Intuitive Sensing, Sensory Intiution
December 26, 2013 11:10 PM   Subscribe

In the world of Myers-Briggs, what's the difference between N and S?

When I try to guess my friends' MBTI types, I usually get the other three letters correct but this one wrong. Whenever I've taken the test, I score right in the middle on this particular continuum, which is probably why I can't quite put my finger on how the two categories are meant to differ.

Can you give me specific examples of how an N and an S might deal with the same situation differently?

For instance, here's a J/P example I liked: "You finish writing an important document a few days before you need to deliver it. Js like to complete the decision-making process fairly quickly, so they would consider the project done and seal the envelope immediately. By contrast, Ps like to take a long time before finalizing decisions, so they would likelier leave the envelope unsealed and even further revise the document before delivering it.
posted by pseudostrabismus to Human Relations (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was given this example of the N/S distinction during a teamwork training and it makes a lot of sense to me:

You are shown a picture of a courtyard for a few seconds and then asked to describe it afterwards. If you lean towards Sensing (S), you will say things like, "The courtyard was framed by five or six marble arches, with a bench near each arch and there were four shrubs arranged in a semicircle around a tiered fountain." If you lean towards Intuiting (N), you will say things like, "The courtyard looked lush and tranquil. It seems like a good place to read a book or have a quiet chat with a friend."

The S is objectively detail oriented and the N is all about subjective overall impressions. It makes sense to me that this one is one of the harder Myers Briggs distinctions to grasp as I feel like we don't run into people who are obviously on one of the extremes of the S/N spectrum as easily as we might spot a party animal E or hyper-planner J.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 11:47 PM on December 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I understand it as "sensing" meaning gathering information from the senses (touch, taste, sight, sound) as opposed to "intuition" as getting information from your "gut", bubbling up from inside without tangible evidence.
posted by bleep at 11:58 PM on December 26, 2013

Show them a penny and ask them what they see.

The Sensing will define it- round, copper, pic of Lincoln etc. The Intuitive will give an answer you never expected.

Btw, that writing example isn't the best for judging MBTIs because its about writing and editing!
posted by xm at 12:24 AM on December 27, 2013

I often get different results in these tests but the one in which I am really clear is that I am an 'N', not an 'S'. Those questions are easy for me to answer. They seem to ask me whether I want to deal in the concrete, tangible world, or the abtract, analytical world. Perhaps analytical is not the right word because that can mean different things. But the 'S' answer always stands out to me as laughably literal-- no way would am I that person.
posted by jojobobo at 1:54 AM on December 27, 2013

The clearest distinction between the two* that I've ever seen was in nurses treating the same patient. Most of the nurses ran the same battery of questions, same order every time, same intonations, in an extremely well-defined procedure. Name, birthday, day of the week, current president -- to check on mental status. By the book. One nurse, though, would come in and chat with the patient on a range of subjects as she did the necessary tasks -- and the chat was always different and lively and unpredictable. I asked her about this and she said (I paraphrase), "Mental status, pffft. I get a much better picture of how our patient is doing when I talk with him!"

All of the nurses were terrific, but I'm not sure it would have occurred to the way-gone S types, who were strict about policy and procedure, to use a looser, more holistic approach. The talking nurse (who, to be fair, was older than the others, and trained abroad) observed all of the details and let them inform her judgment in a broader way than ticking off boxes.

* Given the limits of M-B, of course, but at least as far as the descriptions go internally...
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:24 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I took a Myers-Briggs thing at work a few jobs back. One part of the exercise consisted of showing us a drawing of a room for ten seconds (to force us to use our memory) and then asking us to describe it on a sheet of paper. This was, of course, an open-ended question. Most of my engineer coworkers made long detailed lists of everything they saw in the room – a lamp, a computer, a chair, etc. The typical score was about 25-50% in favor of Sensing. I, being the black sheep in the group, wrote a paragraph-long prose description of the room based on one or two items I saw, and my results came up 90% in favor of iNtuition. It just didn't occur to me that remembering everything in the room was important. I figured I was going to miss some details before my ten seconds were up but that was fine as long as I got the gist of it, enough to "describe" the room properly. If that session is any indication, it would seem that on the N-to-S spectrum, if you are an S, you are more concerned with capturing all the details, and if you are an N you are more likely to take in the gestalt of an experience and synthesize your sensual experience after the fact.
posted by deathpanels at 4:47 AM on December 27, 2013

The N/S exercise we did at a work retreat broke our group up into four small groups based on strong or weak N or S results. We were then asked "what is time?" The strong S group was done before the strong N's were finished discussing the task. When the results of the exercise were revealed, the strong S's had a sizeable list of units of time. The weak S and N groups also had lists of around half a dozen items, and elements that were more abstract (like, "something to manage", for example) featured more strongly as we moved from S to N. The strong N's had "a construct" and maybe two other highly conceptual things that we'd sort of mostly agreed on, but mainly written down because we were running out of time.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:18 AM on December 27, 2013

This is kind of an 'n' answer, but I figure this out with friends by the conversations we have: 'n's can talk about abstract concepts and 'what ifs' for hours , while 's's generally don't like this and prefer to talk about what they did that day, or otherwise concrete things or phenomena that exist or are happening.

'N's are the absent minded professor, philosophical type. 'S's are known to be more practical, in the ' here and now' of the earthly world.

