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Sensing versus Intuition: An Exercise to Identify Your Preference

College students were asked to look at this picture for a minute then write a description.

Perception is the lens you use to take in information.  Carl Jung identified two types of perception, sensing and intuition.  To illustrate these differences to college students during a workshop, I used this classic photo of dogs playing poker. I asked the students to study the picture for a minute, then write down what they saw in this picture.  The results were amusing, informative, and an effective way to illustrate the differences in preference.

When an individual has a preference for sensing, they tend to look at the facts and use the 5 senses to gather information. Perceptions tend to be in the moment and a reflection of what is or was present at the time of the observation.  Those that prefer intuition, tend to see patterns and connections and often use one or two details as a springboard for other perceptions that aren’t actually there.

Here are some examples:

One student had an astounding recollection of the factual details of this photo.  He noted that:

“There were 7 dogs at the table playing poker.  The table was green velvet and the walls were bluish grey.  A red lamp hung over the table and the clock on the wall showed just past 2 o’clock.  There was a painting on the wall with a yellowish frame.  One dog was handing another dog a card under the table.”

This student had a preference for sensing and was in fact, an ISTJ.   The dominant function for an ISTJ is introverted sensing.  This type has a real strength in noticing and storing factual details.  It may be details that they have observed or it may be something they have come across in their reading.  All sensing types tend to be naturally adept at noting and working with details.

The individual who prefers intituion, on the other hand, will tend to riff off of what is present into a very different type of description:

“The dogs are playing poker.  One of them is cheating.  Maybe they are going to share the winnings after the game.  I wonder if their wives approve of them gambling and staying out all night?  Do they do this every Saturday night and leave them at home?  I wouldn’t stand for that.”

This student had a preference for ENFP and was in fact, the other student’s type opposite (meaning they had no letters or preferences in common).   This dominant function for this personality type is extraverted intuition. This type has a strength for seeing patterns, brainstorming, and imagining possibilities.  All types that share a preference for intuition tend to be naturally adept at weaving connections together or seeing information in a new way.

So which type is better?  The answer is both.  In certain situations, the sensing types will perform better, on the whole, and in other situations the intuitives will shine.   A good example of this is my mother and I.  Her type is ESFJ so she prefers sensing.   She worked in the operating room for many years measuring blood gasses for open heart surgery.  She needed to be precise and factual with her work.  There was no “it could be this or maybe that.”  It was what it was.

On the other hand, my personality type is ENFP.  My occupational choices have centered around possibilities, particularly surrounding uncovering the personal potential in others.  Individual facts are less important than blending concepts and seeing something that may not be readily apparent.

Finally, it must be noted that every individual can and does use both of these preferences.  However you tend to prefer one style over the other.  When you know your preference, it can be a powerful tool in assessing career choices and understanding communication between others.  It can inform all kinds of life choices and define how you tend to approach problem solving.  Last but certainly not least, it can help you appreciate the contributions of others who see the world very differently than you do.


This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Hi Ann. What a great posting you have done here. I could not help but wonder what time those pooches were playing. The clock tells, but not the whole story. Also, I wondered what that room must smell like! Finally, it would be interesting to see the table from the wall. We can’t what they’re doing, but I wonder if there’s another pair of cheaters in the house? This is a great picture to get people talking about the preferences. Congratulations on finding this image and thanks for sharing. Ann, your last paragraph really makes the connection with the last section of the “Great Book”, “Gifts Differing: Understanding Your Personality Type” which in part states “Whatever the circumstances of your life, whatever your personal ties, work, and responsibilities, the understanding of type can make your perceptions clearer, your judgments sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire.” Thanks so much for your skill in prompting renewed appreciation for this bedrock principle of Type. Best regards. Dan DeFoe ISTJ.

  2. i was confused and wasn’t really sure if I was more on sensing or intuition, partly because my husband I think, has a strongernintuition to me, so compared with him, I seem more inclined to sensing but having read your article, things are so much clearer. the picture and examples really helped.

  3. I enjoyed reading the article very much.
    These are my thoughts: One dog was clearly cheating. The dog with the smiling face is probably losing but trying to hide it. The dog with the sad face is also cheating. The dog with the not-really-into-the-game face is probably winning but giving the I don’tf care vibes. I wondered what time was it and looked at the clock, then I wondered about since when have they been playing and for how long will they continue.

  4. I would have described the picture vary differently. I think the painter wanted to make the statement that people who gamble act like animals and don’t care about anyone else. I’m an unthinking does this description match my type?

  5. The relevant part about the picture here (at least what I am trying to get to in the exercise) is whether someone lists what they see in the picture (7 dogs, green table cloth, clock on the wall…) OR, if they riff off of what is there and create something else other than what is there. So if you decided the photo had a meaning that was projecting “people are like animals and don’t care about anyone else” is more of an intuitive description. Those who favor intuition seek patterns, meanings, and connections often before they attend to details.

  6. The student got things all wrong. The clock shows exactly 1:11– not just past 2:00. The number may have some masonic significance.

