Terse, aloof, and analytical, the INTP forges their own path and isn't afraid to fight about it.
Reading time: 16 minutes
The INTP is one of 16 types from the popular Myers-Briggs tradition. In this post, I’ll detail how the INTP stands apart from other types on the Big Five personality dimensions, and detail how these differences influence the INTP’s habits, emotional patterns, interpersonal style, and potential career matches.
You can jump straight to any section by clicking the links below. Otherwise, we’ll start with the classic definition of the INTP personality type.
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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:
INTPs are Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, 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 Thinking often lean heavily on logic, consistency, and correctness when making decisions. Unlike those who prefer Feeling, they are less easily swayed by empathy or other social considerations when evaluating a course of action.
People who prefer Perceiving tend to relate to other people through their perceiving preference, which is Intuition for INTPs. Other people will see NT-types, like the INTP, as acutely aware of 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 INTPs 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 INTP, placed by where they fall on each of the Big Five dimensions. You can see that INTPs can vary quite a bit on any single dimension.
For example, some INTPs fall near the top of the Openness dimension, while others fall closer to the middle or average. However, very few INTPs fall below the average on Openness. So, we can be reasonably confident that an INTP will be average or higher than average on Openness, and an INTP is unlikely to be lower than average on Openness.
Using the same principles, we can profile the INTP personality type across every Big Five dimension.
INTPs are often highly open to experience.
Like most Intuitive types, INTPs are often higher in Big Five Openness to Experience. Highly open individuals tend to seek new experiences, and enjoy absorbing complex information or discussing abstract topics and ideas. They are generally less interested in conventional ways of doing things, or following tradition for tradition’s sake.
INTPs’ high openness drives their need to engage with, learn about, and ultimately solve complex problems.
INTPs tend to be less conscientious than most people.
Conscientiousness describes one’s tendency to be highly organized, make detailed plans and schedules, and stick closely to conventional rules.
INTPs’ lower conscientiousness can make them susceptible to distractions and tangents, leading them to chase down details and side paths rather than maintain a strict focus on a single big goal.
INTPs may also be more comfortable with irregularity and disorganization. They will be far less likely than others to stick to a tight schedule or routine or painstakingly clean and organize their surroundings.
Lastly, INTPs will be more comfortable questioning and breaking with commonly accepted rules and regulations.
INTPs often score lower on Big Five Extraversion.
Unsurprisingly, most INTPs are more introverted than most. With a few exceptions, INTPs fall well below average on Big Five Extraversion, which is related to their low enthusiasm, more muted emotional expressions, and a relative ease with social isolation.
Like most introverted people, INTPs will prefer to stay in the background, keep to themselves, and avoid being the center of attention. They can efficiently work and play in isolated, quiet environments and will often prefer it.
INTPs’ higher introversion can also manifest in a more restricted range of positive emotions. INTPs will be less likely than others to smile, laugh, show excitement and enthusiasm, raise their voice, or make small talk.
Many INTPs fall into the lower range of Agreeableness.
INTPs tend to be much lower on Big Five Agreeableness than most people. Agreeableness describes one’s need to maintain positive and warm relationships with others, or one’s willingness to put personal goals ahead of the others’ feelings.
Less agreeable people may also be described as more demanding, and many INTPs may fit this description. They will typically be less bothered by interpersonal conflicts and disagreements, and will find it easier to criticize or voice unpopular opinions than others.
INTPs can vary widely in their level of Neuroticism.
Many INTPs fall on the very low end of Neuroticism, others fall on the very high end, and most fall somewhere in between. In other words, just knowing that you are an INTP tells you nothing about your level of Neuroticism.
Neuroticism is related to emotional volatility and patterns of dealing with stress. Highly neurotic people are more likely to experience negative emotions, including anger, anxiety, depression, and discomfort. High neuroticism is also closely related to one’s tendency to have a negative self-image and ruminate, second-guess, and engage in other forms of negative self-consciousness.
