ISFP Functions: Dominant and Inferior Cognitive Functions of the Artist Personality Type


The Myers-Briggs platform of understanding personality types is well known as a leading paradigm in this field. People from employers to psychiatrists to individuals often turn to the Myers-Briggs test for information to understand more about themselves and the people with whom they interact.

ISFP personalities are often artistic and creative. Like the closely related INFP, they tend to love nurturing animals and other people. Unlike the INFP personality, ISFPs tend to take great pleasure in choosing the perfect fashion and spending time on their appearance.

ISFPs are the creatives who also tend to be stylish, good-looking, and well-groomed. They form deep connections and have a strong sense of loyalty to the people they love. They also have a keen sense of the ideals they value and tend to respond strongly when those ideals are betrayed.

What are the Cognitive Functions of an ISFP?

An ISFP’s functions are Introverted Feeling, Extraverted Sensing, Introverted Intuition, and Extraverted Thinking. These, respectively, are the dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions, in order of prominence. For example, ISFPs primarily process the world through their feelings, while their tendency to think objectively is much less pronounced.

In this post, we will go into further detail about the implications of these functions for an ISFP’s life. However, first we should take a step back to make sure we understand what all this really means.

What Does It Mean to Be An ISFP?

A good place to start when trying to understand the ISFP personality is by uncovering what the acronym means. In the Myers-Briggs world of personality description, some keywords are arrived at based on the answers a person gives when taking the test. Those keywords are combined to create a description of the personality type.

The acronym ISFP is one of those 16 personalities, and it stands for:

  • Introverted
  • Sensing
  • Feeling
  • Perceiving

The personality type that is described as ISFP or Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving is arrived at from other possible choices that are excluded based on how a person answers the Myers-Briggs test. There are four basic categories, and each category has two possible contrasting choices of characteristics.

When you add up all the possible combinations, you get a list of 16 different personality types. The opposing characteristics are categorized this way:

  • Introverted vs. Extroverted
  • Sensing vs. iNtuition
  • Feeling vs. Thinking
  • Perceiving vs. Judging

Each of the options can change the description of a person’s personality, resulting in a slightly different personality, like the aforementioned INFP, or a radically different personality like an ENTJ. You will notice that in the ENTJ, all the letters are the opposite choice of the ISFP, starting with the introversion versus extroversion.

The ISFP Personality Type

It is this combination of characteristics that make up the personality that tends toward introversion in how they process experiences while also being open in some areas like appearance and calls to action. Whereas the INFP will simply reflect on the wrongs of the world, the ISFP will take a stand against them.

So the choice of one of two words in four categories based on the answers given in the test results in the description of a different kind of person. So far, so good — but what do the words themselves mean, and how do they interact with each other? What does it actually mean to be an ISFP?

The Functions of ISFP

When looking at the functions of an ISFP personality type (or of any personality type), it is important to remember that Myers-Briggs affirms that all people are individuals and everyone is different. When looking at personalities as fitting into 16 different boxes and talking about how they “function,” it can sound kind of cold and clinical.

Even the 16 personality types are expected to be treated as general categories within which there will be some variance according to individuals. That said, there is a lot that you can learn from understanding how a given personality tends to function and the hierarchy under which the function occurs.

The lens through which Myers-Briggs describes how any given personality functions is called the Function Stack. Much as it sounds, it describes a hierarchy of function that operates in the order of most likely to function to least likely to function.

The function stack looks like this:

  • Dominant – for the ISFP, this is Introverted Feeling (Fi)
  • Auxiliary – for the ISFP, this is Extraverted Sensing (Se)
  • Tertiary – for the ISFP, this is Introverted Intuition (Ni)
  • Inferior – for the ISFP, this is Extraverted Thinking (Te)

These are the four modes of function, and for the ISFP, or any other personality type, they describe what they tend to rely on first and last. Let’s take a closer look at ISFP’s function stack.

The Dominant Function of ISFP

In this dominant function of Introverted Feeling (Fi), ISFPs tend to experience the world around them in intensely personal ways that are internally processed and assimilated, not externally. This means that ISFPs tend primarily to look down on or avoid the kinds of experiences that might incite a large emotional response from a large group of people.

By contrast, ISFPs are seen as more mature than their counterparts, possibly because they do not let their inner turmoil show on the outside very easily. They are constantly taking experiences and converting them internally into what they will show to the outside, which often comes across as rational as a Thinking personality type would.

