Artistic, impulsive, and unconventional, the INFP can be hard to predict.
Reading time: 16 minutes
The INFP is one of 16 types from the popular Myers-Briggs tradition. In this post, you’ll learn about how the INFP type is related to the modern, scientific personality system known as the Big Five. You’ll also see the interpersonal behaviors and career interests that many INFPs have in common.
You can jump straight to any section by clicking the links below. Otherwise, we’ll start with the classic definition of the INFP personality type.
Do you understand your personality?
Your personality influences your relationships, hobbies, and career, and more. Learn about your unique blend of traits, and compare yourself to others.
In the popular Myers-Briggs or 16-personalities tradition, all personalities belong to one of 16 types. Each type is defined by preferences across four cognitive functions:
INFPs are Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving.
Introverted people are focused inwards. They prefer the inner world of ideas and reflection over the external world of people and actions.
More Intuitive people are comfortable with more abstract, ambiguous things and ideas. Compared to those who prefer Sensing, they prefer to focus on the world of meanings, connections, and insights, rather than more direct sensory observation and hands-on experiences.
People who prefer Feeling use empathy, consensus, and harmony to guide their decisions. Unlike those who prefer Thinking, they are less constrained by logic, correctness, and consistency in their decision-making.
People who prefer Perceiving tend to relate to other people through their perceiving preference, which is Intuition for INFPs. Other people will see NP-types, like the INFP, as conscious of more abstract qualities of their experiences, such as meaning and connections between ideas.
While the 16-personality framework and its complex cognitive functions are fun and intriguing, they are less useful for predicting important life outcomes, like relationships, health, happiness, hobbies, educational and career outcomes.
The reality of personality differences is much more complicated than 16 types. This complexity is why modern personality science uses dimensions or traits to describe personalities, rather than simple categories or types.
For example, labeling someone as “Extraverted” or “Introverted” is a vast oversimplification. Every individual falls somewhere on a broad spectrum between highly extraverted and highly introverted.
Moreover, a single dimension like Extraversion/Introversion is inadequate for fully describing someone’s personality. In general, several dimensions are necessary to create a complete picture of an individual’s unique character.
Below, I’ll describe how INFPs fit into the modern world of personality dimensions.
In personality studies, scientific researchers often use a trait-based approach to describing the differences between people instead of using personality types. The most well-established method is the Big Five, which describes differences along five broad dimensions:
Personality types are far less precise than getting exact Big Five measurements, but knowing your personality type can give you a rough idea of where you fall on each dimension.
In the graph below, each dot is an INFP, placed by where they fall on each of the Big Five dimensions. You can see that INFPs can vary quite a bit on any single dimension.
For example, some INFPs fall near the top of the Openness dimension, while others fall closer to the middle or average. However, very few INFPs fall below the average on Openness. So, we can be reasonably confident that an INFP will be average or higher than average on Openness, and an INFP is unlikely to be lower than average on Openness.
Using the same principles, we can profile the INFP personality type across every Big Five dimension.
INFPs are often highly open to experience.
As a group, INFPs stand out in their unusually high openness to experience. High Openness to Experience is related to strong need and preference for novelty across all types of experiences.
Like many INFPs, highly open people tend to have diverse tastes in food, music, art, and literature, are intellectually curious, and often embrace unconventional habits, ideas, or beliefs.
INFPs tend to be less conscientious.
Conscientiousness describes one’s tendency to make detailed plans, be highly organized and systematic, and follow consistent, regular schedules.
The relatively low conscientiousness of INFPs’ means that they more readily accept chaos and irregularity, and may actively avoid what they perceive as being too organized or systematic.
INFPs are less likely to be highly focused and dedicated to a single long-term goal. Instead, they tend to act more impulsively, happily bounce between smaller, short-term projects and goals.
Lastly, INFPs will feel less obligated to carefully follow widely accepted social norms, rules, and regulations in several areas of life. They may opt for an unconventional or even rebellious approach.
While INFPs tend to be more introverted, they are the least introverted of all of the Introverted personality types.
Many INFPs fall just below average on Big Five Extraversion, which describes tendencies around social engagement and experiences and expressions of positive emotions.
More introverted INFPs may prefer to spend time engaged in more solitary activities or surround themselves with calm, less stimulating environments. Those INFPs who fall closer to the average may more comfortably switch between highly social activities and quiet downtime alone.
The INFPs level of introversion will also be reflected in their patterns of emotional expression. As introversion increases, INFPs may seem stoic and serious, less likely to display a range of positive emotions like joy, laughter, and excitement.
INFPs tend to be highly varied on Agreeableness.
Merely knowing that one is an INFP tells you very little about how agreeable or demanding they are. From the graph above, you can see that INFPs fall evenly along the entire range of Agreeableness, with some at the very low extremes and some at the very high extremes.
