Sensor or Intuitive: The Forest or the Trees?
By Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger
Each of us continuously takes in millions (perhaps billions) of pieces of information every day, the great majority of which are processed unconsciously. Some people take in this information primarily through their five senses—what they see, hear, touch, taste, or smell—hence the name Sensors. Others take in information through their sixth sense, focusing not on what is, but rather on what could be. We use the word Intuitives to describe these people. Remember that no one is a pure Sensor or Intuitive any more than a person is a pure Extravert or Introvert. Each of us has the ability to use both Sensing and Intuition, and all of us do use both every day.
But we have a natural, inborn preference for one over the other. Below are several questions to ask yourself to determine whether you are a Sensor or an Intuitive. Do I usually pay more attention to the facts and details or do I try to understand the connections, underlying meaning, and implications?
Sensors see the trees, while Intuitives see the forest. By this we mean that Sensors naturally pay attention to what they are experiencing at the moment. Handed a flower and asked to tell you about it, the Sensor will note how vivid the colours are, the smooth texture of the leaves, the delicate fragrance, and how light and fragile it is—in other words, what her three senses tell her about the flower. Hand the same flower to an Intuitive and ask her to tell you about it, and you are likely to hear something more like: "This reminds me of my grandmother. She used to have these growing in her yard, and when we'd visit each summer, we'd pick them to put on the table for family meals." You'll notice that the Intuitive perceived the flower in a very different way than the Sensor. Instead on focusing on what is, she immediately focused on her connection to the flower, and her associations with it.
Here's another metaphor that can help demonstrate how different the focus is for Sensors and Intuitives. Imagine a photographer taking a picture with a single-lens reflex camera (the kind of camera that you focus by turning the ring on the lens). The photographer is shooting a person who is standing in front of a huge panoramic view of a mountain range. With Sensors, it's as if they turn the lens until the person in the foreground (the detail) is in sharp focus, while the view behind (the big picture) is blurry. With Intuitives, it's just the opposite: they turn the lens so that the view (the big picture) behind the person is in focus, but the person in the foreground (the detail) is blurry and out of focus.
Arnie, a very clear Intuitive, learned just how attentive to details Sensors are when his apartment got robbed. Fortunately, he was away at the time and discovered the intrusion upon returning home. When the police arrived, they gave a cursory look around the kitchen first and asked him: "Was that drawer open when you left the house?" So inattentive to details was Arnie that he was embarrassed to admit he had never even noticed there was a drawer where the officer was pointing!
While Sensors tend to think in a linear fashion, one thought following the next, Intuitives frequently engage in intuitive leaps in thinking.
Jessica and Ian were driving in their car one afternoon' when she happened to notice and point out an exceptionally beautiful tree they were passing. After only a few seconds of looking at the tree, Ian turned to Jessica and said: "You know, I'm really ticked off at Jimmy." Now Jessica and Ian had been together long enough for her to understand the way his mind worked, and to often be able to track the origin of his many intuitive connections. But she was at a total loss this time. "Okay, explain how you got from seeing that tree to being mad at Jimmy [one of Ian's oldest childhood friends]." Ian explained: "When we were growing up, Jimmy had a tree house in a tree that looked a lot like that one. As soon as I saw it, it reminded me of him and the fact that he hasn't called me in two months. So that's why I'm mad at Jimmy."
These fundamental differences also may be seen early on in children. While one child has memorized every one of his favourite baseball player's stats, and can reel them off with impressive accuracy, his brother can't remember where he left his sneakers five minutes after he took them off.
Am I a more down-to-earth and sensible person or an imaginative and creative one?
It bears repeating that it is not better to have one preference over another. However, there are definitely gifts that are unique to each. Intuitives are often (but not always) creative; able to see possibilities and alternatives that aren't immediately apparent. Typically, they have rich imaginations, which they use to engage in fantasies of all kinds.