ISFPs tend to be more on the restrained side, taking their life and their appearance seriously. This can sometimes translate in negative ways to others, through sarcastic remarks when they get stressed or their intense abilities to find something to do to keep themselves busy when there really is nothing that needs to be done.

The Auxiliary Function of ISFP

The sensory world of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell belongs to the ISFP, whose auxiliary function is Extraverted Sensing (Se). With their Se function, ISFPs tend to notice concrete details in their surroundings. At concerts, they are the ones who will observe that the smoke has changed color before anyone else notices it.

For this reason, ISFPs, who are artistic like INFPS, tend to focus more on the visual arts or performance arts. Rather than deal with the abstract thoughts that words present, they tend to paint or even get involved in sports or physical activities. ISFPs love to be doing something as opposed to INFPs who love to think about doing something.

Often described as having keen memories, ISFPs tend to focus on appearance. So while in their dominant function they are highly individualistic, in their auxiliary function they tend to be:

  • Sensitive to what everyone else is doing
  • Aware of how they present themselves
  • More likely to conform if it boosts their appearance

This creates tension within their personality.

The Tertiary Function of ISFP

This is not to say that the abstract is unavailable to ISFPs. Their tertiary function is Introverted Intuition (Ni), and Ni is all about the abstract and the theoretical.

This makes for a good case in point of how the Myers-Briggs descriptions of personalities work. If ISFPs have an Ni just like INTJs, then how come they cannot be lawyers too?

Well, for the ISFP, their introverted intuition is tertiary to their dominant function of introverted feeling. So in most situations, ISFPs will default to the facet of their personality that is the strongest, in this case, their Fi.

The Inferior Function of ISFP

All personality types are blind to their inferior function. It is the function that works, as it were, in the shadows, in the brain’s subconscious. Also, with all personalities who have an introverted dominant function, they also have an extroverted inferior function. This works in tension with the dominant function but can provide perspective.

For ISFPs and INFPs, this tension is between the subjective internalization of their experiences and an overwhelming fascination with the objective. For ISFPs, the interaction between their dominant and inferior functions results in strong sensitivity to injustices in the world.

This interaction can result in a couple of different responses. ISFPs can be so hesitant to express the concerns they have in regard to right and wrong that they do not say anything (Fi). Or they can become so concerned about being upright or responsible (Te) that they suppress the sensitivity of their dominant function.

Good Career Choices for ISFPs

So what does all this mean practically? How does knowing your Te from your Fi help you get a job? Well, strictly speaking, it does not, but it may help you understand which careers are good for you to pursue.

If you are an ISFP, then these careers might be good choices for you. Look at the table below to see which jobs might be fitting in each category.

Art Education Service Medical
Graphic Designer Teacher’s Aid Police Officer Dietician
Chef Preschool Teacher Air Traffic Controller Optician
Artist Special Ed Teacher Firefighter Physician’s Assistant
Jeweler Translator Forester Physical Therapist
Interior Designer Mechanic Pharmacist
Cosmetologist Surveyor ER Physician

Some of the careers listed may seem surprising, like a police officer or ER Physician. Perhaps this is because these careers appeal to the ISFP’s desire for order and to be busy.

That said, there are some obvious bad career choices for an ISFP, such as an Attorney or Architect. Here are some others an ISFP should avoid.

Admin Medical Science/Engineering
Retail Salesperson Dentist Biologist
Sales Manager Healthcare Admin Chemical Engineer
Marketing Manager Psychiatrist Biomedical Engineer
Executive Surgeon Aeronautical Engineer

Another career to make this list of careers for the ISFP to avoid is that of Actor. This may be a surprising choice given the fact that ISFPs are often artistic and concerned with their appearance.

Good Hobbies for ISFPs

What about what ISFPs do in their spare time? It is important for all personalities to have hobbies that make sense to them and provide them with the ability to relax and have fun.

Given the ISFPs characteristics, hobbies might include activities that enable them to express their artistic side or else to engage physically in a sport that allows them to remain independent. Here are some choices of hobbies that make sense for an ISFP.

Sports

ISFPs enjoy keeping busy, including in physical activities, so sports are a no-brainer as far as hobbies are concerned. But ISFPs also like their individuality. They tend not to function with groups but to internalize experiences and process the meaning in their own way.

