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Dr. Richard W. Scholl
36 Upper College Road
Kingston, RI 02881

p. 401.874.4347
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The set of WebNotes of which this page is a part, presents a general model of behavior whereby behavior is a function of the interaction of situational forces and dispositional forces. The relative strength of the situation and the disposition (e.g., personality variables) determine the resultant behavior. One important dispositional variable is cognitive style. Conceptually, cognitive style represents the ways in which individuals receive, analyze, store, retrieve, and transmit information, much like the way a computer's processing unit performs the same functions for a computer.

Cognitive style is less about the decisions that individuals actually make and more about the processes used to make them. Individuals vary in predictable ways along four dimensions of cognitive style, that is, they differ in the way in which they gather and process information. Much of the work using cognitive style (also called decision making style and problem solving style) is derived from Jung's (1923) classic theory of psychological types.

One's cognitive style generally operates in an unconscious manner, that is, while an individual may be aware of the outcome of the information processing process, he or she is often unaware of the mental processes used to acquire, analyze, categorize, store, and retrieve information in making decisions and solving problems.  Some typical behaviors which can be attributed to cognitive style are:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an instrument developed that can be used to assess cognitive style (Briggs, 1962). It assesses cognitive style on four dimensions:
    1. Extraversion (E) versus Introversion (I)
    2. Sensing (S) versus Intuition (N)
    3. Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F)
    4. Judging (J) versus Perceiving (P)

Scores derived from the MBTI typically range from a low of "0" to a high of "60." For example, one might score E-15, N-23, T-55; P-5 or I-3, S-35, F-27; J-18. There are literally hundreds of books and guides advising individuals and groups how to interpret and use scores derived from the MBTI. One of the major differences among these guides is in the way in which interpretation is advised. Some argue that an individual is either on one side of a dimension or the other (e.g., a person is either an extravert of introvert), while others believe that the continuum provides a full range of possibilities (e.g., strong extravert, weak extravert, weak introvert, or strong introvert). Based on my research and experience, I come down on the full range side of this issue (see Barbuto, 1997 and Leonard, Kowalski & Scholl, 1993).

There are a couple of points that must be kept in mind when attempting to use the MBTI interpret MBTI scores.

  1. The MBTI is licensed by CCP and requires certification for administration of the instrument
  2. The MBTI is an instrument that attempts to measure cognitive style.
  3. While it has strong validity and reliability measures, its accuracy is dependent on the honesty (sometimes this means honest with oneself) of the individual completing the instrument. Also the frame of reference (work, social, family) one takes when completing the instrument, affects one's score.
  4. Cognitive style, as a variable, measures the strength of your preference for the manner in which you process information. It is different from cognitive skill. You can develop skills that are not necessarily in line with your preferences. You can also cognitively over-ride your preferences and act in way that may appear to be inconsistent with your style. Therefore, do not view your score as a set of handcuffs. or an indicator of one's social or decision-making skills.
How is the MBTI used in organizations

The Myers Briggs Type Inventory is used widely in organizations, groups and by counselors.  Here are some of these uses.

Employee Selection

In theory, measures of applicant dispositions should be an effective way to predict future job behavior, especially in weak situations (job without strong structure and behavioral controls).  However, there are many other variables affecting performance (motivation being one) that also influences job behavior.  Additionally, when using formal personality test for selection purposes, an employer must prove that the test is valid (that is, it actually predicts performance on the job. Our HR courses deal with test validation in detail).  This is often a difficult and expensive process, so most employers avoid their formal use.  Another very important aspect of the selection process (besides personality or cognitive style) is the individuals skills/competencies.  Personality and skills are not the same.  For example, a strong extravert may prefer oral forms of communications, but this does not mean that she or he is a good communicator.  For a good web site discussing competencies see:

Employee Placement

In some cases, employers use tests to determine job placements and the formation of teams once the individuals are hired.  The requirement for validation here are less stringent, so the use of test for this purpose is more prevalent. However, I advise the same caution in relying too heavily on dispositional variables and their measure for placement.

Employee/Team Counseling and Development

This is probably the most common use for the MBTI in organizations.  Team building facilitators often use the MBTI to help team members better solve problems and make decisions as a team. This raises the issue of compatibility and conflict of individuals with different cognitive styles (Can a strong N/P work with a strong S/J?). 

Strong differences often creates conflict among members of a team.  For example, since strong N's (Intuitives) approach problems from a strategic perspective and strong S's (Sensors) tend to approach problems from an operational perspective, there is likely to be conflict in determining causes of problems (diagnosis).  Strong differences in the J/P (Perceiving/Judging) dimensions is often manifested in conflict regarding whether to abandon a plan, how close rules and procedures should be followed and when to achieve closure on a decision (remember, P's will seek to keep getting more information before committing to a problem solution, while J's are likely to seek quick closure by making the decision with data on hand and moving on).  

