Jungian Personality Types and How You Remember

What if I have trouble remembering details because _that's my personality_? Major insight ... or major copout?

Ready for a terrifying, exhilarating, mind-blowing revelation?

Not everyone else thinks like you do.

You think you know that. But have you ever truly explored the alien terrain of a foreign personality type? What’s normal to you is crazy to them, and vice versa. The word “different” bleats far too tamely here. “Different” personality types can have opposite reactions to the same situation, and both will feel perfectly sane.

Personality type affects how you do everything: go to parties, choose jobs, relate to your kids — and, perhaps, how you remember.

Sixteen Kinds of People

By now, you must be sensing the signature enthusiasm of a blogger who’s just discovered a new field. Yes, personality types are still a shiny new toy for me, partly because I’ve been freelancing for so many years that I never had to take the infamous Myers-Briggs personality test.

For decades, hordes of employees have taken that test, and gotten duly stamped with a four-letter, amazingly forgettable code, like ESTJ or INFP. Supposedly, this mystical code sums up their personality.

I get the impression that only a fraction of the testees have heard that this test is based on concepts from C. G. Jung, that famous dream psychologist, or have had the codes explained to them in any detail.

Unfortunately, I’m also too lazy to explain them, though I can at least muster the energy to pass on the obligatory Wikipedia link. (When are Wikipedia links going to cross the line from helpful to insultingly obvious? Are we already there?)

For now, it’s enough if you know that this particular personality model focuses on four dichotomies:

  • extrovert vs. introvert
  • sensing vs. intuition
  • thinking vs. feeling
  • judging vs. perceiving

In this model, each person leans one way or the other on each of these four dichotomies. Are you an extrovert (E) or an introvert (I)? Do you focus on sensing (S) or on intuition (N)? And so on. Hence the four-letter code: your position on each dichotomy.

Actually, they’re more like spectrums. Nobody is always an extrovert or always an introvert. Normal people will have a preference. They will tend to be one or the other in most, but not all, situations.

If you’ve ever suffered through a talk on the four classical “temperaments” (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic), you will instantly notice that the number of possible humans has now skyrocketed from a measly four to a respectable sixteen. Good news, yes?

True, even sixteen seems low on a planet with billions of people. But you’d be surprised how much nuance these sixteen types offer.

Details vs. “Big Picture”

Meanwhile, what does all this have to do with remembering?

Sensing vs. intuition, that’s what. Sensers focus on details, while intuitives focus on meaning, on the big picture.

(Disclaimer: yes, that’s an almost hubristic oversimplification, and as I mentioned, I’m still new to all this. Ah, the Internet.)

Myself, I tend to be intuitive. I crave meaning. I love boiling complex situations down to essentials. I want to know why, pretty much all the time.

It’s not that I never pay attention to details. Before I started thinking about these traits, I might even have considered myself detail-oriented. I agonize over the right word. I design and maintain complex websites.

But then I realized that I agonize over details when they seem critically important. When I think about websites, I wonder about that one wrong setting that’s going to open the site to spammers, or that one misplaced semicolon in the code that will crash the site into a White Screen of Death.

I am not one of these people who seems to vacuum up random details without even trying. “Edith? She drives a maroon Volvo. No, her husband’s name is Frank, not Fred. They own that Quiet Treasures antique store. The one behind the fire hydrant! Are you sure you live in this town?”

Granted, one man’s random detail is another man’s mission-critical semicolon. Before I found out about personality types, I would have assumed that we all notice different details depending on what we think is important.

This is partly true, but it’s also true that sensers simply focus on details more. A lot more.

Does Being “Big Picture” Make Memorizing Harder?

So, here’s the crazy part. What have I been doing for the last several years with all this memory work?

Trying to memorize details.

Like Anki flashcards with precise answers. Or Scripture and poetry with exact language.

Have I brilliantly sensed my own weakness, and trained to conquer it?

Or have I attempted a strategy that ignores, or even hamstrings, my strengths?

One of my biggest complaints against flashcards, after years of heavy use, is that they strip facts out of context. Also known as the big picture.

Some commenters eagerly agree, while others angrily assert that flashcards work splendidly.

Could the secret be as simple as different personality types? What if sensers thrive on renewing flashcard after randomized flashcard, while intuitives like me actually need to organize our details around concepts and stories and meaning?

What do you think? Are you a fan or a critic of flashcard programs like Anki? And where do you fall on the senser vs. intuitive spectrum?

If you’re not sure, you can take this free personality test in ten minutes or less. (You just click a bunch of yes/no questions.)

Then come back and comment on my latest crazy theory.

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