The Effect of Culture and Environment on Preference and Creativity

The “Oughts and Shoulds” of Culture

Today’s fifth, and second-to-last, post in the ongoing “S” vs. “N” series will focus on the impact of cultural expectations on Sensors and Intuitives. We’ll also take a quick detour towards the end to explore how physical environment and art affect Sensors and Intuitives differently.

For those of you who have studied business or psychology in the context of different cultures, it will come as no surprise that many cultures tend to idealize various personality types and tendencies. These differences are especially distinct between East and West, but even within those larger groupings, a myriad of deviations exist.

Cultures Idealize Specific Personalities and Tendencies

America, for example, constitutes a very extroverted culture. It idealizes the charismatic leaders and bootstrappers who rally and inspire those around them to great heights. In fact, as a culture, America tends to emphasize extroversion, intuition, thinking, and judging. This ENTJ depiction of the “American Ideal” fits closely with the country’s pioneering, self-driving, outgoing, and competitive focus on competence and winning.

Scandinavian countries, however, tend to highlight introversion, preferring contemplated thoughtfulness and a respect for others demonstrated by staying out of their business, which contrasts sharply with the free-wheeling, gregarious style of the typical American. Neither ideal is “right” or “wrong,” it just serves to highlight the differing values that individual cultures place on how people operate and behave. These cultural “oughts and shoulds” are critical to understanding a society’s impact on individual growth, self-leadership, and self-concept. You can imagine how liberating it might be for introverts in America, who have grown up feeling like they always had to be more outgoing and charismatic due to cultural expectations, to finally feel free to be themselves and own their need for introverted recharge without apology or guilt.

Consequently, these expectations affect every personality preference set, including the Sensor-Intuitive dichotomy.

Cultural Expectations and Dissonance

Take the “American Dream,” for instance. How would you describe it? In general terms, The American Dream is to stake your claim, to build something which is not there yet, and work hard to realize the entrepreneurial longing of a pioneer’s lifestyle and legacy. It’s about envisioning a future and bringing it to fruition. As a result, America has an incredibly strong cultural pressure to be an Intuitive, despite the fact that only about 30% of people are actually Intuitives. That means 70% of the American population feels some degree of pressure to lean into a tendency that may not come naturally to them.

It’s these “oughts and shoulds” of cultures all over the world that end up causing many personality test-takers to self-report letter preferences that are actually quite different from their natural tendencies. Years of nurturing influence from our parents, communities, cultural groups, and broader society have placed a set of powerful expectations on our lives that both consciously and subconsciously affect the decisions we make as well as the way we view ourselves and the world.

Personality Ideals Indicate Cultural Values

In some cultures, to work for the government is the pinnacle of achievement, and if you can’t do that, then you work in education, because they’re the two most stable, recognized professional systems. This often tends to be the case with some Western European and Asian nations.

In America, however, most people idolize the start up entrepreneur, the small business owner, or the industry pioneer – people who take risks and chances, and build something they can call their own. As a result, working for the government is seen as less prestigious, and the salaries tend to reflect that notion. teach someone else how to do it, and if you’re really struggling, work for the government. On the other hand, places like Germany, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian nations tend to pay teachers extremely well, on average.

So for those of you Americans who are borderline about whether you are an “S” or “N,” it’s most likely that you’re a right-handed Sensor by nature, but that you’ve simply been conditioned by the cultural oughts and shoulds of America to be a pioneering “N.”

Impact of Environment on Creativity

It’s good to remember that all of us use both “hands” – that is, Sensor and Intuitive capabilities –  every day. And while we don’t get to utilize our dominant hand all the time, it’s really helpful to know where we start from naturally, and how our work environment impacts our productivity and creativity as a result.

In this case, a Sensor’s productivity tends to be highly impacted by their physical environment. Bedrooms, workspace, offices, etc. – the condition, organization, and aesthetic of these environments will provide either a huge boost, or a daunting obstacle to task-achievement and creativity. Most Sensors can’t get down to serious work if everything is not in exactly the right place on their desk, or if their house feels cluttered and unkempt.

Intuitives, meanwhile, can often remain blissfully unhindered and unaware of their surroundings when they get caught up in their work. They may prefer or like some sense of order, but when push comes to shove, they tend to be so caught up in their thoughts and work (especially Introvert and Feeler Intuitives) that the state of their environment ultimately has little affect on their productivity.

The Role of Art: Sensors and Intuitives

Whereas Intuitives simply need warmth, WiFi, and a computer plug in to start work, Sensors have their creativity deeply affected by what’s going on around them, due to their constant vigilance for the details of the present experience. As a result, being amidst nature or surrounded by your preferred colors, textures, and lighting, can do wonders for a Sensor. One of our Intuitive team members recounts how his Sensor wife once asked him how many pictures he thought they had hanging about their house. When he responded with a confident approximation (10 pictures), he was shocked to be informed that they in fact had 140 pictures throughout their home.

For Sensors, these artistic reminders tend to represent physical places they’ve been, people they were with, or some other tangible connection or reminder of the people they know and love. Art often serves as a form of tangible memory around things that are real, concrete, and meaningful.

Many Intuitives, however, are much happier with the more abstract concepts of art. They might like the fact that looking at a certain painting from various angles or in a different light, takes them to a different place, or otherwise serves as an aspirational reminder, such as a climber summiting a mountain they might never get to climb.

When it comes down to it, a great deal of Intuitives use the things they see as triggers to the future, while Sensors usually prefer to store memory and preserve the knowledge of concrete places they’ve been.