How Do You Process Information? Sequential vs. Pattern Processing

Sequential vs. Pattern Processing

Welcome back for Part 4 of our Sensor vs. Intuitive series in Jungian personality preferences! Last time we took a closer look at the varying relationships sensors and intuitives have with the past, present, and future. In the course of uncovering why sensors tend to fear the future and intuitives often scorn the present, we also discussed the different approaches to change taken by each type. Sensors, for example, often engage a methodical, incremental approach to change management, while intuitives typically spring for radical, “game changer” strategies.

Building on that understanding, today’s post will dive into the processing tendencies employed by sensors and intuitives. When it comes to processing information, the two types could not be more different.

Sensors: Sequential Processing

Keeping in line with their methodical disposition, sensors generally tend to communicate and learn in very sequential, ordered steps. Their linear style of reasoning makes them very easy to follow in logical discussions, which is why they also make great teachers. Rather than jumping off on questionably related tangents, sensors stick to the trail of evidence, stringing together their arguments one step at a time.

If you think about how you approached math in school, every sensor would admit to having written out their work completely, being sure to detail every painstaking step just in case they made a mistake or wanted to retrace their progression. After all, if you don’t show your work, how can you check it for the 100th time and be sure you did it right? How else can you reproduce your steps to generate the same precise result when needed?

Similarly, when taking in a their surroundings, sensors pay attention to the sequence of tangible details. The color and placement of items, the textures and details of what’s right in front of them. By gathering each concrete detail, they can gain a precise picture of the world they are experiencing as it exists.

Intuitives: Pattern Processing

Intuitives, on the other hand, always assume that there is a pattern and meaning behind the data they’re processing. If they are looking at a picture or taking in the surroundings, they might focus on what’s missing, or why the stage is set in just such a manner. The facts of the present reality are of little interest to the intuitive, but the “why” and the “why not” of that reality are enticing.

If you give an intuitive any piece of information, they’ll always assume there’s a specific reason why you’ve given it to them, and then get really exciting about discovering the things they can’t yet see. Rather than processing the information before them as it is presented, the intuitive generates a multitude of possibilities and connections to other facts or outcomes, doing their best to link its significance to some other piece of data that makes for a more exciting whole than the straightforward appearance of what’s in front of them. In the end, they’re looking for the underlying pattern or high level connections that reveal a deeper, truer reality.

When intuitives approached math problems in school, most would look at the scenario and try to figure out how to jump to the end result as quickly as possible. They become easily bored by the rigid, laborious process of working out each step in its entirety, preferring instead the rush of puzzling out the connections from a more conceptual approach.

Confusing Conversations

Contrary to sensors, intuitives will oftentimes jump from thought to thought in a conversation without realizing they’re leaving out three or four steps in the logic chain that connects them. They don’t want to spend time fleshing out the details when they could continue following the rabbit trail of possibilities and implications. Consequently, intuitives, particularly extrovert intuitives, tend to litter their conversation with tangents and random thoughts. You might even hear someone say, “Hang on. Stop. Two minutes ago you were talking about subject A, and now you’re talking about subject K, and I have no idea how you got there.” That’s because the intuitive brain usually has about three or four possibilities in any given moment where the conversation could go, therefore, they’re always looking to track down the tangents.

What Does It Mean?

In the end, intuitives are just wired to assume there’s always pattern and meaning behind data, whereas sensors fixate on the need to gather the concrete, accurate, precise information of the task at hand. One type inspects and presents their analysis of the situation at hand as it is, while the other makes conjectures about the reality as it might be.

Each tendency comes with it’s own unique perspective on a given scenario, task, or situation. Their assumptions, processes, and conclusions may vary widely, but we would all do well to remember that even those who process the world very differently from us have unique insights to contribute. Sometimes it’s not a matter of which approach is best, but rather, what can I learn from a different manner of seeing the world.