The Great Spock Debate

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Typing fictional characters, particularly those who are written by more than one writer, is difficult. Each writer brings a different approach, and the character can prove inconsistent based on the vision of the writer and the “needs” of that episode. Fictional characters aren’t fully human and therefore cannot be fully typed (unless their author is consistent in their reactions!). Bear that in mind, as we explore Star Trek and discuss whether Spock is an ISTJ or an INTJ. (There’s no definite answer… he’s one and the other, based on the episode / movie / situation, but being an INTJ, it’s fun to analyze him anyway!)

Some of my readers encouraged me to write up a character analysis on Spock, so you can thank or blame them for this perusal of the character. Back in the 70’s, he baffled and intrigued audiences due to his “robotic” tendencies: his total logic, his almost nonexistent human emotions, and his unfazed reaction to bad situations (“Fascinating!”). The Spock from the Original Series and the Spock from the new movies are similar in their typing but their variations are different.

So, let’s talk about both versions of Spock… and his behavioral patterns. We’ll call Nimoy “Original Spock,” and Quinto “New Spock” to avoid confusion.

Both versions of Spock are Introverted. Each lives fully in his own head, and struggles to interact with and understand others, while forming very strong personal relationships with one other person – Kirk. (Introverts tend to form a very small, but highly intimate, trusted group of friends… often with just ONE “best” friend, as opposed to the people-loving Extrovert who considers everyone a friend!)

Original Spock and New Spock are also both Thinkers instead of Feelers – in each situation, they react with logic and repress emotion (though New Spock has a harder time controlling his emotions than Original Spock). One of the best moments in the original series is when a distraught crewmember accuses Spock of being heartless because he’s more concerned with saving the rest of their lives than mourning the loss of other crew members. Spock fires back that emotion will wind up killing them all – it’s better to take action to preserve current life than waste time mourning those they cannot help (sound familiar? It should, Sherlock says the same thing when losing an old woman to a bomb blast in the BBC series). A Feeler will react emotionally to a bad situation (how awful is it? isn’t it sad? how must these people be feeling right now?) while a Thinker will react logically (how did it happen? can we stop it? is there anything we can do to save the rest of us?).

Sometimes, Original Spock is a little more of a Perceiver than a Judger in his information gathering (in these episodes he leans INTP), but Judger is his dominant function overall (he takes in information and forms often immediate judgments on it, leading to immediate decisions when in perilous situations). New Spock is very much a J.

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So far, we have Spock as an IXTJ, which brings us to the sticking point… his S/N function. Those that insist he’s an ISTJ will argue with those who insists he’s an INTJ to the bitter end. The truth is, he swings back and forth based on the incarnation of Spock, the episode, and the situation… but I tend to think he’s an INTJ with S overtones. Here’s the evidence as I see it:

ISTJs and INTJs are both logical; ISTJs work through logic backwards as Sensors, and INTJs make “logical leaps” based on their Intuition. Sensors base all their moral guidelines on social or religious rules, whereas Intuitives form their “rules” based on their own ideas and the evidence presented. For example, an S would be less likely to lie than an N, because the S values honesty, whereas the N might understand the logic of lying (self-preservation). The S will abide by established rules; the N will question those rules and if they believe the rule shouldn’t apply to them, will break it.

Therein, we run into the conflict with Spock. On one hand, both versions of Spock abide by the rules. New Spock is more offended by Kirk breaking the rules in cheating on his test (S) than he is impressed that Kirk found a way around it (N, admires ingenuity even if they don’t “approve” of the behavior). Yet, both versions of Spock are in Starfleet. An S that abides by social conventions would never abandon his pacifistic culture to become involved in an external military force, but both versions of Spock sees the necessity (his own lack of acceptance in Vulcan culture, as half-human) and the potential (for information-gathering, curiosity for other races) for breaking out of the traditional mold (an N trait).

