What is socionics?
Socionics is a theory of human interaction based on fixed patterns of information processing known as “socionic types.” A socionic type (there are 16 of them) is a description of some very fundamental ways in which a person’s psyche works. These psychic qualities define to a large degree a person’s relationships with others, his or her perception of life as a whole, and the niche he or she strives to occupy among people.
Each person’s psyche is a lopsided construction that attempts to pursue certain kinds of information (stimuli) while minimizing others. This is what socionic type describes. This lopsidedness creates a need for social cooperation. The nature of close cooperation (relationships) between people depends on how well-suited people’s lopsided psychic tendencies are to each other. This is what intertype relations are about.
The origins of socionics
As the story goes, founder of socionics Aushra Augusta (she shortened her last name from “Augustinavichiute” to “Augusta” to make it easier for foreigners) was mulling over fundamental issues of human existence (“why are some relationships good and others bad despite everyone’s intention to have good ones?”) in Vilnius, Lithuania in the 1970s, when she came across a number of typological systems that influenced her thoughts — Kretschmer’s psychosomatic types (i.e. endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs), Kempinsky’s (now a forgotten Polish psychiatrist) concept of “information metabolism,” and — most of all — Carl Jung’s typology of psychological types.
Augusta created symbols to represent the functions described by Carl Jung and — together with a circle of fellow researchers/hobbyists — eventually created what is known as the “socionic model of the psyche” — a neat description of the psyche where each of the 8 information elements has its place in each person’s psyche. This was quite a development on Jung’s typology and introduced many new concepts, including the mechanisms that explain how types interact.
The 16 socionic types differ on four axes (called ‘dichotomies’): rationality/irrationality, extraversion/introversion, intuition/sensing, and logic/ethics. Each type has one characteristic from each of the dichotomies, making 16 possible combinations. This does not mean there is a complete absence of the opposite mechanism, however. It means that one is more flexible and multi-faceted, while the other is more rigid and simplistic.
Although types often display similar values, life strategies, general behavior, and facial expressions, such traits such as IQ, musical talent, sports abilities, charisma, “personal power,” etc. are little related to type. A review of how socionists have typed famous people will demonstrate this. No type is inherently “predisposed” for success or failure in life. A common error of socionics enthusiasts is to try to relate non-socionic traits to socionic types.
In addition, socionics does not view type structure as being so rigid that a person can change little in life. One’s positive or negative thinking patterns, overall outlook on life, and emotional health are not tied to type and are quite flexible. However, socionic type is one of the things — along with inborn physiological traits — that does not change, even if outward behavior, emotional states, and attitudes do. Socionic type describes psychic mechanisms so “deep” that they are difficult to gain a full awareness of, much less modify in some way (but then, why would you want to modify them??).
The basic difference between socionics and other typologies is socionics’ theory of intertype relations. Socionics is not a typology of personality, but a typology of perceptual traits that define one’s relationships with others. Hence, we should not be surprised to see significant personality differences between individuals of the same socionic type — as long as we see that there is a similar pattern of intertype relations.
Intertype relations describe the nature of interaction and information interchange between two people at a close psychological distance by describing how partners’ psychic functions interrelate. These socionic relationships range from very difficult and potentially harmful to one’s self-realization to very beneficial and pleasant to the psyche. Intertype relations most influence one’s informal relationships with others, where one chooses friends based on pleasure and mutual benefit (cooperation).
Duality and dual relations
A unique aspect of socionics is the discovery of complementary psychic structures. Jung and his followers recognized a particular attraction between individuals with certain leading functions, but these observations were not developed into a full-fledged theory, and the Meyers-Briggs system does not seem to address them at all.
Each of the 16 socionic types has its ‘dual’ type. The essence of dual relations is that the natural information output of one type is the preferred information input of the other. Having a dual or dual around stimulates one to use one’s strengths as much as possible. Even their mere physical presence tends to exert a calming and balancing influence. Dual relations develop around the strongest functions of each partner and keep mental and physical functioning balanced, while directing partners’ energy towards constructive and rewarding activities.
Socionics and the MBTI
At some point Augusta and her associates learned of Isabel Briggs Myers’ and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs’ development of Jung’s typology across the ocean in the United States. Newcomers to socionics in the West often have to face the difficulty of trying to distinguish between the two typologies. They are fundamentally different and cannot be treated as “the same types, but with different type names.”
Those who look deeply into socionics and the MBTI recognize that socionics’ theoretical apparatus is more systematic and logical in nature — and simply larger. Indeed, socionics was created by a “thinking” type, while the MBTI was created by “feeling” types (a quick review of sites on the two fields will make this clear). That is just the beginning of the differences.
I personally, of course, find socionics to be a big improvement on the MBTI, but I’m sure there are ardent followers of the MBTI that hold the opposite opinion.
The four socionic dichotomies appear to be very similar to the dichotomies used by the MBTI system. However, close inquiry reveals that there are many subtle differences. If you assume the dichotomies are the same and equate each socionic type to an MBTI type, some socionic types will overlap to a large degree with their MBTI counterparts, others will partially overlap, and yet others will seem to be completely different. If the types were truly equivalent, a similar theory of intertype relations would have arisen in the MBTI system — but there is none. On the whole, MBTI and socionics types seem to correlate in roughly 30% of cases. That is not nearly enough to consider the two typologies close approximations of each other.
The socionics community
There is a large socionics community across the Russian-speaking world. In many if not most large cities of the former Soviet Union there are people who hold evening classes on socionics and social gatherings for people interested in socionics. Centers of socionics are Kiev (Ukraine), Moscow and St. Petersburg (Russia), and Vilnius (Lithuania). Here socionics conferences take place where socionists present and discuss papers and studies and most books on socionics are published (there are now maybe 40 or 50 books on socionics, primarily in Russian, but also with a few in Ukrainian and Lithuanian).
At the same time, socionics is a decentralized field of study. There is no central body that is universally recognized as the single authority in the field or that dictates methodology, type identification, etc. Socionics arose outside of the academic world (although Augusta was a sociologist) and has not yet obtained official academic recognization, though it is now often mentioned in psychology courses in universities around the former USSR. Competent and respected socionists generally are known in the community and publish in community journals and participate in seminars and professional dialogue.
Socionics is held together by numerous enthusiasts and scattered professionals — who publish books and journals, teach courses, diagnose types, and consult individuals, families, and even entire organizations.