See 2020 Update for the latest version of this article.
For thousands of years philosophers have been trying to perfect a system for identifying patterns in human behavior and using these patterns to place individuals into predefined categories or types. Although it may have started with the Egyptians or Mesopotamians, the first typology of temperament is credited to an Ancient Greek physician named Hippocrates who developed a model of personality types called The Four Humors.
Typology of temperament is as old as mythology, so it is probably no coincidence that both were popularized by the Ancient Greeks. A myth, by its definition, explains how the world came to be through a story where the main characters are gods or supernatural heroes. Another word for a mythological or symbolic character is a “metaphor” or “archetype”, a notion that originated with Plato and was expanded upon two thousand years later by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. In Jungian psychology, archetypes are patterns of thought and images that exist in all cultures and individuals and are unconsciously expressed through art, literature, and other patterns of behavior.
One of today’s most popular and widely recognized typologies for human behavior is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which was built in large part upon Jung’s theory of four psychological functions (sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking) and attitudes (introverted vs. extroverted).
The MBTI is a four-letter indicator representing four dimensions:
1. Extraversion vs. Introversion (action oriented vs. thought oriented)
2. Sensing vs. Intuition (trusting the five senses vs. trusting the "sixth sense")
3. Thinking vs. Feeling (logic-based decision making vs. empathy-based decision making)
4. Judging vs. Perception (preference for settling matters vs. preference for leaving options open)
At the end of this article you will have an opportunity to take a ten-minute test to determine your MBTI / superhero doppelgänger.
While Ancient Greek myths and characters continue to fascinate us through numerous remakes and movie adaptations, a new breed of mythology and archetypes has appeared in the last century via superhero comics. What happened in the 5th century B.C. is happening again today, except that characters such as Zeus, Apollo, and Hercules have been replaced with the likes of Superman, Batman, and the X-Men. What follows is an overview of today’s most popular temperament typology, using some of today’s most popular and recognizable archetypes as examples -- superheroes and super villains.
Energetic, enthusiastic, and persevering, ENFJs are loyal helpers and idealistic leaders who see the big picture and are deeply committed to work they believe in. They provide creative and charismatic leadership and help others fulfill their potential. They place a high importance on people and relationships but need to be careful about becoming overly involved with other people's problems. When things don't work out as well as they had hoped, disappointment and disillusionment can follow. They are also vulnerable to idealizing relationships and ignoring facts that contradict with their perceptions of the people they admire.
In their enthusiastic rush towards the next challenge, ENFJs sometimes make hasty decisions without gathering all the facts. They also have a tendency to be impatient with people who are inefficient or uncooperative, such as Wolverine who has the opposite mental function of Cyclops (Cyclops is an NF while Wolverine is an ST). Cyclops believes in Professor X’s vision and wants to be a leader more than anything. He’s dating Jean Grey because they both see the vision of Professor X. If he weren't a mutant leader, Cyclops would probably be a public relations specialist, marketing executive, management consultant, or CEO of a non-profit organization.
Insightful, organized, and empathetic, INFJs want to understand other people’s motivations. They are extremely creative, which may not be apparent to most people as they introvert their creativity. They tend to have deep and complex personalities, which may explain why they're good at dealing with other complicated people. These idealists have a tendency towards perfectionism and can be sensitive to criticism. They can be hard to get to know outside of their small circle of good friends. INFJs have difficulty working in tension-filled environments, being direct, attending to details, and being spontaneous, but they have a clear vision about serving the common good. When they single-mindedly pursue a goal with confidence and conviction, they can be great leaders. Jean Grey has the same dominant function as Professor X (intuition), which is why she is committed to his vision and why she is a good romantic match for Cyclops.
If they weren't mutants, INFJs would probably be career counselors, teachers, interior designers, artists, or novelists. Beast, for example, is often reading classic literature, such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, or quoting Lord Tennyson to the bad guys he’s throwing around.
