ISFP Personality: Traits, Relationships, Career Matches
ISFPs' quiet, kind, and reserved exterior hides their inner spontaneity.
The ISFP is one of 16 types from the popular Myers-Briggs tradition. In this post, you’ll learn about how the ISFP type is related to the modern, scientific personality system known as the Big Five. You’ll also see the interpersonal behaviors and career interests that many ISFPs have in common.
You can jump straight to any section by clicking the links below. Otherwise, we’ll start with the classic definition of the ISFP personality type.
I. Definition of the ISFP Personality Type
II. Big Five Personality Dimensions of the ISFP
III. Remarkable Personality Patterns in ISFPs
I. Definition of the ISFP personality type
In the popular Myers-Briggs or 16-personalities tradition, all personalities belong to one of 16 types. Each type is defined by preferences across four cognitive functions:
ISFPs are Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving.
Introverted people are focused inwards. They prefer the inner world of ideas and reflection over the external world of people and actions.
People who prefer Sensing tend to gather information through direct observation. They use their five senses to uncover facts and are more skeptical of more intuitive, theoretical approaches to learning and understanding.
People who prefer Feeling use empathy, consensus, and harmony to guide their decisions. Unlike those who prefer Thinking, they are less constrained by logic, correctness, and consistency in their decision-making.
People who prefer Perceiving tend to relate to other people through their perceiving preference, which is Sensing for ISFPs. Other people will see SP-types, like the ISFP, as observant and more reactive to their sensory experience, rather than as slow and cautious decision-makers.
Beyond personality types
While the 16-personality framework and its complex cognitive functions are fun and intriguing, they are less useful for predicting important life outcomes, like relationships, health, happiness, hobbies, educational and career outcomes.
The reality of personality differences is much more complicated than 16 types. This complexity is why modern personality science uses dimensions or traits to describe personalities, rather than simple categories or types.
For example, labeling someone as “Extraverted” or “Introverted” is a vast oversimplification. Every individual falls somewhere on a broad spectrum between highly extraverted and highly introverted.
Moreover, a single dimension like Extraversion/Introversion is inadequate for fully describing someone’s personality. In general, several dimensions are necessary to create a complete picture of an individual’s unique character.
Below, I’ll describe how ISFPs fit into the modern world of personality dimensions.
II. Big Five Personality Dimensions of the ISFP
In personality studies, scientific researchers often use a trait-based approach to describing the differences between people instead of using personality types. The most well-established method is the Big Five, which describes differences along five broad dimensions:
- Openness to Experience
Your combined positions across all Big Five dimensions describe your personality.
How does this relate to the ISFP? People with the same type tend to have similar (but not identical) Big Five dimensions.
The graph below shows how ISFPs score on the Big Five dimensions. Each blue dot is an ISFP, and darker blue areas mean more ISFPs are in that area.
For example, on the Conscientiousness dimension, ISFPs tend to score lower than average, so the Low and Very Low areas are very dark blue. But, you might notice that there are a few blue dots in the High area of Conscientiousness.
So, while most ISFPs tend to score lower on Conscientiousness, there are a few exceptions.
Below, you can see more detail on how ISFPs score on each Big Five dimension.
Openness to Experience
ISFPs tend to score lower on Openness to Experience, meaning they are often more conventional or traditional. About 80% of ISFPs score below average on Openness to Experience.
Openness to Experience describes your need for new information, feelings, and experiences.
Less open people prefer the familiar ways of doing things. They are less interested in trying new things or seeking out new experiences. They also tend to be less eccentric and have more conventional tastes in hobbies, music, and reading material.
Highly open people have diverse interests, and they may feel a constant need to learn and try new things.
Almost all ISFPs fall below the average on Conscientiousness.
Conscientiousness describes your tendency to plan, organize, and persistently focus on long-term goals.
Highly conscientious people are more likely to set goals far in the future, then come up with detailed plans on how to achieve these goals. They are also more likely to stick to the goals they set and more persistent in working through difficulty to reach them.
Less conscientious people tend to be more spontaneous or impulsive. They are more interested in the present or short-term future, and more likely to change their mind, or change direction when obstacles arise.
ISFPs usually score lower on Extraversion, with about 75% of ISFPs scoring below average or on the more introverted side of the scale.
Extraversion describes your assertiveness, enthusiasm, and experiences of positive emotions.
Highly introverted people, like many ISFPs, are more socially reserved and quiet. They have a lower tolerance for highly stimulating environments and often retreat to calm and quiet situations in solitude. They also experience positive emotions less intensely and less frequently. For example, others may notice that introverts tend to smile and laugh less often than most.
