Extraverted Intuition vs Extraverted Sensing – How To Truly Tell Them Apart In ExxP Personality Types
In the Personality Hacker community we mainly focus on the Car Model, based on the Jungian cognitive functions. As a coach I strive to cultivate reliable distinctions between the functions, because I’ve found accurate typing is extremely useful for personal development.
This article will focus on the two so-called fun and exciting, but often misunderstood extraverted perceiving functions: Extraverted Intuition (Exploration) and Extraverted Sensing (Sensation). As we examine them, look out for direct quotes from clients I’ve profiled, and compare their tangible, real-life experiences!
It’s important to look beyond the surface of the cognitive functions
When we profile others, a common and helpful tool is to ask about someone’s values or preferences – and then connect those values to a cognitive function. But this is misleading at times as different functions may answer in similar ways.
We may hold values that are stereotypically associated with another cognitive function even if it’s not in our Car Model (our type’s function stack). We find ourselves adopting the language of those functions – most likely because we’ve internalized it from our cultural contexts. When this happens, it’s like some part of our brain is saying “I should value this in order to be accepted.”
Another reason is awareness. “Why” someone values something is incredibly helpful information to know – but, sometimes what drives our habits and our reactions is unconscious.
A third reason is that the same word or phrase in the English language can mean different things to different people. We can hold different values from someone else, but describe those values with the same phrases. I’ve found we can overcome these disconnects by comparing language data (the words someone is saying) with how they are taking in and processing that data as they speak.
That’s why it’s important to learn what a cognitive function looks like when it’s working in real-time.
You may be surprised to hear there is strong overlap in purpose and utility between functions that share the same introverted or extroverted judging or perceiving attitude. For example, as extraverted perceiving functions, Sensation (Extraverted Sensing) and Exploration (Extraverted Intuition) have a lot in common. Even veteran profilers may be thrown off without a clear and tangible understanding of how these pairs serve a similar role in our brains – and how they perform that role differently.
How do Exploration and Sensation look so similar in the first place?
The answer is in the role our perceiving functions play. They gather and filter data (stimuli and patterns), which our judging functions then use to make decisions. Keep this in mind when comparing functions. Of course you can’t really separate the functions completely since they are constantly working together. But it’s helpful to know that extraverted perceiving functions are typically focused on external, objective data. They also are not so tied to timelines, like introverted perceiving functions are.
With this in mind, let’s explore their similarities and differences. We’ll focus on ExxPs (the Sensation and Exploration Drivers), since they display these functions the most clearly – but the distinctions are still present in every type.
Exploration and Sensation both seek novelty and curiosity
Here are two real-life examples of how both Exploration and Sensation are drawn to new data/stimuli – and are very curious and open-ended in nature:
Sensation: “I’ve been to seventy-three countries and I still want more! …I love meeting people of different cultures, learning to say please and thank you and yes and no in their language… history, architecture, the different foods…”
Exploration: “I don’t know that there is any one thing [that gets me into flow]… no matter how much I enjoy it, I like variety, and I like the change, and I would eventually stop and pursue another interest and have the same passion for it, I hope.”
Both enjoy coming up with new possibilities (a “what if” curious attitude), and often pursue new experiences in life. But, as you can see, the nature of their new ideas and experiences are different.
Exploration and Sensation both desire freedom and flexibility
A keen eye for novelty and opportunities means that over time, most Exploration and Sensation users are very comfortable with improvisation. In fact, they are often reluctant to rely too heavily on advance preparation – as this restricts potential opportunities that arise “in the moment”.
ExxPs can fixate on the concept of freedom, giving them an uneasiness around excessive restrictions or structure that inhibit the ability to improvise. I’ve even noticed that ExxP’s tend to shift positions and physically move more often while being interviewed.
You’ll notice evidence of this freedom fixation in these examples.
Sensation: “I do like the flexibility. I do like being on the go: go-go-go. And moving around at work… I’m pretty sure I couldn’t be an accountant. That sounds like the most awful thing in the world to me: to sit at a desk, and crunch numbers all day…”
Exploration: “You’ve been in my classroom, you know I wander all over the place… I like variety – I don’t fight it, I almost welcome it. I’m not locked into set routines, other than the fact that I had school bells ringing in my life for thirty-nine years creating routine. Just roll with the flow.”
Sensation: “My ideal church service is taking things as they come. I’m all about planning, but I don’t like pre-planning services because so much can shift in the moment.”
Have you heard that ExxPs have a reputation for being unable to commit? This may happen because they want more information or experience before committing – or don’t want to miss better opportunities that may arise.
