What are the Consequences of the United States Having a Sensing Culture?05 October 2021 / By Paul Tieger Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on October 05, 2021
In my last blog I introduced the concept of GLOBAL TYPOLOGY, a term I coined to describe “how personality type shapes the values and behaviors of groups and cultures.” Rather than focusing on individuals’ behavior, GT takes the macro view. And, because of the huge disparity in percentages between Sensors and Intuitives, America has a “Sensing Culture” which has a profound influence on almost every aspect of American life.
In this blog, I’ll share some dramatic results from a study I collaborated on with Truity, involving 40,000 participants, which presents strong evidence that supports this bold assertion.
Before you read any further, check out Global Typology Part One here.
What is the “Sensing Culture”?
A fact that has received virtually no attention is that there are almost three times as many Sensors as Intuitives in the US, and around the world. This is significant because the Sensing-Intuition dimension of personality type plays the dominant role in shaping peoples’ worldviews. Were the country evenly divided between Sensors and Intuitives, there would be no Sensing Culture. And, if the ratio of Intuitives to Sensors was 3:1, I would be describing the “Intuitive Culture”.
Before describing the Sensing Culture, I need to provide some context. Those of us who study personality type can easily reel off the many gifts Sensors and Intuitives bring to the table: Intuitives tend to be creative, resourceful, imaginative and great at coming up with new ways to solve problems. Let’s call them the “thinker-uppers”.
Sensors tend to be practical, realistic, down-to-earth, detail-oriented and consistent – the “get-it-doners” who find a way to implement all those creative Intuitives’ ideas.
Of course, both types have potential blind spots as well: Sensors can be so attentive to details and specifics, they miss the bigger picture or fail to “connect the dots”. And because Sensors’ focus is on the present, they may not consider future implications of their actions.
While Sensors are gifted at finding simple, elegant solutions, many problems are quite complex, requiring a broader perspective and a different skill set. And, while all types have the ability to imagine, this capability does not come naturally to Sensors. This can impact their ability to be empathetic, since that act requires one to be able to imagine what someone else is experiencing (as well as to be sensitive to their feelings).
Finally, Sensors (especially Sensing-Judgers) usually prefer the familiar and tend to resist change which takes them out of their comfort zone.
Of course, Intuitives have significant blind spots as well. Chief among them is their tendency to ignore important facts and details, and eschew proven, practical results in favor of newer, more creative – but often unworkable – solutions. Certainly, we would face some very big – but different – challenges, if Intutives were in charge! But because they comprise only about 25% of the population, they simply are not.
The Role of Temperament
There are four temperaments, popularized by the work of psychologist David Keirsey:
- Traditionalists (Sensing Judgers)
- Experiencers (Sensing Perceivers)
- Conceptualizers (Intuitive Thinkers)
- Idealists (Intuitive Feelers)
By definition, all Traditionalists and Experiencers are Sensors, so they make up the Sensing Culture. Traditionalists are the most conservative of the four temperaments. Because they make up almost half of the population, their influence on the Sensing Culture is most significant. In contrast, Idealists – the most liberal temperament – represent only about 17% of the population, which is why their values are often ignored in the Sensing Culture.
Please note: When I am describing the Sensing Culture, I am not talking about any individual Sensor’s behavior. Every person is unique and is the product of both their nature (inborn type) and nurture (parents, religious upbringing, socio-economic status, education, race, gender, the zeitgeist, etc.).
Liberalism, Conservatism and The Sensing Culture
An important finding of our research is that politically, Intuitives are considerably more liberal, and Sensors considerably more conservative. Two of many findings from the first phase of our study illustrate this quite clearly. More than twice as many Sensors than Intuitives believe that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election. Key demographic factors influence beliefs and behaviors as well: five times as many high school educated Sensing men believed Trump won, than college educated Intuitive women.
In the second phase of the research, we surveyed participants about several critical issues facing the country. As you consider how disparate their views are, keep in mind that Sensors make up almost 75% of the US population.
Three times as many Sensors as Intuitives, and twice as many Traditionalists as Idealists believe that the threat of Global Warming is exaggerated, rather than it poses an existential threat to the planet.
A substantial percentage of Sensors believe a strong military is needed to keep our country secure and that we should put our interests first. While a much higher percentage of Intuitives believe the best way to keep America safe is by developing strong partnerships with other countries. And there was a 37% difference in the positions of Traditionalists and Idealists.
Strong differences exist between how Sensors’ and Intuitives’ view race. By a substantial margin, Intuitives believe that the US has a long history of denying equal rights and opportunities to Black Americans and other people of color. And, that many of these inequities continue to this day.
In contrast, a similarly substantial margin of Sensors believe that non-whites who work hard have the same opportunities as white Americans. A 24% difference exists between Traditionalists and Idealists.
