INTP Personality: Traits, Relationships, Career Matches

Terse, aloof, and analytical, the INTP forges their own path and isn't afraid to fight about it.

Greg Park
Greg Park
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In this post, I’ll detail how the INTP stands apart from other types on the Big Five personality dimensions, and detail how these differences influence the INTP’s habits, emotional patterns, interpersonal style, and potential career matches.

The INTP personality type

As with all personality types, the INTP type is only a convenient approximation. No individual truly falls into a single personality type, and only using personality types to describe people will miss fundamental details that make a person unique.

Modern personality research does not use personality type systems like the 16 personalities or Myers-Briggs types. Instead, scientific researchers prefer trait-based systems like the Big Five personality framework, which are far superior in measuring the complex blends of traits that distinguish individuals. However, personality type systems are extremely popular and can be a useful first step towards understanding personality in general.

According to popular personality typology, every personality type has its own four-letter code, describing the cognitive preferences of that type: Introverted vs. Extraverted, Intuitive vs. Sensing, Feeling vs. Thinking, and Judging vs. Perceiving.

According to this typology, the INTP prefers:

  • Introversion: oriented towards the internal world, rather than the external world
  • Intuition: oriented towards learning through internal intuition over sensory experience
  • Thinking: oriented towards judging new information through logical analysis, rather than by its emotional qualities or emotional impact
  • Perceiving: oriented towards receiving new information directly before immediately judging it through organizing, categorizing, and processing

But how do these four preferences relate to underlying personality traits and important areas of life like relationships, habits, and careers? By using research that connects type systems to the trait systems, it’s possible to link each of these four preferences to the Big Five personality framework and its extensive research literature.

INTP personality traits

The Big Five framework centers on five broad dimensions to describe differences between individual personalities: Openness To Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

Knowing your particular personality type can give you some clues about where you may fall on these five dimensions. However, it’s only a rough approximation — directly measuring these dimensions through a tool like TraitLab’s free personality test is much more precise than using a personality type.

In the graph below, every blue dot is an individual INTP. Each dot’s position is determined by that person’s score on the Big Five dimensions. INTPs vary quite a bit on every dimension, but there are a few consistencies worth noting.

INTP personality traits across Big Five dimensions
INTPs across the Big Five personality dimensions

For example, note the pattern of INTPs on the Agreeableness: almost every INTP falls somewhere below the average on this dimension. From this, we can safely say that most INTPs will be below average on the Agreeableness dimension.

By using the general patterns across the entire group, we can create a rough profile of the INTP across all five dimensions.

INTPs are higher on Openness to Experience

INTPs are often highly open to experience.

INTPs and Big Five Openness to Experience
INTPs and Big Five Openness to Experience

Like most Intuitive types, INTPs are often higher in Big Five Openness to Experience. Highly open individuals tend to seek out new experiences, and enjoy absorbing complex information, or discussing abstract topics and ideas. They are generally less interested in conventional ways of doing things, or following tradition for tradition’s sake.

INTPs’ high openness is the underlying dimension of their characteristic need to engage with, learn about, and ultimately solve difficult problems.

INTPs are lower on Conscientiousness

INTPs tend to be less conscientious than most people.

INTPs and Big Five Conscientiousness
INTPs and Big Five Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness describes one’s tendency and need to be highly organized, make detailed plans and schedules, and to stick closely to conventional rules.

INTPs’ lower conscientiousness can make them susceptible to distractions and tangents, leading them to chase down details and side paths rather than maintain strict focus on a single big goal.

INTPs may also be more comfortable with irregularity and disorganization. They will be far less likely than others to stick to a tight schedule or routine, or to painstakingly clean and organize their surroundings.

Lastly, INTPs will be more comfortable questioning and/or breaking with commonly accepted rules and regulations.

INTPs are lower on Extraversion

INTPs often score lower on Big Five Extraversion.

INTPs and Big Five Extraversion
INTPs and Big Five Extraversion

Unsurprisingly, most INTPs are more introverted than most. With a few exceptions, INTPs fall well below average on Big Five Extraversion, which is related to their low enthusiasm, more muted emotional expressions, and relative ease with social isolation.

Like most introverted people, INTPs will prefer to stay in the background, keep to themselves, and avoid being the center of attention, unless absolutely necessary. They can easily work and play in isolated, quiet environments and will often prefer it.

INTPs’ higher introversion can also manifest in a more restricted range of positive emotions. INTPs will be less likely than others to smile, laugh, show excitement and enthusiasm, raise their voice, or make small talk.

INTPs are lower on Agreeableness

Many INTPs fall into the lower range of Agreeableness.

INTPs and Big Five Agreeableness
INTPs and Big Five Agreeableness

INTPs tend to be much lower on Big Five Agreeableness than most people. Agreeableness describes one’s need to maintain positive and warm relationships with others, or one’s willingness to some goals ahead of the feelings of others.

