I have read a lot on how most psychologists reject the Myers Briggs Type Indicator for its lack of scientific backing, but I have yet to find much information on the acceptance of Carl Jung's theories, specifically his idea of cognitive functions. I'm nowhere near an expert in psychology, so I could be totally off base, but in my subjective experience, Jung's ideas of cognitive functions seem to have much more explanatory power than the MBTI E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P dichotomies, and framing the theory in those terms seems to cause much less inaccuracies in typing people differently over time -- one of the reasons I've heard most psychologists reject the MBTI.

Do Jung's theories have more backing than the MBTI, or are they essentially on the same scientific footing? I get that trait-based models like HEXANO may be better in actually predicting behaviour, but what interests me about Jung's idea of cognitive functions is that they better explain motivation and modes of thoughts, which I find very personally compelling. My only fear is that explaining motivations and modes of thought would be more difficult to scientifically pose as opposed to trait-based models of personality.

I would also be interested to know if Jung's theories do not have a solid scientific foundation, if there are similar "cognitive function" based theories that are more accepted in the psychological community.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it would help if you could summarise what you, or Jung, mean by "cognitive functions". You might also like to say why you think they have "more explanatory power". I'm one of those people that think MBTI is a waste of time, and while I don't know much about Jung the issue generally is that these theories are not tested (or perhaps even testable) scientifically. $\endgroup$
    – splint
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ I gave you an answer, but frankly I think it would help if you clarify what exactly you mean by "Carl Jung's theories, specifically his idea of cognitive functions". You seem to have something very specific in mind when you write "Jung's ideas of cognitive functions seem to have much more explanatory power than the MBTI E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P dichotomies, and framing the theory in those terms seems to cause much less inaccuracies in typing people differently over time -- one of the reasons I've heard most psychologists reject the MBTI." But I find that most of Jung's writings are quite unspecific. $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2018 at 4:23

3 Answers 3


It appears that there is little scientific backing for Jung's theories. As these theories were first suggested at the start of the 20th century they have had a considerable amount of time to receive scientific support. If they were accepted by scientists it therefore seems like they would have been widely used and cited by scholars in the interim period.

However, if I do a search (in titles, abstracts and keywords) for related content on SCOPUS I get only 12 references (the details of which I have pasted below for you to consider). The low level of search results (and the fact that few of these appear relevant) provides strong evidence that there is little scientific support for Jung's work.

In terms of alternative theories to consider, if I were you I would have a look at the "big five" also known as OCEAN as there is a lot more support for this personality theory. For examples of some influential and interesting articles, please see the OCEAN references section below.

References from the SCOPUS literature search:

Search term: TITLE-ABS-KEY ( jung "cognitive functions" )

Novak M. Ideal types of law from the perspective of psychological typology [Idealni tipi prava v lu?i psihološke tipologije] 2013 Revus

Lo J.-J., Chan Y.-C. Design of adaptive web interfaces with respect to student cognitive styles 2011 Advances in Intelligent and Soft Computing

Semetsky I. Jung and Tarot: A Theory-practice Nexus in Education and Counselling 2012 Jung and Educational Theory

Connolly A.M. Cognitive aesthetics of alchemical imagery 2013 Journal of Analytical Psychology

Naghavi H.R., Nyberg L. Integrative action in the fronto-parietal network: A cure for a scattered mind 2007 Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Sebastian A., Jung P., Krause-Utz A., Lieb K., Schmahl C., Tüscher O. Frontal dysfunctions of impulse control - A systematic review in borderline personality disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder 2014 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Segall J.M., Allen E.A., Jung R.E., Erhardt E.B., Arja S.K., Kiehl K., Calhoun V.D. Correspondence between structure and function in the human brain at rest 2012 Frontiers in Neuroinformatics

Vieira A.G., Sperb T.M. Symbolic play and the narrative organization of the child's life experience [O brincar simbólico e a organização narrativa da experiência de vida na criança] 2007 Psicologia: Reflexao e Critica

Park H.-J., Lee S.Y., Shim H.S., Kim J.S., Kim K.S., Shim I. Chronic treatment with squid phosphatidylserine activates glucose uptake and ameliorates TMT-induced cognitive deficit in rats via activation of cholinergic systems 2012 Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Seo Y., Burns K., Fennell C., Kim J.-H., Gunstad J., Glickman E., McDaniel J. The Influence of Exercise on Cognitive Performance in Normobaric Hypoxia 2015 High Altitude Medicine and Biology

Kwon H.G., Choi B.Y., Kim S.H., Chang C.H., Jung Y.J., Lee H.D., Jang S.H. Injury of the cingulum in patients with putaminal hemorrhage: A diffusion tensor tractography study 2014 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Lee J.H., Kim S.E., Park C.-H., Yoo J.H., Lee H.W. Gray and White Matter Volumes and Cognitive Dysfunction in Drug-Naïve Newly Diagnosed Pediatric Epilepsy 2015 BioMed Research International

OCEAN sample references

Roberts, Brent W., Kate E. Walton, and Wolfgang Viechtbauer. "Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies." Psychological bulletin 132.1 (2006): 1.

Hayes, Natalie, and Stephen Joseph. "Big 5 correlates of three measures of subjective well-being." Personality and Individual differences 34.4 (2003): 723-727.

