DL Fowler's Blog

How Would Lincoln Have Scored on Myers-Briggs?

For you Myers-Briggs fans, I’m trying to pigeonhole Abraham Lincoln’s personality type ala Carl Jung’s perspective. If you’re not up to speed on Jung’s personality types and the Myers Briggs Type Indicators, click here. By the way, the best book I’ve read on Lincoln was Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. I would have enjoyed his insight into this subject, but its’ something he didn’t address directly.

 In my research, I’ve seen three takes on the question. ENFJ, INTJ and INFJ.  Okay, so the N and J are solid. There’s agreement that Lincoln gave greater weight to ideas that to things he could touch and feel – that’s the N part. And he was decisive – that’s where the J comes in. The controversy is over whether he was an introvert or extrovert and if his decisions were driven by logic or relationships.

 And this is where it gets messy.

 If Lincoln was introverted, he would have tended to mask his weakest strong trait. So he would have shown his thinking skills to hide his sensitivity to relationship issues, or he would have focused attention on relationship issues so he didn’t have to expose his logic to criticism. If he was extroverted, that kind of masking wouldn’t have fit.

 Since Lincoln was renowned for his debating skills, his almost faultless logic, ENFJ seems to drop to the back of the pack in this three-horse race. And by default, INFJ would move into the lead.

A couple of observations add weight to the introversion argument. First, he withdrew inside himself frequently. So much so at times that he could block out all sensory stimuli. His associates couldn’t even shake him out of his trance-like states. He also brooded often, sometimes spiraling into near-suicidal episodes of depression.

And the masking of F with T may have been one of his most practiced skills. So much so that he never shrank from a debate, even surrounding himself with critics. He appointed one such detractor to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. When his appointee argued that the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional Lincoln argued that he had power as Commander-in-Chief to appropriate enemy property to advance the war effort. But if slaves weren’t property, no emancipation was necessary. The slaves were already free.

When his adversaries pointed to the Tenth Amendment to justify deferring to the various states to settle the slavery issue for themselves, Lincoln countered that the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, was the higher law. Therefore, no part of the Constitution could be used to give authority to the institution of slavery.

 Notice that in each case the primary motivator for Lincoln’s decision based on human relationships – specifically the humane treatment of enslaved people. The logic was used means to an end, not the end in itself.

 Lincoln’s struggle with relationships was the common thread running through his entire life. From his mother’s death to surviving a brutal winter with his sister during his father’s absence – from the loss of his first love to his heartbreaking marriage – from being estranged from his father to losing two of his sons – and the loss of several family members in the war that he was often accused of starting – his live was defined by broken unions that he was impotent to save.

 So what kind of person was Abraham Lincoln? An extrovert? An introvert? A man who made decisions based on how they impacted people’s lives and relationships. Or someone who towed the line of facts and logic, regardless of where they led?

 What do you think?

Advertisements

18 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Jan Todd said, on November 23, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    I believe he was an ENTP, who when passionate, can make decisions about the larger picture. He surrounded himself with the detail folks and he was flexible with drive. Consider that option. It is, by the way, the Lawyer type. He didn’t make lists,he absorbed a people’s greater good. He knew how to argue, and ENTP’s are the best at this. He also k we how to persuade others onto his court…another trait of the ENTP.

    Like

    • DLFowler said, on November 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM

      Jan – Thanks for your comment. I agree on the N and P. On the E, the real question is about the direction of energy flow. I’s tend to manage energy flow by keeping people at a distance. For instance, many I’s are more comfortable in front of a crowd than one-on-one since that gives them more control over the flow of energy. Some great comedians are examples of that, such as Red Skelton and Jack Benny. Lincoln was often shy in one-on-one situations, but gregarious performing in front of groups – telling jokes or stories, giving speeches. That gave him control over the interaction. As to the T vs. F issue, he seemed to have an almost equal ability to show both. That’s either because he was natural at one and practiced at the other, or he was natural at both. One argument of for the case is that he showed great tendencies toward F in his youth, while the T came later (some researchers think the T kicked in after he suffered a near fatal head trauma at about 10 years old, others his math skills (related to reasoning) came through hard work at his studies. Reading was more natural than math. I’ve spent years digging into his personality and can see strong indications that his decision making was motivated by social concerns which he then justified with logical arguments partly because he grew up with deep seated embarrassment over his parents illiteracy, and what his saw as his father’s irrational decisions (one of which led to his mother’s early death), also because he observed that logical, reasoned arguments were often greeted with more respect than emotional ones. For instance, his early interest in the law can be traced to two instances in his youth. The first was when his father asked him to read a contract a neighbor asked the elder Lincoln to sign (his father had a history of getting the short end of land deals.) The other was at age 16 when he was sued for operating a ferry without a license. Lincoln won the case on a legal technicality. Lincoln was embarrassed over his ignorance of the law, though he was impressed that the judge offered up a point of law that saved his bacon.

