Can anyone become good at typing?

We wish to be clear that we do not mean to discourage others from using their own judgment in typing. We do not ask others to defer to our authority. Indeed we are aware that we continually make mistakes and also that we have blind spots and lots left to learn. We welcome thoughtful arguments against our typings and, as regular visitors will know, we do change our mind sometimes and move typings. We acknowledge that we can learn from others, and in fact we thoroughly enjoy it whenever we do. So we have written this blog, not to put ourselves on a pedestal, but simply to share our honest opinion on the question at hand.

This is the part where we should probably do the politically correct thing and say: Yes, anybody can become good at typing with enough practice. And they can become good. Unfortunately, if we raise the bar from good to great, that no longer appears to be the case. In order to become great at typing in the Jungian sense, one needs at least three things:

  1. A capacity to understand and apply some generalized and conceptual ideas that are partly philosophical and partly psychological in nature.
  2. A high capacity for what is formally called “cognitive empathy,” that is to say, an intellectual capacity for identifying the thoughts and feelings of others. To “meta-represent” them for oneself in order to make sense of their place within the other person’s cognition.
  3. An ability to withhold judgment and a willingness to revise deep-seated claims.

Of these three, #1 and #3 can be learned be any academically minded person, but #2 is harder to learn if one does not possess the inclination to begin with. Thus it is not enough to observe a trait in the person one is attempting to type and then stick some Jungian letters on that. As we have noted in our video on Bill Gates, around 10:15, Jungian typology is not behaviorism, that is to say, observing a trait, or a given type of behavior, does not in itself constitute the building blocks for successfully typing someone. Rather, what is needed is for the typer to “meta-represent” the observed behavior for himself, in order to determine the significance of the observed behavior in relation to the observed person’s cognition. Thus what we are doing when we type someone with a Jungian approach is that we apply what we have observed psycho-dynamically to the subject. And as anybody who has read Jung will see, Jungian typology is strictly a psycho-dynamic system.

By now we have raised two points: (1) A capacity for “cognitive empathy” is very hard to learn if one does not possess it by the time one reaches maturity, and (2) Jungian typology is not behaviorism. Lets’s start with the second one:

Jungian Typology is not Behaviorism

“[Behaviorism] is a psychology without a man.” – C.G. Jung

“[Behaviorism is an] unsound philosophical prejudice.” – C.G. Jung

It should be clear from reading Jung that his typology does not rely on behaviorism. This can be very confusing to people who have only learned about the system from internet sources like forums, YouTube, and random blogs. But even if you haven’t read Jung, the fact that Jungian type is different from behaviorism should still be clear from the fact that Jung dubbed his own system to be a system of “analytical psychology.”

Where matters get tricky, however, is that in 1984, David Keirsey came up with a simplified take on the theory. His take rejected the Jungian functions and uptalked a behavioral approach to typology, using the same letters that Jung/Myers did. This alternative approach to the 16 types has caused a lot of confusion and only recently have Keirsey and his son stopped using the Jungian letters to refer to their types.

Likewise, since Keirsey, a new generation of internet-based typers have emerged. These typers very much accept the Jungian functions as the basis of type, but nevertheless still apply those functions within a behavioral framework. Needless to say, this makes the confusion even greater, and if that were not enough, these typers have usually learned what they know from internet resources and not from the original authors in the field such as Jung, Myers, Von Franz and Van der Hoop.

Now don’t get us wrong: There are some good resources on the web, e.g. Personality Page (although they have a bias towards describing the N types at their best while describing the S types based merely on their average). However, the practical effect that the over-reliance on internet material has had is that the above-mentioned typers tend to dabble in popular prejudices, like the false notions that anybody who ever made anything seminal must be an N type, or that anyone who has anything reserved or “mysterious” about their character must be an Ni type (i.e. an IN-J type).

We are not saying that the older material, as published in books, was perfect, but nonetheless it was written by authors who took the typology very seriously, and furthermore, most of the old authors understood this notion of psycho-analytics (rather than behaviorism) being the method at the core of Jungian typology.