People with relatively low Neuroticism, or high Emotional Stability, tend to react much less to physical and psychological stress, report greater self-confidence, have fewer mood swings, and generally tend to be more relaxed and easy-going.
If you’re curious about your level of Neuroticism, you can measure it with TraitLab’s free personality test, along with all of the Big Five dimensions.
You are more complex than four letters
No two INTPs are the same. Learn about your unique blend of personality dimensions.
There are three notable patterns commonly seen in the INTPs:
Others may have difficulty reading INTPs, who often have a quiet, reserved exterior but a spontaneous, impulsive mind. INTPs 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.
INTPs 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 INTPs’ blend of low Extraversion and high Openness, two dimensions that shape exploration styles. INTPs 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.
INTPs often score on the lower ends of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, two dimensions closely related to trust and adherence to social norms.
People who score low on both, like INTPs, tend to be suspicious of others’ motives and have a greater distrust of individuals and institutions.
They may feel an inherent resistance to authority and certain social conventions. Rather than following others and trying to fit in, INTPs have a strong independent streak and prefer to go their own way.
How do other people see and describe INTPs?
Of all the introverted types, INTPs tend to be the least agreeable or the most demanding, which can overshadow how others perceive them. At best, they may be seen as curt, terse, or forceful, but their reluctance to sugarcoat their words can lead them to appear impolite, rude, harsh, or even disrespectful.
The wordcloud below shows over 50 words used to describe INTPs. Bigger words describe the more prominent aspects of INTPs.
Many people may actively avoid interpersonal conflicts and arguments, but INTPs feel comfortable in these otherwise uncomfortable situations. Their willingness to get to the bottom of things, even if it means hurting some feelings, can come off as combative, antagonistic, insensitive, and quarrelsome.
INTPs’ high introversion also means they tend to express fewer positive emotions and less enthusiasm in social situations. To others, they may seem cynical, joyless, glum, or detached.
If you believe you are an INTP but think the above description is unfair, remember that no two INTPs are alike. Personality types are an overly simplistic way to describe a single individual, and nobody fits neatly into any type. To see the words that describe your own unique set of personality traits, try the free personality test here at TraitLab.
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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 INTPs across eight dimensions. Notice the areas where the blue area extends closer to the outer edges of the circle. These are the aspects that most heavily influence INTPs’ interactions.
To summarize the graph above, three aspects most heavily influence INTPs’ interpersonal style:
The chart below shows how the personality traits of INTPs 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 INTPs tend to crowd up (shown by the dark blue bars). These are the areas where INTPs are most likely to fall.
But, you’ll also find INTPs the entire range of each dimension. While most INTPs tend to have relatively lower Social interests, there are still a few INTPs who score very highly on them.
Most INTPs tend to have the following pattern of interests:
High 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.
High 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.
Average 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.
Average 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.
Low 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.
Remember that these rankings only describe the average INTP, and personality types can only offer very general descriptions of career interests. Even if you see yourself as an INTP, your unique set of career interests may vary from the above descriptions.
Examples of careers that fit INTPs’ strong Realistic and Investigative interests often involve analyzing complex problems and building solutions, like:
INTPs’ low Social interests suggest that they like to keep their heads down and focus on the next exciting problem, rather than managing, motivating, or caring for other people. INTPs may be highly competent in any of these roles, but their natural strengths may be underused.
Examples of potentially poor fits for INTPs include:
Your personality type only gives you a rough approximation of your underlying traits. As described in this post, INTPs can vary widely in their Big Five dimensions, interpersonal style, and career interests. Just knowing that you are an INTP doesn’t tell you that much.
So what’s the next step? Skip the types entirely and learn about your unique blend of personality traits, interpersonal style, and career interests by directly measuring them at TraitLab. Get started for free and see your Big Five dimensions with the Basic assessment.
Header photo by Christina@wocintechchat.com