      Unfortunately we’ll never know how Lincoln would have scored on Myers Briggs and it seems that well founded opinions are all over the map.

      Like

      • Eagle said, on August 14, 2014 at 3:16 PM

        Is INTP possible?

        I agree that I don’t think storytelling is an S trait- they usually focus on absorbing information more than projecting it. INTPs may not feel in terms of ‘Am I hurting and causing you pain?’ but they have an extremely strong sense of ‘is this justice?’ – which is a trait Lincoln seemed to have. J and P is a toss – but he seemed to absorb a lot of information rather at once and consume it for days rather than breaking it into manageable chunks and focusing on each one at a time – which is a P trait in my opinion.

        In terms of functional stack – INTPs also have an Fe in their top 4 functions – caring for other people’s feelings, although thinking overpowers that. Their stack is also very similar to the ENTP- except with several functions interchanged.

        Like

      • DLFowler said, on August 14, 2014 at 3:57 PM

        Excellent points. Thanks.

        Like

  2. Jonathan said, on November 24, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    After seeing the movie, I actually think he was an ISTP!
    I: He said “At times like these I am better left alone.” That is not an E.
    S: He told TONS of stories! He spoke in stories, thought in stories, remembered all the details….that is not an N.
    T: He was very logical and not sensitive, didnt cater to other people’s opposition against him, no matter who it was. F’s do not do that
    P: Throughout the movie everyone talked about how he always procrastinated and postponed decisions. He took back many decisions he made. P’s are at peace more before a decision, and think about it for hours/days. He thought about things for hours and days, often up at nighttime. J’s DO NOT IN THE LEAST do that.

    Like

    • DLFowler said, on November 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM

      Jonathan – Thanks for your reply. I don’t get the S at all or how his stories support it. I’ve always seen storytellers as highly N – Jesus’ parables were very N. He challenged listeners to get the big picture rather than see their lives only in the context of things that can be experienced with their senses. Likewise, when Lincoln told stories it was to illustrate a point, focusing on the conceptual rather than sensory information. As to the T, I agree that he was very logical in arguing his positions, but that seems to be the tool he chose to use to sell his ideas. It was almost always the case that he based his decisions on how they impacted people. One great example is the Emancipation Proclamation. He expressed deep concerns for how border states would react. Lincoln suffered a great deal of loss when it came to relationships – alienation from his father beginning when he was a boy, mother’s death, sister’s death, Ann Rutledge death, Joshua Speed moving back to Kentucky, marriage difficulties, loss of two sons. Loosing the Union was about preserving relationships. He was equally worried that abolitionists on the other side would feel that it did not go far enough. Then there was his very personal war against Chief Justice Taney and a concern that the Court would strike it down based on Taney’s opinion on Dred Scott. On the matter of slavery in general, his internal had more to do with the injustice of people not being compensated for their labor. As a boy and young man he had to turn over all his wages to his father, who was in Lincoln’s view as slothful as plantation owners.

      I agree with you completely on the I and P, however.

      Like

      • learningleverage said, on July 3, 2017 at 2:11 PM

        Hello everyone! Good discussion. I believe the S / storytelling vs N / storytelling argument has more to do with the types of stories. N’s might use parables and analogies to link to the present, but S’ might use personal life experiences. You mention Jesus’ parables and to frame the above, compare it to me describing my morning drive this morning. Both will provide insight to the discussion, but to different ends.

        Like

  3. Kyle said, on June 9, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Abraham Lincoln I believe to be a lot like me. My personality type is an INxP. I use both logic and intense feelings to base all my decisions. Never one or the other. I don’t remember which was natural when I was a child and which I practiced to improve upon but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I use BOTH T and F for every decision. This makes decisions take longer and takes much more thought than basing a decision primarily on one axis. This makes him a P. The N is obvious. The E and I may be close but I personally think it’s an I because of the fact he bases decisions on both T and F. In my mind, only somebody with a complex and prolonged self-reflection would be able to do this.

    Like

    • DLFowler said, on June 9, 2013 at 1:15 PM

      Thanks Kyle – you make an excellent point. Too often we overlook the fact that we score along a continuum, so a balance often exists between any two attributes.

      Like

  4. […] in the States) evolved from a “culture of character,” led by quiet, reflective people (think Abe Lincoln), to a “culture of personality,” led by out-going, confident salesmen and self-promoters (think […]

    Like

  5. Gomed said, on November 7, 2014 at 12:49 AM

    From what little I have just read/watched about Lincoln, it seems that he is an INFJ. I say that because I have an INFJ friend, and I can see her in him. By that I mean.. as long as I have known her (about 12 years), I still feel like there is so much I don’t know about her. Even when she is open to me. And I feel that she’ll always be a bit of mystery to me. So a few things traits that I’ve observed from over the years, is a sense of unwavering idealism, lots of solitude, can be very quirky/fun/entertaining, and from the outside, she seems to be depressed. I have no idea if that’s actually true, though. I may be projecting. And my knowledge of Lincoln from just a few minutes of reading doesn’t really justify what I’m trying to essentially prove.