Regarding justice in America, a much higher percentage of Sensors believe the justice system treats people of color fairly. While many more Intuitives feel that the justice system, including police and courts, regularly discriminates against people of color. Once again, there is also a wide gap between Traditionalists’ and Idealists’ views.
Not surprisingly, Intuitives believe the country needs stricter gun laws to reduce the unacceptable number of gun-related deaths, while Sensors feel stricter laws are unnecessary and violate their 2nd amendment rights. Traditionalists and Idealists mirror these views as well.
The Global Pandemic
The two issues that demonstrate our acute polarization and dominate our discourse are vaccinations and masks. Many more Intuitives believe that everyone should wear a mask since they are proven to reduce the spread of Covid-19. And many Sensors feel that being pressured to wear a mask is an unnecessary infringement on their personal liberty. Consistently, the disparity between Traditionalists and Idealists is quite substantial.
The reluctance by a large percentage of the population to get vaccinated once again has a foundation in personality type. Substantially more Intuitives believe that in order to protect ourselves and others, all Americans should follow the CDC’s guidelines and get vaccinated. While substantially more Sensors feel that people should make up their own minds about getting vaccinated based on a personal assessment of the risks and benefits.
Predictably, Idealists favor the former, and Traditionalists the latter positions by a wide margin.
The Future of Democracy
Although access to voting by all citizens is at the very heart of democracy, it has become a volatile issue. Intuitives’ liberalism is reflected in their assertion that to ensure a strong democracy, we must make it quick and easy for everyone to cast their vote. While the much more conservative Sensors emphasize the need to make sure that every vote cast is legitimate, even if that makes it more difficult for some to vote. And once again, Traditionalists and Idealists are very far apart on this issue as well.
A Fresh Perspective on Why We Are Who We Are
My suspicions before, and conclusion after conducting this research: America is a very conservative country, and the Sensing Culture is the primary reason why. The Sensing Culture is not just some esoteric, irrelevant theory; rather, it is responsible for shaping the norms, policies and laws which impact every American.
Pen (not verified) says...
Very interesting indeed. As an extreme N (93%) ENFP, I am very aware of often being the black sheep in society and the way it works as opposed to my way of viewing and interpreting the world and people. I wonder though, if you have any data on politically conservative Idealists? Or more insight into why the majority of N/NFs are liberal? What in their thinking/POV makes them typically lean that way? I understand our open-arms embrance of change per sae and our ability to be 'big-picturists' but I confess, I cannot then see a direct link to a liberal rather than conservative general outlook.
Also, and by extension, why might there be so few politically conservative NFs? Are there any Western Cultures you've looked at where one might see a greater naturally N society? I'm a political and biological scientist and find this topic fascinating to dig deeper into political trends and issues that drive voting behaviour. I'd be very interested to read more about your (or other) studies that you might have investigated in writing this article. I do hope you'll reach out. Thank you!
Rach (not verified) says...
That was my question as well, are there cultures that are considered more heavily Intuitive?
Nick Staff (not verified) says...
If the connections to liberals and conservatives has you wondering, then you should check out the The Media Insight Project done by the American Press Institute and The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Make sure to really look at the underlying material and you will see a remarkable continuity in their questions, conclusions, verbiage, and tone - with this piece above.
In the above mentioned joint research, you will see they used, for example, the question "One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal" (emphasis mine), to conclude a person's empathy and how much they care about people in need (I'm paraphrasing). Of course, using any question with "the worst", or "always", or "never", or "every", etc. ensures the results will be impossible to reliably interpret. For example, if someone strongly disagrees, is it because they don't care about people who need help, or is it because they think one of the worst things a person can do is light a homeless person on fire? However, 'disagreeing' with that statement is linked to conservatives, and I believe people who are less concerned with 'equality'.
Then take this article about the 'Sensing Culture'. It states that 'there are almost three times as many Sensors as Intuitives in the US, and around the world'. It continues, 'An important finding of our research is that politically, Intuitives are considerably more liberal, and Sensors considerably more conservative'. So with 75% of the population being considerably more conservative, the country elected a democratic House, Senate, and President? Maybe we should conclude then that a considerable portion of Democrats are conservative? Or maybe there's something else we should be considering.
Also note the phrase 'in the US, and around the world'. Why not just say 'around the world'? Why make this article title about US culture instead of global culture? One might look to see if this is similar to, and if so, then part of, any larger storyline being told today. One might even wonder if there were any global goals signed off on by every member state of the United Nations that might have a 2030 target. One might wonder what all 16 US intelligence agencies might have to say about the country's remaining lifespan as a global leader, were there to be some several hundred page report on the topic, or a sub-200 page write up of that report put out by Bloomberg.
For the really curious, one might wonder to what extent behavior change theories are integrated into entertainment, news, branding, etc. One might even wonder what the target behavior is, if society seems to be more peaceful or angrier than ever, if anger ever led to anything good, let alone peace and happiness, and if a company like Population Media, might openly discuss their work in the area.