Effervescent, enthusiastic, and excited to work with the X-Men, Jubilee is the team's locker room personality with the we can do it! attitude. Her greatest strength is also her greatest weakness. She is a fountain of idealism, full of fireworks (literally and figuratively), yet those fireworks are not as powerful as she thinks they are. ENFPs have a broad range of interests and an ability to quickly learn things that interest them, but their overconfidence in their abilities can lead them into poor decision-making, like attacking a thirty-foot mutant-hunting robot with a couple of sparklers. However, they are good at adapting and improvising to a situation; those flares that were ineffective against the giant robot in a direct attack are quite effective when she uses them to push a water tower on top of a sentinel or blind an opponent. Jubilee has the same dominant function as Jean Grey and Professor X (Intuition), which is why they recruited her. Jubilee has good raw ideas, but like many ENFPs she lacks the discipline to follow through on the details. If Jubilee weren't one of the X-Men, she might be a musician, actor, communications consultant, or fine arts professor.
Deadpool is a master of metaphor and analogy. He's spontaneous, creative, confident, original, and full of life - all ENFP strengths. He's also disorganized and forgetful, especially when it comes to his ammunition (it's a good thing he can regenerate). Some will argue that Deadpool is a mercenary, making him more of a detached 'T', but he doesn't cash his checks and he helps the vulnerable. He has a hard time being serious, but underneath that wise-cracking façade is a soft sensitive side. He also over believes people, a gullibility that is an 'F' weakness.
Does anyone remember the Bruce Banner from the 80s T.V. show, the socially withdrawn and emotionally reserved drifter who said “leave me alone,” yet helped a stranger in every episode at great risk to exposing his terrible secret? Why was Banner looking at gamma rays to begin with? To help society, to create change, to heal others. Idealistic, empathetic, perceptive, and quick to see possibilities, INFPs want an external life that is consistent with their inner one. They have the ability to work well alone and focus on one issue or idea in depth. They are highly adaptable and accepting until one of their values is threatened. "Don’t make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I’m angry." Whereas INFJs hide their creativity, INFPs hide their sensitivity. Underneath their calm and cool façade is a great but restrained intensity of feeling. INFPs are not good at criticizing others, but they are great at self-reproach, which is physically manifested in various renditions of the Hulk cartoon where Hulk has an obvious hatred of Bruce Banner. If he weren't so busy trying to find a cure for his raging alter-ego, Bruce Banner would probably be channeling his feelings into poetry or prose or anything dynamic and expressive that doesn't include leveling Harlem.
While Sensors are oriented to the present and trust whatever can be measured through their five senses, Spiderman trusts his "sixth sense" or Spidey sense. In other words, he's a future-oriented Intuitive who trusts his inspirations and hunches over the things he can touch, hear, feel, smell, or taste. He's open-minded and curious, he's flexible in day-to-day matters, and his room is always a mess (a 'P' quality). Unfortunately, he has an inferiority complex intensifed by high self-demands and the choices he agonizes over, like choosing to ignore a thief who later kills his uncle in a cruel twist of fate. If he wasn't so busy trying to maintain two identities, Peter Parker might be a journalist, actor, psychologist, arts professor, or video game designer.
Ambitious, ingenious, and logical, the ENTJ is the individual most likely to move up the corporate ladder faster than any other type. They are life’s natural leaders - the CEO's of innovative corporations, creative problem solvers who examine issues objectively. They have high standards and a strong work ethic, but they have a tendency to step on peoples’ toes either through a lack of diplomacy or outright intimidation. The only time you'll see them overreact emotionally is when their competence is being questioned or when they allow their feelings to go ignored or unexpressed.
Magneto is an empathetic anti-hero, one possessed with the ennobling qualities of idealism and courage. To Magneto, mankind is the villain. Nazis killed his parents during the holocaust, and now mankind is executing genocide on his kind once again. In X-Men First Class, once Eric discover he's not alone, he quickly goes from apprentice to mutant leader after parting ways with Professor X over ideological differences. ENTJs want to be the kings of everything, which is why some of the most memorable super villains, such as The Joker, are also ENTJs.
Forceful, honest, and candid, Wonder Woman was born and raised among Amazon warriors and groomed to be their leader. She sees possibilities in all things and values truth, hence the lasso of truth. ENTJs are driven, analytical, and undaunted in mastering anything that intrigues them. They are also more likely to challenge the status quo than ESTJs, which is why Wonder Woman questions tradition and defies the will of her mother to compete for the honor of being her peoples' emissary.
