When it comes to telling some personality types apart, it can get a little tricky. One of the more confusing pairs is the ISTP and INTP. Because these two personality types are similar in their functions and only differ through one preference, Sensing (S) and Intuition (N), you might find yourself identifying with certain aspects of both the ISTP and INTP type profiles, which can make it difficult to land on the type that fits you best. 

The good news is, there are actually some distinct differences in the behaviors of these two types so, if you know where to look, you should be able to tell them apart. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you discern which type matches you most.

Are you a ‘doer’ or a ‘thinker’?

ISTP personalities are known as “The Craftsman” for a reason – and it’s because they have mechanical minds. These types like to use their hands, minds and bodies to do things, make things and fix things. Their logical outlook serves them well as they find answers to mechanical or technical problems. 

Meanwhile, the INTP “Architect” likes theory over practice. This type will analyze the physics of an automobile engine over taking it apart. The INTP is concerned with the mysteries of the universe and life's unanswered questions, and they like the open-ended aspects of theories because there are, potentially, several answers to a problem. 

Long story short: if you like to get your hands dirty and do things, you’re likely an ISTP. Prefer thinking over doing and spend a lot of time in your head? That’s more typical of an INTP. 

Will you defend your beliefs to the death or are you forever picking ideas apart?

As theorists, INTPs tend to be wide open to ideas and concepts — which means you often debate long-held beliefs and customs and will change your opinion if new information comes along. INTPs have big imaginations and will often go down the rabbit hole of exploring new concepts, looking below the surface to get to the truth.

If you’re an ISTP, on the other hand, you tend to stick to what you know. ISTPs like holding onto things they’ve learned as truths: certain ideas about science or life that feel logical and practical. ISTPs won’t debate that these things are changeable like INTPs will.

Do you get bored easily?

INTPs don’t experience boredom as much as ISTPs because they’re fairly cerebral. Their rich inner lives keep them busy thinking, and if they do get bored, they can pick up a book or read an interesting article about some new concept. If that’s like you, it’ll slake your INTP appetite for inspiration for a while. 

But, if you’re an ISTP, you get bored a lot because you prefer to be out somewhere, being active and using your hands. In short, you like to be productive and learn new things! If it’s a rainy day, for example, and you feel unable to go out and do things, you’ll find boredom creeping up on you. You like to experience new, novel activities and sights, and when you’re unable to do this for a while, you’ll be quite restless!

Do you ask ‘how’ something works, or do you ask ‘why’?

The action-oriented ISTP wants to know how something works. If you find yourself asking how people do things, how they work, and how you can achieve your goal, you’re probably an ISTP. If you find yourself physically taking something apart so you can see how it works, that’s a good indicator you’re an ISTP.

INTPs, on the other hand, ask why. Why does the human brain take longer to learn and recall information with age? Why are particular drugs counteracted with citrus fruits? These are the sort of questions an INTP will ponder. 

Do you spot flaws in logic or in action?

The INTP is quick to spot a flaw in someone’s logic. INTPs in conversation with others won’t hold back if they don’t agree with a theory, timeline, or fact. These types are great at spotting (and pointing out) things that don’t add up. 

Meanwhile, ISTPs won’t point out abstract flaws, but they’ll catch flawed actions. For example, if someone is trying to assemble a piece of furniture or repair an item, the ISTP will see something the person is missing. If this is like you, you’ll want to take over for the person struggling — or at least tell them what they’re doing wrong! 

Do you expand on ideas and connect them to others, or do you summarize and get to the point?

A conversation with an INTP can develop into a full-blown analysis of several theories and points which they connect to each other like building blocks. If you’re an INTP discussing personality theory, for example, you will not only discuss the 16-type system and your type, but you’ll connect personality theory to other concepts in psychology and explain how your type connects to your social life, where you live, and what job you have.

If you’re an ISTP, you don’t like going down rabbit holes. You don’t segue conversations — you get straight to the point. Instead of talking about the breadth of a topic, like how to build a computer, you’ll summarize everything into bullet points. These little, digestible bits of information describe the actions and cut the fluff.

Do you let emotions build up and then lash out, or do you keep feelings bottled up?

Many ISTPs actually enjoy lashing out once in a while. They like to release pent-up aggressions and frustrations whenever they get too much — which means an ISTP might deliberately escalate a conflict with others. A sudden eruption of emotion isn’t uncommon for ISTP personality types.

INTPs, however, struggle to deal with their emotions and find them superfluous to the wide world of knowledge out there. Because they’re so focused on obtaining information and using their brain, they feel emotions get in the way of their thinking processes and clutter things up. Because of this, INTPs don’t often deal with negative emotions — though they can learn how to be more communicative of their feelings with time.

The takeaway

Telling ISTPs and INTPs apart can be tricky but asking yourself these questions should help you narrow down which type is more like you. If you’re still having some trouble discerning which type you are, ISTP vs. INTP, try taking a tally of your behaviors for a week. When you’re finished, look at your list and see which type seems to align more with your actions.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.