I often see Intuitive types describe their experience of intuition as a “gut feeling.” It’s not something we can explain — it’s just something we know. And that is a valid way to describe a lot of what we experience from using Intuition. But if that was all there was to intuition, then we’d be able to describe a lot more than 30% of the population as Intuitive types.
When people talk about intuition, they usually mean something different than what type theorists mean when they refer to Intuition as a psychological function. Google defines intuition as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” We might also use the word intuitive to mean “suited by nature for a particular purpose in life,” as when we speak of intuitive athletes or creative types who “just know” how to do something.
In her book Personality Type, Lenore Thomson points out, “Most of the people to whom we apply the word intuitive in this causal way aren’t Intuitives — at least not typologically. They’re usually Sensates and Introverted P types, whose right-brain abilities the left brain can’t explain to itself” (p. 199). I’ve also noticed that some of the things that Intuitives describe as part of their intuition are actually connected with other mental processes. For example, an INFJ might say they intuitively know how to blend in with different social groups when in reality that ability is tied to their harmony-seeking Extroverted Feeling process more than to their Introverted Intuition.
So if Intuition, in the typological sense, isn’t want people usually think of when they think of intuition, what is it?
In the Myers-Briggs® system, Sensing and Intuition are both perceiving functions. We use these functions when we perceive, take-in, and learn new information. Everyone uses both, but we each have one that we’re most comfortable with. ENFPs, ENTPs, INFJs, and INTJs use Intuition as their primary mental function, while ENFJs, ENTJs, INFPs, and INTPs use it as their co-pilot.
If you’re an Intuitive type, then you don’t place a high priority on direct sensory experience. You tend to focus on the big-picture and look at meaning and possibility, while placing a lesser value on concrete facts and details. Pattern-recognition plays a large role in how Intuition functions. Intuitives are fascinated by the unknown, what’s “behind the curtain,” and exploring alternate possibilities.
Because Intuition links patterns and focuses on the whole picture, it can look as if Intuitive types have “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning” (as in Google’s definition of the word). In reality, though, Intuition is simply a way of perceiving the world that looks for underlying patterns behind what’s readily apparent.
How We Use Intuition
Intuition is going to look a little different for each type who uses it. For example, Extroverted Intuition (used by NP types) doesn’t show up in quite the same ways as Introverted Intuition (used by NJ types). In addition, the way each type uses Intuition will be colored by the Judging functions of Thinking or Feeling that they use along side it.
Personality Hacker nicknamed Extroverted Intuition “Exploration” because “the best pattern recognition system for the outer world is to mess with everything that can be messed with, and to explore, explore, explore.” NP types tend to be restless, easily bored, imaginative, and inventive people.
Their nickname for Introverted Intuition is “Perspectives” because it is all about noticing patterns within patterns and coming up with a subjective meaning. Introverted intuitives can also “take a meta-perspective and understand the ways in which we’re the same and different on a cerebral level.” NJ tend to be imaginative, perceptive, and may struggle bringing their ideas into reality.
While all Intuitive types could describe part of how they experience Intuition as a “gut feeling,” it’s so much more than that. Intuition is the description for how our minds are hard-wired to perceive and learn new information.