Highly extraverted people tend to be more socially outgoing and talkative, and they often seek out more stimulating environments (think loud, crowded, or risky and exciting situations). High extraverts also feel and express positive emotions (e.g., joy, laughter, excitement) more intensely and more frequently.
ISFPs appear across the entire range of Agreeableness, although slightly more ISFPs are above average than below on this dimension. About 60% of ISFPs score above average on Agreeableness.
Agreeableness describes your interpersonal warmth, politeness, and empathy.
Highly agreeable people, like many ISFPs, feel a more substantial need to keep warmer, friendlier relationships with others and are naturally more hesitant to impose their will on others. They will be more considerate of how their actions impact other people and try to reduce or resolve interpersonal conflicts when they arise.
Less agreeable (or more demanding) people are often less concerned with others when pursuing their own goals. They are more willing to create conflict or express disagreement across most situations and feel less discomfort during interpersonal disputes.
ISFPs vary widely in Neuroticism. While about 75% fall slightly above average on this dimension, you can find ISFPs across the entire range of Neuroticism.
Neuroticism describes how frequently and how intensely you experience negative emotions, like anxiety, anger, and sadness.
Highly neurotic people tend to worry more, have more frequent mood swings, withdraw when feeling distressed, and feel more self-conscious.
Less neurotic people are more easy-going, have more predictable moods, and are more resilient under stress. They also experience less of the harmful types of self-consciousness, like rumination and self-doubt, reported by more neurotic people.
III. Remarkable Personality Patterns in ISFPs
There are at least three exceptional patterns commonly seen in the ISFPs:
Empathetic but socially reserved
ISFPs are often warm and empathetic due to their higher Agreeableness. However, they also tend to be more socially reserved and inhibited due to their lower Extraversion. While many ISFPs are genuinely compassionate and friendly, only a few people may get to know them well enough to see this side.
ISFPs may need much longer than others to open up and feel comfortable expressing their warmth and enthusiasm. They are also far less likely to be the one to spark up a conversation or initiate new relationships.
Lives in the moment
With their combination of lower Conscientiousness and lower Openness, ISFPs will often prefer living for the here and now, rather than making detailed plans for a distant future. Their preference for the present may lead them to change their minds frequently, depending on their current circumstances.
While their spontaneous and flexible nature can make them more adaptable in the short-term, these same qualities allow them to be easily distracted while working towards longer-term goals.
Quiet and unpredictable
Others may have difficulty reading ISFPs, who often have a quiet, reserved exterior but a spontaneous, impulsive mind. ISFPs often have a blend of lower Extraversion and lower Conscientiousness, leading them to be more reserved and withdrawn, holding their opinions and thoughts back in most social situations and avoiding the spotlight.
Despite their quiet exterior, they often impulsively make decisions with their gut, rather than with careful planning. When possible, they will avoid sticking to a schedule and prefer the freedom to change their plans at the last minute.
How others describe the ISFP
How do other people see and describe ISFPs?
The wordcloud below shows over 50 words used to describe people with similar Big Five personality dimensions as a typical ISFP. Larger words describe the more prominent aspects of ISFPs.
Because no two ISFPs are the same, some of the words above may be better descriptors of a particular individual than others. You can see your personality’s own unique set of words with TraitLab’s free assessment.
Interpersonal style, strengths, and challenges
You might have noticed that some individuals have a consistent effect on you every time you interact with them. For example, one particular friend might make you consistently laugh and smile more than usual. Or, one reliably passive coworker or classmate may tend to bring out your bossier, more demanding side.
Each of us has a typical interpersonal style. This style influences how others think and feel when they are around you, and in turn, it can affect how they interact back with you.
A classic method of visualizing interpersonal style is using the circular figure below. The vertical axis shows your style in terms of dominance, with a highly assertive style at the top (Assured-Dominant) and a highly passive style at the bottom (Unassured-Submissive). The horizontal axis shows your style in terms of warmth, with a cold and impersonal style on the left (Cold-Aggressive) and a friendly, empathetic manner on the right (Warm-Agreeable).
The shaded blue area shows the typical interpersonal style of ISFPs across eight dimensions. Notice the areas where the blue area extends closer to the outer edges of the circle. These are the aspects that most heavily influence ISFPs’ interactions.
To summarize the graph above, three aspects most heavily influence ISFPs’ interpersonal style:
- They often respect others, conform to expectations, and ask for guidance.
- At their best, they are loyal and reliable, and encourage others to guide and help.
- They may be overly clingy, gullible, and have difficulty expressing anger, even when appropriate.
- At their worst, they will try to please others too much, put others’ needs ahead of their own, and allow others to take advantage of them.
