Why Bill Clinton is ESFP (and not ENFP)

We recently received an email suggesting that Bill Clinton is ENFP, rather than ESFP. Our correspondent submitted the following  arguments to us:

  1. The ESFP was called “the Performer” by Myers, and ESFPs often play the clown.
  2. Clinton has a stellar academic record and is very intelligent.
  3. Clinton cares about the world, and such global consideration is the hallmark of NFs, not SPs.

We will now go through these arguments. First, let’s take these two together:

1. ESFP was called “the Performer” by Myers, and ESFPs often play the clown.
2. Clinton has a stellar academic record and is very intelligent.

First, nitpick: The ESFP was never called “the Performer” by Myers. ESFPs are called performers in Keirsey’s system, which offers a simplified take on Jungian typology (namely by looking at concrete behavior and functional roles). But Myers and Jung never intended their typology to be used in such a simplified, behavioristic manner. Instead they looked at the person’s inner mental workings – their cognitive functions. As Ira Progroff wrote about Jung’s approach to typology:

“The specific value of Jung’s [type] concepts is that they do not operate on the surface. When … Jung …  describes a … type, he is not calling him a name. He is describing the nature of the libido movement in the individual and the psychological function to which this movement is attached.” – Ira Progroff: Jung’s Psychology and Its Social Meaning, Routledge 2013 ed., p. 113

So with regards to Jungian typology, the question isn’t if Bill Clinton behaves in a certain way. The question is whether he has a cognitive preference for Ne or Se. Ne and Se can resemble each other insofar as they are both adaptive, novelty-seeking and on the lookout for possibilities in the external situation. However, one difference is that Ne has a transcendental and introspective quality to it, where Se is more impulsive-instinctive and focused on real-world results.

Clinton’s intelligence, memory, and ability to master complex issues quickly is well-known. Now, if we were using S/N as a covert measure of intelligence, then we would certainly say that Clinton must then be an N type. But as we have noted, the correlations between intelligence and S/N that researchers tend to find are incidental to S/N and do not pertain directly to the dichotomy. To give an analogy, in most modern depictions of Santa Claus he tends to wear a red outfit. But it would obviously be an error to say that if somebody wears a red outfit, he must then be Santa Claus. This is exactly what people are doing when they say that because someone is intelligent, then he or she must be an N type: They are pointing at people in red, assuming them all to be Santa Claus.

Using a person’s measure comfort with introspection as a parameter for S/N is at least not an incidental parameter, but rather one that pertains directly to the nature of the dichotomy. As we said, Clinton’s raw intelligence is legendary, but few people ever accused him of being prone to deep introspection.

“[He is] a man of quick and penetrating insight who seemed to lose perspective when observing himself.” – Rubenzer & Faschingbauer: Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House, Brassey’s Inc., 2004 ed., p. 292

“Introspection … to see what you are doing and how it really affects people. … There is no strong evidence that this process has taken place for Clinton.” – Stanley Allen Renshon: High Hopes, Routledge 1998 ed., p. 68

Again, this is not to say that more introspection is necessarily better or that “Ns are Ss with an extra layer.” Barack Obama, by wide agreement, has a very high level of introspection, but has often been faulted for being indecisive and “stuck in his own head” for this reason. However, if we agree that Clinton is very intelligent and we also agree that he does not exhibit a preference for introspection, this only makes the case for Clinton’s preference for Sensation stronger: Intelligence and introspection are two traits that tend to occur together (as one is a prerequisite of the other). Thus when you get a case where the prerequisite is clearly there, but the propensity is not, this only strengthens the case that there is a preference for Sensation involved.

Back to the “Performing Clown” Argument

As we have already quoted Ira Progroff to say, “When Jung describes a type, he is not calling him a name.” There is a reason for that. When you try to make Jungian typology more accessible by calling the ENTJ “the Executive” or calling the ESFP “the Performer,” you cross the line between type and stereotype. You are effectively taking a typology which is devised to say something about the deepest structures of the psyche and pinning it on something superficial and exterior instead (behavior).

Consider the argument that one may take away from using this methodology: “He performs because he is a performer, and he is a performer because he performs.” Is this not a circular argument? Would it not be more interesting to employ the psycho-dynamic view that Jung and Myers did: “Why does he perform?” Under a psycho-dynamic approach to typology, any type could potentially be a “performer” in terms of outward behavior, but the ways that perceptions and judgments were structured in the psyche will be different for each type, according to his or her functions. This is the difference between a mental process (i.e. a function) and a specific idea, motivation, or behavior (i.e. a piece of psychic content).

3. Clinton cares about the world and that is NF, not SP

This is again a reliance on Keirsey rather than Jung-Myers (and ironically, even Keirsey doesn’t think that Clinton is ENFP).

