Achilles Tendencies

Stodginess, Flakiness, and Type Development

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"Stodginess," "Flakiness," and Type Development

A Comparison of the Rational and Irrational Types

by Roger E. Bissell

In his column for the Winter 1996 APT Bulletin, Marvin Rytting said:
...[G]iven that I am forever an INFP, it is preferable to develop all of the type characteristics as much as possible and be able to use the ones that match the current work (or play) to be done. Development of all the functions within the context of a solid typological identity is the ideal combination.
This is, indeed, what the orthodox Myers-Briggs folks tell us to do: as you get older, venture out--in "zig-zag" fashion (see Gordon Lawrence's Tiger Stripes and People Types)--from your dominant function, developing next your auxiliary function, then your tertiary, and finally (you should live so long!) your "inferior" function. You become a more rounded, complete person by embracing all the functions, rather than staying "holed up" with your dominant--and maybe a smidgeon of your auxiliary. (Jung also thought along these lines, though he did not propose nearly so cut-and-dried a model.)

But is this really desirable? Also, is it even a correct description of what takes place with all the types? In contrast to the standard MBTI view, McCrea and Costa, with their Five Factor, trait-oriented approach (the main rival to the type-oriented MBTI perspective), claim that empirical studies show that personality is quite stable throughout adulthood. If they are correct, there should be little difference between people's function preferences at age 25 and at age 60. Quite a different projection from the Jungian/MBTI hypothesis. But which is correct?

Do dominant thinking types ordinarily develop more of their feeling function later in life? Do dominant sensing types typically develop their intuition to a greater extent as they grow older? (Etc.) And if not, does that point to a defect or shortcoming in the types that do not exhibit that pattern? Or is it instead simply the reflection of a basic difference between their nature and the nature of those who live the "zig-zag"? That's what I want to explore briefly, hoping to generate some further thought and discussion by the type community.

At the Theory and Research Symposium at APT X (1993), Wayne Mitchell presented a paper entitled "Empirical Verification of Jungian Typology: Interaction Effects" (published in Measures of the Five Factor Model and Psychological Type: a Major Convergence of Research and Theory, James Newman, ed.). In it, he considered the question: "Are there any indications that people develop a stronger preference for their inferior function as they get older?" Mitchell studied a group of over 1500 people, all of whom took Form J of the MBTI. What Mitchell found, using data from the five EAR subscales for the four functions, was very interesting. I confess that I don't understand what Mitchell means by "main" effects and "interaction" effects, so some of what I say may need to be corrected by those more in the know about statistical interpretation. But Mitchell's overall comment was that:

[T]he direction of the scores was not always as predicted. In some instances, the older group had mean scores more towards their expressed type preference than towards the opposite function, while in others the reverse was true.
In regard to "main" effects, Mitchell found that dominant thinkers and feelers were shifted mostly toward their dominant (and away from their inferior). Dominant sensing and intuitive types, however, were shifted mainly toward their inferior function.

As for "interaction" effect, Mitchell found that for people with auxiliary T or F (i.e., dominant S or N), there was a shift toward their tertiary, away from the auxiliary. This could reasonably be taken to indicate the same thing as the "main" effects finding just mentioned: dominant S and N types appear to be open to type development later in their lives. (In particular, older dominant intuitives showed "a score more towards the 'S' pole of one EAR subscale.") And older people with auxiliary N (i.e., dominant T or F) showed "a score more towards the 'N' pole" of one EAR subscale, in this case indicating less openness to type development among intuitives who are dominant T or F. (Mitchell didn't mention anything definite about dominant Ss per se.)