Thus, ISFPs are going to be drawn to sports that have an individual focus and allow for plenty of alone time. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Skiing
  2. Biking
  3. Skateboarding
  4. Swimming
  5. Rock Climbing
ISFPs greatly enjoy sports that allow them to be by themselves, especially in nature.

The Arts

ISFPs are famously artistic. They love to express themselves as a way to give the dominant feeling part of their brain an outlet. Having a hobby that encourages expression in the arts could be a good idea for an ISFP.

However, ISFPs tend not to like dealing with abstracts such as language, so when it comes to art, they like the more tangible subsets of that field. Here are a few examples:

  1. Crafting
  2. Woodworking
  3. Sculpting
  4. Painting
  5. Music

Connecting with Nature

ISFPs also like to connect with nature in a way that is similar to INFPs. They enjoy the tangibility of the natural world, and they connect with the spiritual aspects of it.

It also appeals to their individuality. Being out in nature is a good way for ISFPs to be alone or to spend time with the pets that they love. Here are a few ways to engage with nature:

  1. Hiking
  2. Camping
  3. Walking
  4. Jogging
  5. Geocaching

ISFP Relationships

ISFPs are going to want to know, like everyone else, who they tend to click with and who they do not. It is important to note that understanding personality types and how they get along in relationships does not mean that you have to subject everyone you meet to a test before you decide whether or not you can be friends.

But understanding how ISFPs generally tend to interact with other descriptions of personalities in the Myers-Briggs world may help you to clarify why you are having the interactions that you are having and, most importantly, what you can learn from other personalities.

Personality Connections for ISFPs

ISFPs may feel a close connection with some of the following personalities. Connecting with one of these is not a guarantee of a conflict-free future, but you may find more commonality in how you approach things:

  • The ISTP – Called “the mechanic,” the ISTP’s focus on problem-solving in the practical arena is highly compatible with ISFP’s awareness of the surrounding environment
  • The ISFJ – Called “the nurturer,” this personality matches the ISFP’s desire to keep busy with a focus on caring for their deep and loyal relationships
  • The ISFP – No, that is not a typo, and yes, the ISFP can have meaningful relationships with other ISFPs
  • The ESFP – Also called “the performer,” this personality is charismatic and likes to entertain people, so it can go well with the artistic side of the ISFP
ISFPs thrive in relationships with like-minded partners.

Complementary Personalities for ISFPs

ISFPs can also find relationships with those personalities that may have some key differences. These are the kinds of differences that, generally speaking, are complementary to the ISFP’s weaknesses. These personalities include:

  • The INFP – Also referred to as “the idealist,” INFPs are similar in many ways to the ISFP but are able to sit still and contemplate abstractions for long periods of time, whereas the ISFP would give up quickly and find something to clean
  • The ENFP – “The inspirer” offers intriguing complements to the ISFP in the way ENFPs are focused on creating new possibilities from the potential of other people
  • The ESFJ – Also called “the caregiver,” the ESFJ takes the loyalty of personal bonds and uses it to focus on helping other people
  • The ESTP – Otherwise known as “the doer,” this seeker of thrills complements the ISFP by upping the game on their pursuit of individuality

Opposing Personalities for ISFPs

Naturally, there are some personalities that present challenges to the ISFP. These personalities may represent the people with whom ISFPs tend to clash. However, they also present the biggest learning opportunities for the ISFP. These personalities include:

  • The ENTJ – The “executives” of this world are going to be difficult for ISFPs to stomach because the ENTJ’s efforts at motivation and organizing groups are well outside the ISFP’s paradigm of individuality
  • The INTJ – Called “the scientist,” this problem solver is very similar to the aforementioned executive but is inward-focused in analysis and may clash with the ISFP in the area of organization
  • The ENTP – Also referred to as “the visionary,” ENTPs are focused on innovations and are always on the lookout for new challenges to take on and problems to solve, which ISFPs will simply decline to take interest in.
  • The ESTJ – This personality is called “the guardian” and is a hardline traditionalist who wants to organize people—an argument waiting to happen when paired with an ISFP

Conclusion

The Myers-Briggs description of personalities can be helpful for learning something about yourself and others. It can give a platform from which to yourself and why you respond to things the way you do. It can be validating and helpful to know that your quirks are actually normal and allow you to fit into a category.

Everyone can take a lesson from the ISFP playbook. Individuality matters and this sentiment is best realized when personality types inform you, but not when they control you. Broad generalizations are helpful to no one, so do not try to put people in boxes. However, you can use this knowledge to better understand how you can relate to the world.

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