More agreeable INFPs will seek to maintain warmer and friendlier relations with other people, from strangers to relatives to close friends. More agreeable people will try to avoid interpersonal conflicts, and will attempt to reduce or resolve disputes as they arise. INFPs with higher agreeableness will also have greater altruistic interests, and may gravitate towards professions or hobbies that involve helping others.
Less agreeable INFPs are more demanding and more comfortable with interpersonal conflicts and disagreement than most. They often find it easier to prioritize their own goals over others’ needs, and more easily voice their criticism and negative feedback to others.
The high variation of Agreeableness in INFPs is an excellent example of the shortcomings of using personality types. If you want to know how agreeable you are, just take TraitLab’s free personality test.
Just as with Agreeableness, INFPs are highly varied in their level of Neuroticism or Emotional Stability.
Some INFPs fall on the very low end of Neuroticism, some land on the very high end, and most fall somewhere in between. Knowing that someone is an INFP tells you almost nothing about their relative level of Neuroticism.
Neuroticism describes our emotional volatility and variability. It is closely tied to our tendency to experience negative emotions: anxiety, anger, distress, and depression.
High Neuroticism is related to more frequent and dramatic mood swings and a general tendency to worry more often. More neurotic people are more irritable, have a shorter temper, and are more likely to dwell on negative experiences.
Low Neuroticism, or high Emotional Stability, is related to an overall decreased reactivity to stress, fewer and less intense experiences of negative emotions like anxiety and anger, and a more relaxed and easy-going temperament.
You are more complex than four letters
No two INFPs are the same. Learn about your unique blend of personality dimensions.
There are at least four exceptional patterns commonly seen in the INFPs:
Others may have difficulty reading INFPs, who often have a quiet, reserved exterior but a spontaneous, impulsive mind. INFPs usually have a blend of lower Extraversion and lower Conscientiousness, leading them to be more reserved and withdrawn, holding their opinions and thoughts back in most social situations and avoiding the spotlight.
Despite their quiet exterior, they often impulsively make decisions with their gut, rather than careful planning. When possible, they will avoid sticking to a schedule and prefer the freedom to change their plans at the last minute.
INFPs are often empathetic, sensitive to others’ pain, and optimistic about peaceful solutions to conflict.
With INFPs’ high Agreeableness and lower Conscientiousness, they tend to trust other people’s inherent goodness. They have more faith in friendly, gentle methods of resolving differences, and often shun heavy-handed, strict, or combative approaches.
INFPs are often genuinely interested in the world around them. However, they are usually much more curious about the world of ideas and information than relationships and other people.
These preferences follow from INFPs’ blend of low Extraversion and high Openness, two dimensions that shape exploration styles. INFPs will happily immerse themselves in new ideas and become fully absorbed in learning everything about them. Yet, they might struggle to find a fraction of that same enthusiasm in most social engagements.
INFPs are often warm and empathetic due to their higher Agreeableness. However, they also tend to be more socially reserved and inhibited due to their lower Extraversion. While many INFPs are genuinely compassionate and friendly, only a few people may get to know them well enough to see this side.
INFPs may need much longer than others to open up and feel comfortable expressing their warmth and enthusiasm. They are also far less likely to be the one to spark up a conversation or initiate new relationships.
How do other people see and describe INFPs?
Among the more introverted types, INFPs stand out by their blend of high openness and lower conscientiousness. This combination of deep interests and a more carefree, spontaneous style can lead others to describe them as unconventional, impractical, artistic, creative, and eccentric.
The wordcloud below shows the top 100 words used to describe INFPs. Bigger words describe the more prominent aspects of INFPs.
Others can perceive one person’s strength as a weakness, too. INFPs may struggle with the perception that they are too spontaneous and unsystematic, to the point that some see them as dramatic, sensitive, unruly, or mischievous.
As most INFPs tend to be on the more introverted side, others may perceive their quiet nature as guarded, deep, secretive, and intellectual. INFPs also tend to be less socially assertive, and described by others as tactful, unaggressive, or even timid.
Which words describe you?
Cautious or impulsive? Combative or compliant? Sentimental or cynical? Discover 100+ words that describe your unique personality.
If you’d like to see the wordcloud that describes your own unique personality, try the free personality test here at TraitLab.
You might have noticed that some individuals have a consistent effect on you every time you interact with them. For example, one particular friend might make you consistently laugh and smile more than usual. One reliably passive coworker or classmate may tend to bring out your bossier, more demanding side.
Each of us has a typical interpersonal style. This style influences how others think and feel when they are around you, and in turn, it can affect how they interact back with you.