Okay then. Now on to the next point:

A capacity for “cognitive empathy” can scarcely be learned. Through our professional and personal experience with Jungian type, both of us have seen how some people seem to naturally possess this knack for not just understanding psychology, but also for “meta-representing” the thoughts and feelings of others for themselves. This does not appear to be the result of any conscious effort or training on the part of these people. They just “get it”.

Conversely, we also see people who are interested in learning the typology and who have privileged access to both the best literature as well as to senior practitioners (who do indeed possess this faculty). On the face of it, these people possess all the best prerequisites for learning to type correctly, and yet, in spite of a year-long proximity to the best materials and mentors, their ability to type correctly simply fails to progress beyond a certain point. They cling to simplistic behavioral indicators, such as believing that anyone who has contributed to science or philosophy must prefer Thinking, or that anyone who has written emotionally moving lyrics must prefer Feeling.

These experiences have led us to conclude that the faculty for “meta-representation” is likely reliant on brain structures that either are inborn or must be formed in early adolescence. And though we did not arrive at this assessment through any kind of study of neuroscience, it seems that modern neuroscience actually lends itself to support this conclusion rather well.

In his book, Zero Degrees of Empathy, Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge University, asserts that the central building blocks that jointly make up a faculty for cognitive empathy are as follows:

  1. Meta-representation. The ability to reflect on thoughts and emotions and to model them for oneself.
  2. Psychological Knowledge. Knowledge about the different kinds of emotions that a human being can experience and what the meaning of each emotion is in the given context.
  3. Decipherment of Agendas, Convictions, Goals. Summing up individual nuggets of data into an overarching analysis of what a person is up to.
  4. Attention Controls. The inclination to have one’s attention automatically focus on the giveaways to the other person’s internal state (e.g. the muscles around the eyes, which cannot be consciously controlled).

Throughout the book, Baron-Cohen spends a lot of time documenting how these four building blocks form a necessary prerequisite for a person to develop a correct “theory of mind,” that is, a theory of what is going on inside the other person’s mind. Baron-Cohen also goes to great lengths to show how these building blocks relate to different physiological parts of the brain and to show how a faculty for cognitive empathy develops in the brain.

We should mention that after Baron-Cohen has shown us how these faculties for cognitive empathy are dependent upon structures in the brain, he does end the book by saying that we can help people by training them in empathy, which seems to indicate that the faculties can be developed in adulthood. However, we noted that there is no real transition from the first to the second part of the book. Baron-Cohen may be right, but, to us, the last part of his book stands as his personal manifesto and message of hope, rather than as a scientific argument.

So while all people can learn to become good at typing if they put their minds to it, not all people can become great at it. In this way, the endeavor of typing is similar to the practice of psychotherapy. As the famous psychologist Carl Rogers once said: “Don’t waste your time training therapists – time is better spent in selecting them.”

11 Comments

  1. Nice choice of subject, good point which needs to be made more as well. If only forum boards were less concerned with back patting and creating a nice social atmosphere than this shit would’ve been common AND applied knowledge. As it is the only places which embrace something of a similar attitude is the INTP forum, and to a much lesser degree the INTJ one, I kinda think it’s because the formerly mentioned types seem the least inclined to giving the dogmas of socializing primacy over truth.

    I hope the next article comes soon!

  2. Thank you. There are some good people on internet forums, but overall the discussions tend to derail and/or degenerate into people slamming their chests going “I’m right because I said so!”

  3. I first started off my interest in temperament theory by reading please understand me II by D.W Keirsey and quickly thereafter moved on to Myers, Jung and others. The simple approach is not accurate and so lends itself to frequent use of Stereotypes. So if you only use the Keirsey method than you are missing some very important pieces.
    Spot on article.

  4. Thank you. It is true; if one uses Keirsey then one is bound to go wrong here and there.
    Ironically though, the older Keirsey (the father) had some really good typings, which we have a hard time seeing how he arrived at if he was not “secretly” using the Jungian functions. We are very intrigued by this. It is a pity that the older Keirsey is now retired from public life.

