Correction: Intuitive bias
Correction: Intuitive bias
posted by strawberry crisis on September 11, 2018, 7:43 pm

If you’ve been around the MBTI community here for any length of time, you’ll quickly realize that there are a disproportionate amount of Intuitives (N) to Sensors (S). According to sillymbti‘s rough sample of MBTI fanatics on Tumblr display an astounding number of Intuitives. And you don’t need to see that data to feel the imbalance; take a quick look at the popularity of a post about a given type, or the number of blogs dedicated to a given type, and you’ll find that the most population is heavily skewed to Ns.

Why this discrepancy? There are a few possible explanations.

There are more Intuitives on the internet. I’ve heard this one fairly often, and, though I won’t rule it out, I haven’t been able to come up with a plausible reason that this would be true. Is the internet somehow inherently theoretical? Is it because Sensors would rather be doing something with their hands? I’m dubious.

There are more Intuitives in the MBTI community.This seems far more likely for a few reasons. After all, MBTI is exactly the kind of theoretical, systemizing, pattern-finding mind game that you would expect to be up an Intuitive’s alley.

Many Sensors have mistyped themselves as Intuitives. This one is definitely true, and the main explanation I’ll be addressing.


Oh, my! Intuitive bias—the most exciting topic typologists have turned into a cause for cementing their own righteousness. Intuitive bias is real. Intuitive bias is why we can’t move forward as a typing community. Intuitive bias is something that needs to go.

I often see typologists complaining about something called “intuitive bias,” a concept to describe how intuition as a trait is favored over sensing in the typology community. Because of intuitive bias, real sensors don’t want to type as S. Because of intuitive bias, we think all of our favorite characters and people are also N. Because of intuitive bias, we think that dumb people are S while smart people are N.

The concern is absolutely valid and definitely something that occurs, but regarding how much of a problem it tends to be… not as much as you would think. That is, of course, compared to other problems typologists are prone to indulging in. This mode of intuitive bias can be and usually is easily corrected through discussion. But discussion in the world of typology can be such a dubious thing when those who communicate so definitively of their ideas about the makings of the typologies they use while ignoring their true construction and meaning take control of the dogma defining type theory as we know it on the Internet.

Much of the anger toward intuitive bias is, in fact, misplaced. It begins with a lack of understanding of what intuition and sensing mean in the MBTI, from where people draw incorrect conclusions that embellish an idea of sensers being discriminated against in the community.

The tumblr page quoted above (the first Google result for “intuitive bias”) entertains three possibilities for why a survey on MBTI types in the tumblr MBTI community skewed heavily toward intuitives despite general studies cited in works such as the MBTI Manual, which imply that only ¼ of the population is intuitive over sensing. Why the author of that page would decide that possibilities #1 and #2 are less likely than the seemingly far more obvious possibility #3 revolves around a fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between intuition and sensing, both the parody post and the following show it best:

Sensors have a better memory for details and a knack for getting to the facts. Where Intuitives are prone to forgetting the necessary elements in their grandiose schemes, Sensors keep the whole operation grounded. N can be flighty or dogged, but it’s not as close to the truth as S is. Who’s going to forget the basics in a crisis? Not a Sensor. Who’s going to lose track of their argument in favor of chasing ideas? Not a Sensor. In fact, Jung himself conceived of the Guardians (ST) as the default ‘scientist’ type because of their ability to be rational as well as stick to the facts. The Artisans (SF) are called artists for a reason—they have full as much creative power as Idealists (NF), and a better ‘storage’ of inspiration to draw upon.

Something to note is that the “realism” that S is described with is, in fact, best explained by contrasting it against the intuitive attitude. Being fact-oriented as opposed to possibility-oriented. Thinking concretely as opposed to abstractly. Relying on experience as opposed to relying on theoreticals. But what does all this point to?

Before introducing the following paragraph, let me point out that the following is an example that highlights how the thinking describing a certain neurological disorder resembles that of “extreme sensing” in MBTI. I understand that comparing one’s functionality to that of a disorder is a touchy subject and I apologize in advance if this offends my readers. I intend to highlight what an extreme and generally unrelatable manifestation of the preference would look like and that I will try my best to express the idea carefully and delicately.

