Exploring the 8 Function-Attitudes in Depth
by Dario Nardi


Understanding the 8 function-attitudes is challenging because they look different in people, varying with a person's development and personality type. However, we can explore each function-attitude from a psychological angle. That is, how a person responds to the need to engage a function strongly influences what it looks like and how it is experienced. This approach gives us a new facilitative tool.

Organic Growth

When I review childhood memories, I find I am very much like I am now, but less so. That is, my personality was present from the start and I'm still discovering new aspects all the time. When I was six, I created a "crab farm" - a sandbox city populated by crabs, which are plentiful in the Caribbean. Today, at UCLA, I do computer modeling and simulation of complex systems (e.g. virtual worlds with virtual people.) These two activities are strangely similar, and but one example of many! The functions I use are also similar. It seems I engaged in introverted Intuiting and extraverted Thinking when I was six and today these two functions are much more sophisticated and also informed in small doses by other functions such as introverted Feeling.



My experience is not surprising since human beings are living systems. The systems perspective says we develop organically - usually gradually, sometimes in punctuated leaps, and always as a whole (not mechanically, one part at a time). A tree is a good metaphor. Each "stage" of the tree's lifecycle reflects something unique about the tree at that time.

Table 1: Lifecycle of a Tree

Stage Tree Trees Special Qualities A Person
0 Seed Potential tree with instructions for development Embryo
1 Sprout Still connected to and nourished by the seed Child
2 Sapling Still soft, pliable and easily shaped by the environment (such as being turned into a bonsai tree!) Youth
3 Adult Bears fruit and stays hearty if the environment changes Adult
4 Mature Shows character, has history and a role (meaning/purpose) in its environment, and has withstood tests of time Senior


The stages are "fuzzy." There is a specific day when a tree bears its first fruit, but that fruit is usually small and inedible; an adult tree with plentiful tasty fruit can take years!

Following this metaphor, function-attitudes do not "turn on" at set ages. Each type has a functional pattern. The whole pattern is present and operating ("metabolizing") from the start. The person as a whole matures with experience and time. And each function-attitude continually manifests in new ways (hopefully).

Table 2: Lifecycle of a Function-Attitudes

Stage The experience and response to a function-attitude
0 No awareness, conscious usage or development
1 We experience the function in its instinctual or concrete form; we try to block out, explore, or fixate on the experience; its engagement is rough or child-like.
2 We accept and follow a social/cultural version of the function, or we passively follow the functional process; we are in its grip; its use is rigid or adolescent
3 We "grasp" the function in its many forms; we question, alter, personalize and make it our own, as a tool with many options; its use is complex and flexible.
4 The function is highly differentiated and well-integrated; using it contributes back to the world in a unique way; its use is purposeful, creative and generative.


This approach links to Robert Kegan's model of human cognitive development. Kegan distinguishes between "having an idea" and "an idea having us". With maturity we go to a meta-level: from being mostly unaware and in the grip of something to continually gaining new perspectives and making it our own. This mirrors the developmental shift from stage 2 to stage 3. This approach also aligns with various ways people explain the function-attitudes.


Introverted Intuiting is more than a font of revelations, realizations, and inspiring visions. It is a cognitive process we can engage to produce a result. What happens varies depending on our psychological response when called to engage it.

Table 3: lifecycle of introverted Intuiting

Stage Engage as Typical Experience
1 strange experience experience a mystical state
feel pulled to particular symbolic, fantastical or archetypal images
suddenly just "know" about a far-away event
2 magical guide follow a vision or dream of how things will be in the future
rely on a focal device or symbolic action to predict or transform
pursue "secret knowledge" or initiation into a mystery
3 cognitive tool freely produce complex insights into problems
enhance one's current self by bringing in other aspects of oneself
foresee results of intuitive insights and pre-adjust
4 growth
create by partnering with the unconscious
conceive of novel ways to understand things that are universal
facilitate transcendent experiences (self, others, groups)


The stages are for organizational purposes; growth is more of a continuum from concrete (primitive, early) to abstract (sophisticated, later). Typically, if introverted Intuiting is dominant, then stages 1 and 2 show in childhood, stage 3 shows in adolescence and one's twenties, and stage 4 hopefully shows somewhat later. Where we are is "fuzzy." A thirty-something INFJ or INTJ might function at stage 3 on a daily basis, visit stage 4 during peak moments of creativity and leadership, and respond from stage 2 when under stress or playing around. Other personality types mature into introverted Intuiting more slowly and get less successful results.

Our human inheritance provides us with instinctual stage 1 experiences. Culture provides both socially-normative and alternative ways for us to engage each function at stage 2. Stage 3 is our personalized cognitive toolbox. It is diverse and sophisticated. And stage 4 is a synthesis of the others. The result of engaging it shifts people and paradigms, and produces heroic results.

Improving Our Understanding

Sometimes what we see is all or nothing - either the primitive or most sophisticated aspects of a function. For example, extroverted Sensing is often defined as "perceiving tangible data through the five senses". This is a concrete passive understanding. At the other end of the spectrum, when we observe people with dominant extraverted Sensing, we marvel at their ability to actively engage the world and smoothly make an impact on their environment. They are quick yet relaxed and unassuming but full of results. What lies between one end of the spectrum and the other? Beyond focusing on sensory data, most people journey further into extraverted Sensing by allowing the tangible immediate context and their instinctual impulses to guide their actions. This is more engaged but it is still passive psychologically-speaking. Our experience is driven or "formatted" by something given to us (the context and our impulses). The function quickly "has us" and takes us where it will, sometimes to actions we regret. The context is also a product of culture, so our experience is culturally defined. Further along the spectrum, we grab hold of, get comfortable with and own the function. Extraverted Sensing is engaged in a way that is more cognitive and sophisticated - we compose, operate, expedite and produce. The process is active, abstract and personal. We engage a context and act quickly with ease and enjoyment without losing ourselves in it, because we have awareness of limits, sufficient accumulation of relevant facts, honed senses for key cues, and so on. The musician engaging in extroverted Sensing plays for enjoyment and no standards or goals yet gets results. Only at this point is someone ready to engage the function in its mature form, including others with generative results.

Facilitating Change

The model presents the 8 functions in a way that suggests potential opportunities for development, and what that developmental response will probably look like. Commonly, we want to move a client from one place to another. Leaping from stage 1 to stage 3 won't work because stage 2 is missed. We can't just change a sprout into an adult oak! Similarly, it's not enough that two clients share functional preferences. Each person may engage a function from a different place! Knowing where to bridge differences within a function is a whole new tool.

Visit www.darionardi.com/functions.html for more about this perspective of the function-attitudes and type development.

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