Cognitive Functions

According to the personality type theory, our brains have eight potential ways of processing information and making sense of it. These eight ways are called cognitive functions. Each of the 16 personality types prefers using a different mix of cognitive functions according to the following hierarchy:

  1. Dominant: Our favorite function – the one that we like using the most. This function comes most naturally to us and takes the least effort to use.  It’s our strongest suit and what we are best at. Using the dominant function makes a person feel good. Having opportunities to use the dominant function brings happiness. People who are in circumstances where they are not able to use their dominant function are at risk for becoming depressed.
  2. Auxiliary: This is our second strongest function, playing a supporting role for the dominant function. When the dominant role is extraverted, the auxiliary role is introverted and vice versa.
  3. Tertiary: This is our third strongest function. We may have some skill at using it, but it doesn’t come as naturally to us as the dominant function and takes more effort. It might even be considered a weakness. The tertiary is always extraverted for extraverts and introverted for introverts.
  4. Inferior: This is our weakest function and what we have the most trouble with.

The four cognitive functions in ESTJs’ mix are described below.

Dominant – Extraverted Thinking

ESTJs’ dominant function – and their gift – is extraverted thinking. Extraverted thinking analyzes the current situation, sets goals, and figures out how to reach the goal. ESTJs have a gift for taking charge, making decisions, and organizing people and systems to get things done.

Auxiliary – Introverted Sensing

Since extraverts’ dominant function always turns outward, they use their auxiliary function when they need to turn inward. When ESTJs need to turn inward, they prefer to use introverted sensing.

Introverted sensing remembers past experiences and constantly compares the current to the past. People who use introverted sensing remember what worked and what didn’t and once they have found something that works, they prefer to stick to it. As a result, they are good at following routines and standard operating procedures without getting bored. Because of this ability to stick to a task, they can be very systematic, thorough, and reliable. They can become experts at their field of choice. Beyond noticing things and remembering, introverted sensing is also a function of conserving. It compels people to conserve physical resources and energy. And because people using this function usually see past ways of doing things as more efficient than changing and learning something new, their preference is to maintain familiar traditions, customs, and ways of doing things.

Since ESTJs pair their dominant thinking function with sensing, they are more likely to use past experience to solve problems and are more drawn to practical matters. In contrast, ENTJs, who pair their dominant thinking function with intuition, are more open to new ideas and possibilities for problem solving.

Tertiary – Extraverted Intuition

ESTJs’ tertiary function is extraverted intuition. Extraverted intuition is aware of possibilities and open to new ideas. Extraverted intuition asks “what could be” and “what if” and uses the answers to brainstorm ideas for changing the world. People whose primary function is extraverted intuition – ENFPs and ENTPs – have a gift for originality and enthusiasm. ESTJs may also have skill in this area, but given that this is their third function, using this skill is likely to take more effort and not feel as natural as the primary function.

Sometimes ESTJs may use extraverted intuition as a defense mechanism. Since ESTJs are extraverted, extraverted intuition may feel easier in times of stress than introverted sensing.

Inferior – Introverted Feeling

ESTJs’ inferior function is introverted feeling. Introverted feeling could also be called the conscience. It’s a decision-making function that judges ideas and actions according to a person’s internal value system. People whose dominant function is introverted feeling – INFPs and ISFPs – have strong convictions of right and wrong. They seek to maintain their personal integrity by behaving according to their convictions and help other people do the same.

But most people struggle with using their inferior function. They might lack skill in this area,  be overly sensitive in this area, or overcompensate for their lack of skill in this area.

Thus many ESTJs have problems with introverted feeling. Because ESTJs have (rightfully) spent so much time using their gift of extraverted thinking, they have spent less time and become less skillful doing the opposite, introverted feeling. The might end up ignoring feeling values (impact on people) too much, not taking into account what they actually care about and what other people care about. They might confuse feeling values with sentimentality or emotionality or have a fear of feelings or emotions. They might also overdo it with outbursts of emotion that seem out of proportion to the situation.


David Keirsey’s classic book Please Understand Me divides the 16 personality types into four temperament groupings:

  • Guardians
  • Artisans
  • Idealists
  • Rationals

Together with ESFJs, ISFJs, and ISTJs, ESTJs belong to the Guardian temperament group.  Here are some characteristics the Guardians share:

Concrete Language

Guardians like to talk about things that can be directly observed. As sensors, they are more interested in what they can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste than abstract or theoretical matters.

Cooperative Tool Use

In getting things done, Guardians seek cooperation. In society, we have established rules for the good of the group and we should all follow those rules. We should comply and obey, because that is safer than the chaos that would result if everyone were to create their own way.

Logistical Intellect

Guardians have a talent for logistics, which according to Keirsey consists of “the procurement, distribution, service, and replacement of material goods.”

Past Orientation

Guardians like to think about the past. They maintain traditions and customs. They are creatures of habit who like to follow the same routines.

Helpmate Spouse

In a spouse, Guardians look for a helpmate. They want someone who will work with them for the good of the family.

Socializer Parent

As parents, Guardians seek to raise children who will become well-functioning members of society.

Stabilizer Leader

Guardian leaders seek to establish and maintain rules, regulations, and standard operating procedures for their underlings to follow.


7 Secrets To A Successful Introvert-Extravert Marriage
How To Make Your Brain Happy
Your Blind Spot And How To Handle It