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Peeking Under the Hood, Looking at Typology from a Different Vantage Point

Brain circuits

“We share common experiences with the groups we belong to…[yet] each of us has a unique constellation of characteristics and experiences of living in our time and our place that have never been seen before and will never be seen again… ‘Every ENFP is like another ENFP, like some other ENFPs and like no other ENFP’.”

– Mary McCaulley, Bulletin of Psychological Type Vol. 13:4

I just returned from hosting Dr. Dario Nardi’s 3-day workshop, Neuroscience of Personality. Dr. Nardi is a brain researcher, thought leader, and author or co-author of 10 books in the field of psychological type. His most recent book, Neuroscience of Personality, served as a foundation for this 3-day course which only began to touch the surface of what might be going on in the circuitry of the brain.

Nardi researches activity in the brain’s neocortex; the outer layer of the brain that houses our consciousness and the complex activity related to our thought process. The neocortex is where the “Executive Functions” (Fp1 and Fp2) or the two “CEOs” of the brain are located. These areas of the brain help moderate and regulate tasks performed by small modules or neural circuits that manage a range of brain activity from concrete tasks, such as reading faces and hearing voice tone, to abstract tasks, such as inferring meaning and seeing themes in images. Dr. Nardi has looked at 22 of these brain modules with over 130 individuals representing most of the 16 types over a 7-year period. EEG technology has allowed Nardi to view and interpret brain activity in real time.

With EEG technology, Nardi can see the areas of the neocortex that become active when a person is engaged in activities such as calculating math, reading and reacting to faces, interpreting or visualizing images and using words in a sentence. A bonus of his certification course was having our own brain “read” with a portable EEG machine to give us a taste of how our individual brains operate. (We spent a mere 15 minutes on the portable EEG machine, while in his research, Dr. Nardi conducts 2-hour sessions using a larger, more sophisticated EEG machine.)

In his research, Nardi found patterns of brain activity that confirm the distinctiveness of the 16 types and specifically, the 8 Jungian function-attitudes. He has also looked at brain activity from the perspective of the emotional components that color these tasks. Based on his research, he has refined the definitions of the 8 function-attitudes. He has also developed a self-report instrument called the Neuro-PQ™ which helps us, and the people we work with, to: (1) understand through easy-to-read definitions 22 different regions of the neocortex and (2) self-select how we might use or relate to each of these 22 modules.

Here are my top 5 take-aways from his course as they relate to Jungian type:

1.  Brain research confirms Myers’ and Jung’s hypotheses about typology and the influence of the environment.

In the Myers/Jung model, type is said to be innate, but how people express their type is colored by layers of experience including culture, family, job, habits of mind and other environmental factors. We see this clearly when we look at MBTI Step II™ and Step III™ results – no two reports are ever the same, even for people of the same type.

Nardi has found common patterns in brain activity among people who are type alike! His reported findings are based on people who shared the same best-fit type; he states, “…16 people of 56 (28%) shared 80 to 90% of their brain activity…of course, there were still people who varied.” (Nardi, 2012) This is good news – the brain is not “fixed” when it comes to type. There are no specific regions of the brain for each particular type, but there are regions of the brain that certain types favor over others, and Nardi has seen the common patterns. We all have the same tool box, but we use the tools that support our psychological and practical needs.

2.  We cannot look solely at EEG results to determine our type.

Nardi’s instrument, the Neuro-PQ™, is not a substitute for a person taking the MBTI® and self-selecting their best-fit type, it is a complimentary tool. Before taking his class, it was tempting to think about the implications for confirming type based solely on brain activity. This would be impossible! Just as the MBTI is an indicator of type, so is the Neuro-PQ™ an indication of activity in the brain. Nardi reads in-the-moment brain activity based on specific instructions, and while his research has provided promising results to confirm the meaningfulness of type and type-related patterns, he has stressed that you cannot read “content” from EEG’s (the what or why a person may be thinking something or doing something). Individual experience and environmental influence have too much of an impact on personality to do so. It is however, one more data point among many that can help people claim and better understand their own psychological makeup.

3.  Evidence shows that the brain is so complex and quick that our type cannot be static.

As Jung, Myers and countless experts have reported over the course of 70 years, psychological type is about how we use our psychic (mental) energy. We are never stuck in our type; we can choose to work on and build skills in areas where our brains show less activity. Too many people have a notion of type as a static and immovable construct that pigeon-holes people into one way of being. Nardi’s research helps us put this myth to bed.

 4.  When we talk about our MBTI® type, we have to look at type dynamics and type development.

Evidence from Nardi’s brain research confirms Myers’ thoughts on type development and Jung’s theory of life stages within the individuation process. In Myers’ model, we need to look at type dynamics to find the Jungian function-attitudes that are our dominant, auxiliary, tertiary and inferior functions. In the first half of life, we access and use our dominant and auxiliary functions. In mid-life, we start to develop the tertiary and fourth function-attitudes that we previously discarded as young adults, and optimally progress to having more conscious command of them, even developing some skill with tasks related to the other 4 function-attitudes that lie outside of our type code. Nardi has seen these brain patterns in older adults when compared to younger subjects of the same type. For instance, the brain’s Executive regions, which map nicely to our dominant function-attitudes, show more balanced activity in older subjects. This seems to indicate more balance between the auxiliary and dominant function-attitudes.

5.  Knowledge gained from brain research helps us to figure out what skills we would like to develop, and how to efficiently do so.

There is a pragmatic side to understanding a bit about our brains and how they may work! Understanding how different types are likely wired, and having some information about the emotional, visual, kinesthetic and auditory nature of how our brains work (areas that Nardi has also researched) helps us put into practice development activities that speak to different types, different brain regions and different dominant function-attitudes. And who would not like to have solutions that are sure to help people and appeal to their needs? Solutions that work!

This course could have lasted for at least 3 more days. Despite the depth of information that Nardi covered, we touched on only a minute fraction of what is there. Human beings are complex creatures; we could not possibly be defined by any one instrument or model alone. Yet, Nardi noted in more than one of our conversations that he always goes back to looking at human behavior through the lens of psychological type; it provides the most theoretically sound framework for understanding, categorizing and responding to personality differences. The results of his work help those of us who teach type to present scientific evidence of the meaningfulness or distinctiveness of the 16 types, and that we are on the right path when we learn about this important topic.

If you would like to know more about Dr. Nardi’s course, check out the course itinerary details, and go to Nardi’s website and look for dates and times under his link to training.

Comments (1)

  1. Thank you Cindy for sharing this information! This is really spectacular research. In mid-life I absolutely did start developing the tertiary and fourth function-attitudes of my type. I experienced my personality as far more balanced because of development of the four function attitudes that lie outside of my type code.