But, once an ExxP has made a commitment, they have an ability to find new ways to make a commitment work. They often try again and again to make things better. This is thanks to their openness to new approaches, combined with a confidence in their ability to overcome challenges. Unanticipated challenges allow for Sensation and Exploration to shine. That’s why ExxPs are so often optimistic about the future.
All ExxPs use both sensing and intuition
Before we discuss the differences between Exploration and Sensation, it’s important to note that we all have access to the workings of all eight functions. Cognitive Function models essentially describe the special relationships each type has to specific cognitive functions. All Intuitives sense and have some physical awareness, and all Sensors can form patterns and use metaphors.
Healthy humans regularly use both sides of their brains in tandem. That’s why you might know an Exploration Driver who enjoys sports, or a Sensation Driver who loves using metaphor. Remember – we are more than our cognitive functions. There’s a multitude of other factors influencing our behaviors. So, in order to find more accurate patterns, we need to look below the surface (the “what we do”) to become familiar with “how” the functions operate in real-time.
But – there are clear patterns of preference and sophistication, which we’ll explore now.
How are Exploration and Sensation fundamentally different?
It’s easy to pick up on what people say about themselves – but it is more reliable to watch a function naturally play out in a conversation. For example, when someone says they are a straight-shooter, did you actually notice them “shooting straight” when talking, or were they beating around the bush instead? Get someone to tell you a story or give a real life example to help figure out the difference between these two functions.
Sensation is “straight shooting” and Exploration is “circuitous”
Did you know there’s a clear preferred speech pattern between Sensation and Exploration Drivers? Sensation likes to say what it means, clearly and directly, but Exploration is driven to add contextual nuance and exceptions. This means Sensation Drivers often prefer it when others are direct with them, and Exploration Drivers get uncomfortable with what they consider over-simplification. Once you know what to look for, this trend is very noticeable during the course of a conversation.
In the following quotes, look more at how things are said rather than just the content. Notice the directness of Sensation, then observe the run-on complexity of Exploration:
Sensation: “As an adult, hopefully I have learned some tact. I may be a straight-shooter, but I have a good amount of reserve where I think I’ve developed tact. Not that I’m perfect – sometimes I can be too direct.”
Exploration: “What makes something interesting is – I’m functionally a pragmatist: things have to make a difference in the world. That being said, I can appreciate aesthetics, I can appreciate the beauty of something. So maybe what makes something interesting is that it’s giving a metaphor or an analogy to an old idea that all of a sudden, kind of – ‘Wow, that makes it fit!” – so it’s taking an old thing and making it new again in a way that might help people consume it and understand it, so in that sense I appreciate aesthetics and poetry, the poetry of language and thought, because that helps inspire people encounter old ideas in new ways, and then pragmatically – it’s typically the pragmatic thing that makes things most interesting – how should behavior change, or might the world change given this way of thinking, or given this fact, or given this consequence of the idea or something like that.”
Sensation: [Question: What’s the first thing you notice when you step into a room full of people?] “I tend to – if I hear some laughter somewhere, I might be drawn to where the laughter is… Or if there’s someone alone – it sounds so cliché, it does, but I will go and sit with them and introduce myself – especially when it’s at conferences. Because a lot of times you don’t know anyone. So if I’m feeling alone I may as well go to someone else that’s feeling alone, and then – we’re not alone!”
Exploration: “[Figuring out if an idea makes sense to me] is almost instant. If it’s something completely foreign, or befuddled or fluffed up with lots of extra words or data, it’ll take me a minute to go through it and be like, ‘okay, does this make sense, does this not make sense,’ but most of the time it’s pretty instant. In high school I took a logic class and I loved it and I still use a lot of those things today… like finding out fallacies; it’s kind of fun to watch commercials and point out fallacies in the commercial – ‘Oh, that’s a bandwagon fallacy, or that’s a, um,’ I sometimes forget the names for them – I need to read through my books again – but yeah, if someone’s like, ‘Well, everybody’s doing it’ – that’s a fallacy, just because everybody’s doing it doesn’t make it anything, doesn’t give it a value other than ‘everyone’s doing it.’ Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it wrong, doesn’t make it correct. So those kinds of principles I have pretty down pat, and I use them almost – this sounds OCD, but I don’t mean OCD – almost reflexively, like, ‘hmm, that doesn’t make sense’, and I do it when people are talking, and sometimes I do it even when the person’s just talking to me or during a sermon…”
Notice it’s not just the mere length of the sentence, it’s that the Exploration Driver can’t NOT clarify and outline the limitations of their stances. You’ll see them consciously correcting their earlier statements that they felt weren’t nuanced enough. Sensation Drivers can waffle about a topic that is familiar or interesting, but this tends to look more like a series of concrete examples.