A classic method of visualizing interpersonal style is using the circular figure below. The vertical axis shows your style in terms of dominance, with a highly assertive style at the top (Assured-Dominant) and a highly passive style at the bottom (Unassured-Submissive). The horizontal axis shows your style in terms of warmth, with a cold and impersonal style on the left (Cold-Aggressive) and a friendly, empathetic manner on the right (Warm-Agreeable).
The shaded blue area shows the typical interpersonal style of INFPs across eight dimensions. Notice that the blue area is closely aligned with the middle circle. There are no dimensions in which INFPs are extraordinarily high or low. As a group, INFPs are unusually balanced in their interpersonal style.
One interpretation of this balance is that INFPs often appear as socially well-adjusted. In terms of their interpersonal warmth, they can compromise and show affection when appropriate, but they can also push back and make demands when necessary. In their social dominance, they will happily lead others and take charge when given the opportunity, but they can step back and follow if needed.
Of course, there will be individual INFPs who are relatively high or low on some of these dimensions, leading to some particular interpersonal challenges. But as a group, INFPs do not seem to share any of these extremes.
As a group, INFPs tend to vary considerably on two dimensions that are closely tied to social relationships: Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Some INFPs are highly agreeable and less neurotic, others INFPs are highly neurotic and highly disagreeable, and others can be anywhere in between.
Because this group varies so much on these two dimensions, it’s unlikely that any description of their relationship tendencies would be accurate for most INFPs. For example, highly disagreeable INFPs will be more likely to avoid close and intimate relationships for several reasons, but only some INFPs are highly disagreeable. Similar problems arise with INFPs lack of consistency in Neuroticism/Emotional Stability.
This is yet another shortcoming of using simple personality types over more precise trait-based measurements. If you think you are an INFP (or not!) and want to learn more about where you fall on these two critical dimensions, try the free assessment.
The chart below shows how the personality traits of INFPs are related to the classic RIASEC career interests: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Your unique blend of these interests dramatically influences how well a career feels like a good fit.
On each dimension, you’ll see areas where INFPs tend to crowd up (shown by the dark blue bars). These are the areas where INFPs are most likely to fall.
But, you’ll also find INFPs the entire range of each dimension. For example, while most INFPs tend to have relatively lower Conventional interests, a few rare INFPs score very highly on this dimension
Most INFPs tend to have the following profile of interests:
High Artistic interests (Creators): People with strong Artistic interests prefer jobs that require innovation through artistic and intuitive skills in less structured tasks and environments. Examples include artists, novelists, actors or actresses, musicians, curators, and designers.
High Social interests (Helpers): People with strong Social interests fit well with careers that involve helping, comforting, caring for, and teaching other people. Examples include physical therapists, counselors, clergy, social workers, doctors, and nurses.
Average Investigative interests (Thinkers): People with strong Investigative interests prefer roles that require observation, researching, and understanding ideas. They tend to prefer working with data and ideas rather than working closely with other people. Examples include medical researchers, chemists, software engineers, scientific reporters, and statisticians.
Average Realistic interests (Doers): People with high Realistic interests enjoy careers that allow them to work with their hands or tools to get a job done, rather than thinking or talking about it. They may also gravitate towards jobs with opportunities for working outdoors, competition, and risk-taking. Examples include police officers, military officers, professional athletes, farmers, builders, mechanics, forest rangers, and woodworkers.
Average Enterprising interests (Persuaders): People with strong Enterprising interests are often skilled communicators and enjoy influencing, persuading, and leading other people. They actively pursue leadership roles and opportunities to bolster their status and reputation. Examples include sales and marketing directors, politicians and political organizers, and executives.
Low Conventional interests (Organizers): People with strong Conventional interests excel in roles that require categorizing, planning, and systematizing information and processes. Examples include financial officers, budget analysts, office managers, database analysts, and systems administrators.
Remember that these rankings only describe the average INFP, and personality types can only offer very general descriptions of career interests. Even if you see yourself as an INFP, your unique set of career interests may vary from the above descriptions.
Examples of careers that fit with INFPs’ blend of Artistic and Social interests include:
A variety of paths in the teaching, counseling, and scholarly professions may also fit INFPs’ intellectual needs and helping nature, including roles such as:
INFPs may feel out of place in careers with a heavy demand for Conventional interests: attention to detail, rules, and regulations. Examples of jobs INFPs might avoid include:
INFPs stand out by their combination of introversion, openness, spontaneity, and free-spirited nature. Of all of the INxx types, which tend to be more withdrawn and reflective, the INFP is the least systematic and most unpredictable.
However, as a group, INFPs have tremendous diversity in their interpersonal warmth and emotional temperament. Merely knowing that you are an INFPs tells you very little about these areas. To gain more insight into these areas, go beyond your personality type and try the free personality test to discover your Big Five dimensions, words that describe you, similarity to other personality types, and more.
Header photo by JoelValve