By this, we do not mean to imply that only Intuitives possess creativity, for this is certainly not the case. Creativity, like intelligence, takes many forms. But the ways that Intuitives express their creativity seem to be in seeing or doing things differently from the way they've been seen or done before. Sensors more often demonstrate their creativity by finding a new application for something that has already been invented or established. This tendency stems from their natural inclination to trust what they know from experience, their own or others'. One of the reasons
Sensors like data so much is that data are just facts that have been collected in a purposeful way. Intuitives are generally satisfied with less empirical proof in order to believe something is possible, or doable, since they have greater faith that although an answer may not be apparent, it just means it hasn't been found . . . yet!
Which do I trust more: my direct experience or my gut instinct? Am I more tuned in to the here-and-now or do I often imagine how things will affect future events?
Many Type experts believe that of the four type dimensions, the Sensing and Intuition scale represents the greatest differences between people, since it really influences one's worldview. A research project we conducted demonstrated this vividly. People were presented the facts of a murder case that involved a young woman accused of stabbing her live-in boyfriend. The boyfriend had abused the defendant in the past while intoxicated. Her attorney argued that she suffered from "battered woman syndrome." And so, at the time of the incident, she had reason to believe that her life was in jeopardy, and acted in self-defense. On the other side, the prosecution claimed she offered no proof that she had reason to fear for her life, could have left the scene, and therefore had no justification for killing her boyfriend.
While the majority (75%) of both Sensors and Intuitives voted "not guilty," Sensors were more than twice as likely to vote for murder as were Intuitives. These results were consistent both with Personality Type theory and with our experience as trial consultants. "Battered woman syndrome" is a theory; an idea, a concept that requires jurors to imagine how an abusive relationship can cause a particular psychological response. It is not a condition that can be documented or verified scientifically. Since Intuitives are naturally interested in the psychological workings of human relationships, they are much more likely to accept this theory as valid than their Sensing counterparts.
Sensors, on the other hand, prefer clear, tangible proof, and are naturally drawn to practical, rather than theoretical, explanations. In this case, the Sensors focused on the murder itself, and the fact that the defendant was physically able to leave her boyfriend that evening, while the Intuitives focused on the defendant's motivations and psychological justification for her behavior.
Sensors and Intuitives tend to have different attitudes about important issues such as crime and punishment, as their answers to this question demonstrate
To fight crime, tax dollars would be better spent on ( 1 ) more police, tougher sentencing, and more prisons or (2) more social programs for disadvantaged youth.
Twice as many Intuitives as Sensors answered "social programs," and Sensors were more than three times as likely to answer "more police and prisons" as Intuitives. Predictably, Sensors favoured established actions designed to have an immediate effect (such as adding more police or building additional prisons), and whose effect could be somehow measured. Intuitives sought solutions that took into account the underlying causes of societal problems (such as how the lack of social programs is related to increased crime), and were more eager to seek new, untried, and innovative solutions. And their focus was on how actions taken today would affect future generations. The results reinforced the belief that, politically, Sensors tend to be more conservative and Intuitives more liberal.
Do I like new ideas just for their own sake or only if they have practical utility?
Many Sensors are most comfortable with what is familiar, while Intuitives are usually drawn to what is new and different. Theories, concepts, and hypotheses appeal to most Intuitives because they represent possibilities. The fact that something is untried and unproven is not a turnoff to Intuitives. Rather, it is the potential offered by the new idea or situation that excites them the most. Sensors, of course, are also interested in new ideas, but only once they are convinced that something real and useful will come of them.
