Sensation vs. Intuition

The first set of letters in Personality Type Categories was presented in the Introvert vs. Extrovert post from April 18, 2010.  The second set of letters: S vs. N define a totally different personal preference.  These letters illustrate how we perceive our direct surroundings, hence they are called the Perceiving functions.

We can only use one or the other at any given moment.  They are in conflict with one another.  As individuals we have a tendency to prefer one function over another: Sensation (S from now on) vs. Intuition (N from now on).

To stereotype these, we would assume an S type is very here and now and an N type has his head in the clouds.  But… that is way too simple of an explanation.  The waters run much deeper!

Ss are very aware of their physical surroundings as perceived by the senses, where Ns generally ignore the material surface and consider the larger picture or any underlying patterns, beyond the reach of the senses.  Ss have excellent powers of observation and Ns have vivid powers of imagination.

Well, you can just imagine how this progresses… facts, facts, facts for Ss, but Ns are straight into the “whole picture”.  Ss solve problems based on past experience and Ns on ingenuity.  This table lists some distinctions:

Sensing Intuition
Concrete – depend on verifiable, factual information and direct perceptions. Literal, mistrust fuzzy information Abstract – comfortable with and inferring meaning from ambiguous and non-literal information. Perceptive.
Realistic – value being practical, cost-effective, and exercising common sense. Imaginative – enjoy being ingenious, clever and novel . . . for its own sake.
Pragmatic – highly values the usefulness or applications of an idea – more interesting than idea itself. Intellectual – learning, acquiring knowledge, mental challenges are valued as an end in itself.
Experiential – heavily grounded by first hand, past experience. Reluctant to generalize beyond direct experience. Theoretical – conceptual, automatically search for patterns in observed facts, comfortable with theories and inventing new ones.
Traditional – trust what is familiar, support established groups and methods, honor precedents. Original – values initiative and enterprising, inventive, and novel solutions. Often mistrusts conventional wisdom.

As individuals, we each tend toward one preference, if we drift too far on the spectrum toward either end, imbalances  become apparent.   An exclusive reliance on S can make it difficult to deal with theories or abstract concepts unless we can apply them directly to our own experience.  An overreliance on N, can keep us from understanding the value of stability and perseverance.  We may jump to conclusions too quickly or confuse possibility with fact (ex: the INTP below).

Look at the difference between an S and an N:

ISTP                                                                                                                                                                              INTP

In Gladiator, Russell Crowe was a gutsy, do-it-his-own-way ISTP.  A Beautiful Mind featured him as a brainy, all be it emotionally challenged INTP.  The only difference in the Personality Type letters is the S vs. N.  The two characters do have shared traits: they are both introverts, thinkers and probers – very evident in the films.  But when the whole personality is considered, they are very different.  For a quick review of ISTP vs. INTP revisit the MBTI post from April 3, 2010.

10 thoughts on “Sensation vs. Intuition

  1. Whether you are an S or an N, do you live with someone who is the opposite? Do you constantly find yourself saying, “How can they see things that way?” Or maybe, “How in the world does their brain work?!”


  2. Debi, I would say my husband is an S and I am an N. His thinking is very practical and realistic- one of the “need all the facts before I make a decision” type of guy. I prefer going with gut feelings and intuition. Opposites definitely attract.

    1. I’m the S and my boyfriend is a tip-the-scale N (ENTP)! Wow! My wonderful deceased husband was an INTP, but he was much more toward the middle of the scale. Sometimes it can make day-to-day life challenging, but I agree – opposites attract. And it’s never boring!


  3. I really like your blog, and It’s funny how similar a lot of our blog posts are! Anyway I just wanted to ask this to a fellow introvert who is into personality theory. After college I moved back in with my parents for a year (thankfully I’m about to move back out!), and my mom is an extrovert. She talks and talks and talks… My dad and I are introverts and are fairly similar (he’s INTJ, I’m INFJ). Anyway, I was sitting listening to her talk one day, and it was weird because I had this feeling that I wasn’t really anything. It’s like I’m simply this black hole that absorbs other people’s thoughts to mull them over, and I absorb other people’s feelings without really having any of my own. It’s like I’m simply watching myself listen to extroverts all day long. I’m just wondering, have you ever had that sensation as an introvert? I don’t know if it’s something all introverts feel or if it’s something only Fe’s (extroverted feelers) feel, which is what I would be as an INFJ.

    1. On reading your comment, I was excited by the fact that you share my personality type (that is INFJ). I am currently writing a university essay on how my personality created conflict with a friend and I found it quite interesting that you said: “I absorbs other people’s thoughts to mull them over, and I absorb other people’s feelings without really having any of my own.”

      The basis on my assignment is around the fact that I “absorbed” an idea that my Extrovert friend suggested and the reasons as to why this occured.

      It’s fasicnating that having the same personality type as someone else ACTUALLY does mean you’re likely to think in a similar way… even if from completely different backgrounds,race, etc. This instance clearly justifies the theories of Jung!

      1. Laura,

        Thank you for reading and responding!

        Andrew is the INFJ that you were referring to. This is his blog site Please visit; you and he will have so much in common.

        I am an ISFP. Andrew and I found that although the last three letters vary in our personality types, we share a lot due to being introverts. Since the I vs E portion of our personalities are usually the most readily apparent part of personalities, it’s not surprising.

        I would love to hear more about what you have learned!


  4. Dear mymind1086,

    What a great observation on your part. You’re very articulate at expressing. And that gets right to the heart (or the left brain, right brain) of my response. Your question really got me thinking. I did some review and research (you probably have a library like mine). I came up with some great thoughts. Please let me know if you agree or disagree and especially if you can add to this! (Soooo much fun!)

    INFJ is Ni (introverted intuitive) with secondary Fe (extroverted feeler), left-brained (word oriented, analytic, exact, etc.)

    ISFP is Fi (introverted feeling) with secondary Se (extroverted sensation), right-brained (patterns, spatial, intonation, etc.)

    I don’t have the sensation that you described. I do believe it is more an Fe thing than pure introversion. And, here is why I think we have a personal difference, even though it’s obvious we share a lot in common:

    Generally, Feeling is associated with subjective ideas about human value, right? BUT, that is what right-brained Fi’s (me) do. With left-brained Fe’s (you), the Feeling function gives you the ability to recognize signs of relationship and draw rational conclusions about people’s behavior – which it appears you are very good at!

    As an Fe, your Fi is not as developed, so others’ feelings dwarf yours – your right brain is not sending to your left brain it’s feelings, AND then your Ni analyzes and tries to find exact conclusions and put all of it in a language perspective. As an Fi, my Fe is not as developed, so I don’t get dwarfed – my feelings, often without words, are foremost, but I also do not have the same ability you have to recognize and categorize others’ feelings.

    I am going to keep doing some more research – this is fascinating! I think it might be worth a couple of posts – between us, maybe we can solve all the mysteries!


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