The Qualities of Sensing and Intuition

– By a friend of the CT admins –

Do you put more stock in facts than in flighty theory and philosophy? Do you prefer to do something every day? Are you results-oriented? Then you are probably Sensing.

Or would you rather ignore immediate events in favor of discussing ideas and abstract concepts? Do you find the sports channel boring? Do you have a hard time remembering the color of the building outside your window or where you put those important tax documents? Then you might be Intuitive.

Sensing and Intuition

Sensing and Intuition describe two different ways to process information from the outside world:

A Sensing type (S) focuses his attention on the impressions provided by the five senses. Sensers focus on their concrete experiences. Roughly speaking, the memory of a Sensing type serves as a photo album containing snapshots from various events. Sensers relate directly to their surroundings and make decisions quickly and instinctively, and when a Sensing type plans for the future, these plans involve specific events and activities.

In contrast we have the Intuitive type (N) who tends to tune out the immediate sensory impressions and use his reflective capacities to identify the underlying patterns of these sensory impressions instead. Intuitives tend to remember less about individual episodes and more about what he perceived to be the causes and consequences of a given chain of events. Intuitives cherish having time for analysis and thinking and their reactions are typically not immediate, the way those of Sensers are, but instead manifest themselves after a period of reflection.

As a concrete example of the difference between S and N, let us imagine that an S and an N go to the movies to see Top Gun. Afterward they are each asked to sum it up. The S type will say that Top Gun is about a bunch of elite pilots undergoing military training and eventually they end up fighting the Russians. But the N type will say that Top Gun is a homo-erotic love drama.

The concepts of Sensing and Intuition come from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). MBTI theory assumes that humans have a natural preference for either S or N, and that this preference can be clearly identified for each person. MBTI is used on a very large scale within the coaching and HR industries and substantial financial interests are at stake to support this assumption of binarity. But the scientific basis for humans to have this unique and unequivocal preference is extremely fragile, and so while a person’s height or weight can be measured objectively, there is no such objective standard when it comes to MBTI. So in principle, your opinion about whether I am S or N is just a good as mine.

What does make good sense, however, is to apply the concepts in the description of behavioral patterns: When my friend tells me that he was at a very Intuitive birthday party, I will know right away that what he means is that this party featured lively and abstract discussion on high-brow subjects. I would also know that there was probably no loud music or dance floor – which is what I would expect if my friend had instead told me that the birthday party in question was extremely Sensing.

Strengths and Weaknesses

So basically, where the Sensers are the masters of action, the Intuitives tend to be at home in the domain of abstract thinking. This divide has led to a kind of thinly veiled elitism amongst the Intuitives who perceive themselves as more profound than the Sensing types as well as completely unfettered and without any real constraints to their ideas. When Intuitives are out there selling instruments like the MBTI to a Sensing audience, the Intuitives tell the Sensers that they are much more in touch with their five senses, but when the Intuitives converse in a all-Intuitive setting, they perceive Sensers as limited beings, wholly unable to reason in the abstract domain.

IF the Intuitives could actually manage to implement ideas from their abstract thoughts into their daily lives, then their elitism might actually be justified. But this is where the weakness of Intuitives becomes apparent.

Because he gets caught up in his abstract ideas and internal world of reflection, the Intuitive forgets about what is real. Theoretical analysis is engaged in not because it is necessary, but because it is entertaining. Introspective psychological insights of an uncomfortable nature (those that are the prerequisite for real growth and maturation) may come quicker to Intuitive types than they do to the Sensing types, but being endowed with their over-active capacity for reflection, Intuitives will quickly and painlessly spin out new alternative theories on the matter that effectively drown out the inconvenient truth.

Another thing about Intuition: Intuitive types are abstract in their reasoning, but a capacity for abstract thinking is by no means the same as a capacity for logical thinking. Despite the fact that it is impossible to determine with 100% certainty whether a given person is S or N, you will nevertheless find dozens of threads at http://www.typologycentral.com that eagerly discuss whether a given celebrity is S or N. Typology Central is of course, an N-dominated website, because which Senser would bother to waste his time like this?

So while a person would be justified in pointing out that Sensers are slow(er) to recognize patterns and read between the lines, it would be equally fair to emphasize that Intuitives can sometimes have a very hard time finding a concrete application and outlet for their abstract ideas.