Kotov, Roman, et al. "Linking “big” personality traits to anxiety, depressive, and substance use disorders: a meta-analysis." Psychological bulletin 136.5 (2010): 768.


This is a more speculative than I usually post here, but here it goes:

  • Based on his works, I'd describe Jung more as a philosopher of mind than an actual psychologist in the modern meaning of the word (although perhaps that observation applies more widely to some of Jung's contemporary colleagues) in that he very seldom formulated simple and directly testable hypotheses. Nor was Jung much [if ever] concerned with systematic empirical validation of his ideas. But also note that there's substantial disagreement whether Jung can be considered a philosopher.
  • In, particular, it doesn't look like Jung formulated his ideas about thinking in the nowadays terms of cognitive functions. If we consider the amorphous way in which Wikipedia structures "Jungian cognitive functions" as a reflection of Jung's work (as opposed to the lack of editorial skill of some wikipedians), that page clearly mixes personality factors (types) with distinctions between cognitive processes that aren't the same kind of "types" in more recent research.
  • Jung was also much less read than Freud, particularly in the US. So when Freud said something remotely relevant to a research topic, people usually don't fail to notice... but that doesn't seem to be the case with Jung.
  • If one is inclined to "read the future" into some of Jung's essayistic pieces, then in only a few minutes, I did find a couple of his sayings as potentially anticipating interesting developments in cognitive psychology, in particular from the behavioral economists' camp (Kahneman etc.) In particular:

    • Wikipedia quotes Jung as saying "The faculty of directed thinking, I term 'intellect'. The faculty of passive, or undirected, thinking, I term 'intellectual intuition'." Did that anticipate dual process theory?

    • Wikiquote quotes Jung as saying "...the relatively unconscious man driven by his natural impulses because, imprisoned in his familiar world, he clings to the commonplace, the obvious, the probable, the collectively valid, using for his motto: 'Thinking is difficult. Therefore, let the herd pronounce judgement.'" He is clearly talking about herd mentality here, another topic that became the locus of interest of behavioral economists.

    • [same source]: "We should not pretend to understand the world only by the intellect; we apprehend it just as much by feeling. Therefore, the judgment of the intellect is, at best, only the half of truth, and must, if it be honest, also come to an understanding of its inadequacy." Of course many works on various kinds of emotional biases (affecting cognition) have been written since then.


As a scholar of Jung and his writings and work (and yes, he was a psychologist and worked with the mentally ill, as well as treating private patients throughout his career) I would point out first of all that his theory of "psychological types", which he developed in a book by that name, was a vocabulary for the psychodynamics that he observed in his work and patients, it was not the result of laboratory experiments. He offered the book as a starting point for further research, and it is useful as a lexicon to describe phenomena. It was not meant to be a system for labeling people, but for describing them. The problem with subjecting theories of consciousness to scientific study is that consciousness itself cannot be studied by empirical methods. As Jung pointed out, psyche is the only phenomenon that can be experienced in an unmediated state, i. e. psyche (which encompasses consciousness and the unconscious) can only be observed using psyche. But this is also true of everything else we observe, all of which is mediated by the psyche. When we are using out minds to describe how our minds work, we typically lack any physical evidence of the phenomenon (neurology of course can provide certain kinds of hard data on brain activity, but the contents of that activity can as yet only be crudely categorized.) More importantly, consciousness operates inside of complex systems of culture, personal experience, imagination and history, as well as the illnesses and conditions of the body, the totality of which would be impossible to fully control or evaluate. In the study of consciousness as such, so-called scientific evidence remains largely a matter of anecdotal accounts and interpretation, and has remained an ‘as if’ proposition. Although the development of AI may radically change out understanding of how the mind works, the complexity of the human mind is by definition beyond our comprehension. That said, the lack of citation of Jung in the literature is not due to a lack of influence or of scientific support for his theories or practices (psychoanalysis in general has been shown to be equally effective to behaviorist approaches, and perhaps with better long term outcomes), but to the politics of the psychoanalytical field in the early days. Jung's rift with Freud, who once considered Jung his successor, caused the majority of members of the psychoanalytical community to publicly disown him. Even as his ideas remained influential, he was rarely cited in early literature. The stigma that attached to him related to his interest in the psychology of religion, the misunderstanding of which caused him to be labeled a mystic. In fact, he was simply trying to point out that not all our motives, ideas and problems can be boiled down to sexuality, and more specifically the oedipus complex, as Freud insisted. Nonetheless the break with Freud was decisive, and the stigma perpetuated 100 years ago persists today. Yet Jung's ideas themselves remained influential and have entered the popular culture in the form of MBTI (which was based largely on his work) and its successors, archetypes, art therapy, dream interpretation, social psychology and more. There's no question that the notions Jung pursued have outlasted him, but again, due to the stigma, formal attributions to him, as the originator of many of the our widely-held ideas about consciousness, were largely neglected, or were reframed in ways that concealed his influence.


Bair, D. (2003) Jung: A biography. Little, Brown

Beebe, J. (2017) Energies and patterns in psychological type: The reservoir of consciousness. Routledge

de Maat et al, 2009 The effectiveness of long-term psychoanalytic therapy: a systematic review of empirical studies. Harvard Review of Psychiatry doi: 10.1080/10673220902742476

Shumate, C. (2021) Projection and personality development via the eight-function model. Routledge


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