Both versions of Spock also break Starfleet Rules and sometimes flat-out lie and/or manipulate others to get what they want. Original Spock defies and disobeys Starfleet command on several occasions (often to save Kirk and/or ensure that Kirk escapes a court martial unscathed). Original Spock also seduces and manipulates a female Romulan commander in order to entrap her (an S would balk at the moral implications, but although Spock doesn’t like it, he sees the long-term benefits and does it anyway). New Spock has a relationship with a cadet and lesser officer, beams down to Vulcan to find his parents instead of remaining on board ship, and abandons Kirk on a remote planet instead of throwing him in the Brig (N over S).

New Spock’s relationship with Uhura is a sticking point… it violates the S (which would know that such relationships are frowned on, particularly since Uhura was his student when they first met) and the N (foreseeing the potential negative consequences of such a relationship). But in a way, it also embraces the N – foreseeing them and deciding those rules don’t apply to this situation and the consequences are an acceptable risk. New Spock and Original Spock don’t abide by the “rules” of time travel; when confronted with Khan, New Spock solicits the advice of Spock Prime in dealing with him. Spock Prime says it would be unethical to advise him, however

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All versions of Spock also have a handle on sarcasm, which is a staple of the INTJ type.

It’s also interesting to note that Spock is more “rigid” in the original series but by the time the original movies roll around, is more relaxed when it comes to disobeying Starfleet. Is it a switch from S to N, or is it the result of adapting to his environment and following the leadership of the decidedly ENFP James Kirk? (Does an S adapt? They seem more inclined to hold rigidly to their earlier patterns.)

Spock frequently travels in-between the two types but seems more often in the INTJ camp. New Spock is much more ISTJ than Original Spock (except for his relationship with Uhura). So which is he? Neither and both. Either way, it’s not hard to see why the charming, curious, humorous and robotic Spock is the most beloved (and “fascinating!”) character in the original franchise.

Author’s Note: I enjoy typing characters so if there’s anyone you’d like to see me type (or are curious as to what my opinion of their type is), let me know! They don’t have to be INTJs!

24 Replies to “The Great Spock Debate”

  1. I came across this conversation during a web search and found it…fascinating 🙂 (sorry, I HAD to do that!)

    Could it be possible for a person to manifest their MBTI differently with age and experience? I’m an ISTJ, but with age I am not as rigid and fixated on the rules and can relax when need be (or break the rules). However, I am more comfortable with rules and using an ordered system, and rely on them heavily as a default.

    Your analysis reminded me of Agent Scully from the “X-Files”. In the first few seasons, she is rather rigid, relies on regulation, constantly reminds Mulder of the rules (and how he’ll get into trouble) and knows she has to report their investigations. As time goes on and she experiences situations which are bizarre and place her in predicaments, she appears to shift a little more to the N. I see a similar pattern with Dr. Temperance Brennan from “Bones.”

    What do you think?

    1. In short? Yes.

      Environment has a HUGE impact on our personalities. It can relax (or intensify) an ISTJ’s natural tendencies. Our friends and family impact who we are, and who we become. Spock changes a great deal from the beginning of the series to the end of the movies. Being around Kirk makes him loosen up and be less rigid in his views and even (GASP) willing to break the rules at times! The same thing happens with Scully being around Mulder. 🙂

  2. I agree with your INT analysis, however, I believe that Spock is more of an INTP and Kirk and ENFJ. Kirk leaps into action constantly, and while he may stop to ponder the consequences, it is never for very long, and he usually leaves “Analysis, Mr. Spock?” to… Spock, suggesting that Spock carries the P trait in their pair instead of Kirk. Furthermore, IPs and IJs are often confused with one another, because although one may seem to be, for example, a judger, their functional stack actually has more traits characteristic of the opposite type. For example:
    INTP (Ti-Ne-Si-Fe) vs. INTJ (Ni-Te-Fi-Se)
    Spock’s dominant function is definitely Thinking. This would probably indicate that he is an INTP instead of an INTJ.
    I suppose that if he were entirely human, he might be an INTJ. However, in this analysis, I have adjusted for the fact that his Vulcan heritage has influenced the traits that he shows. Assuming that he is an INTP, his inferior function would be extroverted feeling. While at first, this may seem to be very unlike stoic Spock, recalling his childhood, when he was bullied and reacted outwardly, pushing back instead of collapsing in, and considering that he was bullied because he expressed his emotion – which, though attributed to his humanness, is probably aggravated by his Fe. Alright, I’m sorry for being utterly ridiculous on this topic, and I don’t mean to attack you – (I’m an INFJ too, by the way C: ) – I just really enjoy both Star Trek and psychology, so I thought I’d post this.