  5. ya at first i wanted to type all philosophers and scientists
    NT. but now im starting to understand the difference between F and T much better. that spinoza vs kant article makes sense now. im starting to get really good at typing i can really explain it its just personal intuition.

  6. This article is misconstruing the concept of “behavioralism.” I Behavioralism disregards any underlying cognitive processes. All of the videos and other materials discussing typology accepts that there are cognitive processes at work (in fact, that’s usually their entire point). “Behavioralism” isn’t deciphering cognitive processes by observing behavior — it’s disregarding cognitive processes altogether. If your intent is to criticize others for reading somebody’s behavior and inferring cognitive processes (and types) based on those behaviors, then Celebrity Types is doing the exact same thing — see the video inferring cognitive processes (and types) based on one’s putting his shoes on the couch, etc.

    This article is trying to discredit other people’s typings by inappropriately lumping them in with the discredited and archaic “behaviorism,” when they’re approach (which also relies on Jung’s cognitive processes) is the exact opposite of behaviorism. If you don’t agree with their typings or methodologies, that’s fine — but don’t try to discredit them by calling them something that they are not.

  7. While we can’t rule out that we’ve phrased ourselves exceptionally poorly, it appears that your comment was made in bad faith.

    (1) Like monism, and other philosophical concepts, behaviorism comes in a soft and hard version. The hard version implies that there are no processes and the soft version merely places the emphasis on observations of behavior, while not ruling out the existence of complimentary internal process. What we try to point out in the post is that the theory of cognitive functions is conceived as a psychodynamic method, which stands in opposition to such an approach. If you have a better term for that, do suggest one.

    (2) re: Shoes on the couch. We actually debated whether to include that bit or not. You have a fair point about the shoes on the couch. Yet you trivialize our video if you switch our main point for that peripheral tidbit. Of course there has to be some component of observed behavior to any psychological interpretation, but the emphasis has to be on the broader framework of psychodynamic interpretation, rather than pure empirical observation.

    (3) re: “This article is trying to discredit other people’s typings by inappropriately lumping them in with the discredited and archaic “behaviorism,”” No. You should be careful with shoving motives down people’s throats. Behaviorism is not outmoded. Hard behaviorism is largely antiquated, but but soft behaviorism reigns supreme as the “default” methodology of psychology today.

    (4) Allowing for the possibility that your comment was made in good faith, what we try to say above is that the correct way of applying the functions is by psychodynamic interpretation and object relations theory, which should be obvious to anyone who has read Psychological Types. Any half-skilled person today will jump a newbie who goes by the basic eight letters, beating it into him that Jungian Typology is really about THE FUNCTIONS but the methodology that many of them use to analyse the functions is the same method they used for breaking people down as per the eight letters. Our point is that if they don’t understand psychodynamics and object relations theory, they’re actually better off NOT using the functions.

    We have tried to be as honest as possible in the post above. If the point was to jockey for position we wouldn’t have put this information on to our blog, which (we are told) leans towards the technical side and is not at all as popular as the main site.

  8. Good stuff. Hooray for pointing out that to assess cognitive functions, you must go beyond observed behaviour.

    So, which types do you think tend to develop those empathy skills?

    Namely 1. meta-representation, 2. building an emotional database, 3. deciphering agendas, and 4. attending to involuntary signals

    To me #2 seems doable by anyone, but maybe a bit more Si/Fi. 1,3,& 4 seem difficult to do without well-developed Fi &/or Ni processes. My guess is INFJ, INFP, and INTJ / ISFJ with conscious use of auxiliary would be most natural at this.

  9. Good topic of article. I so not believe anybody can become perfects at typing others, simply because we are all stuck inside a type and can only view others through that perspective. It will always be mostly Ns who are inclined to type other and among them, some have introverted and other extraverted intuition, which take a completely different angle. Add to that the different T or F interpretations and there is no way anybody can objectively type other. I do not think that people can learn to type better, except by experience and interacting with countless types. It is not something that can be cognitively learned and empathy is not cognitive but emotive; you ‘feel’ that people think alike to you, you don’t reason it.

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