Less agreeable people may also be described as more demanding, and many INTPs may fit this description. They will typically be less bothered by interpersonal conflicts and disagreements, and will find it easier to criticize or voice unpopular opinions than others.

INTPs vary widely on Neuroticism

INTPs can vary widely in their individual level of Neuroticism.

INTPs and Big Five Neuroticism
INTPs and Big Five Neuroticism

Many INTPs fall on the very low end of Neuroticism, others fall on the very high end, and most fall somewhere in between. In other words, just knowing that you are an INTP tells you nothing about your level of Neuroticism.

Neuroticism is related to emotional volatility and patterns of dealing with stress. Highly neurotic people are more likely to experience all types of negative emotions, including anger, anxiety, depression, and discomfort. High neuroticism is also closely related to one’s tendency to have a negative self-image and to ruminate, second-guess, and engage in other forms of negative self-consciousness.

People with relatively low Neuroticism, or high Emotional Stability, tend to react much less to physical and psychological stress, report greater self-confidence, have fewer mood swings, and generally tend to be more relaxed and easy-going.

If you’re curious about your own level of Neuroticism, you can measure it with TraitLab’s free personality test, along with all of the Big Five dimensions.

Rarity of INTPs

Roughly 2% of people are classified as INTP, leading them to be one of the rarer of the 16 personality types.

INTPs are particularly unusual in their blends of Openness with Introversion, and their combination of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness.

Absorbed in information, detached from others

As with the other IN** types, INTPs tend to be highly to open to experience and simultaneously highly introverted.

In the graph below, you can see how INTPs compare to non-INTPs on these two dimensions. You might notice that many INTPs fall along the lower right fringe, the region defined by higher Openness and lower Extraversion.

INTPs are often lower on Big Five Extraversion but higher on Big Five Openness
INTPs are often lower on Big Five Extraversion but higher on Big Five Openness

In general, Extraversion and Openness tend to be positively correlated, such that highly open people tend to be highly extraverted. INTPs show the opposite pattern of being highly open but highly introverted.

INTPs’ combination of higher openness and lower extraversion leads to a strong need for absorbing new information and experiences, but with a preference for satisfying this need through things and data, rather than through people and social activities.

Will go their own way and ready to argue about it

INTPs are unusually lower on both Conscientiousness and Agreeableness.

In the graph below, you can see how INTPs dominate the area of low Agreeableness and lower Conscientiousness.

INTPs are often lower on Big Five Agreeableness and Big Five Conscientiousness
INTPs are often lower on Big Five Agreeableness and Big Five Conscientiousness

Together, this might lead INTPs to break with some social norms and conventions and, at the same time, to fiercely defend their choice to do so. INTPs will not hesitate to develop their own particular way of doing things and will also be happy to argue about why their way is actually better.

INTP Relationships and interpersonal challenges

INTPs tend to highly value their independence and are often skeptical of others. Combined, these qualities can make developing close relationships particularly difficult for some INTPs.

Independent and skeptical

The same self-sufficient and skeptical nature that define INTPs’ strengths can also lead to a characteristic set of interpersonal difficulties. Some INTPs report that despite wanting closer relationships with others, they feel uncomfortable taking the steps to create and nurture them.

In some cases, this is due to a lack of trust in other people in general. Some INTPs may fear that they will almost certainly be hurt by others in any close relationships. Others may see close relationships as a threat to their own independence and self-sufficiency, and so they may limit how much they allow themselves to depend on others.

Common interpersonal challenges for the INTP

Being highly introverted and less agreeable, INTPs’ may often be perfectly content with being isolated and not interacting with others for long periods of time. This can have several advantages some work contexts, skill development, or other activities, but it can also lead others to see them as cold, distant, and aloof.

INTPs often find it difficult to show warmth, empathy, and admiration for others around them. Because they tend to restrain from reaching out to others, they are also less likely to start new relationships, make new friends, and socialize in general. Over time, this can lead INTPs to have fewer close friends or people to depend on.

If left unchecked, INTPs’ ability to argue and criticize can also damage their relationships with others. What might seem like a perfectly rational disagreement to an INTP may seem highly aggressive and harsh to a more sensitive personality.

Adjectives that describe the INTP personality

How do other people see and describe INTPs?

Out of all of introverted types, INTPs tend to be the least agreeable or the most demanding, which can overshadow how others perceive them. At best, they may be seen as curt, terse, or forceful, but their reluctance to sugarcoat their words can lead them to appear impolite, rude, harsh, or even disrespectful.

The wordcloud below shows the top 100 words used to describe INTPs. Bigger words describe the more prominent aspects of INTPs.

Adjectives describing the INTP
Adjectives used to describe INTPs

Many people may actively avoid interpersonal conflicts and arguments, but INTPs feel comfortable in these otherwise uncomfortable situations. Their willingness to get to the bottom of things, even if it means hurting some feelings, can come off as combative, antagonistic, insensitive, and quarrelsome.

INTPs’ high introversion also means they tend to express fewer positive emotions and less enthusiasm in social situations. To others, they may seem cynical, joyless, glum, or detached.

