Zach Nichols, The ISTP Detective


I first discovered Law & Order when I was still living with my parents. One afternoon, they started watching. Tried to interest me in it. Didn’t work. Then, I caved one afternoon, got hooked… and that was all, she wrote. I watched back to back episodes on TNT and new episodes on NBC for years. I started watching SVU once in awhile, and got hooked on Criminal Intent, too.

The introduction of Zach Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) in the eighth season of the latter series was an interesting choice; I recognized him from Jurassic Park, but didn’t really care either way. I simply liked him as a detective; he was a great alternative to Bobby Goren, the intense, hyperactive detective more than willing to play “bad cop” … because Nichols was the quiet, introspective, analytical “good cop.” Put them in the same episode, there were fireworks set off by two distinctly different personalities, each with differing strengths … but most of the time, Nichols went head to head with villains of every stripe alongside one of his two female partners.


Naturally, at the time I knew nothing about personality typing … but now, I understand why I always did like Nichols: he’s the latest in a long line of ISTP characters that have won me over with their intelligence, flashes of insight, and laid-back approach to life. From sci-fi to crime drama, and including the book character of Sherlock Holmes, ISTPs showcase one of the more driven personalities … and none is a better example of healthy functional interaction than Nichols.

Personality typing is a theory based on how each individual processes information; through introverted (subjective) functions and external (objective) realities. Different combinations and orders of functions determine the 16 personality types. ISTPs are extremely common in action films but also turn up in crime dramas as detectives; they’re the ones who are very sensory-aware (watchful of environment, quick to respond) but go off of “hunches” and “gut instinct.”


Foremost in the personality of the ISTP is their dominant function, introverted thinking (Ti)… a highly logical, detached process of filtering information according to its rationality. Nothing gets past it, and it will hang up a conversation if a total logical acceptance of the subject at hand is not accomplished. It thinks… and thinks… and thinks… constantly, because it sees the world and all the people in it as a system to be analyzed and figured out. Nichols showcases this often, either by challenging established logical belief systems or by asking questions that no one else is thinking about. She also does not tell anyone what he is thinking until it is fully formed into a working hypothesis, with which he can then use evidence to prove his logical conclusions valid. He’s a man of few but carefully chosen words, as all ISTPs are.

Next up is his extroverted sensing, which is the ability to remember information without personal bias or needing an emotional attachment to it; it’s objective recall of environments, individuals, and situations based merely on the facts. This enables him to approach crime scenes and assess them without personal biases interfering in his conclusions; he is highly observant of his environment, and notices things that others do not … from bed bugs on the floor to micro-expressions on the faces of the accused. He is interested in engaging with his environment (even if that means buying something from every vendor on the street), and is not afraid to get his hands dirty or take big risks … including approaching bombs, going into hostage situations open-handed, or push criminals to the breaking point. Extroverted sensing makes ISTPs reactive, opportunistic, and observant… risk-takers.


More importantly, however, Nichols also has introverted intuition, which is where his gut instincts come from. Often, he knows more about what is truly going on in a situation than is readily apparent; he works out how something is going to unfold in his head, and then orchestrates others to make it transpire as he envisioned it. He connects random threads of information to form a bigger picture, which gives him motive and guilty party. Introverted intuition is a process, in ISTPs, of narrowing down the options, in focusing on a single truth and/or vision for the future, and in sensing more about people and situations than is superficially apparent in conversation and appearances. It’s pure instinct… knowing how to handle a situation and turn it to an advantage. It’s intuitive awareness of something, which is why ISTPs are so good at mechanical things; flashes of insight make them good mechanics, hackers, or problem-solvers.

Finally, his least-used function but the one that gives him his mild mannerisms and sense of humor, is extroverted feeling. It is the desire to be socially appropriate, the ability to read other people’s emotional reactions, and a desire to be liked as an individual. Like an introverts who use it, Nichols is not very forthcoming with his emotions and disinterested in sharing his feelings too easily, but has a warm and amiable nature. Because his extroverted feeling is so far down in how his brain processes information, he is not easily insulted and rarely becomes emotionally engaged. He’s able to stay calm in intense situations and also is willing to “cave” to a consensus of opinion even if he doesn’t agree, for a greater cause.

His unusual approach makes him something of a mystery to his coworkers, most of whom are TJ personalities. His reasoning is beyond them, abstract and based on hunches and invisible insights, but he’s rarely wrong and always entertaining to watch.

11 thoughts on “Zach Nichols, The ISTP Detective

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  1. This has nothing to do with your post, but I know Jeff Goldblum from The Fly, one of my absolute favorite movies. I have a feeling you’d find a lot of symbolism in that movie.

