What Does Intuitive Mean in the Myers and Briggs System?

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on April 12, 2022

You’ve probably heard people call themselves ‘intuitive’, but the context of what they mean can vary. If you were to look up the word in the dictionary, you’d see a definition like ‘the use or basis of one’s feelings over conscious reasoning’ or the more straightforward term ‘instinctive.’ Although that basic definition isn’t false, when it comes to the Myers and Briggs personality system, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

If you find yourself asking, “What does intuitive mean in the 16-type system?”- here’s the deal. 

A look at the iNtuitive preference of the Myers and Briggs system

The Myers and Briggs system uses four preferences to make up your personality type, and the iNtuitive preference is less common. Around 70% of people are Sensing types, which means that iNtuitive personality types are rare, making up about a third of the population. With that in mind, there’s already an air of mystery surrounding iNtuitive types, but it isn’t too complicated once you understand the differences between Sensors and Intuitives.

How do you know if you’re an iNtuitive? You have an ‘N’ as the second letter of Myers and Briggs personality type.

The Sensing/Intuition dichotomy

The Sensing/Intuition dichotomy is all about how you take in information. You might think of the preference as your internal computer chip since it’s all about how you accept and analyze data in your world. For Sensing types, concrete facts and information that’s proven rule their thought processes, and they prefer to work with ideas that are tangible instead of abstract. 

But abstraction is where iNtuitives thrive. If you’re an iNtuitive type, such as an INFP, INFJ, ENFP, or ENFJ, you prefer to tune into your instincts and gut feelings, which rule your information processing. While iNtuitive types do rule with their instincts, the caveat here is that in reality the instinct is neither abstract nor illogical - although it may appear that way. What Intuitives are doing is pattern spotting, joining the dots across all their knowledge and experiences to reach a conclusion about something. 

This takes place ‘behind the scenes’ for an Intuitive and, often, the Intuitive isn’t sure why they ‘know’ something to be right or true. But when they spend the time tracing back why they had a particular feeling about something, it’s not uncommon that they can connect the dots and discern the reasoning behind their gut feelings.

In simplified terms, iNtuitives work to gather information by looking at their past experiences and known patterns, so it's not without reasoning when they seemingly pull information out of a hat. Their background processes are working at a subconscious level, while the Sensor’s conscious processes deal with hard facts.

What else does Intuitive mean in terms of personality type?

I’m an iNtuitive INFJ myself, and the preferences I find in everyday life vary a lot from Sensing types. Compared to my Sensing friends, I often find my thoughts drifting into abstract ideas, and the things that excite me are far different from those of my inner circle. 

Abstract concepts thrill iNtuitives

I recognize concepts that Sensors might miss, like between-the-lines context in movies or books, symbolism, and metaphors. So while friends and family see the surface value, I’m digging underneath that surface for all the abstract meanings. 

iNuitives prefer learning over doing

When you’re an iNtuitive, you’ll also experience an unquenchable thirst for learning, and you may prefer to learn about topics instead of engaging in them. An example here is my love for learning versus my love for the career world. I know everyone has to work to make a living, but if someone told me I could be an academic and get paid without the need to teach and the pressure to publish research, I’d sign up without a second thought.

Creativity rules over repetitive tasks

Although iNtuitives can maintain a job or life that involves plenty of repetitive tasks, they don’t do so without getting bored. It’s an arduous task to wake up every day and go through a job that feels like you’re reliving the same life over and over, so an iNtuitive must seek a career that offers them a variety of tasks. Even better, an iNtuitive prefers a job that’s ever-changeable, such as fields that shift and change day-to-day or month-to-month with new trends, concepts, or projects.

Because iNtuitive types tend to be creative, they need to flex these skills in their lives. 

How to spot an iNtuitive type

 In a nutshell, an iNtuitive type in the Myers and Briggs system operates as follows:

  • They prefer to read between the lines. 
  • Symbols, abstract ideas, and patterns play a big part in finding inspiration and coming to conclusions.
  • A clear ‘why’ to their decisions and actions isn’t always apparent, but sometimes, in retrospect, they can trace back the thought processes. These ideas pop into their minds ‘out of nowhere’, which is why people acclaim iNtuitives for their ‘sixth sense’.
  • They analyze patterns and the unseen to reach conclusions based on their acquired knowledge.
  • New things, concepts, and tasks excite them, and they’re much preferred over repetitive tasks.

The difference between Extraverted Intuition and Introverted Intuition

All iNtuitive types will share some commonalities, but how your intuitive processes work will vary depending on your preference ordering. There are two ways you may exhibit your intuition: Extraverted or Introverted. 

  • Introverted Intuition: If you have Introverted Intuition, you are more focused on your hobbies and interests and spend hours focused inwardly on ideas. Since these types focus their intuition inside, others won’t see it and have no idea how their thought processes work. Because someone who has Introverted Intuition is often drawing on personal experiences and abstract patterns, they don’t readily explain, or even understand, conclusions they draw enough to communicate them with others. However, they may be able to do this in retrospect.
  • Extraverted Intuition: Someone with Extraverted Intuition experiences a strong focus on ideas and abstract concepts but doesn’t like to commit to a hard decision. They prefer to explore the possibilities. When someone has Extraverted Intuition, they can also share their gut feelings and decisions with others through logical explanation. Unlike the inward, hidden qualities of the Introverted Intuitive, the Extraverted Intuitive will interpret the patterns from which their decisions and assertions came.

Summing it up

Once you know what Intuitive means in the Myers and Briggs system, you’ll better understand how these types function. If you’re an Intuitive type, knowing more about yourself and your thinking processes may bring you an ‘ah-ha’ moment. Although putting a name to a behavior isn’t a life-changing thing, the more you learn about yourself, the better acquainted with yourself you’ll feel.

Cianna Garrison

Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Jennifer (not verified) says...

I am an INFP and the IN description matches me perfectly. Nuce explanation of EN that showed me I am definitely not.

Cianna Garrison says...

Thank you for your lovely comment, Jennifer! I am glad this was a helpful post for you.

LouiseH (not verified) says...

I think this describes NF types well, but leaves out some of the nuance of NT types. As an INTJ for instance, I generally do NOT prefer to read between the lines - I prefer to tell you exactly what I think, and for you to do the same. However, I do spot patterns and "between the lines" metaphors or the bigger theme in a movie or a book, so I guess it's context dependent.

Cianna Garrison says...

Hi LouiseH!

Thank you for your helpful reply. I do my best to generalize and streamline the information as much as possible—and you're right context does matter when it comes to these things. Of course, it's also important to note that everyone (no matter their personality type) is still an individual, and thus, we may not agree with everything our personality type says about us. There are always different nuances to different people. 

I hope that helps :) 




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