Some might argue that Professor X is more of a feeler than a thinker, but why was he such good friends with Magneto? Why did they enjoy playing chess? Life’s strategists and master minds, INTJs possess a confidence and commitment to their vision, which often involves directing their creativity towards improved systems or models. Driven and self-directed, INTJs have a tendency to get too preoccupied with their ideas to deal with practical realities, diplomacy, or social niceties. As the most independent of types, they are not bothered by indifference or criticism and often desire to be alone. They're skeptical, decisive, and determined in the face of opposition.
Ozymandias is an insightful visionary. His Machiavellian strategy to save the world from nuclear war succeeds because of his incredible intelligence, drive, and focus to realize his vision. He plays people like the pieces of a chessboard, sacrificing his pawns (i.e. The Comedian and unwitting mercenaries and civilians) to win his objective. He psychologically manipulates the brilliant Dr. Manhattan, anticipates what he will do, and uses logic to persuade him.
Quick, ingenious, energetic, sociable, and outspoken, ENTPs are creative entrepreneurs and inventors who make things work better. They love creativity more than money, which is why Tony Stark was more focused on his suit than his company’s falling stock prices in the 2008 movie Iron Man. ENTPs work well under pressure and have a talent for making lemonade out of life’s lemons. Who else could design and develop an Iron Man suit in a cave out of a pile of scraps before his kidnappers, sure to kill him, caught on to what he was doing? ENTPs love excitement and challenge. Because of their humor, optimism, and infectious enthusiasm, they often have a large variety of friends and acquaintances. ENTPs are resourceful problem solvers who seldom do the same thing the same way, but like all types they have their weaknesses. For one, they are not good at following through on details, which is why Tony Stark needs Pepper Potts to order an espresso, take out the trash, or remember his social security number. ENTPs can be rash and impulsive. In the movie Iron Man 3, as brilliant as Tony Stark was, why did he go on national T.V. to tell his archenemy where he lived when he obviously wasn't prepared for the home decimation that followed?
Creative, logical, and independent, INTPs are society’s puzzle solvers. Confident in their ideas and vision, they are willing to take risks, try new things, and overcome obstacles. Their biggest foe is the ENTJ because they both use logic against each other, but how that logic plays out is quite different. Joker plans what he has to do; Batman reacts. INTPs are highly motivated by principle. For Batman, it’s about becoming more than just a man – it’s about becoming a symbol through which he brings justice and “turns fear against those that prey on the fearful.” INTPs often find fulfilling careers in software development, law, or academia. INTPs are all about justice and fairness. As part of his initiation into the League of Shadows, Bruce Wayne must execute a man, yet he refuses to do so unless the man is given a trial and found guilty. Those who say Batman is an INTJ overlook the fact that the dominant function of an INTJ is intuition, but Batman had to go to Fox whenever he needed help coming up with innovative ideas. INTPs also have a weakness socializing, showing emotion, and talking about feelings. Batman is a loner, but in a different way than the Hulk. Whereas the Hulk loses himself because he is not understood, Batman would lose himself in his mansion because things weren't fair.
Dr. Manhattan is a super genius, but he grows increasingly distant from the rest of humanity as he pursues concepts beyond everyone’s reach, frustrating his girlfriend who has a hard time relating to him or understanding his complex ideas. In typical INTP fashion, he's intensely intellectual, reserved, and detached - lost in his head analyzing problems. Only logic convinces him and he's constantly searching for possibilities beyond what is known or accepted. His overreliance on logic is what causes him to overlook the people he really cares about or appreciate what they care about.
Practical, realistic, and decisive, ESTJs are good at organizing people to get things done in the most efficient way possible. They possess a clear work ethic and a belief in traditional structure. If they’re not Captain America, they are managers in an accounting firm or at a military base where painting by the numbers is preferred. They are not particularly good at showing appreciation, and they can be impatient with people who think outside the box. In the 2012 Avengers movie, Captain America and Iron Man frequently trade barbs. Captain America regards Iron Man’s playful taunts at Bruce Banner as irresponsible and distracting from the main task. Iron Man comes back with hey, what about this and what about that and why do you think Fury brought us in now? Captain America has no response other than, “We have orders. We should follow them.” In other words, Iron Man says let’s look at the big picture while Captain America says let’s paint by the numbers.
