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Psychological type is the term given to the highly distinctive way of describing personality differences among people developed by Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). Psychological type is concerned with deep-seated differences among people and is not to be confused with character. Character is concerned with how people develop and grow (good or bad). Psychological type is concerned with how people are made.
According to Jung's theory, psychological type is as much a part of our basic makeup as being male or female, having brown eyes or blue eyes, being born with blond hair or black hair. The two questions of interest for religious and spiritual development concern whether some psychological types may be more inclined to religion and spirituality than others and whether different psychological types may be more attracted to different ways of being religious and spiritual.
Jung was attracted to the opposites and contrasts in people. For example, most people have two hands, and we might expect them to be able to use their two hands with equal skill. However, most people develop their preferred handedness early in life. They seem naturally to prefer one hand over the other, and as a positive consequence they develop the potential of that hand. The other inevitable and less positive consequence is that they neglect the full potential of the other hand. It is often only when accident and misadventure fall and we harm the preferred hand that we regret the adequate development of the less preferred hand. Most people are either right-handed or left-handed. Jung conceived of psychological qualities in similar ways. Jung's theory of psychological type distinguishes between four sets of bipolar psychological opposites. The first set of opposites is described as our preferred orientation, the choice between introversion (I) and extraversion (E). The second set of opposites is described as our preferred perceiving process the choice between sensing (S) and intuition (N). The third set of opposites is described as our preferred judging process, the choice between thinking (T) and feeling (F). The fourth set of opposites is described as our attitude toward the outer world, the choice between judging (J) and perceiving (P).
Jung's ideas about psychological type have become well-known through psychological tests that set out to measure these types. The two best-known tests are the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The use of these tests in church-related contexts has led to a body of theory and evidence regarding the relationship between psychological type and religious development, as summarized by Leslie J. Francis in Faith and Psychology: Personality, Religion, and the Individual (2004).
Orientation (the choice between introversion and extraversion) is related to our preferred source of psychological energy. The extravert is energized by the outer world, while the introvert is energized by the inner world. Extraverts enjoy communicating with others. They thrive in stimulating and exciting environments. They are usually open people, are easy to get to know, and enjoy having many friends. When extraverts are tired, they reenergize by being with others. Introverts enjoy solitude, silence, and contemplation, as they tend to focus their attention on what is happening in their inner life. They may prefer a small circle of intimate friends rather than many acquaintances. When introverts are tired, they reenergize by being alone. Extraverts learn best by working in groups, while introverts learn best by working alone. Such qualities of introversion and extraversion suggest very different paths of religious and spiritual development. Extraverts feel at home in the church that has a strong emphasis on group solidarity and social activities. In such an environment the introvert longs to escape and is quickly drained of energy. Introverts feel at home in the church that has a strong emphasis on individual spirituality and affirms individuals in their solitude. In such an environment the extravert longs to escape and is quickly drained of energy. For the extravert, spiritual refreshment is found in the house party and the summer camp. For the introvert, spiritual refreshment is found in the silent retreat and in individualized programs.
During the periods of childhood and adolescence many religious groups make the mistake of treating all young people as extraverts. In later life a higher proportion of introverts stay with their faith community. The perceiving process (the choice between sensing and intuition) has to do with our preferred way of perceiving the world and our preferred way of taking in information. Sensing types start with the raw data and gradually build up the bigger picture, while intuitive types start with the bigger picture and gradually make sense of the data. Sensing types focus on the realities of the situation as perceived by the senses. They are concerned with the actual, the real, and the practical. They tend to be down to earth and matter of fact. Intuitive types focus on the possibilities of a situation, perceiving meanings and relationships. They are interested in exploring new and untested ways of doing things. They tend to be up in the air and sometimes impractical. Sensing types like to stick to what they know. Intuitive types get quickly bored with what they have experienced before.