If you believe you are an INTP, but think the above description is totally unfair, remember that no two INTPs are alike. Personality types are an overly simplistic way to describe a single individual, and nobody fits neatly into any type. To see the words that describe your own unique set of personality traits, try the free personality test here at TraitLab.

INTP Careers

INTPs tend to have very strong analytical interests and enjoy solving difficult, complicated problems, like those found in science, engineering, and similar paths requiring deep technical expertise.

INTP career interests

The chart below shows how the INTP personality type is related to eight core career interests: Production, Creativity, Erudition, Altruism, Analysis, Organization, Adventure, and Leadership. Your unique blend of these interests has a huge influence on how well a career feels like it “fits” with your personality.

INTPs and career interests
Correlations between career interests and personality traits of INTPs
  • Analysis

    INTPs’ strongest career interest is in Analysis. INTPs often fit well in careers that demand observing, investigating, and solving problems.

    People with strong interests in Analysis enjoy roles that require investigating, researching, and explaining concepts and ideas. Examples include medical researchers, chemists, scientific reporters, and statisticians.

  • Production

    INTPs also tend to have a strong interest in Production, which tends to go well with the hands-on, concrete building and making of things.

    People with strong interests in Production enjoy careers that allow them to work with their hands or tools to create, repair, or maintain tangible products and things. Examples include farmers, builders, mechanics, forest rangers, and woodworkers.

  • Adventure

    Unlike many of the IN** types, INTPs often have fairly strong interests in careers with an Adventure component.

    People with strong interests in Adventure prefer careers that involve working outdoors, competition, excitement, risk-taking, and even danger. Examples include police officers, military officers, professional athletes, and bounty hunters.

  • Erudition

    INTPs positive but weak interests in Erudition. This interest may not have a significant impact on the career preferences of INTPs as a group, although some individual INTPs may have stronger preferences or dislike for Erudition.

    People with strong interests in Erudition enjoy roles that require mastery of complex, difficult concepts and information. Examples include translators, editors, research professors, literary scholars, interpreters, and foreign correspondents.

  • Creativity

    As with Erudition, INTPs do not have a consistently strong interests in Creativity. They are unlikely to gravitate towards careers that primarily have creative and artistic demands, but they will also not avoid those with some creative component.

    People with strong interests in Creativity prefer jobs that require innovation through artistic and intuitive skills in less structured tasks and environments. Examples include artists, novelists, actor or actresses, musicians, curators, and designers.

  • Leadership

    INTPs will likely avoid careers that demand strong Leadership interests.

    People with strong interests in Leadership fit well in careers that enable them to influence, persuade, and motivate other people. Examples include sales and marketing directors, politicians and political organizers, and executives.

  • Organization

    Like Leadership, INTPs have a similar disinterest in careers with a strong focus on Organization.

    People with strong interests in Organization prefer careers that involve categorizing, planning, and systematizing information and processes. Examples include financial officers, budget analysts, office managers, database analysts, and systems administrators.

  • Altruism

    INTPs’ have a fairly strong disinterest in Altruism, meaning they are unlikely to enjoy roles that are primarily centered on helping others.

    People with strong interests in Altruism fit well in careers that involve helping, comforting, caring for, and teaching other people. Examples include physical therapists, counselors, clergy, social workers, doctors, and nurses.

INTP career matches and INTP jobs

Examples of careers that fit INTPs’ need for tackling complex problems in a hands-on way include:

  • Biochemist
  • Biophysicist
  • Bioinformatics Scientist
  • Soil and Plan Scientists
  • Molecular and Cellular Biologist
  • Geneticist
  • Astronomers
  • Physicist
  • Geographer
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Surgeon
  • Pathologist
  • Optometrist
  • Mathematician

Careers to avoid for the INTP

INTPs prefer to keep their heads down and focus on a new and interesting problem, rather than managing and directing other people, navigating an organization’s rules and regulations, or dealing with conventional tasks. Particularly bad career fits for INTPs would include positions like:

  • Accountant
  • Actuary
  • Auditor
  • Insurance Underwriter
  • Logistic Analyst
  • Construction Manager
  • General or Operations Manager
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Program Director
  • Choreographers
  • Education Administrator
  • Radio and Television Announcer
  • Music Director
  • Sales Agent
  • Tour Guide
  • Sales Supervisor
  • Event Planner
  • Public Relations Specialist

Summary

INTPs are introverted, highly open to experience, but also tend to be disagreeable and more disorderly than most. Of all of the IN** types, which tend to be more solitary, reserved, and intellectual, the INTP the most demanding and the least likely to worry about what others might think about them.

Remember that all personality types are oversimplifications. To see why you don’t fall neatly into any type, try taking TraitLab’s free personality test to learn where you fall on several underlying personality traits, see which words that describe your unique blend of traits, your similarity to other types and individuals, and more.


Header photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Greg Park
Greg Park
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