importance along a spectrum from love/like to dislike/hate. Patient and good at listening for identity, values, and what resonates, though may tune out when “done” listening. Value loyalty and belief in oneself and others. Attentive and curious for what is not said. Focus on word choice, voice tone, and facial expressions to detect intent. Check with your conscience before acting. Choose behavior congruent with what’s important, your personal identity, and beliefs. Hard to embarrass. Can respond strongly to specific, high-value words or false data. May not utilize feedback.

7. Excited Brainstorming("Ne"): Explore the emerging patterns.

Perceive and play with ideas and relationships. Wonder about patterns of interaction across various situations. Keep up a high-energy mode that helps you notice and engage potential possibilities. Think analogically: Stimuli are springboards to generate inferences, analogies, metaphors, jokes, and more new ideas. Easily guess details. Adept at “what if?” scenarios, mirroring others, and even role-playing. Can shift a situation’s dynamics and trust what emerges. Mental activity tends to feel chaotic, with many highs and lows at once, like an ever-changing “Christmas tree” of flashing lights. Often entertain multiple meanings at once. May find it hard to stay on-task.

8. Keen Foreseeing(Ni): Transform with a meta-perspective.

Withdraw from the world and tap your whole mind to receive an insight. Can enter a brief trance to respond to a challenge, foresee the future, or answer a philosophical issue. Avoid specializing and rely instead on timely “ah-ha” moments or a holistic “zen state” to tackle novel tasks, which may look like creative expertise. Manage your own mental processes and stay aware of where you are in an open-ended task. May use an action or symbol to focus. Sensitive to the unknown. Ruminate on ways to improve. Look for synergy. Might try out a realization to transform yourself or how you think. May over-rely on the unconscious.

Further Exploration

You can read more in the following references: The Magic Diamond: Jung's 8 Paths for Self-CoachingNeuroscience of Personality: Brain-Savvy Insights for All Types of PeopleOur Brains in Color8 Keys to Self-Leadership, and other titles by yours truly or by Linda BerensOr if you prefer a free online 1-hour video, you can find it here.


Here is an assessment built around the Jungian functions, now validated on almost 130,000 people! You can find a complete list of references to my neuroscience of personality work here.

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