While Keirsey’s four-temperament scheme certainly has some merits, it should chiefly be used to categorize large chunks of people loosely from afar. The person who is really interested in the individual’s psychology should not use Keirsey’s four-temperament theory as anything other than a very broad-brush approach, and perhaps to make the Jungian typology more easily understandable to newcomers. Ironically, we are not even sure that Keirsey Sr. used his own system to type people. By his own premises, as outlined in Please Understand Me II, it is hard to see how Keirsey could arrive at an assessment like Woody Allen as an ISTP.

The problem with temperament theory is that “talking the talk” all too easily equals “walking the walk”. If someone “cares about the world” he is automatically an NF, and if someone is rational, that automatically makes him NT. Any type can be interested in logic and in saving the world. It is the underlying structure and motivation that Jungian typology tries to gauge.

Keirsey’s four temperaments are fleshed out in a way that makes anyone reading them want to be an N (‘Mastermind’ vs. ‘Supervisor,’ anyone?). Likewise, the person who gets acquainted with Jungian typology through Keirsey will in earnest assume that anyone who is intelligent or intellectually gifted must be an N type. But if you approach it more psycho-dynamically, stressing perhaps that, to an SFP, reaching across and genuinely connecting with the other person is far more important than the interpersonal communicative situation, the specific words and quirks conveyed, more SFPs would actually identify as SFPs, rather than as NFPs. And you could probably say the same for other types.

Acknowledgement

Though we cannot subscribe to Keirsey’s simplified take on Jungian typology, we must nevertheless acknowledge that Keirsey Sr. assessed Clinton to be ESFP before we did. To our knowledge, Keirsey Sr. was the first writer in the literature on Jungian type to voice this view and so the credit for being the first to make this assessment belongs squarely to him.

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17 Comments

  1. Nneka says:

    Great post as usual! I have been questioning whether or not he is an ENFP myself, as he seems so verbally fluid.

    Moving on, have you guys ever thought of starting a new site or having a section on this site where you guys deliberate on the personality types of fictional characters? It will be really fun and interesting, and it’d probably lessen the uncertainty present online. *hopeful face*

  2. admin says:

    It’s an interesting idea, but most fictional characters are written in such a way that they are more than one type at once, unfortunately.

  3. Nneka says:

    That would make sense. And it does explain the various aspects of fictional characters.
    Thanks for replying.

  4. Scratch says:

    Have you considered doing more indepth articles on specific types or cognitive functions, perhaps with guidance on how to find your own types?

  5. JojO says:

    Sorry… but if you actually heard any of his speeches, including the recent ones at Georgetown, you would know right away Clinton is incredibly introspective. He is either ENFP or ENTP

  6. JBoyle says:

    Great article and I completely agree. Examining the past 50+ years, it seems that the US presidents who are held in highest regard (going by popular opinion) are all ESFPs: Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton. Quite interesting.

  7. Rose says:

    On fictional characters: Maybe this is just my view, but as an aspiring writer myself and a person who has read a lot about how authors create characters, they seem to have a certain “life” to them and would presumably, the more lifelike they are, exhibit the characteristics of real humans in the way their psyches are structured. (Well, more or less, I take fiction pretty seriously!) I’ve been thinking about typing characters in the context of the psycho-dynamic non-behaviorist approach promoted on this website. The articles about typing mistakes and how no one is obviously a type should be true for well-written fictional characters; just like people, they should be difficult to type, but not impossible with serious reflection on their cognitive functions. Anyway, typing fictional characters is a popular pastime online already and much (most?) of what is out there is pretty crudely behaviorist. Slapping type labels based on whatever stereotypical ideas of the types you have in mind, colored highly of course by what you think of the character. It often takes the form of “Which character from (fill in the blank with name of franchise) are you?” as if to imply that you will necessarily identify with or like a character of the same type, and also ridiculously presuming that there must be at least one (“good”) character of each type in a particular story, and not more than one. Anyway, you’re probably too busy running this website to really get involved with what I mention; I really appreciate the webste and good day to you.

  8. hannah_s says:

    I haven’t done much research on Clinton yet, so I have no opinion of his type. However, I do have a few problems with this article…

    The article is meant to be arguing against ENFP and for ESFP, but I see very little of this. It’s more about correcting the rookie mistakes of the poster than anything else. I agree with your response to the simplistic stereotyping and against the idea that intelligence equals N. :)

    You seem to argue that people should type by functions rather than Temperaments or individual letters, yet you NEVER made an argument for why Clinton used Se or didn’t use Ne. :)

    A couple more technical/specific problems I have…

    1) in this article, as with most of your articles, you suggest a defining difference between S and N is “introspection”. Personally, I very much disagree with this — it seems to me introspection is a defining trait of Introversion far more than of iNtuition (in the Jungian rather than behavioral sense of Introversion). And beyond that, I’d argue the Ji functions tend to make a person most introspective of all — gaining a deep understanding of one’s inner mental world is what Fi and Ti specialize in. :)

    So all you are really arguing (in my opinion) is that Clinton was probably an Extrovert. However, I doubt you’ll agree with me if introspection is part of your definition of N — it may account for some of our typing differences. :)

    I do think that the nature of Ne gives the user more of a preference for introspection compared with Se though, due to its more subjective nature, but not very much.