People with autism have problems with abstract and conceptual thinking. Some may eventually acquire abstract skills, but others never will. When abstract concepts must be used, use visual cues, such as drawings or written words, to augment the abstract idea. Be as concrete as possible in all your interactions with these students. Avoid asking vague questions such as, "Why did you do that?" Instead, say, "I did not like it when you slammed your book down when I said it was time for gym. Next time put the book down gently and tell me you are angry. Were you showing me that you did not want to go to gym, or that you did not want to stop reading?" Avoid asking essay-type questions. Be as concrete as possible in all your interactions with these students.

Having difficulties understanding conceptual thinking as described in this description can be roughly equated “not having a preference for intuition” in MBTI, and when intuition is described in contrast against sensing, the strongest possible preference for sensing [while demonstrating the strongest lack of preference for intuition] would amount to a description as described above. Realism in sensing refers to seeing and interpreting the world as it is while deprioritizing what it could be. Whether this can be conflated with an inability to exercise the imagination and prioritize conceptual, abstract thinking (where one would be drawn to the unknown and the novel, two ideas that describe the areas where conceptual, abstract thinking would lead to) is extremely debatable, especially considering that the preferences in MBTI are described as such—preferences—that have little to do with ability, but I would argue that we demonstrate our preferences because we are more naturally comfortable with processing information in the way MBTI tries to describe our processes of dealing with information.

This begs the question possibly on your mind: what good is sensing for? Perhaps as an intuitive, you may have trouble wrapping your head around why this would be. Imagination? Abstract thinking? Ingenuity? These are all good things, right? But sensers prefer their way of thinking for a reason—and it ties back to seeing things as they are. I hypothesize that the reason the typology community has swayed so far to such lengths of ignoring the need for logical consistency to bind theories together is precisely because of what the first tumblr article brought to question: the amount of intuitives interested in typology. Because intuitives are so prone to dealing with abstractions as opposed to details, they also may have a tendency to reframe situations and conceive something “differently” by ignoring details or precisely-defined caveats. The thinking that led the author behind the first passage to believe #3 was the most plausible answer when possibilities #1 and #2 were more directly consistent with the data provided or the thinking described here by a top commenter in a thread discussing intuitive bias--

>it’s just that more intuitives are interested in the test and are over represented on MBTI forums because of it.
This sentence proves how pervasive Intuitive Bias is. How do we know this fact above is even true? Because Sensors are dumb people who care less about theories?


--is the “deviation from reality” intuitives experience that leads into their own shortcomings: they can’t get out of their head and see things as they are.

Ever wondered why IQ test results favor intuitives? The pattern-based thinking IQ tests require of their participants is simply very similar to the abstract thinking described in intuition. Why do “smart” people seem to test as N so often? Because what you perceive as “smart” seems to conflate with the brand of imagination described in intuition. It’s not that sensers aren’t smart—I would consider most of my sensing friends very intelligent people—but the type of intelligence they have may not be the same brand that is described by intuition.

Intuitives indirectly perpetrating that idea that sensers are dumb because they don’t deal with the same abstracts are those who create something I would call intuitive bias. Why all this weight placed on intelligence? How would you even define intelligence? I consider one of my sensing friends intelligent because she has a capacity for doing things she doesn’t like because “it’s just the way things are,” a concept that isn’t enough of a motivator to get me moving: consider this the intelligence behind understanding that something must be done because the situation just calls for it. If you’re unwilling to accept this as intelligence, consider it—at the very least—something worth valuing.

But to further highlight perhaps what way of thinking sensing as a raw trait deals with, I’ve attached a wonderful excerpt from a mother describing how her child inspires creativity and how it is generally expressed. In this post, she refers to “social imagination,” which can be more broadly attached to the concept intuition hints at in the MBTI.