What is best?

In my opinion you should strive to master the positive elements of both Sensing and Intuition. To apply Intuition makes sense, provided that there is a real problem to be solved. To practice abstract thinking just for the sport is fine, but only if it is not at the expense of productive action. Conversely, to live wholly in the senses is natural, as long as you remember to reflect upon yourself and your surroundings every now and again and implement any changes that may be necessary.

Finally, if you are a Senser, and you are made to feel inferior by the Intuitives around you, please take that in stride. A person who forgets to apply Intuition may have to repeat some mistakes in in his life, but while doing so, he is actually out there, living life. An Intuitive who neglects Sensing will not even realize that he is forgoing concrete action until one day he wakes up to the uncomfortable realization that he has spent years doing… nothing!

30 Comments

  1. Hi,

    ISTJ here. I’d like to say that your sight is both fun and informative!

    One thing I have always struggled with is poor intution. Though I have read a lot about Ni and Ne on the internet, I don’t really know how to practice it and develop it. While they tell iNtuitives wanting to develop their Sensing functions to just take things in in a literal sense, ie how something literally tastes like or feels like or looks like (big, small, color) etc, I have not seen any instruction or tips on how to be more iNtuitive. Would you have any suggestions? Thanks…

  2. Hi there Norm,

    Intuition is something that ppl like me (NT category) had without knowing since childhood. It has always been this way for me. Specific childhood events and my upbringing might have had a part to play towards turning me into a initial INTP which I worked on to bring out my ENTP/INTJ sides more often. Once I started realizing that I’ve been burying my Sensing Side and it’s actually bad for me, I started practicing/ developing my Sensing side simply by trying to be more extrovert. Ironically. The sensing side and being an extrovert had connections to develop. Thus, I was also able to show my ENFP characteristics.

    If you’d like to be more intuitive, I’d advise trying to find patterns behind each and every little and big thing in daily life, in politics, in everything pretty much. Developing a intuitive side is very hard, guessing way harder than it was for me to bring out my ENTP side.

    I’m still an INTP with occasional INTJ or ENTP results. It’s hard and will take a long time. Good Luck.

  3. One more thing. My personality growth had a lot to do with who I spent my time with, whether it was only by myself or with friends. My best friend’s an ENTP with a strong I/J side thus making him an occasional INTJ/ENTJ. He has had a lot to do with how I’ve grown up to be. Then again, I am an introvert, so, what worked for me may not work for an extrovert by default.

  4. I like the advice you gave, Mark. I also found that being more extraverted improved my memory.

    I’ll add to developing intuition “engaging in a free-flow of thought”. Just let the thoughts stream through your mind and connect them freely. Write those that you can remember. Or else, you can get a collection of words and arrange them in alternative ways. After this exercise, you try to figure out what the mambo-jambo you’ve written means. You can also get a topic and try to argue for and against by your own ideas. After, you analyze for correctness by either looking for logic or observing life or gathering information to confirm. This is very ENTP but it works.

    I also have had Intuition for long but unaware of it. My behavior and philosophy is very Socrates and I fell in love with he, Einstein and Russell immediately I met them – met Socrates first. One other person who’s most likely ENTP is King Leonidas – that witty but biting criticism of anothers logic and his irreverent humor gives it away and he actually sees it as a service. With life circumstances, Feeling has developed to dampen the harsher attributes of being an ENTP – I am classic ENTP only when it matters.

    What do you think about Giordano Bruno’s type? I’ll say he’s also ENTP

  5. Just like Monarc said, I would also be very interested with what you folks believe Giordano Bruno’s type to be. He was a metaphysician, philosopher, and cosmologist who constructed a revolutionary map of our universe, one that is infinite in its creations and dynamic in its design. I would type him as an INTJ, but I could also see any of the 4 NT types for him.

  6. My advice: Keep an intuition diary. Record thoughts and try to make sense of them. Listen to your gut feeling whenever you have a difficult problem in play.

    My job allows me to develop sensing and use it productively, but also plays to my natural intuition.

    Remember that intuition and sensing are neither inferior nor superior. A healthy balance of both is what you should try to work towards. After all… Sensing is perfect for productivity and intuition for reflection.