    Anyway, this may all sound very subjective. I come from an ENFP perspective, and I tend to feel things out, so if all this sounds vague, forgive me. Anyway, I really appreciate this article, I’ll be checking out your others. And hopefully contribute more of my opinions when I get the time to study Lincoln more in depth.

    Btw, I just recently found this interesting book: Eros and the Shattering Gaze Transcending Narcissism by Kenneth A. Kimmel. An “updated” take on MBTI– or maybe updated isn’t the right word.. I just started reading it, and so far it’s interesting. Basically it’s about Narcissism and how we’re pretty much born with it, and how Human Beings have always had to deal with this. From Greek mythologies to Shakespeare– modern stories.. So if you’re interested in that?

    Also I noticed I’m kind of late, seeing that this was published 3 years ago..

    Like

  6. analyticalperspective said, on May 22, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    Introvert. INTP/J. Some people are balanced. For example, my F/T and J/P preferences are on the line.

    Like

  7. Shay said, on September 24, 2015 at 4:55 PM

    That was my favorite Lincoln book too!!! And I’ve read a lot a lot a lot! Best by far

    Like

  8. hudsonwilson said, on October 20, 2015 at 8:57 PM

    Lincoln could have been an ENTP, INTP, ENFJ or INFJ. But, for Lincoln, I suspect he was more than likely an INTP or INFJ.

    As an INFJ, I also believe Lincoln could have been one. INFJs are a rare bunch. This rarity may be because they are truly one of the most misunderstood personality types due to their truly diverse nature and there being so few people who test as INFJ. All personality types have a spectrum, especially when the MBT indicator as a 200 point range. There are times, an INFJ may take on one or more other “N” (Intuitive) personalities, depending on what they are engaged in.

    When “balanced” as “analyticalperspective” said…in my experience, I tend to borderline “introvert/extravert” (but lean Introvert), borderline “thinking/feeling” (preferential and situational) and borderline “judgment/perception” (again preferential and situational). Over the years I’ve taken the formal Myers Briggs Test 3 times (in 3 separate professional settings) and a variety of Myers Briggs alternative tests. I test as INFJ/ENFJ consistently. However, there are times that I also test as INFP/ENFP, INTJ/ENTJ, or INTP/ENTP depending on what I’m doing at the time or what events are happening in my life.

    Recently, due to a very traumatic experience, I tested as INFP/ENFP (over a series of test), before reverting back to INFJ/ENFJ. I suspect this happened because my desire for justice was higher and my independence had been compromised. For me, the unjust lost of freedom is something worse than death. Oddly enough, I tend not to have a preference for Introvert or Extrovert. It is generally situational. Outside of INFJ and ENFJ, I consider testing as the other personality types “tendencies” since the results are not consistent or enduring. Where as I a do espouse most of the attributes of the INFJ and ENFJ (the one exception being the “introvert/extrovert” aspects…with me basically being an Extroverted Introvert. As an Extroverted Introvert which for me means that I am confidently charismatic and socially expressive when with others. While I don’t shy away from people, I prefer solitude to regroup, think, create, analyze or reflect on things before bringing them to fruition. I love being alone with my thoughts and feelings. While I prefer to work alone, I am quite confident in public. I am a writer and a speaker. I am an idealist. My thoughts are often philosophical and involve humanity foremost. I’m a doer and fixer. Other times, I become analytical and obsessed with reworking abstract theories or manipulating facts, improving things or creating something anew . I also go into creative mode and produce artwork or write lyrics to a song. I write dialogue in my sleep. I have vivid dreams, intuitive insights and colourful visions during my waking hours (which I may transform into art or writing), as sharing these things with others tends to result in a raised brow of unwarranted judgment.

    Thinking of what Gomed said about his INFJ friend…that “depressed” nature for me is moreso inner sadness or wishful thinking about seeing a fix to specific social ill, but knowing that the nature of humanity will not simply forgo selfish motives for the betterment of the whole. It also happens when I see others needlessly suffering at the hands of those in positions of power. It also could be a reflective thought or a momentary passing about something simply not being “right” or feeling “unbalanced”. And of course, it used to be about not having someone to truly relate to on all levels (until I met my husband – who is an INTJ who sometimes tests as an INFJ). He is really quite fun to be with and doubly fun to analyze. He not only gets me, appreciates me for all of who I am but he also shares in my perceptions during analysis. I do prefer to be alone with myself or with my husband.

