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Introvert or extrovert: what it really means

Just when we, as the human race, hadn’t quite divided ourselves enough, we began to find a certain pleasure in stereotyping ourselves furthermore as either extroverts or introverts. German psychologist, C.G. Jung, introduced the first idea of introverted and extroverted personality types in the early 1900’s. The textbook introvert gets their energy from the time that they spend being alone, while extroverts gain energy by interacting in groups of people. It is rare that anyone is completely extroverted or completely introverted, but the general behaviors exhibited by people can be classified into these two categories in an attempt to understand each other better.

Introverts make up 33-50 percent of the population and are probably the more misunderstood of the two. The best way to justify the loner tendencies of an introvert is to understand their distinct communication style. Introverts tend to spend more time “in their minds” than out socializing. Contrary to popular belief, “introvert” is not a synonym for “shyness.” Being shy by definition means that one is, “reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people” –however, most introverts choose a greater amount of alone time. This decision is not made out of timidity, but out of preference.

Another common misconception is that introverts won’t be as successful as extroverts. The educational system has conventionally romanticized the extrovert personality. Introverts are told they won’t be successful if they can’t give a great speech in Oral Communication class and if making friendships and connections is a challenge. In 1960, psychologist Hans Eysenck proposed that introverts had a higher level of “arousal” and were easily overstimulated –resulting in more difficulty in being as verbally outspoken about their ideas and thoughts. Introvert’s strengths are often found in problem solving, writing and creativity; while extroverts tend to be stronger at thinking/acting quickly, networking and public speaking. There are strengths in both extroverts and introverts−they just tend to more subtle in introverts.

Biology shows that introversion and extroversion are not traits that we choose, but rather they are a product of the way one’s brain has developed. In a recent study, Randy Buckner of Harvard University found that introverts seemingly have a greater amount of gray matter in their prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is linked to abstract thought and decision-making, while extroverts have less gray matter. This suggests that introverted people have the tendency to think more analytically and logically than extroverts. However, to correlate introversion to a higher general intellect would simply be a flagrant misrepresentation. Introversion and extroversion are personality types–not a means of measuring an individual’s intelligence.

Nonetheless, introverts aren’t the only misunderstood ones. Extroverts make up the remaining 50-74 percent of people that identify as extroverts. However, being an extrovert doesn’t necessarily mean you’re super loud or outgoing. It’s not uncommon for people to confuse the traits of an extrovert with that of someone with ADHD. Extroverted people are those that gain energy from being around other people, but that does not mean that they always have to be the loudest one in the room.

In addition to extroverts having less gray matter in their cerebral cortex than introverts, Buckner’s study also showed that extroverts have more active dopamine receptors and are more sensitive to the social rewards than introverts. This means that socializing with others gives extroverts a greater sense of gratification than being alone would.

There are many iconic and successful extroverts such as Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill and Muhammed Ali. In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet,” she explains “extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” Despite personality type, people tend to succeed when they embrace their own strengths.

The truth is, extroverts need introverts just as much as introverts need extroverts. The textbook extrovert isn’t known to be an avid reader, and the textbook introvert isn’t known to have the most friends. The yin-and-yang personalities create a certain balance in the world as we all learn from each other. When introverts and extroverts come together, this contrast can form some of the more fulfilling life-long relationships.