An important difference: Sensation Driver’s stories are more easily visualized due to the concrete and direct nature of the content. In contrast, you’d be hard pressed to paint a picture of an Exploration Driver’s words!
Sensation Drivers show ‘tangible awareness”, Exploration Drivers show “abstract derivation”
Every time I ask a Sensation Driver about awareness, the answer is always strong, instant and confident. Exploration Drivers tend to have at least some insecurity around physical awareness. Here’s what both types had to say on the topic:
Sensation: “Yes, I’ll take note of people’s posture, how they’re engaging – this is not an intentional or overt thing: I recognize that I take in that information, it’s not necessarily looking for danger… I just can’t help but walk in a room in a house and take in a LOT of information.”
“I’m very good observationally. Even though I’m a talker, I can sit and watch and read a room and almost know what’s happening… who the most agitated person is in the room, by body language or demeanour, the way they’re standing or sitting. I read a room really rapidly.”
[An EA describing her approach to figuring out her student’s triggers] “We jotted down when, first of all – when is important; ‘why’ was a tougher thing to determine. So then you have to examine what’s going on with light, sound, heat, touch, problems inside his body…”
Exploration: “When I played volleyball, I was a pretty good setter because I could rely on strategic improvisation, and because I could just ignore my body’s aches and pains in the moment and dive all over the place (and pay the price later). I had the best float serve on the team, and I had a very specific ritual to try to repeat the exact body movements each time, just changing my vector and force slightly to target different spots. But I wasn’t great at sudden spatial awareness – jumpsetting was a bit tricky when I was close to the net if a pass was off, and I struggled to not brush up against the net. And forget basketball – I hated it because I kept getting fouls unfairly: when the other guy would crash into me, even knocking me over, somehow I’m at fault because my leg moved or my foot wasn’t planted, and I just couldn’t figure that part out.”
But don’t just take their word for it! Try this handy exercise: ask them to simply describe an object at hand (like a pen or a mug). Or, ask them to describe why they like something – and see what they naturally talk about.
A Sensation Driver tends to naturally describe or explore tangible features. An Exploration Driver may get sidetracked connecting with their Memory (Introverted Sensing) 3 Year Old, or, they’ll go into comparative analysis – moving the focus into the metaphysical realm. Check out these two examples of how this plays out:
Exploration: “Sometimes the most pragmatic thing to do is make something beautiful – some things might be pragmatically true in the most banal ugly way, but for them to matter, make a difference, achieve full potential, they need to be said beautifully… I can appreciate the beauty of a flower, but what’s more beautiful is a flower that’s given to someone to whom flowers are important, or that’s grown by a child.”
Sensation: “A lot of times [a character I’m portraying] starts with a voice, or starts with a posture… there were times where I’d miss a line in practice… ‘I’m sorry, I was busy being LeFou’ – I was trying to figure out what he would be doing at that moment; he’s got this book in his hand – LeFou’s never seen a book before… he’s shaking it and listening <he acted this out physically with an invisible book during the interview!>, smelling it, tasting it, and – ‘Oh, that was my line.’”
Exploration values “speculation”, Sensation values “direct knowledge”
A central theme in a Sensation Driver’s advice is to pay attention and be present with others – because it works so well for themselves. Once they have collected tangible data, their Perspectives (Introverted Intuition) provides anticipation of short-term implications. But at the same time, trying to get a Sensation Driver to speculate can make them uncomfortable:
Sensation: “I don’t think I really care for [speculative conversation] much, because, um. Yeah. I really don’t like trying to figure out things that are all speculation… [When my boss asks for projections], you’re basically just asking me to flat out guess… it probably irritates me more.”
It’s important to watch how this plays out in action, instead of relying on self-description. I’ve noticed that Sensation Drivers tend to be very confident when I ask questions about things within their experience or that they’ve considered before. But, I suddenly find the pace of the conversation drops when we dig deeper into the “why”. Or, I see a noticeable change in their level of certainty. Sensation Drivers prefer to narrow down the possibilities when it comes to ideas.