    1. Are we talking about the original series or the remakes? Kirk is definitely an ESTP in the remakes. Dominant Se is always “get right in the middle of everything, and think about the consequences later!” No strategy, just action. Other than being more of a jerk in the remakes, New Kirk isn’t that different from the original Kirk, who was probably also an ESTP. Secondary Ni would foresee the consequences of people’s actions, anticipate their behavior, and get caught off guard less. He uses that as an inferior function. ENFJs are careful. Strategic. Ultra-sensitive, and try to never upset the emotional balance of society. Nope, that would not be Kirk.

      Spock… is a blend of INTP and ISTJ in both the movies and the old series. His emotionality as a child in the new movies is certainly Fe (IXTPs are prone to temper tantrums, since their emotions are so under-developed), but I also see some Te-Fi in action: he decides Vulcan academy isn’t for him and without consulting anyone, just up and leaves. That is Te-Fi in action. No negotiation, no explanation, no need for external approval — he just does it. He thrives on structure, rules, and abiding by the Prime Directive almost to a hilarious degree — which is why he’s SO ISTJ so much of the time in the movies.

    2. I was about to say the same thing, how IP and IJ dominant functions often get confused. Where IJ is predominantly a perceiver (using their Ni), they come up with these kind of inner monologues and analyses, then use them to apply their logic to the outer world (Te, their secondary function). I would argue that you arrived at the right conclusion, INTJ, but for the wrong reasons.

      That is just the INTP in me talking though, lol.

    3. I was about to post about this, glad someone already did. IPs and IJs do often get called the wrong thing. IJs, for example, are predominantly perceivers, using their primary Ni function to construct these inner monologues and debates to form their conclusions. They then use their secondary function, Te, to apply these to the outer world. So I would argue, actually, that you arrived at the right conclusion but for the wrong reason.

      But that’s just the INTP in me talking. Lol.

      Then again letting other SJ types (those doers, they are) implement his theories and thoughts might be more of an NP trait.

  3. I am also an INTJ. I think your post is very accurate and conveys the character traits of Spock as they relate to the INTJ Personality type. I would recommend watching the 1991 film “Mobsters”. It’s a B-Movie, but the Meyer Lansky character is spot on for an INTJ. Especially the scene where he tosses the coin to the little boy.

  4. Thank you for this post. I love Spock’s character in both TOS and Into Darkness; his rational mind is so refreshing alongside Kirk’s “Feeling.”

  5. Interesting analysis. I enjoy both incarnations of Spock for different reasons. I like old Spock’s willingness to break regulation when the situation required it, but I admit a certain fondness for Quinto’s more emotional Spock as well.

  6. The similarities and deviations between old and new Spock are fascinating! When it comes to “playing by the rules” though, I think there’s actually a very logical support for this mindset. Most rules exist for a reason, and are the time-tested result of experience. Especially with an entity like Starfleet. Barring extreme or exceptional circumstances there is thus no reason for infringing on said rules. Kirk’s hacking a test benefited nobody besides himself, and was more of an annoyance than anything. On the other hand, Kirk deciding to break rules in outer space if it results in a Federation victory? Very logical.

