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Sensing vs. Intuition: What Do "S" & "N" Mean In Myers-Briggs?

Sarah Regan
Author: Expert reviewer:
June 27, 2020
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW
Expert review by
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW
AEDP Certified Psychotherapist
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, is a certified psychoanalyst, AEDP certified psychotherapist and supervisor, and licensed clinical social worker. She is author of the award-winning self-help book 'It’s Not Always Depression.'
June 27, 2020

INTP, ENFJ, ISFP—you've probably seen or heard of the 16 different Myers-Briggs personality types. Perhaps you've even taken the test to find out which four-letter combo aligns with your personality.

Created by renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung and popularized since the 1940s, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) uses tailored questions to find your combination of four sets of opposing traits: introverted versus extroverted; sensing versus intuitive; thinking versus feeling; and perceiving versus judging.

Here, we're specifically breaking down the second pair: sensing and intuition, including what they both mean and how to know which one you are.

What does "sensing" mean?

If the second letter in your four-letter MBTI type is an S, that means you're a sensing person. S types place more emphasis on their physical reality and their five senses, as opposed to their intuition, and it's estimated S types make up about three-quarters of the population, far outnumbering intuitive types.

As psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP, explains, "I think of Sensing as information gathering through the here-and-now physical senses and generally more grounded in practicality."

Among other things, S types are straightforward and literal thinkers who are concerned with facts.

8 statements that apply to this type:

  1. I am typically grounded in the present.
  2. I am practical and pragmatic.
  3. I prefer concrete tasks with a defined outcome over open-ended ones.
  4. I focus more on facts and details before the big picture.
  5. My train of thought is more linear than abstract.
  6. I see things as they are.
  7. I trust my lived experience over anything else.
  8. I am detail-oriented.

What does "intuition" mean?

If the second letter of your Myers-Briggs type is an "N," you would be considered intuitive rather than sensing. Where S types favor their senses and facts, N's are concerned with deeper meanings and patterns. They often have an abstract, roundabout way of thinking.

"Intuition is information gathering from a broader, more 'big picture' perspective," Hallett notes, "making links between patterns that may not be as easily seen from the specific in the moment view."

N's are imaginative and future-focused, reading between the lines and connecting the dots between seemingly separate things.

8 statements that apply to this type:

  1. I'm always imagining possibilities.
  2. I'm a big-picture thinker and can overlook details.
  3. I am a deep thinker and enjoy conceptualizing.
  4. I prefer new things over routine.
  5. I'm always looking for the deeper meaning.
  6. I often notice patterns and connections.
  7. I trust my gut over my five senses.
  8. My thoughts are often future-oriented.

Can you be both sensing and intuitive?

Like the other three pairs of opposing traits, sensing and intuition are more of a spectrum than a binary, meaning yes, you can absolutely be both. In fact, everyone will use both sensing and intuition at some points, but more often than not, you will use one much more than the other.

"Rarely are people just one clear 'type,'" Hallett adds. "We can certainly be a mix, although often there is a predominance one way or the other. Everyone spends some time sensing and some time using intuition."

Taking a look at the aforementioned explanations; whichever feels more natural to you is likely the type you tend toward. Remember, one is no better than the other—both have their strengths and weaknesses. But no matter which type you are, understanding your own personality can help you gain clarity on your own strengths going forward.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.