Sal was always inventing something. If it wasn't a brand-new idea, he could find ways of improving just about anything. His latest idea was a new kind of bracket to hang pictures on the wall that would keep them straight—eliminating the need for constant straightening. As he had with countless other ideas, Sal discussed this with his brother-in-law, Jack, with hopes of persuading him to invest the necessary seed money to make a prototype. Jack, a clear Sensor, had his doubts. First, he questioned whether the world really needed a better way of hanging pictures. After all, the old way must be good enough, since it had been around forever. He was sceptical that this new mechanism would really work as Sal promised, and, even if it did, wondered whether Sal had the patience and single-mindedness required to make his idea a reality. Fortunately, Sal met another amateur inventor, who had a contact at a fastener company. Sal met with a representative there, who expressed genuine interest in his project. When Sal reported this to his brother-in-law, Jack's attitude changed completely. Having received validation from a credible source that Sal's gizmo might really be marketable, Jack became more enthusiastic and eventually provided Sal's seed money.
If Intuitives are the "thinker-uppers"—people who love to invent the better mousetrap—then, certainly, Sensors are the "getter-doners"—the people who actually make the idea work. As we've said before, people of both preferences have different gifts, and it is easy to see the important role each plays in so many areas of life. Take business, for example. Each year, thousands of new businesses are started up in this country. Many are franchise operations, which duplicate already successfully tested ideas. But others are truly entrepreneurial, the result of someone's vision (or intuition) about a product or service which doesn't yet exist, but that the entrepreneur believes people will want.
Would I rather use an established skill or do I become bored easily after I've mastered it?
For many Intuitives, it is the creative part of the process that is most energizing. Once their inspiration has been given life, and the bugs have been worked out, they would rather go on to something else, leaving the details to others. Fortunately, those people are usually Sensors, who often enjoy and excel at setting up systems and following procedures so that things run smoothly. This is called being efficient. While the exact statistics of all the many hundreds of new businesses started each year are often disputed, it is common knowledge that a high percentage of them fail. Although many reasons are cited for this, including undercapitalization, lack of experience, and unanticipated market forces, there is another possible explanation that has a lot to do with Type preferences. Quite simply, the people who are talented at thinking things up are seldom as talented at making them work. This rests primarily on the fact that they dislike, and therefore avoid, any routine or repetitive activity for any period of time. Their interest tends to wane as soon as the creative challenges have been met.
Conversely, Sensors enjoy learning a skill, then using it repeatedly in an effective way. Whether as a surgeon performing an operation, an artist painting a portrait, a bookkeeper tallying figures, or a plumber installing a toilet, Sensors' combination of being very aware of their bodies and living totally in the present moment enables them to derive pleasure from performing the act itself. Intuitives often have a very different experience. For them, what the act means or represents is often more important than the act itself. And coupled with their future time orientation, they are often less than fully engaged in whatever task they are performing at the time. Therefore they don't usually experience the same pleasure Sensors take in repeating a task or using the same skill once they've mastered it.
From the time he was a young boy, Thomas, an Intuitive, thought he wanted to be a dentist. Of course the fact that both his father and grandfather were dentists may have influenced his decision a little bit. By his second semester of dental school, Thomas realized he had made a big mistake. For while the other students enjoyed learning standard tooth repair techniques, such as filling a cavity, Thomas thought he would go crazy if he had to do the procedure the same (excruciatingly boring) way, even one more time. When he found himself fantasizing about all the other ways a tooth could be filled, even outrageous ones like going in through the ear, or removing the top ofthe head, he realized he would never be happy as a dentist and fortunately (for him, and future patients!) changed professions.
That Sensors and Intuitives are often drawn to different subjects in school should come as no surprise. Intuitives are often more interested in theoretical studies like philosophy, psychology, sociology, and literature, while Sensors are often interested in more tangible subjects with practical applications, such as engineering, science, and business. This is not meant to imply that there are no Intuitive engineers, or that Sensors can't be successful psychologists, only that they don't tend to gravitate to these types of occupations in nearly the same percentages.
Sensors represent about 65 percent and Intuitives about 35 percent of the American population, giving Sensors somewhat of a numerical advantage. By now you should have a fairly good idea of whether your preference is for Sensing or Intuition.
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