This is just a fact based, data driven (note non-intuitive, yet not conservative) response that tries to follow the science, so that people can live with dignity.
Pen (not verified) says...
Thank you Nick, I've just been alerted to your reply. Please excuse how belated this acknowledgement is and accept my profound gratitude for your efforts to give such a comprehensive and thought provoking reply. I'm loking forward to following up with the leads you've provided.
Big Sky (not verified) says...
Background in clinical psych, here. As a rather balanced INFJ who also values the utility of order and some consistency, I penetrate to reality, and this article is exposing the reality that not all of us are equally qualified in all areas.
Research has documented that people who identify as "conservative" have a significantly greater physiological reaction when confronted with a fear stimulus than do people who identify as "liberal." The meanings of "conservative" and "liberal" are in upheaval, and it could be useful here to utilize concepts from the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality.
Regardless, there are patterns in society that are consistent with the research findings, such as "conservatives" being decidedly more pro-gun, more hostile/fearful towards immigration, more susceptible to conspiracy theories, more resistant to Covid vaccination and, thus, providing the reservoir for the virus to continue spreading and mutating, which is, interestingly, inconsistent with their emphasis on patriotism. Consistent with the research findings, essentially, "conservatives" are, on average, more susceptible to fear. And the military-industrial complex, of which the corporate media/propaganda machine is an extension, is determined to keep people in fear. Perhaps we could substitute "reactive," "fearful" or "conventionally moral" for "conservative" or "liberal."
During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address, said, "All we have to fear is fear, itself."
I am 65. Until the advent of the Reagan era, when a handful of corporations connected with the defense industry took over the media, FDR's statement was regularly cited in the media. His statement was a kind of mantra or motto for maintaining a rational, functional society. I haven't heard nor seen that statement in corporate media/propaganda in decades. They want us to be afraid and incompetent. They're selling fear, and the average Sensor is probably their target.
Lawrence Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development is useful in understanding these issues. His theory – not a hypothesis, but a theory repeatedly validated by research findings – divided moral and ethical development into stages. We all start at the first stage, but we don't necessarily all progress through the subsequent stages. The research documents that 2/3 of society never achieves the capacity for ethical reasoning. But they can vote!
Ethical awareness begins when one begins questioning beliefs and starts moving out of Kohlberg's fourth stage, which he labeled the True Believer. That fourth stage, the True Believer, is the stage of adherence to moral convention, to unquestioned belief. Morality is about convention, conforming to cultural norms, which is comfortable for Sensors.
Ethical reasoning is not the same as moral reasoning. Ethics, instead, is about ethos, based in one's character, one's searching, being willing to question, to step into the void rather than blindly adhere to custom, faith, convention or comfort. Slavery would still be legal, women would not have the vote, and gay people would still be labeled "insane" and would not be able to marry if we adhered to custom. If we adhered to custom, we'd all still be subjects of the British crown! At least we'd now share equal access to quality healthcare, but that, too, happened when ethics triumphed over convention. If we want to have the best world possible, ethics must triumph.
Our Constitution is based in and depends on adherence to utilitarian ethics, the most good and the least harm for the most people. Yet about 2/3 of voters are incapable of ethical reasoning, and corporations, because they are not human and are devoid of character and individual responsibility, are also incapable of ethical awareness. Further, corporations control the government, now, and corporate propaganda controls the minds of the voters. Moneyed interests serve power, and power attracts psychopaths. And there is the question of which MBTI types are more common among psychopaths . . .
We cannot have a funtional democracy in these circumstances.
The first step to finding an answer is recognizing there's a problem.
Nick Staff (not verified) says...
My own cowardice aside, if the theory that all the liberals got the vaccine because they were not afraid of it, and the conservatives that haven't are avoiding it from fear?
That probably makes much more sense than people getting the vaccine because they were afraid of this whole pandemic thing, and people not getting the vaccine for any number of reasons. Though we're fear one of them, wouldn't that be rational when you consider how many people are just crazy making things up, like yourself?
Stephan Brunker (not verified) says...
Very interesting topic. I think that it comes down to tolerance of different beliefs and Intuitives are a lot more tolerant than Sensors. I presume that because Intutives know that they cannot prove some believes wrong or confirm them, they don't interfere. On the other side, especially Traditionalists build their society around these believes and prosecute everyone who doesn't comply.
Take the recent overruling of Roe v. Wade: An Intutive sees that it cannot be proven that an embryo has a soul from day one and thus making abortion murder, while the churches pray that and there isn't even a discussion.
But the impact of tolerance is even greater: Sensors don't only are the vast majority, they also have low tolerance levels and thus using their majority to enforce complience. If Intuitives were the majority, they wouldn't enforce what they cannot prove. So the Intuitives are not only the minority, they also don't share that urge to rule over the other side, weakening their position even further.
Jen122444 (not verified) says...