Well, granted that Mitchell's results were somewhat mixed, what this indicates to me is that the dominant S and N types (the "irrational" types, as Jung referred to them) are more flexible in their type development, while dominant T and F types (the "rational" types) are more stodgy. Yes, these terms, "flexible" and "stodgy," reflect the orthodox prejudice in favor of "thorough" type development and, yes, I could as well have reflected an opposite bias by saying dominant Ss and Ns are more "flakey," while dominant Ts and Fs are more "stable." In reality, of course, neither pair of descriptors is completely fair or accurate. Instead, I propose we think of the "irrational" types as "flexible, with the potential for flakiness" and the "rational" types as "stable, with the potential for stodginess." Thus, type-stodginess and type-flakiness are not so much the "cross to bear" or the Achilles heel of all dominants Ts and Fs and all dominant Ss and Ns as they are just extremes that each pair of types tends to be more capable of or prone to than the other pair.

"Stable" and "flexible" are terms more or less synonymous with two other terms--"order" and "flow"--often applied to the J/P scale of the MBTI. Since the J/P scale and the Jungian Rational/Irrational distinction get at some of the same essential features (from different angles, so to speak), it can be clarifying to apply J/P insights here. Dominant Ts and Fs all most deeply want (some form of ) order. However, as one of the J/P subscales (#18) shows, the extraverted ones (E-TJs and E-FJs) pursue it in the world in a scheduled way, seeking to embody order in their surroundings, while the introverted ones (I-TPs and I-FPs) pursue it in the world in a spontaneous way, open-endedly taking in information that will be grist for the mill in arriving at an internal order of ideas or values. Thus, while the introverted Rational types pursue order in a much different fashion than the extraverted Rational types do and are clearly polarized on the scheduled/spontaneous issue, the Irrational types seem relatively indifferent to it (their subscale 18 norms all lying in between those of the Rational types).  

By contrast, the Irrational types all most deeply want flow, process, some sort of open-endedness to experience. However, as one of the E/I subscales (#2) shows, the extraverted ones (EN-Ps and ES-Ps) pursue it in the world in an enthusiastic way, seeking to immerse themselves in the various forms of experience flooding their way from the environment, while the introverted ones (IN-Js and IS-Js) pursue it in the world in a quiet way, keeping things and/or relationships around them rather more orderly so as to keep them from impinging overly much on the free-flow of inner experience. Thus, while the introverted Irrational types pursue flow in a much different fashion than the extraverted Irrational types do and are clearly polarized on the enthusiastic/quiet issue, the Rational types seem relatively indifferent to it (their subscale 2 norms all lying in between those of the Irrational types).

To bring this back around to the original focus, it seems that in their basic pursuit of order, the Rational types are more likely to hold onto their top function preferences throughout their adult life, tending more to be "set in their ways" than the Irrationals. Presumably, they are aware on some level that too much traffic between the four functions will upset their Rational order-seeking preference. On the other hand, in their basic life-pursuit of flow, the Irrational types tend to eventually incorporate their two less-preferred functions. Somehow, they seem to sense (or intuit) that their Irrational flow-seeking preference is best served by a greater ease of switching between whichever of the four functions will most facilitate the continued smooth processing of experience.

Looking at the Grand Scheme of Things, it seems to me that both stability and flexibility are desirable in order for the human race to best survive and flourish. Many people will be like specialists, some most clearly exhibiting stability, perhaps even to the extent of occasional stodginess--others most clearly exhibiting flexibility, perhaps even to the extent of occasional flakiness. Other people (most likely those with relatively close E/I and J/P scores) will be more like generalists, cultivating both flexibility and stability.

The moral of the story is that we need all of these kinds of people. They are all precious, the sometimes stodgy Rational types, the occasionally flakey Irrational types, and those who can't seem to make up their minds!

This essay is the first of a number of projected applications to type and temperament of the data base compiled in the creation of the Expanded Analysis Report (EAR) based on Form J of the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). It originally appeared in Volume 19, Number 3 (Summer 1996) of the Bulletin of Psychological Type, the quarterly newsletter of the Association for Psychological Type, 9140 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, MO 64114-3313. Visit their website at

Roger Bissell, a professional musician and writer on psychology and philosophy, whose work has appeared in Reason Papers, Objectivity, Journal of Consciousness Studies, and numerous other publications, is a graduate student in psychology in California Coast University in Santa Ana, California.