What do you think of when you think of imagination? Do you think of children making up games, people writing fiction stories, or perhaps role play? It is true that all of these, and so much more, require imagination yet imagination is so much more than just forming new ideas and being creative.

Many autistic children (and adults) struggle with a special type of imagination called social imagination.

Firstly let me explain what this is NOT:
1. It is NOT the ability to be creative. 
In fact many people with autism are highly gifted artists or musicians and have unique and highly talented ways of presenting their ability. 

If your child is diagnosed with autism it does NOT mean they will not be good at drawing, or be able to express themselves in creative ways.

2. It is NOT a lack of ability to play with toys or act out made up scenarios.
Children with autism can play at feeding a doll, or play with trains or bring plastic figures to life. Autism may mean their play is more repetitive or scripted from TV programmes but lack of social imagination in itself does not mean your child will never play with a toy phone or dress as a nurse.

3. It is NOT going to stop your child writing stories they have made up, telling lies or building unique structures out of lego bricks.
So now we know what social imagination ISN’T let’s talk about what it IS:
Social imagination allows us to understand and predict the behaviour of other people. It also helps us to make sense of abstract ideas, and to imagine situations outside our immediate daily routine.
Lack of social imagination is why so many people with autism struggle with change: they just can not imagine things happening any other way.
Social imagination is the ability to watch others and work out their intentions, their thoughts and interpret what they may do next. This is why children with autism (and adults) find social situations such a challenge at times. They struggle to put themselves inside another persons head and therefore they prefer to watch rather than join in.
Both of my children have autism. On their own they can entertain themselves, make up their own games and even play structured games with rules very well. The difficulty lies when they are expected to play alongside other children because people are very unpredictable and may play in an entirely different way to what my child is used to. That ability to adapt and understand others is known as lack of social imagination.
Lack of social imagination means they can not foresee what might happen next. This is why those with autism can not see danger: they simply can not imagine anything happening that has never happened before. They have never drowned before so how could that happen? They have never been knocked over by a car so how could that happen? Even if they have had some danger happen like an injury that only happened in one place in one particular chain of events so to them it will not ever happen again. This makes lack of social imagining dangerous.
Lack of social imagining means they struggle to see the future. They can not imagine ever moving to a different school or a new house or having a different carer. They can not imagine their bedroom painted a different colour or someone else moving into the family. This is why it is so important to help children with autism (and adults) when anything changes.
Lack of social imagining means they need support to face new situations. Going to new places, meeting new people, even road diversions all require our brain to be adaptable and without the ability to ‘imagine’ that everything will work itself out you can see why so many people with autism will struggle.
Lack of social imagination  is also why my daughter has no concept when others are bored listening to her talk on and on about her latest fixation. Not only can she not imagine that everyone else would love Thomas Tank Engine as much as she does but she also can not imagine that you would want to do something else if she doesn’t. She doesn’t want to cook dinner so why should I? For my non verbal son he sees no reason why he can not go and watch lifts at 3am since he can not imagine that the rest of the world is sleeping.
Lack of social imagination is why my daughter is so bound up with anxiety. It is why she has so many difficulties trying new foods (unable to imagine if they will taste good or not) and why she has significant challenges socially.
Yet she makes a great pirate looking out to sea in the playground as you can see from the photo. She had great fun telling me about rescuing people from the nearby houses and looking for treasure under the swings. She has plenty imagination it’s just social imagining she struggles with. People may think they are the same but they are not.


Can you connect the dots for how the thinking described here relates to the thinking in sensing? In a way, everything described until now should clear up how the sensing commonly described in “Se” descriptions—living in the moment, enjoying physical activities, preferring hands-on activities as opposed to mental activities—are very barely related to sensing if at all related. In fact, Se descriptions that emphasize “trying out new things” or seeking “new and exciting experiences” are ironically more intuitive than sensing in nature.

There’s no shame in being a Sensor, Tumblr. Sensors make the world go round!

And it’s true. There is truth to intuitive bias and it may seem discouraging when intuitives fall short of good words to use to describe sensers. There is zero shame in being sensing--and don’t let a haughty intuitive try to make you think otherwise.

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