    Are you referring to the TOS episode where some wanted to stop and bury the fallen crew members? While Spock insisted it would just get them killed? I watched it with someone who wailed about “how meeaaan” Spock was being, but I thought he was the only practical one present 😛

    Hmmm, actually–I always thought, at least within the canon of the new series, that Spock’s love for Uhura represented him falling in the footsteps of his father. Making an uncharacteristic emotional decision.

    What about typing some literary heroines? 🙂 A lot of people claim Jane Austen was an INTJ, but what about her characters? I’d also love to see a post about the difficulties of writing a character not your own type!

    Another truly great post 😉

    1. INTJs see the logic in some rules but not others, so they will break those that don’t seem to apply to their situation and/or that they find stupid.

      Yes, that’s the one! I wanted to kick that female crew member for treating him like that. 😛

      Spock falling for Uhura is an emotional decision… but it seems a little too much of one considering her rank and position in Starfleet should keep him at bay. That’s why the pairing bothers a lot of people. (I don’t mind it, but it is kind of illogical.)

      To write a post about writing characters outside your type, you’d have to write characters outside your type… right? In retrospect, much to my own amusement, I can see where almost all my characters are either INTJ or INFJ! Heh! But I’ll give it some thought!

    1. Walking out of that movie, I turned to Carissa and said, “New Spock is just like my brother.” He’s very much an ISTJ!

      Vulcans tend to be ISTJs — particularly with their “Vulcans cannot lie” foundation, which means Spock’s human side influences him to be an INTJ (when he is!).

    1. Spock is my favorite character no matter what incarnation we’re talking about, but I do have a soft spot for Quinto’s Spock. He can crack me up like no one’s business. “I am displaying multiple attitudes, sir… to which are you referring?”

      1. That’s one of my favorite lines, haha! (;
        Yes, old Spock is great too. I really love what Quinto brings to the character, though. I feel like he reinvented the role in a positive way.

        1. I also love, in response to Kirk insisting that they made it through the barrier just fine, “I’m not sure that qualifies!” Oh, gosh, it was awesome watching him fight Khan. I wasn’t sure which one to root for! 😛

  7. That “However” of Spock Prime irks me. He bends the rules where before he was truly unbendable. But that is where your thoughts on him undergoing a transformation come into play. Kirk is a powerful personality. And he does break through some of Spock’s, well, Spockness. You see small changes in Original Spock throughout the show, and he is more understanding, more willing to take a different path, in the films.

    I think, as an individual, I appreciate the N in other people because I’m not completely one myself. New Spock’s S traits annoy me, more so because it feels like he sticks to them to a point and then throws them aside, like with Uhura. Original Spock would have never gotten involved with a lesser officer, never. I appreciate the way Original Spock bends in certain directions, but doesn’t break. I agree that he is more N than S because he is more likely to break the rules than New Spock. Does Spock, either of them, change during their journey? Perhaps. Is it possible that New Spock will become more like Original Spock if they make another film? It would be interesting.

    All I know is that, whatever percentages Original Spock has, they work for me. I get how his mind works, how it functions, and I also see how he could be subtly influenced by circumstances, decisions, and the individuals around him to change slightly, but not entirely. That’s why I love him!

    1. Original Spock was capable of bending the rules at times! Spock Prime is merely a continuation of his enduring progression from being totally rigid to more personable. He’s still Spock, he’s simply learned to adapt to his environment and live within society. The differences in New Spock aren’t his fault, but the fault of the illogical writers!

      I love any and all incarnations of Spock. He’s simply a great character.

  8. As Spock himself would say, “Fascinating”! However let’s not forget that although we all have preferences towards a particular trait (I or E, S or N, etc…) very few of us operate in them exclusively. For example, I’m an ENFP but my preference for Extroversion and Feeling are weak, indeed I only score an an Extrovert at all by a very thing margin. It’s entirely possible that Spock is an INTJ with a weaker tendency towards Intuition, allowing him the luxury of operating in either trait depending on the situation.

    1. That’s very true! I only know ONE person who scored 100% on all their letters! Myself, I’m a pretty low T, which means I’m more of an F than some others would be. 🙂

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