    2) “However, one difference is that Ne has a transcendental and introspective quality to it, where Se is more impulsive-instinctive and focused on real-world results.”

    Both Ne and Se are very interested in real world results, and are very impulsive. I see no difference there.

    Ne being more transcendent is an interesting one… :)

    I’d say that’s true for Ne, especially in ENPs. And I also agree Se is NOT a transcendent function. :) But I’ve noticed ESPs (especially ESFPs) do sometimes develop an interest in spirituality, meditation, Buddhism etc later in life, or might suddenly become devoutly religious when they’d never taken an interest before. So Ni plays a role there I think :)

    So overall, this wasn’t one of my favorite articles on the site. I’d love to read a new one on Clinton! :)

  9. hannah_s says:

    **”I do think that the nature of Ne gives the user more of a preference for introspection compared with Se though IN ESPs AND ENPs…**

  10. admin says:

    0. I agree with the overall criticism of the article. Correcting rookie mistakes is better than nothing, but certainly not exhaustive.

    1. I don’t agree with the I and Ji being more significant for introspection. The *unconsidered* version of the claim that I is the principal component of introspeciton, I consider another “rookie mistake”; it seems intuitively true, but (at least to some theorists) seems to fall apart upon closer examination. I’m not so sure about Ji either. In my opinion, Hume evinced a greater access to his own mental life than Kant or Einstein ever did. Now, with IFPs that same difference might be harder to flesh out, but in my opinion, Fi operates by reification just like Ti does, i.e. it freezes or elaborates the raw components of mental experience and then, over time, it’s the frozen components that one interacts with, rather than immediate mental experience. Now, there are a lot of advantages to operating in this way, as it allows one to go deeper in one’s analysis, or to allow one’s output to become more elaborated and unique. But in terms of being the closest to the raw stream of mental life, I’d say Intuition was more important than anything else. Historically, I think Jung and Myers just kind of assumed that introspection = I, as indeed most people still do today. Both Hoop and Franz have observations that point to introspection being more of an N thing, without nailing it or pinning it down completely, and Keirsey really separated the two while criticizing the work of Myers. Both views are no doubt possible.

    2. The transcendental aspect, in the way it’s alluded to above, is meant in this respect: http://www.celebritytypes.com/blog/2013/10/the-psychological-aesthetics-of-ne/ You certainly get transcendentally oriented ESPs, but *as a function,* it seems we agree that Ne has a transcendental quality that Se does not. I don’t know about interested in real world results, though – compared to what? :) A lot of the famous ENPs that we have on the site have actually ‘under-performed’ in terms of impacting reality, I’d say, at least when considering the opportunities they had in life. In my opinion, they are often in danger of getting a bit high on their own thoughts and associations and then spending a lot of effort on those as opposed to spending a lot of effort on reality. Hume might be a good example again, haha. ^^ As for both Se and Ne being impulsive, I agree with that. :)

    /Ryan

  11. hannah_s says:

    What definition of “introspection” are you using exactly? I’m just going with online definitions, so if there’s a special typology-specific definition we might be taking about different things entirely. :)

    The usual definition is pretty much synonymous with Jungian Introversion though, and I don’t see how it has much to do with S or N at all. :)

    I certainly don’t see why Ne would give you any special insight into how your own mind works compared to, say, Si or Ti. Not without a strong introverted function to back it up. It would just follow idea after idea and never gain any self-awareness or understanding at all! :)

  12. admin says:

    I mean something like “the observation of one’s own mental states.”
    This article I guess makes a point related to yours about introverted functions being necessary too: http://www.celebritytypes.com/blog/2013/04/the-difference-between-the-extroverted-and-introverted-functions/

  13. hannah_s says:

    Oh well if we define it as “the observation/experience of one’s mental states” then I agree Ne and Ni would fit the bill. :) I’d argue Se and Si do too though, but it may not be obvious with Se because we tend to believe we see things as they really are rather than through a very limited human lens.

    I think my disagreement with your use of the word “introspection” mainly comes down to the fact I usually see it defined as an EXAMINATION or ANALYSIS of one’s thoughts and feelings, rather than just the direct experience of them, which seems to be more E vs I to me.

    At least we understand each other’s perspective better now :)

  14. admin says:

    Yeah, perhaps, cursorily, it could be put like this:
    Are you close to the raw stream of mental experience and irreverent about it (Hume)? Or somewhat further removed, yet studious and laborious about it, fashioning artifacts from it, through examination and analysis (Kierkegaard)? :)

  15. Jenna says:

    I love your site. I have to admit though that your defense of a sensation type’s intelligence as often equal to or surpassing that of an intuitive type’s is grating.

  16. admin says:

    Thank you. Our argument, properly speaking, is that intelligence is a variable outside of type. On the group level, some types seem to have higher average IQs than others, but such averages don’t say anything about individuals.

  17. Rusked says:

    So would an example of this introspection be sitting around and asking yourself why you do what you do?

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