In contrast, Exploration Drivers tend to speculate a LOT. They may begin a story with a personal experience, but their train of thought tends to spiderweb out into broader possibilities. Watch how it manifests in this example:
Exploration: [Question: How do you know when you got the answer right?] “Never. And also sometimes. Sometimes, if the immediate feedback brings me immediate joy, that seems to be a good indicator. But then that joy might fade into sorrow, “Why did I ever do that?” The other day I really wanted Taco Bell for dinner, and the first few bites of Taco Bell were delicious, and it affirmed everything – I made the best decision – but then by the end of the meal: “Why did I do this to myself?” Time tells whether the decision was the right one or not. Time; just the general consequences that build up. You never really know. Choices that were good for one period of time may not be good later. I probably shouldn’t have pursued a PhD – it was a waste of time, at least that’s what it feels like right now… but it was a great choice [when I first chose to pursue it]. Until I get a career that lets me provide for my family it’s going to be a pretty bad choice. But when I’m seventy or eighty, look back on my life – I made a contribution to humanity in a way not everyone gets to.”
Notice the way this Exploration Driver starts out conflicted, and tries out a thesis (immediate joy), but then immediately finds a case that limits that thesis. They then add a second idea (time tells), and they bring out multiple nuanced lines of thought on how a decision can be right AND wrong, depending on one’s timeline. This complex approach to answering, and giving multiple (possibly conflicting on the surface) answers is typical for Exploration Drivers.
Do both Exploration and Sensation Drivers value brainstorming?
One reason people confuse the two types is based on what they may say about brainstorming – both Sensation and Exploration Drivers can say they enjoy it. But, there is a difference to how they brainstorm, and what they enjoy about it. Sensation Drivers brainstorm to generate enough excitement and energy to get the group into action or vibe with the group, and tend to focus on the experience. Exploration Drivers brainstorm constantly, generating multiple new ideas and approaches – refining them and combining them in different and often complex ways.
Here’s what two Sensation and Exploration Drivers had to say on the topic:
Sensation: “I typically try to be the icebreaker… usually I act pretty weird or silly or I come up with something way over the top… It’s really enjoyable and gets everyone relaxed because [others will say], ‘At least I won’t look as stupid as him.’”
Exploration: “I can’t help but brainstorm, and sometimes I feel self-conscious because I just come up with so many ideas and I don’t want to dominate a brainstorming session – especially since I like to build off of others’ ideas and maybe even merge multiple ideas together; if I can ask questions and get a whole group of people contributing – especially when they have different backgrounds and values – I can pick out common threads or pick up some nuance even from ideas that we don’t end up doing, that can be added to our eventual solution.”
Of course, it’s better to observe someone interact with a group during a brainstorming session, rather than ask them directly. This is difficult to do during a profiling session, but easier when profiling a friend or co-worker who you interact with in multiple settings.
Sensation Drivers tend to speak directly from their own experience or point of view. So, even though Sensation is looking at objective data, it’s from a very subjective point of view (their own). A reliance on present-moment awareness creates a very sophisticated ability to gather massive amounts of tangible data in the moment, which Sensation Drivers leverage with a dose of their Perspectives 3 Year Old. This gives the Sensation Driver the ability to anticipate and interpret data. But, they can struggle with seeing things from multiple points of view – because their expertise stems from “their perspective.”
In contrast, Exploration Drivers can quickly identify or construct patterns as it takes in new information in the moment. They leverage their Memory 3 Year Old’s comparative ability, noticing differences and similarities from past experiences and research. Relying on extrapolation gives Exploration Drivers a sophisticated awareness of concepts, ideas and connections. Because they don’t rely on direct experience, their present-moment awareness can suffer – especially during a brainstorming session or a strategic activity.
Appreciating Sensation and Exploration’s gifts
The Extraverted perceiving functions are easier to spot once you have the patterns we discussed in mind. It also helps that they fundamentally operate in the outer world, since they are extraverted functions. You’ll often see how ExxPs engage with that outer world by the way they talk and move.
If you notice someone has a strong focus on freedom or flexibility, with a big dose of openness to new ideas or experiences, you’re probably dealing with ExxP type. That’s especially the case if you can see examples of improvisation too.
As we’ve seen, Sensation and Exploration Drivers share a similarly exciting and creative energy. But once you can see the differences in their directness and how they speculate – these functions are much easier to distinguish and appreciate for their talents!
You can get immense value from knowing a Sensation Driver who is keen to share their direct experiences and observations. Listen to their keen observations, like when they point out that your car tire looks low on air! And when you are struggling to see possibilities or feel like you are locked into a fated path of inevitability, talk to an Exploration Driver. They’ll help you see beyond your current experiences. Maybe there is a personal development model that can be added to your toolbox, or a new interpretation of behavior that could help you with a rocky relationship.
But most importantly, the gift Exploration or Sensation Drivers give to the world is the encouragement to truly live.
They identify the new, available opportunities that others may miss. ExxPs will inspire courage in you to step out and pursue your values or discover deeper truths – and live them out. The ExxPs will be by your side, engaging and experimenting as you journey through life together.