If you’ve spent much time in the type community, you’ve probably heard the notion that “judgers are planners and perceivers are spontaneous.” In this post, we’ll take a closer look at this issue of planning versus spontaneity (along with a few related concepts) and see how it ties into personality type.
In her lovely book, Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual, Lenore Thomson describes the rationale behind judgers’ (J) planning mindset:
J types don’t want their hand forced by unanticipated circumstances. They want to organize their experience in advance so they know what’s essential and can attend to it in terms of their goals.
This is an important point for P types to understand about judgers, as it can be easy for them to view judgers as overly restrictive and controlling. According to Thomson, judgers aren’t trying to be controlling killjoys, but are instead using planning as a means of optimizing their experience.
Now, here’s Thomson’s take on perceivers (P):
P types, who are response-ready, naturally understand freedom as the absence of constraint. They want the ability to take immediate action as a situation is occurring without having to explain it to themselves or reckon with prior limits.
I would contend that perceivers’ preference for “absence of restraint” and taking “immediate action” stems, at least in part, from their desire to remain open and responsive to the contingencies of an experience that can’t be predicted in advance. Hence, like judgers, P types can also be seen as trying to optimize their experience, with the main difference between these types involving when and how they make decisions.
Judgers are confident that they possess, or can collect, enough information to make a good decision in advance. Perceivers are skeptical of the J approach because, to the P mind, there’s a lot that can happen between now and then, between when the decision is being made and when it’s being executed.
Let’s consider an example. A judger, in reflecting on her love of French cuisine, might decide in an advance that she wants to eat at a particular French restaurant for lunch. By making this determination in accordance with her known preferences, she seeks to procure an optimal dining experience. A perceiver, while also enjoying French food, might express concerns about choosing a restaurant too far in advance. Here are a few things she might worry about:
- What if we don’t feel like French food when lunch rolls around?
- What if we come across something else that sounds better?
- Why spend time planning if things are apt to change in the mean time?
This brings us to an important point that Thomson alludes to, but doesn’t emphasize—the J versus P attitude toward change. Namely, it appears that J types, in operating as planners, are inclined to downplay the likelihood or significance of change. Put differently, judgers expect enough consistency over time to make planning a worthwhile enterprise. P types are the opposite, emphasizing change over consistency. Not only do they see change as probable, but they are open to letting it affect them and influence their decision-making.
When we think about change versus consistency, we think in terms of external circumstances. But inner changes are just as important. Indeed, there are times when our surroundings remain constant but new thoughts or feelings arise which produce major shifts in our inner state.
Such inner shifts can occur in judgers and perceivers alike. However, J and P types may differ in the degree or frequency of these shifts, or at least in how they handle them. We might expect perceivers to experience more frequent or substantial shifts, to be more aware of them, or to grant them greater significance. In other words, perceivers seem more sensitive to, or to have greater respect for, inner and outer changes, which inform their preference delayed decision-making. Thomson seems to agree, suggesting that perceivers may “experience their emotions as physical states and become run down,” whereas judgers “may not be aware of their physical needs until they have a problem.”
Expectations may also play a role here, even functioning like self-fulfilling prophecies. Namely, if judgers have strong expectations (as they often do) that things will unfold in a certain way, their mind may negate parts of their experience which don’t align with that expectation. By contrast, if perceivers expect things to change, or simply approach a situation openly with minimal expectations, their experience may differ significantly that from that of the J type.
As I’ve said before, “spontaneous” isn’t my preferred descriptor for P types. The term connotes a carefree, “throw caution to the wind” attitude, which isn’t consistently true of perceivers, especially those who are introverts. Introverted perceivers (IPs) are often consumed with their own concerns and agenda, and may thus be less open to “going with the flow” than the more flexible and adaptable EP types.
It’s nevertheless true that IPs tend not to over-plan things. This isn’t because they’re carefree like EPs, but because it allows them to listen to themselves and act in accordance with their subjective needs when the time is right. I’m often tempted to use the word “impulsive” in lieu of spontaneous when describing P types, but it carries some negative connotations that are best avoided if we are to remain neutral in our type descriptions. Perhaps the best word for perceivers’ decision-making style is situational—based on a confluence of factors in a given instance or situation.
Let’s now take a moment to further clarify the J mindset. Again, Thomson:
J types understand freedom from the opposite perspective. Without plans or expectations, one has no choice but to be response ready, constantly alert to all the data available in a situation. This lack of choice makes J types feel trapped. It forces them to react, and only to react, without recourse.
Here, Thomson suggests that planning, for J types, is a path to more freedom, not less. This may require downplaying or suppressing information that threatens to undermine their plan, namely, that which emerges from the immediate situation. Perhaps J types see the psychological burden of leaving things perpetually open as outweighing whatever benefits might be gained from integrating additional contextual information. In their minds, it’s better to stay the course and appreciate the fact that no further decisions (and no rash or coerced decisions) will be required.
Parenthetically, on this point I suspect Thomson may be tacitly influenced by her own type as a self-declared INTJ. We know that both INTJs and INFJs can be perfectionists and thus need ample time to ensure they’re making the absolute best decision. However, EJ types, who use a dominant judging function (Te or Fe), are less averse to making quick decisions. Indeed, EJs often seek out executive leadership roles, many of which require frequent, rapid-fire decisions. Granted, such decisions often occur with respect to a larger organizational plan or mission, so one might argue that they are not as spontaneous as they might seem.
We should also touch on the background theory that informs Thomson’s typological views. Namely, Thomson associates judging with the left side of the brain and perceiving with the right. I tend to appreciate this theoretical approach, feeling that it adds theoretical substance and consistency to Thomson’s work, and making her typological observations seem more connected and less arbitrary. If you’re familiar with what is now an extensive body of research on brain lateralization, you know that the “left brain” operates more abstractly than the right, rendering a world that is more consistent, predictable, and amenable to planning. The right brain operates in a less detached and more immersive fashion, offering a messier and ever-changing version of reality. According to Thomson, J types are more inclined to left-brain operations, which includes, among other things, being planful and reliable. Perceivers, as right-brained types, are cast as more open, adaptable, and impetuous.
The last thing I’ll mention is that, despite these J-P trends, all personality types possess both J and P functions. So even if judgers generally exhibit certain traits, such as a penchant for planning, there may be times when they act in the opposite manner. Type theory aims to enumerate “typical” characteristics and behaviors, but due to the inherent diversity and complexity of human behavior, there will always be exceptions to the rule.
To learn more about J and P types, including clarifying your own type, be sure to explore our book and Type Clarifier tests:
Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP & INTP (online course)