  7. Incidentally, these images are a comment on social status and masculinity. The two bull dogs are a rougher, lower class sort of dog (during this time). The painting also represents an inversion of art historical values– where the work is valued for the very reason that it is rejected by the mainstream connoisseur. It is essentially an advertisement that has been elevated by the populace for revealing a disconnect between classical art and the working class. It repackages and lampoons this disconnect– preserving rather than demeaning working class aesthetics.

  8. Interesting exercise. I am not that sure of my type but the picture made me think of the parallels between animals and humans.Both like to play and to outdo even in play.

  9. Thinking about it more I should add I wasn’t sure what to say about the picture. I probably wouldn’t describe it as much as say what it reminded me of. I have seen enough and it’s amp but I had think a bit to find something beyond that to say. I was thinking if I saw a picture of a picnic I would say how it reminded me of a picnics I have been on.
    That would be first not the details or what I would see beyond that. All of that might come later.

  10. I did not notice the particular details like so many others did. I just noticed a few main things. What I noticed was dogs sitting at a table. They were playing cards and acting like people. There was a light overhead and a picture on the wall. There was also a grandfather type clock. That was all I noticed in a minute. I know I am an Introvert, not sure on the others, but I think I am an ISFJ. Do you think I am Sensing or Intuitive?

  11. Sensing versus Intuition: An Exercise to Identify Your Preference | Ann C. Holm

    […]It could also be the way your body felt when you met your new boss, or the curiosity about a long misplaced pal who surprises you with a name inside a few days.[…]

  12. Hah, I was questioning it but now I’m not. I first tried to see the dynamics behind the dog’s intentions. If “the enemy of your enemy is your friend”, and let’s say the Saint Bernards had some incentive (given that they’re losing bad and that one in the middle looks very sketch), they could easily hand this game over to the cheating dogs on purpose. And because of the nonvisible collar on the dog on the left, I can’t help but wonder if there is some kind of meaning in him getting played as it looks to be his turn/the most recent play.

    Doesn’t matter. I think homo sapiens are drawn to the anthropomorphic. We like to imagine other animals doing human activities, it’s “cute” and mends the subconscious of the earthly isolation of our species, and to some extent distances ourselves from the existential guilt, a causal effect of our kind’s irreversible planetary crimes.

  13. Id showed my 13 year old daughter -a Pic of a forest. I askd what this? She said a forest,” shes sensor or intuitive?

  14. There is no way to know. The language sample is far too limited to decide if someone prefers sensing over intuition based on a single word answer. I am not saying this to be cheeky either. We use both sensing and intuition no matter which one we prefer. It is only in observing general patterns that we can determine a preference.

  15. Ann,

    I would answer the question depending on how it was asked. For instance, I’d answer, “What do you see in this picture?” with something very close to the ISTJ answer. However, if the question were something like, “Tell me about this picture,” I’d reply with a fairly detailed story including the names of the dogs, their familial relationships, which dog was cheating with the other dog’s mate, etc.; it might wind up being a story about the raid of an illegal gambling den . . . or the rise of our canine overlords. Who knows?

    How do you phrase the question so that types show through fairly clearly. I’m asking because I have a very difficult time with personality tests because a change in phrasing can make a huge change in my answer.

  16. You’re absolutely correct that how you phrase a question can have a big impact on how you answer it. Self-reporting assessments by their very design have this flaw. So it’s important to flesh out how you interpreted a question and if you are in alignment with what the question was intended to get at. Also, assessments tend to have several questions that in the aggregate, might indicate a pattern of thinking. In the case of the MBTI, it’s identifying preferences. It’s also important to verify that the type that was reported, based on your responses, is actually your type. That is why the interpretative session is a key to accurate and useful results. With regard to the exercise of describing this picture, the prompt would be something like “write about this picture.” In workshops, I also show 2 different responses (actual responses) that I have gotten to the picture and simple ask: “what one sounds more like you?” Here is what I use:

    “There were 7 dogs at the table playing poker.  The table was green velvet and the walls were bluish grey.  A red lamp hung over the table and the clock on the wall showed just past 2 o’clock.  There was a painting on the wall with a yellowish frame.  One dog was handing another dog a card under the table.”

    “The dogs are playing poker.  One of them is cheating.  Maybe they are going to share the winnings after the game.  I wonder if their wives approve of them gambling and staying out all night?  Do they do this every Saturday night and leave them at home?  I wouldn’t stand for that.”

  17. Gina- I tend to use the dogs playing cards mainly because it has a lot of detail, some which isn’t immediately obvious (such as the time on the clock or the picture of the sailboat). It’s also active enough to create a story and to create a scenario where intuitives might be tempted to riff off the photo. See my above comment which shows an example of 2 real responses I have gotten. The contrast is pretty clear (intuitive vs sensing). As another exercise, I use the example of wide angle lens versus a zoom lens to demonstrate an intuitive’s view as opposed to a sensor’s typical view.

  18. Infp here. What I thought about the picture was, like a nice evening with homies, middle aged men, playing with their friends. People from different races, and the one dog facing towards the “camera” is potentially house owner and collector of antiques, looking at that clock. And it’s definitely 80s or before that time looking at art style. And I completely ignored that cheating part tbh but when I looked at it I think almost all dogs knew the 2 bulldogs are cheating, and all had different reaction to that.

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