Realistic, thorough, dependable, and determined, ISTJs are masters of information. They proceed based on logic and work towards a goal without distraction. They may work as accountants, stockbrokers, CIOs, or analysts for the CIA or FBI. ISTJs have a tendency to lose themselves in the details of a project or operation and can be quite inflexible in accepting another point of view. They're private by nature, and although they can appear calm during a crisis, they may have strong but rarely expressed reactions. Rorschach from The Watchmen is a throwback to the old school detective. He detests people, he’s judgmental based on his principles, he sniffs for details and clues, and he keeps a journal of his activities, always citing the date and time like Sergeant Friday. Yet, he is not particularly good at seeing the big picture. Rorschach would rather die clinging to his principles than accept the ends-justify-the-means greater good vision of Ozymandias.
Although Daredevil is blind, his other four senses have a superhuman sensitivity (almost on par with Superman), which act as a kind of sonar or radar sense. He listens well and has great powers of concentration. When he's not exacting vigilante justice on the streets of Hell's Kitchen, he's pursuing justice in the court room as Matt Murdock, a skilled defense attorney. His normal identity is no surprise, as ISTJ is the most prevalent personality type among lawyers.
Cooperative, nurturing, and helpful, ESFJs are life’s traditional helpers. They tend to be popular, talkative, and eager to please, but not to the point of suppressing their strong opinions. They are decisive and like to have things settled. If she weren't former queen consort of Wakanda and a mutant with the power to change the weather, Storm would probably be a nurse, event planner, or school administrator. ESFJs are leaders of things that are known. Storm sculpts weather like a principal sculpts a school - all helping, all very tangible. She fights back in sensing ways, and what is a more quintessential way to express sensation than through weather? People of this type have a tendency to become drained by taking on others’ emotional burdens, and they are not known for strategy. As an extrovert, she needs space. She goes to claustrophobia easily, as extroverts can’t hide in their head like Introverts can. ESFJs are highly sensitive to criticism or indifference and tend to avoid conflicts rather than confront them.
Responsible, hard-working, sympathetic, and tactful, ISFJs love helping people. When they make a promise, they keep it. In the 1978 movie Superman, Lex Luther’s assistant agrees to remove the Kryptonite from around Superman’s neck if, before saving the world, he first saves her mother in Hackensack, New Jersey. And what is the first thing he does when she removes the Kryptonite? He keeps his promise to a stranger before saving Lois Lane. There is something about the “S” (sensing) that makes people of this type have a binding aspect to them. But Kryptonite, in a way, is a metaphor for the ISFJ’s weakness. How come Superman becomes wrapped up in the most obvious debacles? Why is it so easy to wrap Kryptonite around his neck? ISFJs are not the most intuitive or strategic of the types. They also tend to take on too much and neglect their own needs. If he weren't saving people with his strength, speed, or laser vision, Clark Kent would probably make a good doctor, counselor, farmer, or athletic trainer.
ISFJs are down-to-earth, quiet, unassuming, and sometimes a little bit dorky (like Nite Owl). They are good at remembering details, exercising practical judgment, and performing tasks with accuracy and precision. At the same time, they have a personal warmth about them. They relate well to people in need and are very supportive of friends and colleagues.
Energetic and good-in-the-moment, these are the Action Jackson guys who make work fun and exciting. They are a natural fit in occupations such as firemen or policemen where they can be part of a team, take risks, and take action without being bothered with details or time management. ESTPs are not very future-oriented. If you want to bore an ESTP, talk to them about the future. They love sports, being in the moment, but theories and ideas bore the hell out of them. Occupations that require vision or imagination, like coming up with a superhero name more creative than "Thing", are typically not a good fit for ESTPs.