    Although conflict is likely when we have diversity (in terms of cognitive style), that does not mean we should form homogeneous teams.  Conflict is often healthy for teams and often leads to better solutions.  Teams should consider both strategic and operational perspectives when solving problems.  They should also guard against quick closure or paralysis resulting from needing "all of the facts."  The key is to learn to understand, accept, and even appreciate the strengths of each team member.  This is what a team builder can help the team to do.  Also team leadership often shifts as the team moves through the various stages of the problem solving process.  

Individual Career Choice and Development

There is a link between cognitive style and preferences for various types of careers.  While companies may not always use this information in selection, many individuals and career counselors use this information to help individuals in self-selection of careers and jobs.  There are many web sites containing information about the MBTI and careers.  For example see: 

Brief Summary of the Four MBTI Dimensions

In this Section, each of the four MBTI dimensions are discussed in terms of information processing: Gathering, storing, analyzing and disseminating information.

Extraversion (E) -- Introversion (I)

As a dimension of cognitive style and information processing, extraverts differ from introverts in their preferred from of information gathering and transmission.

Extraverts (E) tend to and have a preference for:

Introverts (I) tend to and have a preference for:

Sensing (S) -- Intuition (N)

The dimension of cognitive style attempts to describe the ways in which individuals process and analyze information as part of a decision making or problem solving process. How do people know what they know? Put another way, how do we analyze the information to which we have access and come up with conclusions. Whenever we make diagnose problems or attempt to attribute causes to certain behaviors or outcomes, we use either a deductive or inductive process. Those using an inductive approach rely on facts and evidence on which to base conclusions. Thus the empirical approach is the preference for sensors. Diagnosis often takes the form of trial and error or reference to know situations, companies in the same situation or past problem episodes. On the other hand, intuitives make ample use of theories and mental models from which to drawn their conclusions and "facts" of a situations. Attribution of causes is most often accomplished by deductive reasoning using a conceptual model.

Sensors (S) tend to and have a preference for:

Intuitives (N) tend to and have a preference for:
  • Develops knowledge through deduction.
  • Prefers to view things globally
  • Sees the similarities between two concepts
  • Sees the connections and integration between parts of a system
  • Learns theoretically
  • Connects processes with goals, often goal rather than process focused
  • "Knows" something (cognition) because it is a logical deduction or extension of a theory/concept
    Group Decision Making Issues
    • Tends to focus on strategy issues
    • Looks for model or theory to guide analysis
    • when data conflicts with theory; goes with theory
    • Once overall strategy is developed, often closes shop without developing operational plan
Thinking (T) -- Felling (F)

The third dimension of cognitive depicts the actual choice phase of a decision making process. When faced with a set of alternatives, how do people rank order them or make a choice of one option for implementation, Those with thinking styles rely more heavily on logic, cause and effect perceptions (cognitions, mental models, see Attitudes WebNote),often constructing decision matrices scoring options against a chosen decision criteria set. Alternatively, those with a preference for feeling most often rank order options on the basis of the affect attached to each alternative. This is often referred to as "gut" feeling. (See Affective Motivation WebNote for explanation of somatic makers)

Thinking Types (T) tend to and have a preference for:

  • Decides analytically by examining facts
  • Logical, objective
  • Examines cause and effect beliefs to make decisions
  • Relies on cognitive component of attitude over the affective component

Feeling Types (F) tend to and have a preference for:

  • Decides on the basis of feeling
  • Uses logic to support feelings
  • Relies on the affective component of attitude over cognitive component
Judging (J) -- Perceiving (P)

We can divide the decision making process into two stages: analysis (collecting and process information) and choice (selecting final option). Remember, preferences in the analysis stage are described by the S vs. N dimension, while choice preferences are found in the T vs. F dimension. Simply put, judging types have a preference for choice and closure, while perceiving types take comfort in analysis and information processing.

Judging Types (J) tend to and have a preference for:

  • Primary emphasis is on making decisions and coming to closure.
  • Uses cognitive schema as a basis of perceiving in order to shorten information gathering process.
  • Prefers order and structure.
  • Creates environments that are ordered, regulated and controlled.
  • Knows "right way" and "wrong way", that is, committed to one best way.
  • Difficulty with multi-tasking. Like to finish one task before starting another.
  • Plans activities entirely before commencing.
  • Prefers vertical thinking, that is, when confronted with an obstacles concentrates on removing that obstacle so that the original plan can be implemented successfully.
    Group Decision Making Issues
    • Pushes for closure and completion
    • Will look for the format or formula to use in developing a problem or case solution

Perceiving Types (P) tend to and have a preference for::

  • Primary emphasis is on perceiving, or gathering of information.
  • Has difficulty coming to closure.
  • Constantly looking for new information before making decision.
  • Moves from one project to another.
  • Prefers to remain flexible and avoid fixed plans, to keep options open.
  • Prefers lateral thinking, that is, when confronted with an obstacle tends to go around it by developing solutions targeted at meeting the initial goal rather than implemented the proposed plan,