I find that as an 'n' most of my closest friends are 'n's as well because I love to have those meandering, abstract, 'what if' conversations. I can't really do that much with an 's', although 's's like my mom are great for practical advice.

Also, some people are not overwhelmingly one or the other , and may have a lot of both, so that may be why you are having a hard time guessing. However I do think that one factor is usually dominant in a person.
posted by bearette at 5:24 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

On every MBTI I've ever taken, I've gotten over 90% N. (INTJ, pretty weak everything else). I think it's about how information is taken in--mostly, because in my experience, I have a hard time paying attention to sensory input: I live very much "in my head." I make things up rather than take things in. This can result in not appreciating a sunset or good food as much as other people, and one time, I was walking down Third Avenue with a friend and he screamed "oh my god! what the hell!" and I said "what?" and he said "Did you not just see the 80 year old topless woman who just walked by?!" and no, I hadn't noticed her.
posted by millipede at 6:40 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

My preferred strategy for guessing types is using the Keirsey temperaments (SP, SJ, NF, NT) to narrow things down. The temperaments are found in "Please Understand Me" and its sequel, "Please Understand Me II" and if you haven't read the latter you really should, it makes the whole thing more enjoyable. If you can tell someone's temperament then you already know if they prefer intuiting or using sensory experience because N and S can never be the same temperament so that helps.

"The Art of Speedreading People" gives a lot of clues to look for when trying to decide N or S. Using language clues has already come up and one thing the book points out is that Sensors use physical descriptions when Ns prefer describing associations. Some clues from the book:

- S usually has orientation toward present or past. This can reveal itself when S expounds long and in detail on memories from past. All of the people I know who prefer S, when they talk about an experience, they give a lot of detail and they tell it in sequential order. Ns are more likely to use recaps, to rephrase things and to omit details and jump around.

- On movement and body awareness, "it is far more likely, for example, for an Intuitive to misjudge the distance of an upcoming step, or bump into a door jamb, than it is for a Sensor." Superior body awareness, body comfort and grace are particularly characteristics of Sensors who are also Perceivers.

- 65% of college professors prefer intuiting and academia is strongly biased in favor of an intuiting preference. The highest educational level achieved may be a clue. Athletics, particularly a lifelong pursuit of athletics as a hobby is a clue for Sensor.

Here is some stuff from an old book called "Conscious Orientation" written by J.H. Van der Hoop, a contemporary and disciple of Carl Jung (Carl Jung being the person who introduced all this stuff in the first place):

A description of how a preference for sensation would appear, behaviorally:
(1) There is here a closer connection between certain emphases in sensation and the mode of reaction.

(2) The reaction appears to be according to a more or less fixed pattern.

(3) To the observer behaviour seems to be motivated by instinctual wishes, by blind impulse, or by habit; reason or conscious motivation appearing to have little influence.

(4) A change in the pattern of behaviour, or an adaptation to circumstances, takes place gradually and empirically, by means of a shifting of the emphases (trial and error). (pg. 26)

He, umm, doesn't provide a similar list of the visible behaviors of someone using intuition. J.H. Van der Hoop is an inconsistent jump-around N.
posted by Danila at 9:04 AM on December 27, 2013

At a training I received, the trainer had the strongest S and the strongest N take turns (while the other was out of the room) describing this photo.

The S: "it's a photo of a can of soup. It's a metal can with a paper label. Inside is condensed soup. The soup is red and creamy... You can add water or milk. Um, that's it. It's a little salty."

The N: "oh, Campbells Tomato Soup! This image is in a famous painting by... what's his name, Andy Warhol! Tomato soup in a can represents the commoditization of agriculture and mass production of food, which many people criticize but which also helped reduce hunger and eased domestic work at a time when many former housewives who were starting to enter the workforce..."

The S makes sense of the soup can via its concrete details. The N makes sense of it by connecting it to trends and overarching concepts.
posted by slidell at 10:14 AM on December 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

S is realistic, detail-oriented & down-to-earth. N is idealistic, impressionistic, and imaginative. S is practical while N is a dreamer. They are quite different when the preference is strong and sometimes don't relate well for deeper relationships.

N can be into mystical types of things too. I'm an INFJ and we are supposed to be sort of psychic or prophetic. We Ns are big on trusting our gut instinct or feeling or whatever that gut thing is. We just know it will lead us the right way and so pay attention to it.
posted by wildflower at 5:36 AM on December 28, 2013

INTJ here.

I think of intuition as being about the connection between things, and sensing as about the things themselves. As an N, I find it satisfying to place things into a context (or five) and also to see the ripple effects of connecting that thing to the related things. It's all about the forest(s) for me, not each tree.

That said, I am also very detail-oriented. The difference between N and S isn't the difference between "absent-minded" and "paying attention" — it's about why you think the details are important. Are you describing a thing in isolation (S), or putting it in context (N)? For me, the details are interesting not in themselves but as jumping off points for connections, so I collect them like treasures.

In practice, this means that I'm the person to ask if changing a page on the company website is more work than you think, because I think of that page in terms of its connections to all of the other web content. If you delete that paragraph, we'll also need to update the PDF that tells people to look on that page for the info in that paragraph.
posted by heatherann at 7:56 AM on January 11, 2014

Thanks for these answers- I feel a much deeper understanding of the differences between the two. I marked "best" the ones that framed the contrast in a way that was new to me personally, but all the answers here are useful and germane. Thanks!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:19 PM on February 8, 2014

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