Ben Grimm (aka "Thing") is a man's man, a doer. He does what's needed. He was a star quarterback in college. After he graduated college, he joined the military where he always took the most dangerous assignments. When there's a terrorist attack, you want a guy like Thing there. Their instinct for action, while useful, can at times make them seem like a bull in a china shop. They don't always consider peoples' feelings and may come off as blunt and insensitive when expressing their honest opinions. At the same time, they can be friendly, charming, easygoing, and persuasive.
Focused in a crisis, these are the Action Jackson guys with an investigative side, like Wolverine who spends a considerable amount of time trying to figure out his past in X2. He relies heavily on his senses, always sniffing out danger. He's the only X-men who wasn't fooled by the shape shifter because of his incredible sense of smell. ISTPs are curious, observant, straightforward, pragmatic, and responsive to immediate challenges.
ISTPs are good at working with their hands and with tools, so when they are not at work, they may be tinkering on a car or motorcycle. Quiet and reserved, they may seem cool or aloof to people who don't know them well. They don’t like to talk much, and when they do talk their comments can be blunt and insensitive. Independent and restless, ISTPs can become easily bored. When it comes to their feelings, they are more likely to drink on it than deal with it. If Wolverine wasn't a mutant, he would likely be a race car driver, police officer, mechanic, or forester.
Fun, action-oriented, and impulsive in a good way, ESFPs are sensitive to people’s needs and desire to help them in practical ways. They are willing to take calculated risks and try new approaches, especially for people and organizations they care about. They're realistic observers who learn best from hands-on experience. As dominant sensors, both Gambit's and Rogue's super powers are about their use of touch. Rogue can take your powers through touch. Gambit can touch anything and turn it into a bomb.
ESFPs have great reactions to situations, but they have difficulty disciplining themselves or others. They're not the most strategic of the X-Men, but what they lack in innovation they make up for with flexibility, optimism, and excellent interpersonal skills. Spontaneous, playful, generous, warm, sociable, and entertaining, ESFPs are good at persuading others and facilitating conflict resolution. If they weren't mutants, Rogue and Gambit would probably be performers, promoters, salesmen, or the teachers that every kid hopes they get.
ISFPs are probably the most unpredictable of the introverted types. Why did Professor X have such a hard time locating Nightcrawler? Was it because he liked teleporting? Was that his way of indulging an ISFP impulse to to go off somewhere for a quiet moment? Modest, sensitive, generous, and kind, ISFPs are practical and realistic helpers who like to help people in tangible ways, as long as it doesn't involve disciplining or criticizing others. They are observant of the people and things around them and are inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt. ISFPs are more likely to express their passions through actions than words. They don't tend to look beyond the present or prepare in advance. If he wasn't hanging from church rafters, Nightcrawler might find career satisfaction as a designer, carpenter, dancer, painter, or chef. Nightcrawler’s stint in the circus is consistent with the ISFP’s artistic and aesthetic tendencies. He can be a loyal follower and team player, especially when the team takes time to get to know him and appreciate his personal values.
What is your MBTI?
There are people of all types in all kinds of careers, but the MBTI has helped many people find more fulfilling careers. Polls consistently show that roughly 50% of working adults would rather be doing something else, something that makes them tick. But what is that something else? Perhaps they haven’t figured it out. Perhaps this is you. But once we figure it out, we will be able to find a better career match – one that motivates us, energizes us, and fills us with a greater sense of purpose than a paycheck. And who knows, maybe even lets us save the world in our own small way.
If you’re interested in identifying your MBTI, the best way is to take an official test. But there are many free unofficial tests out there, such as http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp. Using these results in coordination with a good book, such as Do What You Are, will give you better accuracy and insight into your true MBTI.
Childs, E. (2016, 2013). Career Counseling Adjunct Professor/Assistant Director DePaul Career Center. (K. Weissgerber, Interviewer)
Myers-Brigg Type Indicator. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2013, from Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator
Myers, I. B. (1980). Gifts Differing. Mountain View: CPP, Inc.
Tieger, P. D. (2001). Do What You Are. Little, Brown, and Company.
I did not interview Stan Lee or anyone else in the comic book business. Aside from several MBTI books and an interview with an MBTI expert, the content of this article is based on the observation and intuition of two comic book fans and a guy with twenty years of experience using MBTI.