  7. This article fallaciously associates intuition with being a perciever and sensing with being a judger. INTJs are intuitives who, in the words of the CT description, are “tenacious”, and “oriented towards action”. ENTJs are “no-nonsense, efficient organizers”. Do you really think Lenin and Napoleon wasted their time musing about pointless abstract nonsense? The suggestion that intuitives are more likely to waste their time and fail to get things done is insulting and lazy. Wasting your time is, in general, a perciever thing. Not to be prejudiced; being persnickety, in contrast, is a judger thing. And this is not an iron-clad rule, as I myself am a judger who often wastes time (albeit with consternation). Nevertheless, the trend is there. The N/S distinction comes out in HOW the time is wasted. You are correct that an NP would be more likely to waste time on an internet forum talking about typology. However, an SP would be more likely to waste time clubbing, watching reality tv, or “hanging out” with friends. Really, it’s a wash.

  8. First we must say that we agree that one shouldn’t insult people’s preferences, be they sensation *or* intuition.

    Next we would say, though, that this article was written in 2011 when the bias against sensation was running rampant online and that the article was written as a “reply” to those times.

    Thirdly, while there is *some* truth to Myers’ idea of P types drifting and staring into space while J types go get it, that is not the whole story. Alexander famously said that he had never procrastinated about anything and Ni types often report having a low activity level and not being as organized as the MBTI descriptions let on. This is not to say that all Ni types are like that, far from it, but merely to point out that Myers’ original idea of J/P and wasting time doesn’t hold up in all cases.

    In terms of the Big Five personality system there is a facet called Achievement Striving which correlates with J/P but only partially. Thus, any type could potentially be higher in Achievement Striving than any other type as long as we are speaking about the *individual* level and not the type as a whole.

    For this same reason, nothing in the article above can really be taken personally, no matter what type one is.

    Hope this clears up some of the context regarding this old article :-)

  9. I’m an ESTJ, and I love routine; however, experience showed me some routines can be deadly.

  10. Very shallow explanation. Probably confusing for xnxj’s trying to learn what type they are.

  11. Yeah, it was written many years ago and we don’t link to it from the main site.
    If you think you can do better, you’re welcome to email us your draft.

  12. Great article. I love how it shows the strengths and weaknesses of each type that none is really superior over the other. I’m an INFJ and there are some days where I felt like I accomplished a whole lot, but those are only some days..

    It’s important that one day intuitives and sensors worldwide understand each other. :D

  13. All in all, the post was very informative, direct and effective in relaying the message to the public on highlighting the distinct differences between Sensing (S) and Intuitive (N) functions. The examples provided were adequate and moreover, I enjoyed the fact that you also emphasized the ambiguity of the Myer-Briggs Personality type where it entails the quality of lacking in empirical evidence in spite of the volatility and dynamism in human behavioral attitudes and personality endowments. However, there are several comments that are to be pointed out on the section where you composed the “Strengths and Weaknesses” of both the Sensing (N) and Intuitive (N) functions. I noticed the partiality in only attempting to illuminate the strengths of the Sensing (S) function and to diminish and thwart the Intuitive (N) function, as proven by a lack of justification in the strengths of Intuitive (N) function. It is much more appreciated if you could provide opinions and ideas (or possibly theories) that give light on the strengths and weaknesses of both the functions as so to provide a more justified platform for people to make their judgements and assess their personalities equivocally.

  14. Hi,
    I am an ISTJ. After doing some my own research I found out what is the thought process of INTJ’s when they think.I used it for a year to the point that it happens naturally (or so to say).But the problem is my natural S type.So as to understand a concept I need to explain myself that the example is nothing but the concept and that it can be generalized.

    I would really appreciate if somebody tells me how I can understand things like INTJ currently I am using the Feynaman Technique/First grader Technique.But it takes efforts and as I am using it,I feel tired.
    Inshort how can an ISTJ know if TopGun is homoerotic movie without forcing himself to think.Something that should happen naturally

  15. P.S. I would like to mention that I took an IQ test and my logical and reasoning skill showed to be 99.51 percentile.So I am really confused because its easy for me to find pattern like in tests etc. But in real life I need to put effort to it.Its really freaking me out

  16. P.P.S I am really sorry for the third post.But I have also tried the methods mentioned above,however they worked very well but my faked N nature would first make an algorithm for everything but then the S nature would try to follow that like a rulebook next time.I counseled over this but no one guided me properly.Their logic had flaws.

