If you’ve done much reading about Myers-Briggs® types, you’ve probably come across the claim that Intuitives are smarter than Sensors. Or perhaps you’ve seen people talk about Thinking types being more intelligent than Feeling types.
Both of these ideas are untrue. They’re based on inaccurate stereotypes about the types and/or misunderstandings about the unique sort of intelligence that each type uses. In reality, every personality type is intelligent and no one type is smarter than any other. They do have different kinds of intelligence, though, and there are situations where one type might appear smarter than others just based on what skills the situation calls for.
The Problem of Measuring Intelligence
The idea that Sensing types aren’t smart is actuality based on something Isabel Meyers mentions in her book Gifts Differing. She said that Intuitive types tend to score higher on IQ tests. What people who spread this rumor miss is that she also pointed out that the structure of IQ tests puts Sensors at a disadvantage which has nothing to do with whether or not they’re smart.
Sensing types like to take in information through the reality of their senses, while IQ tests largely deal with implication, symbol, and metaphor. The tests are also timed, which favors types who are more inclined to trust an intuitive leap than those who take the time to double-check their thought process. Just because IQ tests are biased in favor of Intuitives does not mean Sensors are less intelligent.
In addition, IQ tests aren’t really all that good at measuring intelligence. In fact, the tests have a dark history, carry a racial and cultural bias, and the scale they use has been dismissed by scientists in recent years as being “fundamentally flawed.” Dr. Roger Highfield (director of external affairs at the Science Museum in London) offers the example, “We can all think of people that have poor reasoning and brilliant memories, or fantastic language skills but aren’t so hot at reasoning, and so on. Now once and for all we can say there is not a single measure such as IQ which captures all the intelligence that you see in people.”
As far as how that relates to personality type, we can say that whether a Sensor or an Intuitive is more “intelligent” entirely depends on the context. For example, Intuitives tend to have skills related to quickness of understanding and abstract learning while Sensors tend to have skills related to soundness of understanding and concrete learning. How useful each skill set is (and how “smart” each type appears) depends on what they’re trying to do.
The idea that Thinking types are more intelligent than Feeling types has nothing to do with how each does on intelligence tests. Instead, it’s based on the idea that because Thinking types are more logical and less emotional than Feeling types then they must be more intelligent as well.
In reality, Thinking and Feeling processes are both considered rational functions. They’re the aspects of our minds that we use to make decisions based on “rational values” and “differentiated thinking” (to quote Carl Jung). In addition, whether you use Thinking or Feeling doesn’t determine how much emotion you feel nor how intelligent you are. It just describes which criteria you place a higher value on when making decisions and organizing your behavior.
Thinking types take into account impersonal rules, laws, and principles. They prefer to use logic when defining terms and problems or ranking their choices. They also tend to look at general trends. In contrast, Feeling types tend to focus more on specific, personal criteria. They prefer to use shared beliefs, values, and moral sensibilities when weighing their options. They also identify with other people and check-in with their social groups before making decisions.
Thinking types tend to appear more intelligent when called upon to make decisions that require weighing impersonal facts in a logical way. But Feeling types tend to appear more intelligent when dealing with problems that involve social or personal issues. Neither preference makes a person innately smarter than someone with the other decision-making preference. They just have different kinds of intelligence that shine in different circumstances.
Food For Thought
Before we wrap this post up, it worth noting that we’re speaking in general terms here. Each personality type tends to have a certain set of skills based on the mental functions they use most readily. But there will also be plenty of variation between individuals, even if they have the same type, based on a whole bunch of factors including life experience, personal interests, family background, etc.
Just because Feeling types (for example) tend to have more interpersonal intelligence than Thinking types doesn’t mean that a Thinking type might not also be good with people. Similarly, you might run into a Sensing type who thrives in situations that call for abstract reasoning or who scores well on traditional IQ tests.
The Myers-Briggs® type system isn’t meant to put people into confining boxes or define every aspect of our behavior, including intelligence. It’s purpose is to help us understand ourselves and others better by describing the ways that we think. So instead of spreading myths about which types are smarter than the others, we should use the type system to give us a better understanding of the unique intelligence of each type and each individual person.
If you’d like to learn more about each personality type’s unique intelligence strengths, I highly recommend this blog series by Susan Storm:
- The Unique Intelligence of ENFPs, ENTPs, INFPs and INTPs
- The Unique Intelligence of ESFPs, ESTPs, ISFPs, and ISTPs
- The Unique Intelligence of INFJs, INTJs, ENFJs and ENTJs
- The Unique Intelligence of the ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, and ESFJ
Featured image credit: PourquoiPas via Pixabay