    1. I have heard of it. In fact, the older version with Vincent Price rather… um, traumatized Carissa. I may have to watch the remake sometime, just for kicks. 😉

        1. Let me see if I can remember what she told me about it — disturbing, I think, was the word she used. I guess seeing Vincent Price’s tiny head stuck on a fly freaked her out. 😀

  2. One of my favorite aspects of the ISTP is how amiable they are. Most of the time. When they’re healthy. Sherlock not withstanding. Nichols really wears the badge well, getting along with his coworkers even though he befuddles them on a regular basis. He’s content to just be who he is, play to his strengths, and if other people disagree with him, well, okay, he’s still right, but he’ll at least bow to a consensus. He works well in a group, minus his lack of sharing his insights until the very end when he finds all the pieces of the puzzle. He exhibits cooperation, which is a really admirable trait, and he seems to respect the opinions of others around him . . . even when they’re wrong.

    While I think probably anyone could have played Nichols and done it well, I’m glad they cast Goldblum because it really works with the energy and micro-expressions he tends to bring to a role. Like Cal Lightman in Lie to Me, a show that didn’t last nearly long enough, he reads people almost to the point of never being wrong. And I love that about him. He reminds me of everything that is good, brilliant, and amiable in Sherlock Holmes . . . the real one.

    Excellent post, I shall put it on the list!

    For all of you curious folk out there, this post is part of the Goldblum Fest over on my blog. Join if you like!

    Goldblum Fest on Musings of an Introvert

    1. ISTPs using their Fe really are laid back and good natured; they are not nearly as hurt by conflict or criticism as the higher feeling types but also inclined to be socially appropriate and blend in where they can, to put others at ease. I think one of the better instances of Fe in Zach is when his former partner / their captain was killed and he gave in to Goren and Eames’ desire to let the bad guy go, despite feeling strongly that it was the wrong decision to make. Typical Fe, caving in to pressure and seeing the greater logic of injustice … but he turns around and plants fear in the man’s mind, as to how he is going to die… and it might be now or it might be later, but it will come, because he has chosen that life for himself. So very, very Fe. Hitting an emotional target where it hurts. If I can’t arrest the bastard, I’ll make him live every day of his life in fear — not from me, but from the people he cares about who want his power. Nicely done.

      Goren was always a bit too INTJ for my taste… too brutal. Zach accomplishes the same thing, but with psychology and emotional manipulation more than force and pushing people too far.

      Sherlock is still an STP type, but … his Fe is haywire and working improperly. Watson is bringing it out in him with time and he is mellowing out, but he has a long way to go before he’s the laid-back STP that he was meant to be. (The same goes for RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes. Gosh, I miss the REAL Holmes…)

      1. Well, as I’ve said numerous times before, I doubt it’s healthy for an ISTP to be all clingy like RDJ’s Holmes. It’s a little creepy, in fact, as I’m sure they intended since there are far too many gay jokes in those films. *eye roll*

        I’m less inclined to brutal cops than the manipulative ones. I even struggle liking Brenda sometimes because she can take it a step too far. That episode you showed me with Nichol’s captain was fantastic. No. he didn’t want to go along with everyone else, but he didn’t let his stubbornness keep him from cooperating with the team. And he gave us a terrifying moment of power with the bad guy, which I loved. It’s remarkable what a tiny seed of doubt can do to a person. I doubt that dude will ever be the same again now that Nichols has been fooling around in his brain.

        I found the entire series on ebay for under $100, so I just bought it. I figure that if I don’t want the rest of the seasons, I can just sell them, since they’re all packaged separately. 🙂

        1. A healthy ISTP is an awesome thing. An unhealthy one, such as my grandfather, is not. You have not experienced hell until you have encountered erratic, irrational, and explosive Fe in an inferior position — so ill-managed that it is uncontrollable and expressed through temper tantrums. Usually IXTPs either repress their emotions into non-existence (because they are so ill-equipped to deal with them) or find it hard to control their feelings when they do manifest. So … I wish all of them were like Zach Nichols, but they’re not.

          (Just… throwing that out there, in case you or anyone else starts over-romanticizing ISTP personalities. Their flaw is their low order Fe.)

          I enjoy Brenda (ENFP) a great deal, although her methods are not always ethical and when it came right down to it, I had to agree with Sharon about what happened with that one punk she got killed due to her behavior.

          Bobby Goren. I like him. A lot. But he has anger issues that fall into a psychotic break, and he can be unpredictable and erratic. And… mean. It works, but he can be brutal in interrogations.

          I’m not sure which cop is scarier… the one who messes with your head, or the one who tells it like it is. Both are intimidating, but any Fe user is always going to be more … emotionally exploitative.

          Wow, ten seasons for under $100? Good deal. I hope you enjoy the earlier seasons. 🙂 BTW, all the L&O seasons are out as well. My library even has them all, so I’m going to revisit the Abby years!

  3. Fascinating. Now I want to watch him. Particularly as I really like Jeff Goldblum.
    Ever watch Columbo? Your analysis of the ISTP makes me think Columbo might be one.

    1. I have always pegged Columbo as an NTP type because of his overall behavior and method of trolling people, but his tendency to zero in on who did it does indeed smack of Ni, so I may have to revisit that typing…

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