  17. Kill me for this ..but I have just one other question Do N types need time to analyze things like mentioned above or is it okay to need time to analyze things.Because as an S type I don’t need time to give response but when I use Feynamn Technique -which is nothing but Socrates method of thinking-I need time to analyze and then I can tell

  18. Three followups, are you sure you’re ISTJ? :)

    As to you your first question, there really is no way to synthesize the Ni process and you can really only understand it from an outside theoretical perspective. Asking an INJ how they use their primary function is like asking us how we dream. It is as mysterious to us as it is to anyone else, but living without it seems like a horrible thing to me.

    From a quick read on the Feynman Technique it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near related to Ni. Ni is more like meditation or dreaming.

  19. Thanks Scratch,for your response.And yes I thought that three followups aren’t characteristics of an ISTJ though.

    When you say about Ni, I have experienced that meditating like concentration on things I am thinking on.Not,necessarily Feynman Technique,the method Socrates used ie by continuous questioning things is same .

    But still I want to ask is Ni more like the time we solve problems like figuring things out or self explanation.Because when I do that it feels like when I solve problem.

  20. Well, remember: one should not jump immediately to ones inferior function. That would be wishful thinking.

    Work progressively from top to bottom, while not proceeding from a function to the next without tangible progress.

    It surprises me to see how little people in the MBTI community are aware of this.

  21. I took a personality test on 16personalities.com and the result was ISTJ, but I was very close to being INTJ- by 56-44%. Given this two percent difference and the unknown accuracy of the test, might it be safe to assume I am both? I plan everything out, I frequently question authority, plus I am liberal and have terrible social skills, like an INTJ. I also have the INTJ trait of over-analysis. However, I also keep my promises and am an extremely dedicated and responsible person, which are ISTJ traits, so I’m not really sure what my type is. However, I clearly identify and act closer an INTJ. Is it possible to be both types, or should I consider myself to be only INTJ?

  22. ZZI, I would say that it seems you’ve fallen prey to the N>S craze. Your communication style rings strongly of ISTJ–you are precise, clear, and organized in your thinking. Although you say you “question authority”, you aren’t afraid to defer to people you consider experts for an opinion. One may say you “distrust your hunches”…please refer to this page (https://www.idrlabs.com/articles/2012/11/how-to-tell-if-you-are-intj-or-istj/) for some answers, but in my humble opinion, you’re very likely to be an ISTJ who is also young.

  23. Hello there, I show signs (according to the Briggs-Myers definitions of Sensing and Intuition) aspects of both. However the test from TypeFocus concluded that Intuition was the better fit. Now it’s not really important but I have to mention it. The writer of this blog post seems to have some sort of disdain towards Intuition types. I was hoping to find something to reference in my paper about my personality assessment results but it seems apparent I won’t be using this site at all, as such extreme bias is unacceptable as a reference, and it’s actually a little disheartening to see someone have such unveiled hostility to the concept of intuition. I want to clarify that I post this more as an attempt to ensure this bias doesn’t cause more issues than acceptable, because history shows that allowing one person’s bias to influence others has resulted in some pretty terrible historical events, and although I doubt one internet blog could cause any significant event, I think it’s better to stamp out the possibility than to deal with the consequences. I thank everyone who took the time to read through this entirely and I hope you all have a good day, regardless of being S or N.
    sincerely
    Erik the INTP.

  24. Haha, well I agree that the author, an ISTJ, is biased in favor of Sensation. As such, this is one of the few pieces in the literature on type bashing Ns from an S standpoint whereas most of the major sites, works, and theorists in this field have been biased in favor of N types. If you look around the site, you’ll see articles with an N bias too, which brings me to my next point: While I can agree that neutrality is desirable in e.g. a textbook, I don’t agree that no biased articles or voices should be heard. You yourself mention democracy, and as Machiavelli, who was something of a republican, saw clearly early on, spirited debate, with a multitude of conflicting voices, can aid immeasurably in the exploration and discovery of a field. Sometimes far more so than one centralized and would-be authoritative one. :)

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