- They are realists who perceive things and people clearly, without being overly optimistic.
- At their best, they are practical skeptics who are comfortable holding and sharing unorthodox, unpopular views.
- They may be too skeptical and suspicious, and they may have difficulty trusting others.
- At their worst, they can struggle to make new friends and socialize, and have a hard time showing affection and admiration for others.
- They have a strong sense of duty and obligation.
- At their best, they make modest, reliable teammates, and allow others to take the lead.
- They may undervalue their own needs, ideas, and contributions, acting overly shy and not taking credit when due.
- At their worst, they can be excessively submissive, ineffectual, and too dependent on direction from others.
The chart below shows how the personality traits of ISFPs are related to the classic RIASEC career interests: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Your unique blend of these interests dramatically influences how well a career feels like a good fit.
On each dimension, you’ll see areas where ISFPs tend to crowd up (shown by the dark blue bars). These are the areas where ISFPs are most likely to fall.
But, you’ll also find ISFPs the entire range of each dimension. While most ISFPs tend to have relatively higher Artistic interests, there are still a few ISFPs who score very low on them.
Most ISFPs tend to have the following pattern of interests:
High Artistic interests (Creators): People with strong Artistic interests prefer jobs that require innovation through artistic and intuitive skills in less structured tasks and environments. Examples include artists, novelists, actors or actresses, musicians, curators, and designers.
High Social interests (Helpers): People with strong Social interests fit well with careers that involve helping, comforting, caring for, and teaching other people. Examples include physical therapists, counselors, clergy, social workers, doctors, and nurses.
Average Realistic interests (Doers): People with high Realistic interests enjoy careers that allow them to work with their hands or tools to get a job done, rather than thinking or talking about it. They may also gravitate towards jobs with opportunities for working outdoors, competition, and risk-taking. Examples include police officers, military officers, professional athletes, farmers, builders, mechanics, forest rangers, and woodworkers.
Low Conventional interests (Organizers): People with strong Conventional interests excel in roles that require categorizing, planning, and systematizing information and processes. Examples include financial officers, budget analysts, office managers, database analysts, and systems administrators.
Low Investigative interests (Thinkers): People with strong Investigative interests prefer roles that require observation, researching, and understanding ideas. They tend to prefer working with data and ideas rather than working closely with other people. Examples include medical researchers, chemists, software engineers, scientific reporters, and statisticians.
Low Enterprising interests (Persuaders): People with strong Enterprising interests are often skilled communicators who enjoy influencing, persuading, and leading others. They actively pursue leadership roles and opportunities to bolster their status and reputation. Examples include sales and marketing directors, politicians and political organizers, and executives.
Remember that these rankings only describe the average ISFP, and personality types can only offer very general descriptions of career interests. Even if you see yourself as an ISFP, your unique set of career interests may vary from the above descriptions.
Potential career matches
ISFPs’ two most consistent strengths are their Artistic and Social interests, meaning they will fit well in jobs that allow them to innovate and be creative without too many rules, regulations, and constraints. They may also gravitate towards creative paths that have a positive social impact or towards teaching creative skills in others.
Examples of careers that blend Artistic and Social interests include:
- Music Therapists
- Art Therapists
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Clinical Psychologists
- Art, Drama, and Music Teachers
- Political Scientists
- Music Directors
- Public Relations Specialists
- Stylists or Cosmetologists
- Special Education Teachers
- Speech-Language Pathologists
- Genetic Counselors
Some ISFPs may also have relatively stronger Realistic interests (Doers) and may fit better in roles such as:
- Landscape Architects
- Graphic Designers
- Sound Engineers
- Set Designers
- Private Cooks
- Nurse Practitioner
- Physical Therapists
- Athletic Trainers
Careers to avoid
ISFPs are usually less interested in jobs with heavy Enterprising, Investigative, and Conventional demands. These positions tend to focus more on persuading others and analyzing data, often in highly structured environments. ISFPs may be highly competent in any of these roles, but their natural strengths may be underused.
Examples of these roles include:
- Survey Researchers
- Operations Research Analysts
- Management Analysts
- Financial Analysts
- Industrial Engineers
- Computer Network Architects
- Database Architects
How to learn about your personality
Your personality type only gives you a rough approximation of your underlying traits. As described in this post, ISFPs can vary widely in their Big Five dimensions, interpersonal style, and career interests. Just knowing that you are an ISFP doesn’t tell you that much.
So what’s the next step? Skip the types entirely and learn about your unique blend of personality traits, interpersonal style, and career interests by measuring them directly here at TraitLab. Get started for free and see your Big Five dimensions with the Basic assessment.
Header photo by Jessica F
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