    Other INFJs will be different, especially if they are not borderline introvert/extrovert. But, I suspect that Lincoln may have been an INFJ, with INTP tendencies, or vice versa. Either way… a uniquely, complex personality.

    Like

  9. hunterlh said, on March 8, 2017 at 10:54 PM

    I propose Lincoln to be INTP and his assassin John Wilkes Booth to be ESFJ, making them complete opposites in personality type, which is somehow fitting. First let’s start with the less known man (but still very famous at the time of the assassination) – Booth. Certainly, J.W. Booth was a feeler, rather than a thinker. He was considered very effective at emoting authentically on stage as an actor, in a time when the acting style was more stilted and studied. He was described by friends as getting swept up in love affairs too easily and could be easily triggered in arguments. Unlike Lincoln, Booth was not much of a reader and expressed difficulty in writing letters. This guy was a feeler, not a thinker. It is well documented that Booth’s pro-Southern sympathies (which were not shared by many in his own family from Maryland, a border state) were formed in childhood and rarely changed throughout his life (unlike Lincoln, who read so much and evolved on so many issues in his time). I think that makes him J although admittedly that’s the weakest case in his personality. Even more certain with Booth is the S. Booth was stylish, considered one of the most handsome actors in America at that time. He paid attention to the details of how he dressed, almost to the point of obsession. That’s an S – focused on the sensate. Booth also seems to be a classic E, very attuned to the people around him that provide him with sustenance and energy. He didn’t enroll in the Confederate army due to a promise he made to his mother (Lincoln was self-possessed and did not let his father’s approval or lack thereof to contribute to any decision, in contrast). Booth was extremely charming, and so was Lincoln (introverts can be charming, too). But whereas Lincoln used his awkwardness to endear himself to others and indeed Lincoln’s charm may have been a defense against the awkwardness he felt socially, Booth was popular in a frat boy sort of way, according to interviews with actors and stagehands who worked with him in his life leading up to the assassination. He was the classic “adored by ladies, admired by men.” That’s just so hard for an introvert to pull off. So, to me, Booth sounds like ESFJ. The only other option I see for JWB is ENFP.

    A previous commentator has effectively made the case for Lincoln as INTP. I will only add that Lincoln’s love for poetry may at first sound more like an F than a T. However, I believe Lincoln’s heavy burdens in life caused him to turn to poetry the way other men turned to religion (he showed a lot of dissatisfaction and dismissed many religious doctrines early in his career before politics forced him to be more magnanimous). So I believe Lincoln went to poetry as a logician in a way, to try to give himself a template to understand the terrible human suffering around him. So although Lincoln felt deeply due to circumstances, I believe even his love of poetry was his T side trying to decode what kind of meaning that suffering had in a sort of logical way. I can’t see Lincoln as INTJ, that’s just an intuition. I’ve known a lot of them and they don’t match up with how Lincoln is described. I think the only other options for Lincoln could be INFJ and (maybe it’s self-centered projection), but I think you could actually make a case for him as INFP – Lincoln was idealistic, like an INFP. INFP’s are good storytellers, as was Lincoln. And INFP’s are guided by inner principles, something that also applies to Lincoln. But I think the most likely case for him is INTP.

    Maybe I’m totally off but would be curious to know if anyone else thinks JW Booth and Lincoln might have been total opposites in terms of personality.

    Full disclosure – I am INFP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DLFowler said, on March 9, 2017 at 9:01 AM

      I agree with you on most points. The choice between T and F for Lincoln is a close call. If he turned to poetry to rationalize the world around him, that started very early. His love for poetry can be traced back to his pre-teen years, as can his empathy for abused animals and mistreated people.

      Like

  10. hunterlh said, on March 8, 2017 at 10:56 PM

    I meant other option for JWB is ESFP not ENFP. I def think Booth was an S.

    Like

  11. austinpw321@gmail.com said, on March 18, 2017 at 5:47 PM

    I’m an ENTP, and I like the idea that he was an INFJ. Very interesting if that is the case. Every association I have of Abraham Lincoln is reserved and pensive. Depictions of his facial expressions never communicate to me extraversion. That being said, if he was a debater as was suggested in an earlier post, I’d be interested in hearing more about it. I sincerely don’t picture INFJs as the greatest debaters.

    As for writing, he seemed to be a great writer which obviously any type could develop– but he wrote with great meaning and depth would also suggest the possibility of an INFx. I was reading that he was very reflective and had a hard life, a very serious and weighty life (perhaps brought on by the way he functions)– which so often seems to be the case for INFJs. Some of the greatest and also most evil leaders have seemed to be INFJ (all of which are up for anyone’s argument): Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Adolf Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden. And, of course, Batman 🙂 (again, some would argue otherwise).

    Obviously there are many great leaders who come from all the different types, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Abraham Lincoln fits in with the rest of these INFJ type leaders.

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: